His vision was like walking along the water that had swallowed his last existence. Behind he could see what had been, and ahead was what was now coming into being. Lives lived and lost, others beginning as he watched. He desperately craved mingling with them, interacting, influencing outcomes. To once again participate in the game, not simply watch impotent from this misty detachment. A stronger craving ruled; to continue on in the form he now had. To plan and carry out his battles from this place of greater knowledge and lesser limitations. Taste, touch, warmth were out of his reach, but there were other entertainments.
Intensity could draw him closer, and a new monster stalking his old hunting grounds proved educational. He learned to focus while watching this hunter carry out his demented rituals. The fear and panic that then ripped across the city kept him focused on this place and time, like an anchor against the pull of the void. It wasn’t anywhere near the feast his own antics provided, but it was at least a momentary diversion.
A vision from upstream would have stolen his breath if he had had any. Some future facet of himself arranging to ‘accidentally’ bump into some doe in a misbegotten pub. It should have been a meaningless encounter, much like the eradication of that foolish boy at the indoor swimming pool. Just another minor move in the latest game.
Her eyes scorched him. The missing piece, the tool he had foolishly let slip through his fingers before he had played his own master rounds. She had died before he could make use of her, but she was very much alive and available to that version of himself. Infuriated, he watched himself once again misjudging her value, thinking only that she would serve as an introduction. She could be far more useful than that! A unique problem presented itself; where he was, he knew of her importance, knew that she could destroy his most desired target. That version of himself was blindly ignorant, much as he had been during his own lifetime. That would need to be corrected.
He needed to learn.
It was years before Sherlock was able to recall a dream again. He had actively fought allowing himself to sleep that deeply, had resorted to taking several short naps per day, usually while sitting up. Fighting impulse had always been a skill he embraced, frequently triumphed at, but some battles never truly conclude.
The first thing he could clearly remember in the dream was looking down at his hands, tucked into gloves he had never owned. His own gloves were usually dark brown leather, scarred and stained by various substances he should not expose his flesh to directly. Instead these gloves were black as pitch, still shining as if they had been polished. The motions to draw the leather tighter on his fingers were familiar.
He was walking at a fast enough clip to know Watson was not with him. The height difference between them meant if he didn’t slow down just a bit, the good doctor would fall behind and, on rare occasion, be lost temporarily. It became second nature to adopt the shorter strides needed to keep them abreast of each other, but in the doctor’s absence, Sherlock tended to revert to his usual breakneck pace.
His surroundings were speeding past him, unidentified. He wanted to slow down, figure out exactly where he was, but didn’t seem able to get control of his legs. Trying to narrow his gaze failed as well, as the blurring seemed to intensify. On some level, he knew there were people around him, but they seemed to thin out the farther he went.
He stepped into what appeared to be a small empty room, reaching back to a plate on the inside wall. Turning to face the doorway, he folded his hands behind him. As he waited, he began to comprehend he must be dreaming, watching himself move from some point away, making him a witness but without any real control. The doors startled him, seeming to close themselves by sliding out from the walls, much like the accordion doors to his parents’ dining room.
Brushed metal on the back of the doors reflected a distorted image at him and he was taken aback by it. He appeared to be dressed head to toe in black, like a morbid shadow. He wondered briefly if he were dreaming of being a mortician and the sudden sensation of falling caught him unawares. If the room were some form of lift, where was the operator?
It only lasted for a few seconds and then the doors opened on a long corridor. He exited the room, moving confidently to the left without the slightest knowledge of why.
The length of the hall gave his eyes time to catch up and he was amazed at what he could see. Obviously indoors, but no sconces along the walls. Instead light seemed to pour brightly from hidden recesses in the ceiling. The whitewashing glared in the brighter light. The floor was mottled tile, of low quality, yet someone had taken the time to polish it to a fairly high shine.
She was here. She was almost always here, and he had to find her. He didn’t know how he suddenly knew that; didn’t have the faintest idea who ‘she’ was, just that finding her was his purpose for being in this place. He had to presume he’d know more when he needed to.
An acrid odour in the air burned faintly in his nose, but he couldn’t identify the source. It reminded him vaguely of the smell of bleach, but he could see no washing anywhere around. A subtle undertone suddenly noticed; the heavenly scent of coffee. Whatever this place was, it was getting more attractive.
The strangeness of that brought his mind up short. He could swear this was nowhere he had ever been before, but it was comfortable in a way he hadn’t felt in years. He almost laughed from his silent vantage point; it felt like coming home.
A mirror appeared on the wall to his left and he glanced at it as he passed, meeting his own eyes in its surface. The desire to simply freeze seized him like a vice. Had he gone destitute? How had his hair grown so barbarically untamed and long? He’d suspect poverty, but the face reflected back at him was thoroughly clean shaven. More thoroughly than he himself had done in recent memory. Strangest of all, his usually slate colored eyes had inexplicably gone the blue-green of apothecary glass!
Stopping was apparently not allowed, and frankly he had found the momentary vision disturbing enough to be glad of its passing. Dreams were always jarring to him, but this one seemed to be in a classification all of its own! He could not remember any previous dreams assaulting all of his senses like this.
Warmth from within as he located a door to his left. It was where she should be, getting ready to leave, but once she knew he needed her, she would stay. It made no sense but she would always stay for him. Small unidentifiable shards of regret slipping by as the handle of the door moved smoothly in his hand.
The light was even brighter here, faintly blue, bathing what appeared to be banks of small metal cabinets. He could hear movement to his left as he walked around the row of thin doors.
She had her back to him, wrapped in white as she finger-combed her warm chestnut hair before plaiting it into a braid at the nape of her neck. A small mirror hung before her and he could see her dark amber eyes hiding behind heavy lashes. As she saw his reflection before her, her eyes lit up and a smile of pure recognition began to bloom. The knowledge crashed over him like an avalanche.
She was no ghost, no phantom dancing on the edges of his mind. Her features were suddenly as clear and solid as any person he had ever known. Life seemed to almost radiate out from her, wrapping him in a sensation he thought long gone. The girl who laughed without malice, touched beyond distance, the warm hand in his. She was real and alive, not feet from him. A brief scent of sandalwood as she was turning toward him. He felt his lips move, his breath pass. “Molly.”
He awoke on the settee in the sitting room at Baker Street, alone, and just slightly colder.
Gregory leaned in the French door with a small cough. “Mr. White to see you, Miss”. He was roughly shoved aside by the burly black haired man demanding entrance.
“Your grandfather has been frantic, Charlotte!” He bellowed as he lowered himself into an ornate chair. “Why wouldn’t you see me this morning?”
Without looking up, Charlotte continued absently shuffling cards. “My grandfather’s only fear is embarrassment. I couldn’t risk greeting you in my dressing gown, could I? That is why I endured the two hours of climbing into this contraption of a wardrobe before I could let you in. We should talk quickly before I relent to this blasted corset and swoon.”
A stubby finger shot out, wagging in authority. “Watch your language, young lady! Just because you waste your life out with the heathens does not mean…”
“I travel.” Her voice sharpened as she looked up. “Another reason I’m not tarnishing what little reputation my mother left intact. I move on before anyone knows who I am.” The set of her eyes allowed no argument. “Have I worn out my welcome, Stanford?”
In a moment, the tension evaporated and he wrapped his hand around her much smaller one. “Never, child. I could wish your life were a bit…easier, I suppose? I have adored your wit since you were a child, but maybe it would have been better to be a little less wise.”
A smile began to curl her lip. “No, mon grande. I would just be too stupid to notice.” She gestured and Gregory brought in a tray with a bottle and two fluted glasses. “Your welcome is appreciated, but I do feel a journey coming on. Will you join me?”
Gregory opened the Veuve Clicquot and filled the flutes. Charlotte stood, handing one to the older man and claiming the other as her own. With a small nod, Gregory exited.
Mr. White sipped, shaking his head. “A vacation may be in order, at least until tempers cool. I have to stay in New York for the foreseeable future. Too much work to be done…”
Charlotte laughed. “I was only inviting you to share the bottle. Besides, who is the ‘work’ this time? So many chorus lines; so little time?”
“Mind the cheek!” Mr. White glowered, but it passed like a shadow. “You saw something? Is that why Stephen has the homestead in an uproar?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She took a slow drink, aware the man expected more of an explanation. “One of his associates thought he recognized me from that mess in San Francisco. I assured him he was mistaken, but he tried to test the theory by forcing me to touch a dead man’s pocket watch. Tobias was furious, but I managed to keep my composure.”
He lit a cigar, the smoke curling to the ceiling. “You haven’t found anyone in your travels that could stop the Sight? I suppose it would be a skill worth keeping, but all it seems to reward you with is misery. Perhaps you should try ignoring it again?”
“No!” The answer was barked, betraying some secret he’d long given up trying to pry from her. “Besides, I’ve gotten letters from a very reputable group overseas. They want me to meet with them so they can study the phenomena.”
“Careful! Spiritualism is on the rise. They may want to chain you up in some abysmal laboratory and…” Mr. White stopped, watching her closely.
Charlotte had stopped several feet from the window, swaying slowly. Her face had gone completely blank, her eyes seeming to see nothing at all. Her eyebrows drew together and her nose twitched like a fox catching the scent. “Wrong Holmes.”
“Charlotte?” When she didn’t answer, Mr. White stood, intending to grab her, shake her, do whatever was required to bring her back into the room. After two steps, some wrinkle in the rug caught his foot and sent him sprawling across the floor.
Gregory must have heard the commotion because he ran into the room, catching Charlotte as the glass fell from nerveless fingers, bouncing and scattering golden droplets on the Oriental rug. She was moaning as Gregory helped her onto a nearby divan. He pushed a cold cloth into her hands as she sat up, rubbing her face vigorously.
Mr. White refused to leave until he was assured she was well. Charlotte tried to dismiss his questions, blaming the too-tight corset for her swoon. Neither of them believed it.
Mr. White stopped at the front door. “You’re going abroad again, aren’t you? You kept whispering that something was wrong, unnatural, couldn’t be allowed. Don’t endanger yourself, child.”
In a gesture she didn’t repeat often, Charlotte hugged him tightly for several seconds. “Stay away from the chorus girls, Stanford. They’ll be the death of you.”
His hearty laugh echoed in the entryway. “I forget your innocence, sweet Charlotte! I could consort with a million girls and the only risks would be to my purse and my heart!” He bowed as he doffed his hat. “There are worse paths to the grave!”
Charlotte waited until he was out of sight and the door firmly closed. “Gregory, get Douglas. We’re going to England.” She hurried down the corridor. “Eight days at sea. I’ll need my performance trunks. Bring my hookah, would you please?”
When Inspector Lestrade arrived with a possible case more than a week later, Sherlock leapt at the needed distraction. The vividness and clarity of the dream had left him staggered under a deep feeling of self betrayal. The issue had been difficult enough for him without it having come to such a shocking and terminal conclusion. To revisit it now, when so many other changes were occurring, was torturous.
Lestrade watched the other man staring vacantly out the cab window. “Watson is concerned about you. He says you aren’t bothering to keep food in your rooms any more.”
Pulled from his spiraling thoughts, Sherlock twisted his lip. “Hardly a valid observation; he’s only visited twice in the last month.” He sighed, picking at a loose thread on his greatcoat’s pocket. “I take most of my meals at Hong’s these days.”
“Yeah, that’s probably why he asked after you there. They said they hadn’t seen you in more than a week. Look, Holmes, I know you aren’t fond of my missus, but…”
“No. Thank you.” Sherlock cut him off. He had always thought Lestrade was fairly intelligent, so he assumed the man chose to ignore the obvious signs of his wife’s disloyalty. If the man actually were unaware, Sherlock didn’t want to risk being the one to inform him. The last thing he needed right now was for the cases to stop.
He pointedly returned his gaze to the window. Why dream of her now and with such breathtaking clarity? The only peace he’d been able to achieve was in assuming the woman in the photograph had simply borne a tragic resemblance to his phantom; that since she had never really existed, she could not have died in such a horrible fashion. The implication that she was real; to see her again in a dream now with that shocking level of detail felt like salt on a wound. Why would he do something so painful to himself?
They climbed down from the cab and as Lestrade took a moment to pay the hack, Sherlock looked up at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. He never gave much thought to providence, but this building had always set his teeth on edge. Most people had a sense of dread about hospitals, but his own visceral reaction was more like standing near where lightning was about to strike; an electrification in the air.
“They will have moved the body down to the morgue. Would you prefer the side entrance?” Lestrade pulled on his gloves, gesturing toward the building.
Without answering, Sherlock went in the front door and strode across the small lobby, panning his surroundings with feigned interest. Hospital officials would undoubtedly be keeping the husband out of sight so his ire wouldn’t discomfort anyone else, but other family or friends could still be wandering freely. He found nothing of interest by the time he reached the doors to the courtyard that led to the morgue facilities.
Lestrade followed him down the two flights of stairs without comment. He never could understand how Holmes’ mind worked, but unless questions were being asked, silence was usually the best option. Several steps down the corridor the other man stopped so abruptly that Lestrade ran right into the back of him. “Holmes? You all right?”
Why hadn’t he recognized it before? Sherlock traced the walls and their sconces with his eyes. No, the sconces hadn’t been there; just that strange bright light seeming to come from the ceiling itself. How could he have been so stupid not to realize where he was in the dream?
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Lestrade was half smiling. “Morgue putting you off?”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Sherlock replied automatically. Lestrade knew he had met Watson here. He was moving forward without thought. He stopped at a door on the left, tugging at the markedly different handle but the lock wouldn’t budge. It had swung open easily in the dream.
He recoiled as a large hand closed on his arm, dragging him back to the moment. “Mr. Holmes! Good to see you again, sir! I just wish it were under better circumstances!” Michael Stamford started wiping his spectacles on his handkerchief.
Sherlock, as usual, ignored the greeting. What ‘better circumstances’ would cause him to visit a morgue? “What is this room?”
Stamford shrugged. “Just storage, really. We’ve been trying to get the hospital to put in some facilities for the use of the morgue staff, but something else always seems to be of greater importance. Would you like to see Mrs. McKenna now?”
The three men made their way further down the hall and into one of the larger rooms in the morgue area. The body of a slender, dark-haired woman lay haphazardly draped in a slightly mottled sheet. Her feet were sticking out and one hand had slid free and now hung limply in the air.
As Sherlock made his way around the gurney, he internally cursed the dimness of the gaslights. He pulled a small hand mirror from his coat pocket to try to focus what little light was to be had so he could view the body properly. No way to tell how much evidence was lost to hundreds of cases in the name of storing bodies where no sunlight could reach them. The more controlled temperature of the basements was adequate for storage, but proper examination required brighter lights, better equipment.
The silence was broken by the entrance of one of Lestrade’s uniformed officers. He was stuffing himself with what Sherlock could only assume was the remains of a pork pie while explaining that Mr. McKenna was getting impatient to leave the hospital and make arrangements for a mortician to pick up and prepare his wife’s remains.
A reflection of a figure in black flitted in the mirror as Sherlock cleared his throat. “I’m afraid the mortician will have to wait. Mrs. McKenna was murdered.”
“You sure?” Lestrade asked.
Sherlock couldn’t help but wonder why Lestrade always asked that. He started to try to temper his surly reply when another voice stopped him.
“Sherlock’s right!” A woman’s voice; strong, steady, and frankly sounding a bit annoyed.
His eyes snapped to the looking glass. Margaret appeared reflected in its surface, her arms folded in irritation. Standing beside her was a man who looked identical to Saint Bartholomew’s head coroner. Sherlock darted his eyes back into the room, seeing Stamford talking to Lestrade. The man in the reflection could have been the doctor’s twin. Hair slightly longer, different spectacles, but the resemblance was astounding.
No one else around him seemed to hear her. Sherlock drew the glass closer, trying to comprehend what his senses were taking in. The room in the reflection was exactly the same proportionately as the one he stood in; even the door placement was identical. That same brighter lighting that he had seen in the dream, a colder light than he was used to. Various cabinets and small trunks seemed to hum all around her.
“I know Mrs. Vickers was a large woman, but her husband still should have been able to give her the Heimlich maneuver. Mike? Do you mind?” Margaret, wrapped in some kind of uniformed jacket, gestured and the man turned his back to her.
Sherlock watched as she put her arms around that Stamford’s midsection, making a fist with her right hand and placing her thumb over a spot between his ribs and navel. With a grunt, she drove her fist deep into the man’s stomach, nearly lifting him from the floor. A sharp blast of breath escaped him and he smiled.
“Thank you, Molly. I’m sure the Detective Inspector gets the point.” A man’s voice, familiar and sounding hopelessly bored. A hand was moving Molly out of the range of Sherlock’s sight. He looked farther up the arm to see who was being so rude and dismissive, and the blood froze in his veins. It was himself; the reflection in the dream. Longer hair, clean shaven, dressed like a mortician!
Sherlock fell back a step, colliding with the gurney and dropping the hand mirror to shatter in the floor. Someone else must have seen it or heard it! He turned, but the rest of the men in the room were gathered around the uniformed officer. The man was bent over silently, collapsing to the floor as his face changed from a shocking purple to almost blue. Lestrade was pounding on the man’s back, but the officer was obviously not breathing.
His mind had gone blank, but Sherlock was moving in seconds. The method Margaret had used must be some way of clearing an airway of obstructions. Despite Lestrade’s protests, Sherlock managed to pull the officer back to his feet and he wrapped his arms around the man’s uniform jacket. Sherlock got his fist in place and pulled in, hard and sharp. After the third attempt, the officer spit out the dislodged wad of half-chewed pork pie.
Sherlock let him go and stepped back as the officer fell to his knees, choking, coughing and of course, breathing. Gratitude was never anything Sherlock expected, but the wave of venom was unexpected.
“You could have killed me, mate!” One of the officer’s hands shot out in a wild blow but was far off its target. “Bloody freak tried to break my ribs!”
“That’s enough, Anderson!” Lestrade cut in. “Go upstairs and have one of the sisters look you over. I can take it from here.” He handed the officer’s helmet back before turning and speaking sotto voce. “You didn’t make a friend there. What the hell were you playing at anyway?”
“It doesn’t matter,” was Sherlock’s dismissive reply. He desperately wanted out of this room; time to try to comprehend what had just happened. To dream of her in this place was one thing, but what he’d just experienced was no dream. The officer was correct in that initially the demonstrated procedure would seem to do more harm than good. He had followed her directions without question, knowing he would feel the pressure in the officer’s chest move and air rush back into his starved lungs. If she were still alive, where was she?
“Holmes?” Lestrade called out. “Mrs. McKenna? You said she was murdered. Am I supposed to guess how?”
He hadn’t realized he had been walking from the room. “Look closely around her large toe nail. You can see where the husband injected her with some substance. Even your lot should have caught it.” A thought made him pause in the doorway. “You didn’t need me for this; James wanted you to check on me.”
Lestrade shrugged. “He’s your friend and he’s concerned about you. That’s what friends do; look after each other.”
“Yes, well, I’ll be sure to make my opinion on that quite clear over supper tonight.” Sherlock’s smile was tight and forced.