Preview: "No Time For Us"

MisJoely approached me in September with an idea that at first I dismissed as impossible. I would have sworn what she was thinking could not be done. This has lead to the most creatively intense few months of my life to date; doing research, puzzling out answers to problems, and trying to come to terms with this new and demanding Muse I seem to have drawn close to my heart and soul. Involving Sempaiko has added a whole other dimension and depth to a process I’m learning as quickly as I can.

We were going to start posting around the twelfth, but…

I woke on the tenth feeling like death warmed over. I tried to fight it (ask the Divine MizJ!), but the more I fought, the worse I got. All I wanted to do was crawl in a hole and be forgotten! Start the cycle of frustration, then pushing, then getting nowhere; lather, rinse, repeat. I even questioned if I could ever write again. Finally, after a slow slide from the shower to the floor, I figured I’d better stomach a doctor. One round of tests later, and I had my answer!

Have you read any of MizJ’s Vamplock stories? Well, one of those little bloodsucking plot bunnies of hers rode along on an email and was hiding in my flat! I know this because it sucked almost all the iron out of my blood! I hunted the damned thing down with a sharpened chop stick, lifted it by the fangs and put it in the box I sent milady for Christmas! (Shh!  She doesn’t know it yet!) Vampires have never been huge on my list, but now I think I’ll stick with just hers and ‘Tanz Der Vampire’!

MizJoely is writing the current time, I’m writing the Victorian, and all artwork is Sempaiko. As to my Muse…? Growing stronger, more powerful and more beautiful with every heartbeat!

So to ‘borrow’ a quote…”Shall we begin?”

NO TIME FOR US by MizJoely and Wickedwanton

PROLOGUE

 He was coughing wetly, his eyes tearing up and blurring his already hazy vision. The air itself had grown heavy and hot, pulling at him, weakening his legs even as he tried to move forward.

 Figures rushed past unnoticed. Everything was a horrid orange red with dark shadows of corridors radiating outward. No brighter yellow of actual fire, but it had to be near, seconds away from pouring forth. No sense of a way out as the pressure built behind his ears.

 He stumbled around a pile of timbers that had burnt to embers, trying to listen for alarms, voices, anything but the roaring of the flames. The muffled sound of weak coughing off to his left caught his attention, and he swore he heard his name being called.

 He found the door and pulled his way through. Concentric rings of incandesce, interwoven in an elaborate pattern, burned brightly and shimmered the air around a single figure at their centre.

 A woman, wrapped only in a pale sheet, lay crumpled in the one circle of floor as yet untouched. A mass of chestnut curls hid her face from view and one empty hand, already kissed red by the fire, outstretched across the floor toward him from her still form. He could see her chest rise and fall, but she was breathing far too slowly.

 He was trying to see a path in the pattern, a way through the maze of combustion, when she began to stir, rolling toward him and sitting up. He tried to tell her not to move, that he would find a way to her, but he couldn’t hear his own voice over the roar of the pyre. 

 He watched as panic gripped her, her eyes darting wildly all around as she drew herself into a tight ball. Some sense of recognition, of knowing, fell on him like a lead weight. He had dreamt of her all his life.

 Her dark amber eyes met his through the shimmering air and he watched as recognition washed through her as well. She reached out, her fear palpable. Unheard, she called his name.

 She had to keep still; he had to get her to stop! He would find a way for her to escape, but she had to not move! Words fled as muscle gave way and he went to his knees.

 She had reached the small bit farther, but the flames hungrily licked at the sheet pressed tight to her flesh. It raced along her, a frantic lover devouring all that it touched. Her screams radiated, shattering…

 January, 2008

 Sherlock snapped awake on the couch in his Montague Street flat, still feeling the smoke burning in his lungs, a cough on his lips that had him stumbling to the kitchen for a glass of water to ease the ache in his throat. Ridiculous, to allow his subconscious to affect him so strongly as to cause actual physical symptoms to manifest like this. The cough had brought tears to the corners of his eyes - at least he stubbornly refused to believe they could have been due to any other source. Certainly not because of anything as cloying as sentiment.

 It had been years since he dreamed about the woman; he’d thought he’d deleted the memories but there they were, creeping up on him when he least needed such a ridiculous distraction. He downed the remainder of the water, dropping the glass carelessly onto the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, and then headed for the door. He had a case to investigate and shouldn’t have wasted so much time on something as useless as sleep. Besides, he vaguely recalled Stamford telling him a new pathologist was starting today, and he needed to keep his mind clear in order to properly evaluate him – no, he mentally corrected himself as he grabbed his coat and bounded down the stairs. Her. Stamford had said it was a woman, youngest in her graduating class, top ten, possibly not as idiotic as her predecessor. One could hope. He dismissed the dream totally from his mind as he hailed a cab, the details of the case and upcoming trip to Bart’s once again occupying his full attention.

 January, 1879

 He snapped awake on the sofa in his Montague Street flat, still feeling the smoke burning in his lungs. He shook for a moment before thrusting the memory away; cursing what his own overactive imagination was still capable of torturing him with. He had not dreamt of the girl in ages; thought she was some hormone-addled illusion left behind with puberty. He had a case ongoing, and time should not be wasted sleeping. Splashing water on his clammy face, he prepared to confront Mr. Dunkirk’s duplicitous bookkeeper.  

image

If I Only Could

Here is the link to the ff.net version of the latest chapter of the companion piece to my story “The Fire In Which We Burn”. I urge everyone to read wickedwanton’s side of the story, as she is doing a phenomenal job with Victorian!Sherlock and setting things up for when Molly passes through the looking glass!

92 THINGS

I got Tagged by just-mindy and megsta95. Thanks Ladies!

Rules:
Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 92 Truths about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you.

WHAT WAS YOUR:
1. last beverage = Milk
2. last phone call = My husband, calling to tell the kids goodnight. 
3. last text message = I asked my sister if she loves me because I am about to give her my netflix password… she hasn’t responded yet… the brat.
4. last song you listened to = Bastilles Pompeii
5. last time you cried = Today: I sort of had a meltdown about my husband’s training schedule and how many days I’m going to be alone with the kids. We fought over what I’ve been doing wrong, and what hes been doing wrong and got it worked out a bit.

HAVE YOU EVER: 
6. dated someone twice = Yes. I married him.
7. been cheated on = yes.
8. kissed someone & regretted it = Nope ;)
9. lost someone special = Yes
10. been depressed = Of course
11. been drunk and threw up =  never

LIST THREE FAVORITE COLORS: 
Coral Pink, Black and red

IN THE LAST YEAR, HAVE YOU: 
15. Made a new friend = Yes
16. Fallen out of love = No.
17. Laughed until you cried = Yes
18. Met someone who changed you = Who can say if i’ve been changed for the better.
19. Found out who your true friends are = I found out that all i have is my family
20. Found out someone was talking about you = Yes
21. Kissed anyone on your FB friend’s list = Yes

GENERAL: 
22. How many people on your FB friends list do you know in real life = All but 2. Only one real stranger that i met online.
24. Do you have any pets =  No, but were getting goldfish on sunday.
25. Do you want to change your name = I never really mind Misty, but i wish it was something more traditional.
26. What did you do for your last birthday = 80’s themed, rollar skating. 
27. What time did you wake up today = 6:40ish  
28. What were you doing at midnight last night = I was passed out.
29. Name something you CANNOT wait for = Going to visit Luray Caverns and going Apple picking in the morning.
30. Last time you saw your mother = Last March
31. What is one thing you wish you could change about your life = Id get more time to spend with friends.
32. What are you listening to right now = Once Upon a time.
33. Have you ever talked to a person named Tom?Um…yes.
34. What’s getting on your nerves right now = Dull Headache
35. Most visited webpage(s) = Tumblr, FF and AO3
36. Blood type = A+
37. Nickname = Misty Dawn
38. Relationship Status = Married
39. Zodiac sign = Virgo
40. Pronouns = ‘she’/’her’ 
41. Elementary = Been there
42. High School = done that
43. College = Got the tee shirts and degree
44. Hair color = Deep dark brown
45. Long or short = long. 
46. Height = 5’5
47. Do you have a crush on someone? Yes.
48. What do you like about yourself? my sense of humor
50. Tattoos = none
51. Righty or lefty = Righty
52. First surgery = Gallbladder removal at 25
53. First piercing = Ears, when I was 12.
54. First best friend = Meghan D
55. First sport you joined = I never did the sports things
56. First vacation = Atlanta when I was one. My first memorable one was to Hilton Head
58. First pair of trainers = I don’t remember? I was probably a toddler.

RIGHT NOW:
59. Eating = nothing since dinner
60. Drinking =still working on the milk
61. I’m about to =  go to bed.
62. Listening to = My husband snore and Once Upon a Time
63. Waiting for = this to end
64. Want kids? =  to stay asleep till the sun comes up
65. Get Married? = stay married
66. Career? = I look forward to having one one day. I’m looking to go back to school though.

67. Lips or eyes = Eyes
68. Hugs or kisses = Hugs
69. Shorter or taller = Taller
70. Older or Younger = Older
71. Romantic or spontaneous = Romantic
72. Nice stomach or nice arms = Arms
73. Sensitive or loud = Sensitive
74. Hook-up or relationship = Relationship.
75. Trouble maker or hesitant = trouble maker

HAVE YOU EVER: 
76. Kissed a stranger = No, actually. I don’t think so.
77. Drank hard liquor = no
78. Lost glasses/contacts = ALL THE TIME.
79. Sex on first date = no
80. Broke someone’s heart = Yes. A couple.
81. Had your own heart broken = Yes
82. Been arrested = No
83. Turned someone down =  Yes

84. Cried when someone died = Yes
85. Fallen for a friend =no

DO YOU BELIEVE IN:
86. Yourself = yes.
87. Miracles = yes
88. Love at first sight = Yes

89. Heaven = yes
90. Santa Claus = No
91. Kiss on the first date = Yes
92. Angels = yes

(tag 25 people)

whololly, lono285, ginnywatson, wickedwanton ladylillianrose, sherlollysmooch writingwife83 sundance201 seasalticecream32 jellybaby74 likingthistoomuch allhailthefangirl sherlocked221c emedealer sherlocklivesfanblog o0katiekins0o theythinkimsane ratherbethedragon therealbucky05 theconservativenerd sherlolly-is-jolly geekyangie thestarlitrose thestormweaver broomclosetkink

From Chapter 3 of Fever Dream by Wicked Wanton

"Sherlock took a table at Le Baron Rouge, ordering a sandwich and coffee. He had no plan to eat, but had noticed he attracted less attention if he went along with the expected. He showed the waitress Molly’s photo, but she recommended he ask a bartender not due to work for another hour.


He pulled out the small photo album. Cheap, plastic, the kind some places used when people first had film developed. She had written “Warwick” on the front in pen. He began flipping through the images, at first thinking they had been taken at some kind of fancy dress party, nearly everyone wearing similar armor. After a few pages he recognized the background; Warwick Castle. Of course; re-enactors. Judging by the armor, specializing in the War of the Roses.


No photos of Molly, but she was probably the photographer. Each photo had been carefully labeled; Peter Thompson, Adam Wolfe, Max O’Barr, a woman barely contained in a peasant blouse who’s name had been repeatedly entered and erased was currently labeled Alice Grady. There were many photos of a blonde man with green eyes only listed as David, no last name given. The armaments were impressive, two-handed swords, battle axes, pole arms, even halberds. They weren’t just hobbyists meeting on weekends; this was the level of fidelity English Heritage used in their events. He’d had no idea Molly had ever had an interest in such things.”

If I Only Could - Chapter 4

She was perched atop a trunk she had dragged in front of the porthole window as the dawning sun slowly bloodied the skies over Southampton. Charlotte would have preferred travel via Cunard or White Star, but it would have further delayed their embarkation from New York. Norddeutscher Lloyd’s ‘Eider’ was completing the journey in just over seven days. Maybe her skin would stop crawling.

Rose petals drifted in the bubbling water as she drew deeply on the hookah pipe and felt him approach behind her. Tobias’ deep voice sighed into her hair. “’Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.’” A feather light kiss to her nape. “Come to bed, Charlotte. Worrying at this is only tiring you.”

Her eyes traced the promenade outside their cabin as the exhaled cloud rushed to the cooler air outside. “Douglas was able to secure a theatre. Off the beaten path, but not too obscure. The calling cards were delivered by mail boat last night and I distributed a few. I’m assuming you’ll see one into proper hands?”

“Of course. Plans are underway.” Long gentle strokes along her shoulders eased her tensions and reminded her how heavy her lids had become.

The charcoal in the hookah had burned almost to powder. It would be hours until the steamship docked. Sleep curled in Tobias’ arms would fortify her for what was to come.

She stood, but motion outside caught her attention. A lone figure strolled to the railing across from her porthole and leaned jauntily against the narrow band.

She recognized him immediately; a Mr. Edmund Williams. He had been introduced to her as a shopkeeper from Leeds. He stank of juniper berries and Charlotte had not been surprised by his drunken carousing every night of the journey. She had tried to avoid him, yet he seemed to be following her. Shouldn’t he have passed out by now?

His doughy face seemed to suddenly draw up into a feral grin, his eyes shining in the early dawn light. A bare handed gesture she knew from fencing. A salute. No sound, but he clearly mouthed ‘en garde’ before collapsing into a heap.

Charlotte summoned the porter to rescue the fool from sliding off the edge to the churning water below.

oOo

Influence was easy, but much as in life, the subject needed to be vulnerable. He had attempted to interact with the hunter he had found, but the man was too driven, too focused to be swayed by subliminal seductive whispers in his ears. After much trial and error, he left the fiend to his own games. There were options.

As much as he desired acting upon his life unfolding upstream, his focus and strength were easier to maintain in the places his own slice of life had been experienced. He would learn in this world, train, perfect, then go forward when he was prepared.

First he learned to eavesdrop by borrowing eyes and ears. It was rudimentary, easy to master, much like pressing his old features to a window pane. Intelligence gathered, risks assessed. A cursory survey of any and all impediments.

Pubs held many tools, but the city’s rancid opium dens were like a buffet of possibility. He ‘guided’ by weaving stories the vacant minds were hungry to take in with their chemical entertainments. The first kill, via an addict hungry for the black tar, was a thrill he had sorely missed. The next seemed reluctant to use the knife they had brought, but he discovered with a small push, he could supplant the fool and make use of the limbs himself. It was brief, and exhausting, but stimulating nonetheless. Each attempt at this new freedom seemed to expand his skills, extend his control and duration. It was not a return to existence, but form had advantages over formlessness. He needed a true test of this new skill, and thanks to some carefully placed questions, he knew where to find it. All he needed was to “move in” to an easily overlooked mule and wait on the right corner.

oOo

The polished brass plaque caught Sherlock’s eye as he approached the surgery in Kensington: ‘Dr. James Watson.’ He could still vividly remember the day he had given it to Mary Morstan, who had so recently become Mrs. Watson. A peace offering of sorts after the foregone conclusion of the battle of James leaving Baker Street. The separation had been wrenching, but he had recognized the inevitability long before the couple walked down the aisle. Protest on his part was mandatory, expected, and he could not disappoint, but the dear woman had taken it far too personally. Putting the sign in her hands to be placed on their new home had seemed to ease her mind considerably.

An unwelcome hand wrapped in tattered gloves moved to assist him from the cab, the traditional plea for change sharper than expected. Sherlock waved the man away, but was surprised by the sheer malevolence in the man’s eyes as he shuffled down the street unrewarded.

The memory of Mary did not come without pain. The discovery of his own fondness for her was eclipsed by the agony James endured in her passing. The couple had far too little time together before she was taken from him, their child not living long enough to draw a breath. James had been inconsolable, pulled deep within himself where no one could follow. Sherlock tried, but this time there was no trick to be revealed, no curtain drawn back and death defeated. Saving James had been someone else’s duty – a woman’s, of course. Sherlock’s lip curled very slightly. One word came to the front of his mind: ‘harridan.’ He wouldn’t allow the addition of ‘shrew.’ Not yet.

Dusk was closing in overhead as the virago answered the door at his first knock, already stating that the surgery was closed for the night. Her coffee-coloured hair was escaping its pins and draping across her eyes as her hip jutted outward in purest condescension. “Oh, it’s you. He said you were coming. Well, don’t stand there all night; you’ll let insects in.” She waved him forward.

“Good evening, Nurse Smith.” he said with forced politeness. “Will you be joining us this evening or will others be allowed to speak?” Unassisted, he hung his greatcoat on the rack near the door.

“Ever the jester, Mr. Holmes.” Her hazel eyes flashed in angered appreciation. She was already donning her own shawl. “Do you truly dislike me that much?”

“I generally dislike everyone, but I’m making a special effort in your case.” Sherlock’s smile could cut glass.

She sneered in return. “He’s waiting upstairs, fussing as usual.” She paused, one hand on the doorknob, and turned back to him. “Mr. Holmes, I know you don’t approve of me. That is well within your rights, but please, don’t hurt him. This was never planned and if you need someone to blame, blame me.”

Now Sherlock was certain of his previous suspicions. “No blame assessed, Nurse Smith. The desire to not wound James may be the one sentiment we share. I suppose the rest will sort itself over time.”

Her grin was lopsided. “I should have made the wager with him!”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to smile back.

oOo

James had chuckled at his retelling of the incident at the morgue. He claimed some memory of an Officer Anderson from a previous case and had been unimpressed with the man. Sherlock demonstrated the airway clearing procedure to him, and the good doctor remembered reading of such a method being tested for assisting victims of drowning, but had doubted its effectiveness. James reiterated the potential of breaking the bones of the ribcage and discouraged Sherlock from attempting to use the procedure again.

The two hours and four courses that followed were almost painful. Nurse Smith’s cooking was at least acceptable, but mutton had never appealed and watching James try to guide their conversation into the dreaded waters had been awkward even to Sherlock’s eyes. If it didn’t come to a head soon, they’d be here all night.

“It never ceases to amaze me.” Sherlock began, setting down the brandy snifter to repack his pipe. “People who feel a need to converse choose to attempt it over an entirely different use for their mouths. One effort has to suffer in preference to the other.”

Watson smiled. “Yet you’ll now add smoking as a third effort.”

“True,” he admitted, making use of one of the candles to light a match, letting it burn down to the bare wood before bringing it to his pipe.. “Then again, dining together was your idea. Out with it, James. Patience has never been my strength.”

“I don’t like you being alone at Baker Street, Sherlock.” Watson sighed, already seeing the tension building in his friend. “You don’t look well. You don’t take care of yourself and your health has begun to suffer for it.”

“So you sent Lestrade to check up on me. Who is whispering to you this time?” The annoyance was almost overwhelming. If concerns were raised, why didn’t people simply inform him directly instead of this ridiculous running to James as if he were his keeper?

“You are.” Watson’s eyes had hardened. “You ate mutton. You not only ate some, you ate nearly enough for a normal man. Your eyes are bloodshot and you’ve obviously not been sleeping again. You cannot continue this way. Your body will break down and take your mind with it.”

Sherlock actually had been sleeping rather well, for him, until the morgue dream. All thoughts of trying to discuss the stranger topics that had arisen at the morgue were dismissed. “Your concern is misplaced, James. A singular poor night, I assure you.”

Watson poured himself more wine. “I know you won’t consider a wife, but perhaps you could find another lodger? Someone to remind you of at least the day of the week, if not actual meals.”

This was intolerable. “Are you asking to return to Baker Street? Somehow I doubt your bluestocking would approve. And she certainly wouldn’t be joining you!”

The wine bottle was set down with a bit of force. “Damn it, Holmes! I don’t want you to be alone!”

“Alone is what I am best at.” The embers in the pipe seemed to light his eyes. “Alone suits me. Alone protects me.” Even as he said it, he suspected it wasn’t strictly true.

It was not an unfamiliar impasse between them. They revisited it on occasion, usually prior to momentous events. Sherlock should have seen it coming and braced for it. This time held no more answers than any other time they had clashed.

Sherlock sipped his brandy and sighed deeply. “I’m sure I won’t be alone long. Go ahead and marry your bluestocking and start spawning, I’m sure you’ll teach all the little whelps that I’m some kind of eccentric uncle they’ll be required to swear oath to.”

“How did you…” Watson stopped himself with a grin. Foolish question. “Does this mean you’ll reprise your role as best man come February?”

He couldn’t resist the smirk. “I don’t think so. Your bluestocking may speak of free love, but I would guess she will want the ink to have dried on the vows well before the christening.”

The wine glass fell to the floor in a jumble of red drops and breaking glass. “No! I’m a bloody doctor, Holmes! I would be seeing…”

Sherlock held up his hand. “You see her every day. The clues are too subtle that close. I’m hardly besmirching her reputation; she was married before. Besides, I can hardly blame you for not wasting time.”

After a long pause, Watson shook his head in bewilderment.  “Sherlock, I swear by all that is holy, one day our positions will be reversed, and I will clearly see the intimate details of your life that are far too close to attract your notice! And when that day comes, I hope you’ll be as tolerant of my laughing at you!”

The smirk only grew.

oOo

The ride back to Baker Street was uneventful and quiet, which finally gave Sherlock time to think. The fear he’d always held, that dreams of the girl were some sign of mental illness on his part, had faded in the light of his new certainty that she truly existed somewhere.

The latest dream had been crystal clear; complete with scents, sounds, and even the sensations from his feet as they had strode across the polished tiles. It hadn’t begun to fade upon awakening, as all other dreams had before; in fact, elements still seemed to be pulling at him. Every moment had the explicitness of an actual experience. Of course, discovering he had dreamt of the morgue at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital could have explained aspects of it, but why such major structural differences in the facility? Why could he now remember her perfume?

Then to have what he could only call a vision while in the morgue itself. He had heard of people claiming such things all his life and discredited them as delusions, hallucinations, outright lies or wishful thinking. Yet she had been there, standing beside a twin of himself. The same, but different somehow. Certainly more of a cad. Had he walked the halls of the hospital as some kind of shadow of himself? A version that had earned her attentions?

“You’re Sherlock Holmes, right?” Having stopped, the hack had climbed down from his seat when his passenger seemed lost in thought.

“Sorry?” Sherlock was startled. Being recognized seldom led anywhere of benefit.

The hack smiled. “Baker Street address. I’ve got friends down at the Met. They tell stories of a detective and doctor running rings around them all the time.” He laughed. “They really don’t like you.”

“I can imagine.” He pulled his coins out, looking to give a minimal tip.

“Bunch of idiots. Simplest magic tricks, a few bets, and I never have to buy my own down the pub. I’m Pete Carey, by the way.” The hack was patting his jacket pockets.

“Charmed, I’m sure.” Sherlock could only hope the sarcasm wasn’t lost.

“No reason to be.” He shrugged, pulling a calling card out of his pocket. “If you get a chance, Mr. Holmes, maybe you could go see this lady.” The card was pushed into Sherlock’s hand. “She is starting some kind of magic show near the West End. Tell you what; no fare for the trip. Just come back and tell this old man how the lady does her tricks. Professional pride and all!”

With a wave and a nod, the hack climbed back up and moved on down the street. Sherlock looked over the card under the streetlamp.  The name ‘Charlotte Morgan’ was printed above a banner claiming her to be a spiritualist medium. Someone had scribbled a theatre name he didn’t recognize on the reverse. He rolled his eyes, but pocketed the card.

I was tagged, but as I am stupid answered the questions but didn't post them.

So here they are, thank you to the lovely wickedwanton for tagging me :)

Question 1: Which episode of existing canon would you like to rework if you had the chance?

That’s a really good question. I love them all so much, because of how well made and scripted they are. I can’t think of anything I’d want to change about them, maybe there’s something in The Blind Banker, but I can’t think what!

 

Question 2: What crossover would you like to see that you think could never work?

Because I think Wholock could work. I’d love to see crossovers between the different versions of Sherlock, how Elementary and BBC would respond to one another or having Basil the Great Mouse Detective living in BBC Holmes’ walls.

 

Question 3: What is your worst habit that you’re willing to admit to?

I have quite a bad habit of practically living in PJs when I’m at home and other non parents aren’t around. I will get home and change or I’ll spend the days I have no real commitments lounging around in my PJs.

 

Question 4: Name two things you catch yourself quoting, even though you don’t intend to.

1. Anything Sherlock really. ‘You’re lowering the IQ of the whole street’ pops up a lot.

2. So much Who. ‘Allons-y’ is a favorite. “… are cool” comes up a hell of a lot as well!

 

Question 5: What was the last song to get stuck in your head?

Umm… ‘Bad Guys’ from Bugsy Malone, it was a mixture of Uni conversations and an advert that is always on :P

anonymous said:

Here's an ask meme! Name your current top five sherlolly authors that you love to read on tumblr. Say a few words as to why. This is your chance to promo the people you love. Please tag with 'sherlolly' and 'sherlolly fics' :) and pass it on to another sherlollian!

I love so many Sherlolly fic writers that whittling it down to  ’top 5’ list is literaly impossible for me. I would be sure to leave someone out. However, that being said, here are a bunch that won’t steer you wrong:

Liathwen-slays-dragons, allthebellsinvenice, sherlolly (nocturnias on ao3 & ff.net), petratodd (the one who got me into this world), mollyandherjumper, mollymatters, soyeahso (dietplainlite on ff.net), gypsyrose2014, stormweaver, wickedwanton, asteraceaeblue, adi who is also mu, broomclosetkink, elixir.bb, maybeamanda…anyone else I didn’t list it isn’t because I don’t love your stuff, it’s because I am writing this in one sitting and just posting it to get it out there. Check them out, y’all!

Q&A tag meme, tagged by wickedwanton

….and this is the fifth ( seriously girls? the fifth??) !!

1: Which episode of existing canon would you like to rework if you had the chance?

For Sherlock: nobody, for me they are all perfect.

2: What crossover would you like to see that you think could never work?

Sherlock and The Doctor…. only to see Sherlock get out of mind  with the Doctor’s nonsense

3: What is your worst habit that you’re willing to admit to?

Talking to myself and with the objects (especially with the computer and the printer when they don’t work.) XD

4: Name two things you catch yourself quoting, even though you don’t intend to.

mmmmmhh….. no….nothing comes to my mind…..

Question 5: What was the last song to get stuck in your head?

L’odore- Subsonica (Sorry but it’s an italian song :) !)

If I Only Could - Chapter 5

To slaughter was just a skill; a mindless chain of actions that one learned and that could be repeated without thought, desire or even intent. See the heart; still the heart, a waltz as old as the species itself. To murder, on the other hand… To murder in the purest sense of the term; to snuff out life like a candle extinguished, was an art. It required creativity, talent, and a deftness of touch any surgeon would envy. His current state of formlessness made practicing that art both maddeningly frustrating and deeply satisfying.

The whore was the perfect tool; buxom, fair haired and sky eyed. Her innocence had burned away long ago, but the hardness of a true harlot hadn’t taken up residence yet. A beauty flawed in all the right places.

Her legs had fallen in line first, control gradually yielded to him as the first pipe was drawn through her rouged lips. Balance was erratic, but her desire to feel nothing at all eased his transition. A second load of the black resin and she was drifting away with the smoke. So easy for him to weave her the illusion she craved even more than the opiates. A warm bed, clean sheets, a full belly and a caring lover to see her to completion. It was not the first time he’d manufactured this mirage, but to be forced to carve it from thought alone challenged and excited him.

By the time the third pipe was consumed, the girl’s mind was barely tethered to life; so full of imagined warmth and love that she was easily distracted with the briefest of thought. A light nudge and she floated off into her dream, leaving him her delicate and unprotected flesh. The rouged lips smiled under control of their new master.

Finding the hack at his pub was easy enough, but getting him to put down the pint and accompany her into the dark alleyway behind the structure was a task. His control over her lips and tongue were less than perfect, dulled by the opiates that had allowed him to move in as if she were an abandoned house.

With enough kisses, caresses and promises of ‘no charge’, she drew him out of the dimly lit room, into the street, and then down the narrow damp alleyway, the darkness matching her illicit promises. He had consumed just enough whiskey to stumble slightly as she pulled him close, kissing him wetly, then nipping at his ear.

The straight razor the girl had carried for protection since she’d begun plying her trade on the street was almost steady in her hands. The remains of the tacky resin helped her fingers cling tight to the steel. Mr. Carey was going to take a long time to die and interruptions would be problematic, so her first sweeping gesture was to render his vocal cords unusable.

He collapsed gasping under the crimson wave and she crawled over him, hunching low as she sat on his hips. If the sounds he was making drew anyone’s attention, it would appear at first glance that the hack was getting his well-earned moneys worth.

She leaned over to whisper in his ear, delighting in the muffled gurgling noises. “You should never have given Sherlock that card. The harlot could give him hope and that cannot be allowed. Bad, bad boy. Hope is the most potent drug of all, and I so hate a provider.”

The cutting began, shallow, quick, almost unfelt as the steel drew across, but electric in the aftermath. Raining down faster as the wave of adrenalin began to crest and the blood to fall. Interesting that from this formless perspective he could hear the hack beg and plead for his life without need of clumsy breathing. The prolonged agony took on whole new dimensions of color and light and depth.

Intriguing to watch and listen as Mr. Carey’s praying slowly turned from wanting to live to desiring to die. The human frailty of fickleness was amusing when it didn’t need to be personally endured.

Mr. Carey ran out of words, his mind reduced to animal whimpers, but the praying went on and on like a symphony. Any price, any obligation, any enslavement if only he could escape the pain of the moment. The entity beamed. Such beautifully stated need should be rewarded. The hack was finally freed to bleed out in the darkness.

A presence beginning to pull at him in the girl’s blood drenched form. Even in the thrall of the drug, the girl’s control of her own flesh was stronger than his. For just a moment, the span of a few heartbeats, he retreated and allowed the girl to see the vision before her own eyes. Her screams were delicious, her panic ambrosia. A simple matter to coax her trembling legs to the docks and simply walk her off the edge where her own inebriation and petticoats would drag her down into the filthy water, rendering her another unfortunate statistic.

oOo

“Douglas!” Charlotte’s shout was clearly furious; carrying above the sounds of the crowd’s fading applause. She barely let the curtain drop before she barreled off the stage.

He shoved his notes at a stage hand, watching as she stumbled, then paused to gather a handful of her billowing skirts in a white-knuckled fist. The lady was not pleased. “Well, I think that went fairly well,” he began, lying smoothly. “True, table-tapping isn’t as impressive when the audience talks over it, but still…” He followed as she growled past, already clawing at her bodice.

He was here again!” As soon as the dressing room door closed behind them, she pulled the bodice over her head, hairpins flying as she threw it away.

He kept his eyes on the rafters while she got behind the shoji screen where she changed into her more comfortable kimono. “Our man finally arrived? Tobias didn’t tell me.”

“Not him, you idiot!” She emerged, silk wrapping her still laced corset as she wrapped her copper-coloured hair around one hand and stabbed it with the sticks that kept the knot in place. “That wastrel gambler! I thought I gave orders he wasn’t to be admitted on pain of death!”

That explained a lot. From his perspective backstage, she had seemed off tonight, her focus split. The show was all smoke and mirrors, no use of her more unusual talents, but Charlotte was skilled enough at sleight-of-hand to normally be convincing. She had convinced no one tonight. “We had to take on some new staff and they may not have recognized him. I’ll see they know better in future.”

She sat at the vanity, her head resting on her open hands, eyes covered. “True believers and the greedy. You have to keep them away, Douglas! Our man will show up sooner or later, and we can stop this madness, but I have to hold on until then! You agreed to be my manager; manage it!”

“This isn’t a theatrical performance; it’s a circus in search of a ring! You won’t let me do proper advertisements, won’t talk to the newspapermen.” He shook his head, dropping his tall form into the nearest chair. “There must be more entertaining ways of throwing away your money. I have my hands full trying to keep David from quitting. Tobias has to leave him alone; he thinks his dressing room is haunted.” He saw the dark cloud settling in her eyes. “Can’t you just find us an address? Save us the grief?”

Charlotte glared at his reflection in the mirror. “He has to come to me. He won’t accept my help any other way. I have to be convincing enough to build a reputation without ever really making anyone believe. Once he makes contact, we ‘slip’ onstage; let the crowd think they’ve unmasked a charlatan. They’ll have fun dragging my assumed name in the gutter, and then forget me like a fairy tale. Much safer for us than the truth. When it’s all over, I can steam home forgotten, and you can write a fictitious memoir about the crazy American who seduced you into a harmless fraud.”

Mildly offended, Douglas checked his pocket watch as he rose to go. “I’ll escort you out when you’re ready. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan are waiting outside again.”

He heard her fists slam into the table, making the brushes and paints jump. Opening the door, he saw the forbidden gambler had somehow gotten backstage and was hurrying to the dressing room. A tangled knot of ropes fell from some unseen height, knocking the intruder unconscious. Douglas stepped over his prone form, noting that his nose appeared to be broken. Shame.

oOo

Books were scattered across the lounge in precise disarray. Each had been carefully reviewed for any benefit, then cast aside, judged useless. A small group of discrete enquiries had been sent, but proven pointless. The only response that held any promise was a brief note from his brother, first suggesting a prolonged rest, then if his deliberately vague questions remained, contact with an organization with the unlikely title of ‘Ghost Club’. Despite the florid name, they seemed to be at least reputable. Approaching them would inevitably lead to questions from Mycroft he was unwilling to answer.

Sherlock leaned beside the open window, a few icy drops making it past the lace curtains to score his skin. A pity it was far too late for any traffic outside to be around to distract him. Mrs. Hudson had been sleeping for hours, thanks to the laudanum she took for her aching hip. The coffee had run out long ago, and what little tea remained would be needed in the morning. For three days he’d refused, but sleep called to him, pulled at him. Until he had some working hypothesis, he was reluctant to add additional information. Besides, if he failed to see her, what was he to make of it?

He closed the window sharply. Sleep was fast becoming inevitable, but he knew from experience how to stop the dreams from rising. Morphine, named after Morpheus, the god of dreams in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses;’ a winged daemon who could take on any human form. How symbolic. He hadn’t indulged in a very long time, but needs must.

He measured and mixed carefully, movements he had repeated hundreds of times until they were almost automatic. He had cleaned the hypodermic needle before putting it away last time, but repeating the procedure was a long established part of the ritual. Locating the vein caused no delays. The moment the plunger had completed its course, he began to finally relax. Rest could come, leaving him vacant and alone, but without the foolish ache of hope.

Seconds later, he knew he was in trouble. A prickling sensation of electricity radiating outward from the injection site, a darkling suspicion that the morphine had gone off somehow, or perhaps the bottle hadn’t been morphine at all.

As the chemicals unfurled in his blood, he staggered into his bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him. He was sweltering, his skin reacting as if he had stepped into a blast furnace, but it was an illusion he fought as he kept himself from throwing the window wide. The night air was too cold, too damp for long exposure, and he could find himself with pneumonia before he woke up. If he woke up.

Bile rose in his throat as his hands shook and sweat prickled on his back. The room was canting in impossible directions. Trying to find help crossed his mind, but he ignored it. There was little that could be done if his own anatomy couldn’t process what he had taken in.

He curled into a ball on the old soft quilt, a gift Mary Watson had given him, never intending usage during a crisis like this. While his blood boiled, every breath froze in his lungs. His vision was narrowing into a tunnel as his heart hammered, dropping the occasional beat. A fragmented hope that James might find his body before Mrs. Hudson did. She’d be shattered.

Her voice made it through the dark stifling fog first, her language absolutely appalling. “Goddamn it, Sherlock! Do you have to be so bloody stupid?” Fury, but her now familiar voice had cracked on the last word.

He fought for control of his eyelids, trying to see the woman who was pulling at him with surprising strength. A brief flash of fiery, amber-coloured eyes and a jaw set in stone. He wanted to laugh, but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop. It couldn’t possibly be her! Morpheus appeared to have delivered him!

She had got up under his shoulder, tugging hard at his black sleeve. He couldn’t remember purchasing a black suit coat, let alone wearing one. He wanted to roll his eyes; surely not the mortician again? Didn’t the prat ever go home?

With a very unladylike grunt, she managed to pull him upright into a sitting position. She was so small, even smaller than he remembered as her hands wrapped in his lapels. Tears flowed down over her reddened cheeks, but he distracted himself by staring at her knees. Why in the world was she wearing trousers? He blinked rapidly, trying to focus. Denim trousers! He looked up to where her hands were trying to press his shoulders back. Her small hands were clean, her nails short but well trimmed. He even thought he could smell a familiar soap. She was no labourer, then. Unmarried as well.

She had grabbed his jaw; forced his head back until he met her eyes. “How much did you take?” She followed the wobbling motion he couldn’t stop his neck from making. She was so angry, her fury lighting her like the sun. Waves of hair the colour of roasted chestnuts falling across her face. “How. Much. Did. You. Take?” Each word emphasized.

He knew he shouldn’t smile. A look in her eyes caught at his breathing. She knew him, was even affected by him! No one had looked at him like that since…he couldn’t remember. “So beautiful.” He remembered wondering she would know him, but the warmth in her eyes was beyond anything he could have hoped for.

“Oh, shit!” She dropped her chin to her chest. Her blouse clung to her scandalously, and appeared to have been painted with a bizarre decoration; massively oversized lips with a tongue thrust obscenely forward. For a brief moment, he wondered if she was without stays, but dismissed the notion. She huffed in irritation. “You’re supposed to be smarter than this!”

She reached out, tucking her head against his shoulder and trying to force him to his knees, nearly falling backward in the process. A wondrous perfume seemed to envelop him in notes of sandalwood and jasmine. He reached out to steady her, and then drew back in alarm. No corsets, no stays; just a thin wisp of what felt like the finest cotton around her narrow waist. The intimacy was shocking.

She rolled onto her feet, hauling him up with her. He tried to assist, but the room wouldn’t hold steady enough for him to right himself. Raising his arm, she pulled his chest tight to her body. He would have protested, but she was already near-dragging him from the room. “You have to stop doing this, you idiot! You aren’t the only one you hurt, you know!”

Dismissal was automatic. “Dear lady, I am sure that…”

“Dear lady?” she repeated back, incredulous. “Where the hell did you get that from?” She propped him in a doorway he couldn’t identify. The walls swimming didn’t help. “Molly, Doctor Hooper; I’ll even tolerate Miss Hooper when you’re really being a prat, but I’m not your dear lady! Got it?”

He would have tried to answer but his stomach lurched painfully. Either the doorframe was growing taller or he was sliding down…

“Oh, no you don’t!” Margaret – Molly, he corrected himself, Doctor Molly Hooper – managed to catch him before his knees hit the floor. She was pulling him into a small room, brightly lit but the light seemed oddly bluish. Why was the light around her always so cold?

Something collided with his knees and he turned, landing on curved porcelain. His head might have struck the hard surface, but she had managed to get her hand in the way. It was a strange moment to realize he still needed a haircut. At least she, Molly, didn’t seem to mind.

A cascade of cold water seemed to hit him from all directions at once, stealing his breath, but giving him a moment of clarity in his mental fog. He looked up sharply at her. The water was pouring over her as well, tendrils of hair hanging limply on her shoulders. “Don’t you ever do this to me again, Sherlock. I mean it. I’ll put up with a lot, but not this. You want to kill me? Make me have to find you like this again. I don’t ever ask much, but I deserve better than this.”

He blinked water from his eyes, trying very hard not to note the effect the cold water was having on her blouse. She knew his name, was implying that they had known each other for at least some previous time before this moment. The fire in her eyes warmed parts of himself he thought long dead. He tried to draw a breath into his constricted lungs. “I’m sorry…Molly.” He managed to get one hand up to touch her cheek. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

He wasn’t sure if she was moving closer or if he had managed to raise his head, but as their lips brushed, her heat seemed to drive away the cold for a few precious moments before the blackness closed over him again.

If I Only Could - Chapter 3

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.

April 1889

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.

oOo

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?”

oOo

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.

If I Only Could - Chapter 1

PROLOGUE

He was coughing wetly, his eyes tearing up, further blurring his hazy vision. The air had grown heavy and hot, pulling at him, weakening his legs even as he tried to move forward.

Figures rushed past unnoticed. Everything was horrid orange red with dark shadows of corridors radiating outward. No brighter yellow from actual fire, but it had to be near, seconds away from pouring forth. No sense of a way out as the pressure built behind his ears.

He stumbled around a pile of timbers already burnt to embers, trying to listen for alarms, voices, anything but the roaring of the flames. The muffled sound of weak coughing off to his left caught his attention, and he swore he heard his name being called.

He found the door and pulled his way through. Concentric rings of incandesce, interwoven in an elaborate pattern, burned brightly and shimmered the air around a single figure at their centre.

A woman, wrapped in a pale sheet, lay crumpled in the one circle of floor as yet untouched. A mass of chestnut curls hid her face from view and one empty hand, already blistered by the fire, outstretched across the floor toward him from her still form. He could see her chest rise and fall, but she was breathing far too slowly.

He was trying to see a path in the pattern, a way through the maze of combustion, when she began to stir, rolling toward him and sitting up. He tried to tell her not to move, that he would find a way to her, but he couldn’t hear his own voice over the roar of the pyre. 

He watched as panic gripped her, her eyes darting wildly all around as she drew herself into a tight ball. Some sense of recognition, of knowing, fell on him like a lead weight. He had dreamt of her all his life.

Her dark amber eyes met his through the shimmering air and he watched as recognition washed through her as well. She reached out to him, her fear palpable. Unheard, she called his name.

She had to keep still; he had to get her to stop! He would find a way for her to escape, but she had to not move! Words fled as muscle gave way and he went to his knees.

She had reached the small bit farther, but the flames hungrily licked at the sheet pressed tight to her flesh. It raced along her, a frantic lover devouring all that it touched. Her screams radiated, shattering…

January, 1879

He snapped awake on the settee in his Montague Street flat, still feeling the smoke burning in his lungs. He shook for a moment before thrusting the memory away; cursing what his own overactive imagination was capable of torturing him with. He had not dreamt of the girl in ages; thought she was some hormone-addled illusion left behind with puberty. He had a case ongoing, and time should not be wasted sleeping. Splashing water on his clammy face, he prepared to confront Mr. Dunkirk’s duplicitous bookkeeper. 

CHAPTER 1

January, 1879

She had dreamt of grey eyes again, silver-grey eyes framed by raven curls and a profile more like the statues at the British Museum than any living person she had ever met. As always, aspects of the dreams left her warm and slightly breathless. At twenty-three, she was painfully aware the dreams were all she was ever apt to have.

“Margaret!” Mrs. Williams called up the stairs to the attic. “Come get your tea! You’re going to be late!”

She swung her legs from under the mound of blankets, the bare boards cold on her stockinged feet. The redness on her hand still stung from where she had gotten careless mixing up the carbolic acid solution last night. The raw crystals were powerful and she shouldn’t have let them come in contact with her bare skin, but she had been trying to get her bottle refilled before supper. Fifteen grains in three ounces of water could save fingers and possibly lives. Her own burns were a negligible price.

Sleeping in her corsets and petticoats was uncomfortable, but with winter trudging on, they kept her warm as well as allowing her to quickly dress in the mornings. The pale blue frock would do for the day. She preferred the pink, but it seemed to draw unwanted attention from Mr. Reynolds, and that was to be avoided at all costs.

Pinning the bottle in its pouch to her petticoats where it would remain unseen, Margaret made her way down the narrow stairs.

“Child, you look a fright!” Mrs. Williams pulled out the pins the girl had haphazardly stuck in her hair and grabbed a brush. “Just because the suitors aren’t pounding down the door, you shouldn’t give up entirely!”

“Yes, ma’am.” She fought the urge to disrespectfully roll her eyes. Her marriageable period had passed while she had spent her time and her family’s finances fighting for her father’s life. The battle had been lost on all fronts and she was trying to create some semblance of a future. With nothing to offer a suitor, it seemed foolish to assume one would come calling.

The final pin was placed, scraping her scalp in the process. “There! That’s better!” The older woman held out her own woollen wrap. “Take mine today, child. It’s gone bitter out there.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll return straight from work, I promise!” Margaret grabbed an apple as she made her way out the door.

oOo

Tommy and Sanford must have seen her coming, because they had already started into their broken and off-key version of ‘Sweet Molly Malone’ as she got close to the warehouse. How her co-workers ever got the idea she was Irish was a mystery she would never comprehend. She liked the Irish she knew, they were of good strong stock, but what she knew of her own family history was all within London itself. They had given her the nickname ‘Molly’ and it had stayed with her ever since. At least that was closer to her given name than the one they tried first: ‘Colleen’!

She managed to sidestep Mr. Reynolds at the door. When she had first been hired, the other girls had told her he was both Russian and Roman. It took her less than a day to realize they were referring to the man’s hands. True, tolerating his interest might have its rewards, but frankly she couldn’t see stomaching the costs. Just looking at him made her want to bathe.

“Molly!” Abigail called out from beside the coal stove where the women of the third floor tried to warm themselves before the shift began. “The swelling has gone down and the red went away!” The small woman held out her hand in obvious joy.

A week earlier when the sewing machine had slipped, driving the needle deep in the poor girl’s finger, Margaret had feared Abigail might lose not only the digit, but the hand as well. She surveyed the healing wound, silently thanking the chemist who had sold her the carbolic crystals and taught her to make the disinfecting solution. The sweet, tarry smell made her feel a bit sick, but being able to help was a blessing.

Mr. Reynolds shattered the air with a bark. “This isn’t a church social, ladies! Get to it!”

oOo

Margaret tried to stand for at least a few minutes out of every hour. Mr. Reynolds did not approve, but the ache in her back became unbearable if she didn’t move. The air had lost its chill after the women had all sewn for a few hours, but frost still clung to the panes. She supposed if the cold got too biting, she could try to visit the men in the pressing rooms.

She eyed the growing mound of blouses with distaste. The pieces were cut from bolts of fabric upstairs before being brought here. She, Abigail and the rest of the third floor ladies did the primary sewing, and then sent the blouses downstairs via a chute for details like buttons and lace. The ground floor employees, directly under Mr. Reynolds’ watchful eye, looked the work over for uneven stitches or missed buttons. Eventually the blouses made their way to be pressed, boxed and shipped from the basement.

Due to this arrangement, heat would rise up the stairwell and she walked to it to warm her feet. The coal stove had emptied hours ago and would not be refilled until the next shift. She tried not to look at the clock, superstition telling her it would slow even further. Nothing to be done for it; time was its own mistress. As much as she loathed this work, at least it was an income. It kept a roof over her head and food in her stomach until some other opportunity might come calling.

Ignoring Anne and Prudence who were whispering excitedly at one of the windows, Margaret made her way back to her machine, trying to identify the acrid odour she had smelled near the stairs. Fire was always a concern in a building as old as the factory, but there was no unusual smoke in the air and the scent had been oily, almost greasy. She was astounded at the silence from below. Usually she could hear the men trading bad jokes and abusing terribly off-colour verses while the presses hissed as a background to it all. She dismissed the sense of dread as sheer foolishness; a shameful desire for excitement in the crushing monotony. Perhaps last night’s dream lingered despite her dismissal of the more unpleasant elements. Carefully matching the sleeve to the back of the blouse, she started pumping the treadle with her feet.

More of the women were joining in peering outside and trading harsh whispers. Mr. Reynolds would be apoplectic if he found them gossiping. Better to keep her head down, ignoring her surroundings by concentrating on her work. Margaret lowered the needle plate and the thread snapped, making her jump a little. She silently cursed her wish for drama. The spool was nearly empty and she would have to get a fresh one. Margaret pulled it from the machine and walked to the storage cabinets at the back of the room.

She spun around at the first scream. Smoke didn’t rise in the stairwell; it billowed in large blackened clouds. By the time she joined the now panicked crowd at the railing, red and orange flames were just visible as they licked their way upward. She closed her eyes, refusing to watch the few foolish enough to still try to climb down that route.

She pulled Abigail away with her. The girl was already coughing, tears running freely down her face. “There’s no other door!”

“What about the chute?” Margaret dragged her over to the flap in the wall that led to the floor below. It was too small for her to pass through, but Abigail should fit. Lord willing, there would be a pile of fabric to catch her. Such things were not discussed in polite company, but she knew all the signs; Abigail was with child.

Margaret lifted her, Abigail clinging with all she had, and got her feet past the flap. “You’ve got to come with me!” Abigail cried.

“I will find you outside.” She kissed her forehead as she took the girl’s hands, holding on as long as she could. With a short prayer, she let go.

She wiped her eyes, trying to clear her vision. The smoke seemed to find some level of its own, just over a foot from the floor. It burned every time she tried to inhale. Coughing seized her, forcing out what little air she could draw in.

Margaret dropped to the floor, mentally cursing her wardrobe. Pulling the skirts as high on her waist as she could, she crawled to the nearest machine. It took several sharp kicks, but the cast iron foot pedal finally came out. Slickness on her hand as she pulled it close; some part had pierced through her shoe and cut into her foot, but she hadn’t noticed it.

She felt more than found the wall. Breaking the window would inevitably draw the smoke, but rescue at this point seemed a foolish dream. She had to try something, anything to escape. The glass broke easily enough, but the bars were too close together for anyone to pass. She wedged the foot pedal between the sill and the grating, trying to find purchase.

A few of the other women seemed to have caught on to what Margaret was attempting, and they came over, grabbing at the metal to assist. She took a moment to return to the fresher air near the floor. Nothing was visible more than a few inches away. Heavy smoke and a deep orange light; roaring came from all directions. For a horrible moment, she wondered if the rest had died already since she could hear no screams or coughs.

She forced herself to her feet, determined to get the deathtrap bars out of the way. The women who were helping seemed to have got the makeshift pry bar in place, but the wood of the sill was giving way before the metal moved.

As she lifted her arms to help, some force crushed the breath from her lungs. Her upper body slammed against the bars she had been fighting and she couldn’t turn to look. The pressure grew ever stronger, but she couldn’t draw air to scream. The rest of the women had surged forward in a panic, their weight crushing out any attempts to free the window. She felt consciousness slip away, unable to even slide to the floor.

oOo

There was nothing but agony. Some measure of awareness had returned, but it was blessedly distant. Margaret could feel the heaviness of morphine in her veins, but the pain ran too deep to be touched. Simply breathing required every bit of strength she had.

There were people in the room; she could hear them talking, but could make no sense of their words. She hoped one of the voices was sweet Abigail, safe but sobbing. The baby would be beautiful; Wiggins’ hair, but Abigail’s eyes.

She tried to move, but only once. She had thought the pain couldn’t get any worse, but she had been wrong. At some point, someone dragged the sheet across her skin. She couldn’t feel it, those surface nerves having burnt away while the deeper nerves screamed. She had heard it; the cotton sounded like sandpaper against her burned flesh. The smell wouldn’t stop; sickly, sweet, putrid. Margaret would cry, but she didn’t have the strength.

Everything eventually went dark and silent, and she guessed it was night. A sharper pain had started in her chest and she recognized the source. She was mourning for herself.

She wanted to curse her own weakness, but there was nothing left to fight for, nothing to hang onto. She had buried all her family. She had friends, but they had lives of their own to contend with. If she was just sick, injured, or damaged, she would find something within herself, fight to hang on. There was nothing.

Once in a book her father showed her, she had seen a block print of Death. Tall, thin, face hidden, draped in a cloak and hood as he emerged from the mists. It was fanciful, but for a moment, she allowed herself to picture that grim image as a suitor, wanting to take her hand. The only thing the grave could offer was suddenly the only thing she wanted: an end to the agony.

As she slipped away with him, she wondered if the hidden figure had silver-grey eyes.

oOo

Sherlock Holmes waited for his planned confrontation outside the tobacconist’s shop. Mr. Dunkirk had been correct in his assumptions that his partner had been cheating him out of part of his profits, but unfortunately, involving the police would first mean convincing their reluctant bookkeeper to produce the real journals. The man was proving to be almost suicidally naive, believing his superior would protect him. Protect him right up to the moment the authorities arrest him, Sherlock thought with a smirk.

A crowd was forming across the street. There were banners hung, people chanting with placards but he ignored them. The burned out shell of a building still smouldered and it reminded him uncomfortably of the nightmare he had endured last night. His Montague Street flat wasn’t far away, and he surmised the odour had triggered the dream. He couldn’t remember much of it: smoke, flame, sweating terrified people trying to flee the conflagration. A common enough occurrence when too many people were trying to live and work in a very limited space. The blight of civilisation taking hold.

She had been in the dream as well; the veiled and vague girl who was some kind of recurring theme in his slumbering mind. A lasting sense of dismay had followed him from his dream state and had adversely plagued him all afternoon. An urgency to take action where none was apparent, a need to temper something beyond his control.

A broad man in a top hat was trying to pull himself up into a hansom cab while bickering hotly with a dark haired, dark eyed individual in an equally expensive suit. The crowd was treating them badly, cursing and shouting threats. The factory’s owner and a politician, undoubtedly. The darker man had a glare in his eye that reminded Sherlock of wild dogs; the thirst for power. No one with that kind of naked desire for power should ever be granted the privilege. Politicians should be like his brother: staid, iron-willed, and utterly boring.

He packed his pipe absently as he dismissed the men and their row from his thoughts. Sleep had always been tricky for him. The morphine helped, but he had been trying to wean himself from it. The lasting effects were beginning to outweigh the benefits.

The dreams when he was a small child were embarrassing enough; Mycroft had once overheard him describing them to his mother and from that moment forward made a point of teasing every time the topic of brownies, fairies or sprites was raised. It made a theatre trip to see Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Nights Dream” particularly mortifying. Mycroft had called him “Bottom” for months.

The same flashing dark amber eyes and a lilting laugh had followed his dreams into puberty. He could never remember the actual contents of the dreams, just a strange sense of acceptance, rightness. The warmth of a hand in his. Confusion.

When he was fifteen, he had been home for the Christmas holiday when he experienced his single bout of nocturnal emission. Before he could strip the sheets from his bed and smuggle them down into the laundry, his brother caught on. He heard of nothing but ‘Titania’ from him for the rest of the holiday. Veiled threats that he should check under his bed, ‘fearing Oberon’s wrath.’ Trying to look up the phenomena on his own, he learned a new word: succubus. As frustrating as his dream was, he couldn’t envision the girl in it as a demon draining the life from him. Mycroft, however, was another matter.

A familiar face in the gathering crowd caught his attention, and Sherlock waved the man over. “What’s going on, Wiggins?”

“Memorial for the fire victims. My wife lost her best friend in there.” The smaller man’s face tightened. “She got my Abigail out, but passed away over at Saint Bartholomew’s this morning. Burned something horrible. Mercy, really.”

Undoubtedly. Burns were some of the most painful wounds a body could endure. Survival, let alone anything resembling a normal life would have been impossible. “I read about it. How many died?”

“Fourteen, but another six haven’t been found.” Wiggins shook his head. “Hospital’s still got four holding on, but not much hope for them.”

“Why so many?” Industrial accidents seemed to be on the rise, but such a count in a factory staffed by mostly women was truly appalling. It was exactly the kind of thing his brother should be working to stop.

“Owner had the place locked up tight. Scared the girls were running off with his stupid blouses. One way in and out, and bars on the windows.” Sotto voce, he added “Hope the bastard chokes to death on his dinner.”

Sherlock couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment. Abigail came over to take her husband’s hand, and he was unsure what to say. “My sympathies,” he ventured.

Abigail gave a ghost of a smile, nodded and bowed her head. Her eyes were hauntingly red and swollen. Sherlock hoped the trauma would not affect the child.

“Mr. Holmes, you know I don’t like to pry, but you’ve got to take better care of yourself. You look like a skeleton in that suit.” Wiggins was trying to lighten the mood and it looked like he was the target. “I know you; you get busy and forget to eat. Need to find you a wife like mine to take care of you.”

“I haven’t found a woman mad enough to tolerate me.” Sherlock tried to use an appropriate smile. “I’m sure I would tax your dear Abigail quite beyond her limits.”

The girl blushed and Wiggins seemed delighted. “Well, find a lodger or something, man! World is far too cold to face alone!” As they walked away, Sherlock was sure Wiggins thought his next comment was unheard. “Bloody toff needs a wet nurse!”

He smiled at the sheer cheek of it. Still, a lodger was an interesting thought. No space in Montague Street, but when his lease came due, perhaps relocating would be in order.

Dr. Dunkirk’s disloyal bookkeeper emerged from the bakery and Sherlock followed him without a sound.

A Dream of Pirates and Maidens Fair

It was kidnapping, I swear it! I was going along, minding my own twisted business when MizJoely brought me this fuzzy little creature with long ears and a cottontail. She asked me to hold it for a minute, look into its soft eyes and see if my hardened heart didn’t melt just a little…

it’s moved in now; drinking all my Tanqueray and my dark chocolate disappeared long ago! I’m either head over heels in love, or I’ve got Stockholm syndrome! Maybe both!

This is an ongoing huge effort. I’ve already written more for it than anything else I’ve ever attempted, and MizJoely has been labouring just as hard! We’ve even commissioned Sempaiko for two pieces…so far. She and I are both keeping lists of further art we want to see! We’ve been blessed with beta efforts from some of the best writers around, and this little bonfire is well on its way to a full conflagration! it’s being the ride of a lifetime, and I promise to share very soon!

As a tease, MizJoely asked to use a single paragraph of my part of the tale for this ephemeral beauty. Have a taste; the feast is on the way!

If you need a soundtrack, mine (so far) has been “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo.

…and I thank my beloved MizJoely for getting me into this glorious mess!

A Dream of Pirates and Maidens Fair

Author’s Note: This little ficlet was inspired by a larger work I am collaborating on with WickedWanton, who blames my muse for kidnapping her into participating, completely against her will (to which I say PHOOEY – YOU WENT VOLUNTARILY!). Without giving too much away, the story will involve both modern and Victorian versions of Sherlock, featuring Molly Hooper in a very prominent way and hopefully turning out to be something everyone will enjoy reading. This bit is a dream the Victorian version of Sherlock has (yes, one of THOSE dreams all teenaged boys experience…), and I own nothing and no one, not even the first paragraph! That’s WickedWanton’s, which she graciously loaned me. Thanks, Wicked!

When he was fifteen, he was home for the Christmas holiday when he experienced his single bout of nocturnal emission. Before he could strip the sheets from his bed and smuggle them down into the laundry, his brother caught on. He heard of nothing but ‘Titania’ from him for the rest of the holiday. Veiled threats that he should check under his bed, ‘fearing Oberon’s wrath.’ Trying to look up the phenomena on his own, he learned a new word: succubus. As frustrating as his dream was, he couldn’t envision the girl in it as a demon draining the life from him. Mycroft, however, was another matter.

As for the dream itself…he removed it from his memory, erased it, pretended it had never happened. (But it remained, lurking in the background, persistently ignored but never truly as erased as he pretended it was…)

He was on a pirate ship. He hadn’t dreamed of being a pirate since he was six, but nonetheless there he was, fifteen and dressed in ragged breeches, feet bare and a short sword at his hip. No eyepatch, no peg leg, but there were plenty among the crew with those piratical aspects so that was fine. Made the dream more enjoyable (he always knew when he was dreaming, could even affect them to a certain extent if he wanted to - it certainly helped keep the nightmares he occassionally experienced from getting too horrific).

They’d just sunk another ship; he could see the wreckage burning in the distance, while the rest of the crew cheerfully drank themselves into stupors and tussled over the booty they’d collected from the English vessel. A merchantman, with a fat haul. Perfect end to a perfect day at sea.

He turned, and she was there, a girl about his age, looking terrified. Her dress was torn at the shoulder as if someone had grabbed her, and he felt a sick feeling in his gut; the cap’n didn’t allow the men to force themselves on the female captives, preferring to ransom them off to their families — or, if they had no family with money to ransom them, then he’d take them back to the island they called home and find places for them.

It was most likely Anderson; that bastard couldn’t keep his hands to himself (how did he know so much about this crew, he’d never had such a detailed dream before, part of his mind mused) and the black eye the other pirate was now sporting was proof that someone had taken the time to remind him about the captain’s rules.

His lip curled into a sneer as he thought about their captain, his elder brother who had only reluctantly taken Sherlock on as a crewman this past year, after their mother’s death. There was no one left on the island after the illness claimed her to keep Sherlock from running wild, and so Mycroft had decided that yes, a pirate ship was a better option than leaving his little brother home to terrorize the natives and families of his crew who called their little island home.

The girl was still looking at him, glassy eyed, terrified, and impulsively he put out a hand and patted her clumsily on the shoulder — the one without the torn sleeve. “You’ll be fine,” he assured her. “Cap’n’ll get you ransomed off soon enough.”

Sadly she looked even more terrified at his words, lowering her eyes and clutching her hands tightly together. “I’m an orphan,” she whispered, and he felt a strange sensation in the area of his heart, as if it had been squeezed tightly in a vice.

"So’m I," he confessed in a low voice, thankful that it was staying in the deeper register it had recently lowered to and not squeaking the way it had when he was fourteen. He was also glad that he hadn’t yet reached his full height, was only a head taller than the petite girl with the big brown eyes and cinammon colored hair standing before him. He tugged at her sleeve. "Don’t worry, anyway. None of the others’ll touch you, they know better. Come with me to the galley," he coaxed. "Cookie’ll have something for you to eat."

Like all dreams, it changed after the girl shyly slipped her hand into his. Instead of being on the pirate ship, they were now on dry land - a tropical island of the sort he’d only ever read about in the waking world,although here he could feel the sand between his toes, the warmth of the sun on his shirtless back (when had he gone shirtless?) and head — and especially the comfortable feel of her hand in his. He glanced back at her; she was no longer wearing the torn gown, was clad instead in what were most likely a pair of his own trousers (cleaner than the ones he was sporting) and a shirt (also most likely his) tied snugly at the waist. Her hair was caught back in a simple tail, and there were freckles on her sun-kissed cheeks.

She looked adorable, lovely in a way that was so natural, so unselfconscious, that he felt his mouth drying and his heart pounding at the sight of her. She caught his gazed and ducked her head, but not before he saw the blush suffusing her cheeks. “Don’t look at me like that, Sherlock,” she said in that soft voice of hers. “It’s not proper.”

His response was a lazy grin and “Oh? And you wandering about in boy’s clothes IS proper, Molly?”

"Margaret," she protested, but there was a dimple showing and he knew she didn’t mean it.

He startled a squeak out of her when he suddenly turned off the path they’d been following (they’d been going to the beach, this path lead from the village to the beach and they’d snuck away from the chores Mycroft had set them at, giggling like children the entire time) and pressed her up against a smooth-bored palm. She stared at him through wide brown eyes as his hands landed on either side of her face. “Molly,” he said hoarsely, then suddenly they were kissing, her mouth opening beneath his, her hands on the bare skin of his back.

They shouldn’t be doing this, it was wrong, and Mycroft would have his hide if he knew his little brother was rutting up against Molly like a common sailor in a brothel, but she wasn’t exactly pushing him away and so Sherlock found he could care less what his brother thought. All he could think about was how soft and warm and curvy Molly’s petite form was beneath his; all he could hear was her breathy little moans, the way she said his name with such eagerness, the way her hands had shyly slid down to his waist and settled on his hips.

He’d never felt like this before, like his body was a burning brand, one part in particular throbbing insistently inside his trousers. Molly’s delicate fingers had moved from his hips to the ties of his trouser, and she was begging him to help her with her own clothing — and Mycroft always insisted that a gentleman did whatever a lady asked of him, didn’t he?

When he’d freed her of her borrowed clothing she blushed but didn’t try to hide herself, asking softly if he liked her body, if her breasts were too small or her hips too wide…He answered her with a feverish kiss, took her hand and placed it on his cock, gasping against her lips as she stroked him, bringing him closer and closer to the fulfillment he longed for, while his own hands brushed against her small, perfect, breasts, feeling the nipples hardening into tight little nubs as his fingers closed around them. “Sherlock,” she cried out, her hand stroking stroking stroking…

…and he awoke with a strangled gasp, blinking sweat out of his eyes as he adjusted to the fact that he was no longer on some tropical island with the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen (what did she look like, why couldn’t he remember that one detail) but instead lying in his own bed.

With a sticky wetness covering his groin and belly.

Reinterpreting Wuthering Heights: Excerpt Chapter 15

“There’s a message for you, Mrs. Lestrade.”  I carefully put the paper in the hand she had rested on her knee.  “I need you to read it right now because it needs a response.”  She nodded without ever looking my way.  “It’s very short.  Read it now.”  She pulled her hand away, letting the paper fall.  I returned it to her, waiting for her to at least look at it, recognize the handwriting.  It took so long that I finally added “It’s from Sherlock.”

 

Her fingers twitched, a veiled spark in her eye as she tried to gather her thoughts.  She looked over the message, sighing at the signature.  She must not have really read it because she wouldn’t give me an answer; she just pointed at the name, looking both pained and joyful.

 

“He wants to see you.”  Maybe her illness kept the words on paper from making sense.  “He’s probably in the back garden by now.  Freak never has learned how to wait.”

 

I could see their terrier sunning himself on the patio suddenly leap up, ears forward, reacting to a visitor.  A small yip and he settled in again, approving the invasion.  Mrs. Lestrade was listening closely, hearing the footfall before it came.  Leaving the doors open was too much temptation for Sherlock, although locks alone would never have kept him out.  Molly looked toward her bedroom door, pulling him to her in her mind.  Doors were banging, but he found his way before I could open the right one.  In a flash he was knelt by her side, his arms wrapped around her.

 

Neither of them spoke as they held each other tightly.  I’m sure Sherlock kissed her more in those minutes than he’d ever kissed anyone in his life.  She never pulled away and he stayed too close to see her face clearly.  He knew from the moment he had seen her, just like I had.  Molly wasn’t going to get better.  Death was moving in.

 

“Molly!  How could you do this?”  His voice was cracking.  I had never expected tears, and none came, but his eyes burned so strongly I thought they must have been seared away.

 

“Do what?” Molly said, leaning away and meeting his eyes with a blaze of her own, her moods as unsettled as her spirit.  “You and Greg broke my heart, Sherlock!  Then you both come crying to me to make you feel better about it?  No.  I’ve no sympathy at all for either of you.  You’ve killed me and think you’ve gotten stronger because of it.  So strong now.  How long will you go on when I’m gone?”

 

Sherlock had knelt beside her chair, but as he tried to stand, she wove her hand in his hair, keeping him near.

 

“I want to keep you close until we’re both dead!” she hissed.  “I’ve suffered and you never noticed!  Why should I care now?  How long until you forget me?  Will you finally be happy when I’ve gone?  Will you smirk at my graveside, tell people ‘There lays Molly Hooper.  She loved me long ago, and it was a distraction to lose her, but it’s past.  I’ve had others since, more important than she was and when I die, I won’t be happy to join her; I’ll be sorry to miss them.’  Will you, Sherlock?”

 

“Don’t.  I’m already as mad as you.”  He wrenched his head free, ground his teeth.

 

It was almost surreal to witness.  Molly had always been so gentle, forgiving, yet now the only color in her face was vindictiveness.  Her lips were taut, her eyes wild, and she still held some of his hair locked in her tight fingers.  He was pushing up with one hand, his other grasping her arm so strongly that when he let her go, I could see the beginning of bruises, blue against her deathly pallor.

 

“How you must hate me.” He hissed venomously.  “You think you can cut me any deeper?  You think you can somehow poison me, make the wound grow after you’ve gone?  You know I didn’t kill you, Molly, and you know I can’t ever forget you!  Isn’t it enough for you that while you’re at peace, you’ll have left me here alone?”

 

“I won’t be at peace!”  Molly moaned, trembling with the violent and uneven throbbing of her heart.  The strain was visible in her throat and she said nothing until the paroxysm passed.  She continued, gentler-

 

“I don’t want you to suffer any more than I have, Sherlock, I just don’t ever want to be away from you.  If anything I’ve ever done hurts you in the future, I’ll feel it wherever I am.  Please, forgive me.  Come back here, please.  You’ve never hurt me, not really.  Don’t be angry with me.  That would be a worse memory than anything I could say.  Please come back.”

 

Sherlock stood at the back of her chair, leaning forward but not so far that she could see his unguarded face.  She moved, trying to look at him, but he wouldn’t allow it.  Turning abruptly, he walked to the window and stood silent, his back to us.  Mrs. Lestrade followed every movement with her eyes, her face hardening by the moment.  She spoke to me, indignant and disappointed.

 

“See?  He won’t bend his stiff neck for even a moment to keep me out of the grave.  That’s how I’m cared for!  Never mind.  That is not my Sherlock.  I will love mine yet, and take him with me in my soul.”  She laughed brokenly.  “The worst part is my ruined body after all.  I’m so tired of being trapped here.  I want to escape into whatever comes next.  I’ve seen glimpses, had hopes, but now I want to be in it, with it.  You think you’re better off, healthy and strong here, pitying me, but that’s backwards.  Soon I’ll be free, beyond, above.”  She whispered to herself “I thought Sherlock wanted to be near me.  So sullen now.  Sherlock, please-“

 

She pushed herself up by the arms of her chair, eager to reach him.  Her voice had broken his calm, and he turned to look at her, desperate.  His eyes flashed, wide and wet, and his breath heaved.  They held apart for a moment, and then she seemed to leap toward him.  He caught her in an embrace I thought she would die in, her eyes unfocused and her jaw slack.  He drew her with him into the nearest seat and when I came close to check on her, he growled, gnashing at me, gathering her to him with greedy jealousy.  He didn’t seem truly human.

 

After several long minutes where I wondered if she’d ever wake up, she reached up to clasp his neck.  She held her cheek to his as he drew her closer, moving frantically.  He was speaking wildly-

 

“Molly, you’ve been so cruel, cruel and false.  How could you despise me so much?  Why did you betray your own heart, Molly?  I’ve no pity for you.  You’ve killed yourself.  You can kiss me and weep; I’ll kiss you and cry, but its poison.  You say you love me, but then how could you leave me?  How could you leave me for that shadow you felt for Lestrade?  Lies, misery, degradation, death, nothing anyone or anything could have inflicted on us could have parted us.  You, of your own free will, did it.  I didn’t break your heart; you did, and you broke mine with it.  You think I’m strong, but how do I live if my soul is in the grave?”

 

“Don’t!  Please don’t!” Molly sobbed.  “I’m already dying for it!  You left me too, but I forgave you!  Can’t you forgive me?”

 

He kissed her then, his eyes closed tight to shut out her pallid skin, her wasted face.  “It’s so hard.  I forgive what you’ve done to me.  I love my murderer, but how can I love yours?”

 

They went quiet then, pressed together, faces washed in tears.  It seemed even Sherlock Holmes could weep on an event like this.

 

I could hear the church bell chiming down the road.  “Service is over.  Mr. Lestrade will get home in minutes.”

 

Sherlock cursed and pulled an unmoving Molly closer.

 

I saw Mr. Lestrade open the gate to the back garden, enjoying the afternoon, soft as summer.

 

“He’s here!”  I grimaced.  “Sherlock, you have to go!  You can get down the stairs and out the front door unseen!  Stay in the side yard until he’s inside!”

 

“I have to go, Molly.”  Sherlock tried to ease out of her embrace.  “I’ll see you again before you sleep.  I’ll be right outside your window.”

 

“No, please, Sherlock!”  She held on with what little strength she had.

 

“Just for an hour.”  He pled.

 

“Not for a moment.”

 

“I have to.  Lestrade will be up in a minute.” He was trying to stand up but she clung gasping, mad resolve in her face.

 

“No!”  She cried.  “No, don’t go!  Greg won’t hurt us, Sherlock!  I’m dying now!  Oh, god, Sherlock!  I’m dying now!”

 

Sherlock sunk back into the seat, drawing her close again.  “Hush.  Hush, Molly, I’ll stay.  If he shoots me, it would be a blessing.”

 

They were inseparable but I could hear my boss coming up the stairs.  I was appalled, sweating.

 

“Are you going to listen to her?”  I was frantic.  “She’s delirious!  You’ll ruin her and she can’t defend herself!  Get up, damn it!  This is by far the worst thing you’ve ever done!”

 

I cried out and Mr. Lestrade hastened in.  I was in a panic, but relieved to see Molly’s arms had fallen away from the intruder, her head hung limply.

 

“Fainted or dead.”  I thought.  “Better that she be dead than an ongoing burden, making everyone around her so miserable.”

 

Greg leapt at the intruder, scarlet in anger.  He stopped only when Sherlock pressed her unmoving body into his arms.

 

“Help her, Lestrade.  Please help her, and then you can settle with me!”

 

Sherlock went downstairs and waited in the living room.  Mr. Lestrade and I tried many things, finally getting some level of consciousness from her, but not truly waking her.  She sighed, moaned, but didn’t seem to recognize anyone.  Greg was so worried; he seemed to forget the man downstairs.  I didn’t.  At the first chance, I went down, ordering him out.  I told him Molly was better and I’d meet with him in the morning.

 

“I’ll go outside” he nodded.  “But I’ll stay in the back garden.  Keep your word and meet with me or I’ll arrange another visit without you.”

 

He took a long look up the stairway, listening, and then took his luckless presence out of the house.

 

http://www.literature.org/authors/bronte-emily/wuthering-heights/chapter-15.html

You can’t beat a Bronte for angst!  

He Came In Through The Bathroom Window

This is all MizJoely’s fault!  And the Beatles!  And…oh, the heck with it!

 

Molly paused, looking at him in the mirror, her barrette not yet closed.  “Just promise me you’ll behave.”  She had had a sinking suspicion ever since John had invited the two of them for the newly married couple’s first dinner party in their new home.  “This is a big deal for them, especially for Mary; she still thinks you don’t like her.”

 

“I got John to the church on time.”  Sherlock seemed to concentrate on a bit of non-existent dust on his lapel, realizing the trap too late to avoid.

 

“Within two hours of the time on the invitations hardly counts.”  She pulled a few wisps of hair loose across her forehead.  “Besides, he was still covered in glitter…”

 

“It was a case!” the hard stare just enough of a pout to make her smile.  “Hardly my fault he tripped over that boa and caught himself on the make up table!”

 

“You knew that, I knew that, Mary knew that, but her family thought you’d brought him straight from the bachelor party!”  She waited until he’d drawn a deep breath to retort before she dropped the hammer.  “And don’t think I didn’t notice where that red thong in his suit pocket really came from!”

 

He swallowed his come back, trying to hide a sudden smirk.  Maybe she was just a little too observant.

 

oOo

 

She almost felt sorry for Sherlock; almost.  Her real pity was being used for both Mary and John.  Mary was still trying to get used to her new oven and as a result the joint of meat wasn’t going to be ready anywhere near when she’d expected.  Mary’s collection of under-her-breath curses was truly awe inspiring, but the delay was a possible time bomb.

 

John, bless him, had recognized the potential problem and moved to do all he could to keep boredom from settling in.  Unfortunately, he reverted to trying to be the good host instead of addressing the more personalized localized difficulty.  A guided tour of the new house hardly dented the time suddenly available before they could eat.  Molly winced as John showed Sherlock the bookshelves he had built himself, thinking it might trigger at least a lecture if not full out librarian assault.  Fortunately, the medical texts were few and far between and Mary’s extensive collection of pop fiction and romance novels seemed to put Sherlock off his usual zeal for being able to pull a quick reference.

 

Molly was just about to fake a text from Lestrade to send to Sherlock’s mobile so they could beat a hasty retreat when Mary called out from the kitchen.

 

“John. Didn’t you get another bottle of burgundy?”  Mary stood in the doorway, bottle in hand.  “We’ve only got the one and it’s not going to be enough for four.”

 

“Damn.”  John shook his head.  “Sorry, love, I forgot.  I’ll go and…”

 

“I’ll go.” Sherlock already had the closet door open, pulling his coat off the hanger.  “There’s an Asda not too far away.”

 

John jingled his keys.  “We’ll take the car.  Only take a minute.”

 

“Oh no, you don’t!”  Mary scrubbed her hands on the kitchen towel.  “The last time you two stepped out for ‘just a minute’, I didn’t hear from you for three days!”

 

John looked embarrassed, Sherlock chagrinned, so Molly chimed in.  “Well, they were in Dornoch.  Not many mobile phone towers that far north.”

 

“Not much of anything in that part of Scotland.”  Sherlock added, sotto voce. 

 

“Yet you still found forgers there.”  Mary laughed.  “Look, I’m not going to argue about how important chasing criminals is.  I just want one nice sit down dinner with us all to commemorate the new house before the craziness sets in, all right?  Please?”

 

John looked back and forth between his bride and his friend; seeming to play out the possibilities in his mind before dropping the keys back in his pocket.  Sherlock shopping alone was chaos, but he couldn’t see trapping Molly as the only available referee.  At least not until he was sure Mary forgave Sherlock for the mess over the drinks cooler he had foolishly not checked before bringing it home from Baker Street.  Bit not good, and he should have known better.

 

“I’ll return as soon as I can.”  Sherlock was out the door before Molly could offer to go along.

 

oOo

 

It wasn’t long before Molly excused herself to go to the bathroom.  John was nearly running himself ragged, trying to help his wife in the kitchen and still carry on a conversation with his guest.  She figured she could make herself absent for a short time just to give the poor man a break.

 

It was a beautiful bathroom, anyway.  A huge enameled cast iron claw footed tub took up an inordinate amount of room, its pale blue shower curtain glowing from the light of the frosted glass window.  It made the whole room appear to be some under the sea fantasy.  Embroidered towels and those silly mini soaps added to the illusion.

 

Molly had barely slid the bolt in place when a low sound made her jump.  “Why can she never remember I don’t drink red wine?”

 

Trying to slow her hammering heart, she pulled aside the shower curtain, finding Sherlock stretched out in the bottom of the tub, his coat spread out beneath him, his arms folded.  The window above still sat ajar.

 

Yelling at him would only draw unwanted attention.  “I thought you gave up bathroom windows when you ‘resurrected’.  Trying to turn water into wine now?”

 

He waved dismissively.  “I was born via cesarean section.  Old habits die hard.  Acceptable enough house, but the lack of security is appalling.  You’d think John would know better by now.”

 

“Especially since he knows he has to try to keep his best friend out.”  She perched on the edge of the tub with a sigh.

 

“He could at least make it a challenge if he doesn’t want to bore me.”  He tugged at her sleeve.  “Need to pay attention to something.”

 

“Try impulse control.”  Molly pulled her arm loose, suspicious of where he seemed to be leading.  Trust Sherlock Holmes to finally break his self imposed chastity and go immediately to nearly limitless, though monogamous experimentation.  “You promised me you’d behave tonight.”

 

“You asked; I never agreed.” He snatched her hand back, rubbing a finger over her wrist.  Besides, if memory serves, you don’t actually like it when I behave.”

 

She tried to pull away, but warned by the first time, he wouldn’t let go.  “How would you know?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen…”

 

“Behaving is boring.” He pulled her down enough that he could kiss her wrist.  He switched tactics as she tried to reclaim her arm.  “All right, what should I behave as?  A cad?  A scoundrel?”  He tried to get her to move closer, but she had planted her feet.  “How about the big bad wolf?”

 

“Woof.” It slipped out involuntarily, and she knew the battle was lost.  She tried to not let it be the war.  “You could try gentleman.  Might make a nice change.”

 

“Boring!” he reiterated.  “And this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity; a bathtub I actually fit in.”  He tried pouting.

 

“I’m not getting in there!”  She drew out of his orbit, moved to the mirror over the pedestal sink, trying to focus on checking her hair.  “My luck, I’d slip and break something; maybe even you.  I’m sure we could housesit for them sometime.  Fill it up and have a proper bath together.”  The tub in her flat had proven to be practically a nightmare when they had tried it together, the spigot nearly ruining his back.

 

He stood and drew up behind her, wrapping his arms around her while his lips trailed down her neck.  “Have I told you how much I’ve come to appreciate skirts?  His fingers were already working the buttons on the side of hers loose.  “I always thought they were impractical before; too much delicate skin left exposed.”

 

She put her hand over his; a token protest.  “You can’t stop breaking into things, can you?”  Their eyes met in the mirror for a moment and he paused.  She knew all it would take was a word and he would stop.  Not being able to say the word was entirely on her.

 

“Not when it makes you blush like that.  Far too much incentive.”  He’d managed enough of a gap to reach through to her skin, his fingers brushing gently down and across the front of her panties.  “Speaking of incentives…” he pressed more firmly, smirking at the discovery she was already aroused.

 

She managed to silence the squeak, but jumped a bit, pushing back against him.  “Sherlock, we can’t do this here!  We’ll get caught!  If you want to shock John, put a head in his fridge and leave me out of it!”  It felt delightful, but was wrong in so many ways.

 

“Too much fun to have you at the heart of it.”  He maneuvered under the elastic, moving to her core.  “We won’t get caught as long as you behave.  You keep telling me you know how to not make a scene.”  A single finger, prodding.  “Care to test the theory?”

 

She tried turning, reaching, but he tightened his grip on her hip, pulling loose from her skirt, then turning her to face him.  He was a bit astounded by how quickly her interest had matched his own as she drew him into an immediately deep kiss.  Yet another mystery she gifted him with.  He’d begun to wonder, maybe even hope that she would be the one enigma he’d never fully know.

 

He lifted her, perching her on the edge of the sink, silently thanking whoever had chosen the pedestal design as it would hold up to a bit of strain.  Working the skirt higher on her thighs wasn’t too distracting, but she had to cooperate, work with him to get her underwear off.  She was making breathy little moans as he bent to taste her.

 

A trail of kisses along her inner thigh and he blew a small gust across her heated flesh.  Time was becoming an issue, but he’d made a point of discovering the fastest, most potent method of bringing her to the precipice.  Unfortunately, in their mutual enthusiasm, his first contact with her dampened folds caused her to spasm, slamming her hips hard enough against the porcelain that he was afraid she’d bruised.

 

She was pulling him up by the shoulder, and he followed, concerned she’d changed her mind.  The thought was cast out as she reached for his belt, pulling it undone even as she pulled him closer.  Her eyes were flashing.  “I thought we were testing a theory.”  She moved onto his zipper.  “That would require both test subjects.”

 

He gasped sharply as he felt his own briefs no longer an impediment.  He smirked against her smile.  “I believe that can be arranged.” She guided him to her as he kissed her, determined to trap any sounds between them.  The risk of being caught was only fun as long as it remained a hypothetical.

 

He shivered as her warmth enfolded him, the familiar sensation still shockingly new.  She astounded him.  He had always assumed this level of intimacy would simply mimic solitary release with the added complications of attachments and expectations.  Games he’d never felt an interest in or had patience for.  She proved him wrong every time.

 

Oxygen was becoming an issue as their hips moved, first gently, then as the tension grew, with a more frenetic edge.  Their lips parted but their eyes locked as her quivering thighs held him close, contracting and loosening as her hands clung desperately at his shirt.  Her blazing stare told him deeper than words that she wanted, needed him as much as he wanted and needed her.

 

He pulled her closer, feverishly pressing his mouth to hers, silencing her moans with his lips.  Trying to seduce her here had never been about the risk of getting caught.  Somehow she had made him frantic, hungry, and crazed.  When he had discovered her acceptance of him, the desire to test the limits of that gift blossomed.  A narrow band of calculated risk, designed to never wound her, but that he couldn’t help exploring.  Trusting in her to let him know if he went too far.

 

The edge almost there as he pressed his cheek to hers, willing them both to a silence he wanted to shatter.  He whispered her name, so softly it was more felt than heard as they neared their high. Her nails found momentary purchase against his back as his fingers dug deeply into her hips, hearts racing without a sound.

 

They were still clinging together, motionless but for trying to regain their breath when the stillness was broken by a deep buzzing sound.  The thickness of his coat pocket muffled the mobile’s vibrations, but the iron of the tub acted as an amplifier. 

 

Her blush was glorious as he pulled away to lift the coat free, both of them trying to not giggle as they righted clothing, tried to restore the bathroom to its innocent appearance.

 

He leaned close.  “Don’t forget to flush and run the tap.  John’s not quite that oblivious.”  A quick brush of lips to cheek as he was already reaching for the window sill.

 

“You know I’m going to get my revenge?” She asked, amazed that he could get his long legs out the window frame so fast.

 

He smirked.  “Looking forward to it.”  He pushed backward, dropping the few feet to the ground.

 

She leaned out.  “Maybe you’ll have to throw the next party!” 

 

He shrugged, pulling on his gloves.  “Not until you move in.  John and Mary would never believe I’d do it on my own.”  Sherlock flashed a small smile, disappearing around the side of the house.

 

Molly sat on the edge of the tub with a bit of a thump.  After a moment, she snorted a laugh.  Only that infuriating man would deliver such a backhanded way of inviting her to move in with him!  

It Just Won't Quit

Because going all the way is just a start

Deep thanks to my beta MizJoely for holding my hand

“It Just Won’t Quit” music and lyrics by Jim Steinman

 

And I never really sleep anymore

And I always get those dangerous dreams

And I never get a minute of peace

And I got to wonder what it means

And I got to wonder what it means

 

The rain had already slowed to a mist, but he was soaked to the skin, staring up across the street.  He’d been awake for days as the chaos and insanity of the end of the living nightmare played out by frightening degrees.  He’d held tight to the one burning point that had only grown brighter as his perpetual night had darkened.  Now he stood frozen in place, afraid to look too closely at the flames. 

 

There had been no place in his life for a lover, a companion, a paramour.  He had had interests over time but they had faded, far too quickly to have been worth bothering, or even thinking about; an impossibility.  He had thought himself incapable until what few dreams marked him turned to a comfort he’d fought to deny.  So hard to stop thinking of dying and start finding a way to live.  Dying would have been far easier.

 

It had been the thoughts of her that had gotten him through the darkness far deeper than any midnight had ever provided.  The briefest touches of skin remembered, a brush of lips to cheek, but the memory he clutched almost desperately to was her eyes.  Wide with acceptance, forgiveness, brimming over with something he didn’t dare define. 

 

He no longer resembled himself; hair too short, far too light.  Too many scars stretched across too little flesh.  She had seen him once.  Still too hard to take in how well she saw him without turning away.  The truth at the time hadn’t been pretty, but now had grown powerful, ugly.  Would he disgust her now?  Would she see what he’d been forced to become?

 

Could she still accept him?  She had once, had seemed to almost cherish him, but there was so little of him left.  His hands shook, thinking what an empty burned out husk he had become.  Could she still welcome him, not expect him to be the ghost she had held in her mind?

 

Maybe it’s nothing and I’m under the weather

Maybe its just one of those bugs going round

Maybe I’m under a spell and it’s magic

Maybe there’s a witch doctor with an office in town

 

She opened the door at his second knock, the chain swinging wildly as she’d pulled it from the lock.  He couldn’t identify where his voice had risen from but the words tumbled forth.  “Its over.”  Too many others he couldn’t make himself say.  Did we make it through?  Did I survive?  Can I come home now?  Can you be home for me?  He could see the momentary joy flash across her features but it quickly evaporated against something else, something so deep it shook what little protection he still had.  How could she know all of what it had cost him?  He hadn’t been able to mourn it all.

 

She must have been fresh from a bath, her hair clamped with a clip haphazardly on top of her head; wet tendrils escaping to curl damply on her face and neck.  A plain robe drawn loosely around her.  The warmth of the water still emanated from her, waves of vanilla and sandalwood hanging in the air between them.

 

He stepped closer, willing her to know if she pulled away from him now, retreated from his touch, he would shatter as if he’d been dropped on dry ice.  What little of him he had managed to hang on to would be gone as if he’d never been.

 

He caressed her cheek, his fingertips resting on her jaw.  He brought his lips to hers, waiting, nearly touching.  He had to know, without question or doubt that she wanted this, wanted him.  An impossible battered hope he had clung to when all else failed him

 

She made the smallest, lushest sound he’d ever heard and he gave in, kissing her fully as the barriers of a lifetime crumbled around him and her arms wrapped him in.  She was soft and good and pure and he was already so hopelessly lost.

 

Is this a blessing or is it a curse

Does it get any better, can it get any worse

Will it go on forever, is it over tonight

Does it come with the darkness, does it bring out the light

Is it richer than diamonds or just a little cheaper than spit

 

Bewildered, he felt her deepened the kiss, her lips soft and warm against his, silky absolution dancing on her tongue, trapping quiet sounds between them.  She would be his solace, her tears running down his skin to the parched and barren soul within.  A silence without threat, broken only by their breathy moans.  A strange pride that he could coax those sounds from her.

 

She drew him in so close, pulled him in so tight as her fingers traced his collarbone.  “It’s all right.” she whispered against his lips.  “I’ve got you.”  Over and over between the kisses, a prayer, a benediction.  A permanent ending forever held at bay because she would never allow it.  A hot rush of possessiveness rolling over him, a sudden ache to belong with her.

 

He could taste her heartbeat in the hollow of her throat, hammering irregularly against his tongue as she caught her lip between her teeth.  The sweet press of her body against his as unconsciously their hips drew tighter.  He couldn’t comprehend it, but he could drown in it, give himself over to the siren song he never heard, never defined, only felt within his bones.  A pull he was too tired of fighting.

 

Her small hands gliding along his spine, pulling at his shirt, stripping the reluctance from him.  No hesitation in her touch as she seemed to search for his skin, the assurance that he was really there, beneath her fingers, home.  A sensual promise that he was welcomed. 

 

Touch had always been clinical, often painful, yet every brush of her body was warmth and a sensation he didn’t dare hope was affection.  How could she care so much?  He was too greedy, too selfish, and far too hungry to wait for an answer.  Her face was flush with arousal.  “I need you.”  He confessed, trusting more than he’d ever intended.

 

“I’ve always been yours.” She breathed.

 

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

 

The taste of her on his mouth left him craving so much more.  She was temptation and salvation and a thousand other things he’d always believed were lies, that didn’t really exist in a world as harsh and cold as the one he knew.  He’d tried to deny the hope for far too long but the roaring wouldn’t stop this time.

 

The feel of her mouth was exquisite torture, soft little moans rising from her throat.  He wanted it to be beautiful, gentle, and sweet, for it to linger for hours as the world moved on without them, but it was all ready far too late for that.  The hunger, the need had already robbed him, left him aching with unspoken desire, needing the sweet promise of fulfillment.  Coherent thought was far behind and the moment bordered on agony.

 

Her eyes were burning wildly and fiercely and he was at the ragged edge, hanging on by his fingernails as her touch, her scent tore at his battered control.  Far, far too fast, but he thought stopping, letting go of her might actually kill him.  A pause, just a heartbeat to see if she would pull away before he swept her up, carried her to her small bedroom.

 

He heard her breath catch, doubt reaching with an icy hand for just a moment.  He wasn’t sure he could bear this, to be so open, so vulnerable in a way he’d never allowed himself before.  The urgency demanding, consuming.  The intolerable awareness of how much harm they could do to each other.  A small prayer; that she could be strong enough for both of them.  Strong enough for a place without form or definition.  She had to help him to see that through.

 

And there used to be such an easy way of living

And there used to be every hope in the world

And I used to get everything that I went after

But there never used to be this girl

No, there never used to be this girl

 

He placed her back on her feet, forgoing the brighter overhead light in favor of the more muted glow of her bedside lamp.  He immediately missed the warmth of her body under his hands.  His mouth felt abandoned.  She didn’t hide from his intent gaze, a soft blush coloring her skin.  The hard ridge of flesh trapped between them as she pressed herself closer to him.

 

The delicate rasp of fabric on skin, barriers and walls falling as clothing was cast aside, leaving vulnerability far deeper than flesh could hold.  Scars showing, even the ones never mapped in blood.  After this, her body would harbor no more secrets and neither would his soul.  He eased her back on the mattress, followed her down.

 

Long soft sweeping caresses as he trailed open mouthed kisses down her throat and across her chest.  His hands settled on her breasts, her nipples hardening under his palms.  He followed with his lips, sucking sharply, and then laving the sting away with his tongue.

 

She reached for him, drawing her palm along his length before gently wrapping her hand around him.  He allowed his fingers to trace a path across her stomach.  So eager, she was already wet for his touch.  He found her apex, stroking the cluster of her nerves, trying to find the rhythm of her pleasure.  Seeing her eyes roll back, her knees rising from the bed, her face tracing a silent scream as a moan of purest want rose from her.

 

His head dropped back.  The friction was becoming unbearable as he hissed softly, withdrawing her hand, needing for this first time together to be within her.  His body throbbed with the need to bury himself inside her, to feel her soft flesh yield to him, her body accepting him.  The traditional position because he needed the intimacy of her eyes, her gaze.  To be over her, to protect her, shelter her, hide her from all eyes but his own.  He could no longer stand a distance between them.

 

Maybe I’m crazy and I’m losing my senses

Maybe I’m possessed by a spirit or such

Maybe I’m desperate and I’ve got no defenses

Can you get me a prescription for that one perfect touch

 

Heat against wetness and he paused at her entrance, a thousand questions and he was lost in her eyes.  Was this okay?  Could he be what she wanted?  Broken as he was, could he be enough?  Her eyes shining back only warmth, acceptance and what he hoped against all instinct was affection.

 

The moment was raw and carnal, etching itself in his mind forever.  One sharp thrust, a twist of his hips and he buried himself in her to the hilt.  Gasping, grimacing at the intense pleasure, he stilled, giving her body a moment to adjust.  No fear as her fire raced in his blood, intoxicating him.  Wet and hot and tight as she began to writhe beneath him.  He wrapped one of his hands under her neck so he could stroke her nape, the other under her hip to mirror her movements.  Her small hands dug at his shoulders, urging him on.

 

She gave an uninhibited cry as he thrust forward again, rolling his hips in the cradle of her embrace.  Never close enough, never deep enough, there could never be enough for him to truly sate his hunger for her.  The harsh sounds of their breathing going ragged, the soft sounds of their pleasures growing louder with every movement.

 

Is this a blessing or is it a curse

Does it get any better, can it get any worse

Will it go on forever, is it over tonight

Does it come with the darkness, does it bring out the light

It’s a stairway to heaven or a subway going down to the pit

 

He could feel the spasms start within her, rolling one after the other, stronger, and faster as her back arched higher, lifting them both, her eyes never leaving his.  He gritted his teeth, holding on, determined to witness what pleasure he could bring her.  His name on her lips, cried out in full throated passion, a promise, a warning, a pledge of blood and fire and spirit beyond anything he had ever dreamed possible.  A miracle he’d never dared to ask for, would never feel worthy of.

 

It took him to the edge, a different fall than he had ever known.  Desperately rocking against her, riding out the shivers of her desire as the last thread of his control snapped, his release burning through him.  The crushing fear faded in the knowledge that she would always catch him; hold him to her even as he flew apart.  A new addiction, as potent as breathing and just as necessary. 

 

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

I don’t know what it is but it just won’t quit

 

He was spooned against her back, an arm possessively around her waist, smirking at the ghost of a love bite over her jugular vein.  Careful not to wake her, he drew her closer, hiding from the dawn in her hair. 

 

The morning would be difficult.  He could not be her boyfriend, lover, potential husband.  The qualifications, limitations or expectations of any of those labels were unbearable to him.  Nothing he couldn’t uphold, nothing he would feel unworthy to judge her against.  What she was to him; hope, intimacy, both a hunger and sustenance had no title.  Would she need him to find one?  Could she accept him without one?  Had she really seen him well enough to understand that all he could offer her was all that he was?  Could she find a way to be happy with only that?

 

Her even breathing under his touch was almost hypnotic, but sleep eluded him.  One hunger sated, but another born in its wake.  To keep her safe, to keep away anything and anyone who might harm her.  His presence in her life was more risk than she should ever face, but he was far too selfish and greedy to let her go now.  She deserved far better.  How long until she figured that out for herself?

 

There was a time when nothing ever really mattered

There was a time when there was nothing I didn’t know

There was a time when I knew just what I was living for

There was a time and that time was so long ago

There was a time and that time was so long ago

And I never really sleep anymore

If I Only Could - Chapter 2

He was supposed to fade, to be drawn away like falling into the deepest slumber. The release from the trap of clay he had known for this existence into a wider, larger whole. One thing kept him clinging, refusing to obey even this natural law trying to lull him into obedience. He had been fooled, tricked. The single figure that had been able to rival him, interest him, thwart him had won. A final vision of that man somehow dragging himself ashore, free from the swirling waters he himself had succumbed to. He stoked the fire of his fury, honing it, forming a weapon that could not be blunted. Desire had always been his fickle master and the only one he willingly served. Memory came, knowledge. A lost battle in a much larger war. The victories gleamed; the failures burned. A mistake, oversights, overreaches. It kept him woven tight, fighting for yet another chance to take the field. This particular round had been lost, but he refused to simply let go, to revert back and begin the next with all knowledge of what had come before lost to him. A possibility began to form and he seized it like an anchor. The game would never be over, but he would be the victor in all future rounds. He waited; searching for an opportunity he knew would eventually arrive.

July 1885

The Parisian slum could be called many things, but the quality that drew him here was its anonymity. It resembled every other such location he’d had to make use of for more than two years: dirty, disheveled, and utterly steeped in despair. Clutching the package tightly to his chest, he moved swiftly as the sun rose, not yet lighting this forgotten avenue.

The decrepit cottage was well hidden behind wrought iron fencing reinforced with generations of overgrown weeds robbing what little sunlight might make it this far. The unwashed windows alone could have guaranteed his privacy.

Once arrangements had been made and the proper fear of God had been instilled in the landholder, Sherlock had scrupulously cleaned part of the kitchen and set up a small cot. The cast iron stove had kept the chill out during the late spring and provided the boiling required for water he thought safe enough to use.

It was also located at the back of the structure, which kept telltale lights from being seen from the street. He never left anything of real value there, but he would rather no one be able to track his comings and goings.

He had been in residence for more than two months when a newly hired informant had brought word that his target was walking the better streets of Paris. Sebastian Moran; disgraced former colonel, turned chief assassin for the now deceased Moriarty. The man had fancied himself able to replace his former master and was in the process of picking up the web strand by strand. Stopping Moran was the key to returning to London and resuming his prematurely halted life.

Sherlock put a pot of water on to boil, practically choking the stove with wood. The heat of the previous day had never abated, but he needed a large pile of freshly glowing embers. He carefully unwrapped the package he’d surreptitiously assembled in the night: tweezers, a stack of freshly starched handkerchiefs, a scalpel he’d carefully palmed from the local animal doctor, a pint of the raw brew of choice among the poor and a ‘liberated’ pint of cognac. Finally, he pulled the ballock dagger from its scabbard sewn into his coat and placed it alongside the rest.

He couldn’t resist a ghost of a smile, thinking of how James would have an absolute fit at the thought of Sherlock treating his own wound in so barbaric a fashion. Well, once he got over the initial hysterics of knowing his friend was still alive. Of course, if this bit of battlefield surgery was unsuccessful, James would never get that particular shock to the system. It was a sobering thought and sober was the last thing he needed to be right now.

He opened the cognac, forgoing a snifter and drinking straight from the bottle. A sin, but the least of his current concerns. Locating a bowl that was less dusty than the rest in the untouched cupboard, he poured the cheap rum into it, added the thread and needles he had purchased previously, and then the new tweezers and scalpel. Given the poor quality of the rum, there was every chance it was cut with wood alcohol, giving new meaning to the expression ‘blind drunk.’ A second swig of the cognac burned on the way down, but not more strongly than the agony already plaguing his side.

Sherlock mistakenly thought he had remained undetected as he had followed Moran into the warehouse district a week ago. He had previously known some meeting had been called, but he had needed to see the actual participants the man had summoned. Piles of crates had provided enough shadow that he had been able to creep close enough to smell the assassin’s cologne. If Moran were still recognizing a superior, it certainly didn’t come up in the conversation. Excellent; that meant if Moran could be stopped, the nightmare was finally over.

He couldn’t recall hearing the gun go off. The bullet initially missed, but ricocheted off something on the crate beside him, the soft lead warping on impact and then tearing into him right below the ribs. He’d had a brief thought that it might have perforated his intestines, leading to a prolonged and painful death, but that would need to be addressed later. The more immediate concern had been getting away without a trail of blood making him easy to track.

It had taken over an hour to be certain he had lost his pursuers, pausing occasionally to check on the bleeding. Heavy enough to concern him, but with none of the force that he had feared. A long cab ride followed and the hack refused to deliver him too close to his current destitute hovel for fear of robbery. He tried to not make too much of a mess of the seat. Fortunately, by being perched atop the cab, the hack wouldn’t find the viscous mess until he was miles away.

That had been almost a week ago. Sherlock had holed up in the cottage, managing to get the remains of the lead slug out himself. The bleeding wouldn’t stay under control for more than short intervals, so he packed fabric around the wound and went out long enough to purchase some silk thread, sewing needles and carbolic solution. Morphine would have been helpful, but he knew he needed to keep what wits he still had in order to do the sutures properly.

The wound had become reddened, swollen, infected. One more reason he deeply and dearly missed James. He tossed the handkerchiefs into the boiling water to cook the starch out. James would have immediately recognized the danger of the air gun. He wouldn’t have allowed them to get close enough to get shot in the first place. James would have taken far better care of the wound, or at least not let him be so stupid about it. His own medical knowledge was hardly inclusive, but it was his drive to push himself that compounded the damage.

James Watson was the most unlikely of creatures; a friend to someone who thought they lacked the capacity. Sherlock simply had never known how to respond to it, but he was fairly certain allowing James to think he was dead didn’t fit any accepted definition of friendship. He had counted on being able to explain later, but if he couldn’t get the infection under control, that explanation would be rendered moot.

He lifted the cloths from the water with a spoon, laying them on a spot on the fireproof surround he had wiped down with the rum. The water running off wouldn’t do the wooden floors any favors, but they were beyond repair anyway.

As he finished off as much of the cognac as he thought he dared, Sherlock once again inwardly cursed the publishers of Fleet Street. If one of them had been bothered to print James’ journals of their cases, perhaps James would still be writing for them and he would have had some way of keeping track of his friend as time had passed. Missing someone was not a sensation he found he could easily adapt to.

He slid the ballock’s blade into the glowing embers. The scalpel cut through the old sutures easily enough, but the wound needed prodding to reopen. He broke out in a fresh sweat, clamping his teeth down on a scream. The pain and an excruciating numbness traveled down and across his hip. He was panting in harsh gasps as he reached for the tweezers; sure some bit of foreign matter had remained. Probing it was agonizing, but in seconds he found a secondary bit of lead which must have broken off the slug itself.

Nothing but blood flowing now and the pressure in the area was easing. Darkness was reaching for him as he knelt by the wood stove. Falling was inevitable, and when he dropped the blade, he had to be sure it was resting on the fireproof tiles and not in danger of setting the wooden floor ablaze.

He wrapped a bit of towel around his hand and pulled the blade from the fire. This pain would not be trapped, but a single scream should draw no notice. It took only seconds, but each passed as a tortured eternity. His eyes watched the ballock fall from his hand and clatter to the tile, but it seemed a million miles away. The odour was appalling, nauseating, and somehow horribly familiar.

oOo

The hard wooden boards were no longer beneath him, but he couldn’t readily identify what was. It was softer, warmer and far more giving. He should sit up, check the now cauterized wound for bleeding, and see if new sutures would have to be made, but somehow that all could wait. It was far too pleasant right where he was.

Something dripped on his face, and it was just wrong. The wound wasn’t that bad. Yes, there would undoubtedly be a scar, but no deeper damage to worry about. No one would even see it but them. A momentary aberration, nothing more.

Her dark amber eyes were still weeping so he sat up from her lap to pull her close. She was far too aware of his pain, but it couldn’t reach them here. Like many previous problems, all that was far away, behind them. No sense in dwelling on it.

He could never bring himself to admit how he had missed these dreams, missed her. The dreams had almost stopped entirely once he had moved to Baker Street, but had come back as the battle with Moriarty had begun to rage. Now, from what he could remember, he was dreaming of her more often than not.

It was maddening sometimes. He knew they spoke, but couldn’t remember her voice or what they talked about. Vivid memories of her eyes, her hair, her laugh, but upon waking, he couldn’t recall her profile. She readily evoked things in him that couldn’t seem to stand the harsh light of day.

He had spent most of his life arguing with himself that she couldn’t possibly be real; that she was just some figment of his own needs and imagination that couldn’t be replicated in flesh. He’d certainly never met anyone like her. She was impossibility, living only on the edges of his mind. Rationality demanded that he ignore this personalized siren song.

But the time since his ‘death’ had been so cold, so harsh, and with his whole world torn away, she somehow stayed. When the exhaustion grew too much, when he could finally be safe enough to sleep, she was there, without question or judgment or demand. Sleep with her was so much more peaceful than he had ever known.

It was foolish of him, but he gave in enough to have purchased a small notebook that he kept to try to capture some sense of her in the waking world. When sleep would leave, he would grab it and a pencil and try to record anything he could before the memory dissolved like vapor in the air.

He would begin to sketch the exact shape of her lips right before he had kissed her, only to have the memory slip away moments later. She liked gardens, flowers, but by the time the book was open before him, he couldn’t recall what kind. Something he had said to make her laugh, gone.

When he could stand the hope, needed it to help him hang on just a little longer, he promised himself once he returned to London, to life, he would devote himself to finding her. He might not remember the dreams, but was certain he would know her on sight. If he was feeling ludicrously hopeful, he even allowed the thought she would know him as well.

She had pressed her forehead to his; was saying something that warmed him, stilled him, even though he couldn’t remember the words. Fading away from him now as his sight sharpened on the water damaged ceiling above him.

For a moment, he thought he’d only passed out briefly, but then noticed the stove had gone cold, the darkness of night had replaced the dimness of dawn, and the blood had stopped.

oOo

She dreamed she was running along a hallway, sprinting for the basement stairs. It wasn’t the antebellum mansion she’d long fled after she had brained her mother’s drunken lover for attempting to press his advances. The air was too cold, too dry. Cheap wallpaper instead of the whitewashed plaster. A hint of gas in the air wrinkled her nose.

A painting hung askew, revealing a small hole in the wall. With dread, she pressed her eye to it. A woman inside, roughly her own age, was attempting to break a window with a chair. The chair shattered but the ‘window’ didn’t give way. What had appeared to be the dark of night outside were black-painted bricks. The woman collapsed to the floor, heaving for breath, her lips turning an ugly blue. A gas leak somewhere was asphyxiating her.

The answer would be in the basement. The door was open and she eased past it, bracing herself for what she might find. Thirteen steps into a darkness broken only by dripping candles.

A man stood over a woman’s nude form, inelegantly stretched out on a table built for butchering meat. His tools lined the walls, still dirty with his earlier pursuits. He carefully selected one of the larger blades, checking its edge by the firelight. “Well, Lucy,” his New England accent was heavy. “Shall we fill the Dean’s request? You’ll be a lovely model for the medical department.”

No sound as Charlotte darted forward, forgetting her dream state in an attempt to stop the coming carnage. The woman on the table was still breathing, her face contorting soundlessly as the cutting began.

Charlotte awoke in her Manhattan flat, screaming one name; “Holmes!” The name was important, no question, but the rest…?

Tobias eased her back on the pillows, formless fingers stroking her face and arms, feather light kisses on her eyes. “No, my love. That wasn’t him, I promise. That monster will never cross your path. Sleep now. The time draws closer. Dream of the girl.”

August 1886

It was purely a fool’s errand, but he would never settle the issue within himself until he at least made a token attempt. Sherlock looked down the row of tenement houses, trying to find the one Wiggins was currently living in.

He had been back in London for several months, but to his dismay and joy, life had moved on without him. James had been overjoyed to see him, eventually. It took two physical altercations, several terse letters and eventually intersession from James’ newly minted fiancée, a Miss Mary Morstan, but they had finally gotten his ‘death’ behind them. He couldn’t bring himself to ask James to assist him with something so pointless.

Mrs. Hudson had welcomed him back with open arms once a near legendary fit of the vapors had worn off. She was aware enough to lay down a few new restrictions before she would allow him back up into his rooms. He couldn’t seem to recall those restrictions right now, but returning to his books, clothes and violin had been a delight. He had found the notebook when he was unpacking his lone bag, and had put considerable effort into ignoring it, eventually pressing it into the cover of an old inaccurate medical text at the dusty back of a forgotten shelf.

Mycroft was, well, Mycroft. Without a body, his brother had assumed he would simply turn up one day, or so he claimed. The desire to slap him repeatedly, like the old Russian drinking game, just to see if that carefully crafted mask would crack, was almost impossible to resist. Feigned obliviousness was so annoying in sibling rivalry. Asking for Mycroft’s assistance with anything was not an option.

One of Wiggins’ great virtues was that Sherlock wasn’t required to explain himself. Theirs was a far more industrious relationship; whatever Sherlock wanted and was willing to pay for, Wiggins would find. This would probably be the oddest request Sherlock would ever make, but if anyone could find a girl with such little information to go on, Wiggins was the one. If Lestrade had any functioning brain cells, he’d fire his entire squad and hire the man immediately.

Abigail answered the door, her face lighting up in obvious joy at the sight of him. The tiny woman was waddling under her growing belly for the sixth time and Sherlock was unkind enough for just a small moment to think that as much as he enjoyed his pipe, it did leave his mouth occasionally. He was internally grateful to whatever impulse kept the thought from spilling forth.

She guided him around several piles of worn toys and into the front parlor. “He’s in the back with the boys but I know he’s so wanted to see you!” Abigail smiled, dipping her head shyly before going out to get her husband.

The room was small, but Abigail could out-clean even Mrs. Hudson. The furniture was old, but the polish had been carefully layered on to create a charm its cheap origins couldn’t tarnish. It certainly presented a stark contrast to his own upbringing.

A rare framed photograph adorned one of the walls, and he started to glance over it with only cursory interest. Obviously it had been taken when Wiggins and Abigail had married, but as in most photographs, everyone was far too solemn and rigid for the occasion. Borrowed clothes, borrowed finery, but he couldn’t deny the affection between them was real. Maybe such things weren’t fundamentally…

The breath left him in a rush. There, beside Abigail - no, it wasn’t possible! The sepia tones of the photograph hid all colour, but it was her! It had to be her! A sharp bark of laughter escaped him. He’d spent his life thinking she didn’t exist, yet she had been the maid of honor at Wiggins’ wedding!

“I told the missus you were too mean to die!” Wiggins was grinning like an idiot, hand outstretched. “You could have come to me for help, you know! I can keep a secret!”

Stunned, Sherlock none the less smiled. “Your charming wife would never have forgiven me for dragging you halfway around the world!” He shook the offered hand. “Wiggins, I would never have believed I’d ask this, but tell me about your wedding.” He gestured to the photograph.

The smaller man’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Well, sir, it was the best day of my life. Abigail’s father never liked me, so we both thought he’d…”

He waved impatiently. “All terribly romantic, I’m sure. I was thinking more along the lines of specific details. Who was in the wedding party?”

Wiggins face went blank for a moment. “It’s Murray, isn’t it? Oh, what’s the damned fool gone and done now? He used to be a real upright bloke, but then he served overseas, saved some doctor’s life, and he hasn’t been quite the same since. I’m sure if we could just…”

What? The misunderstanding made Sherlock think he’d stepped into some overwrought theatrical production. “No, Wiggins, I’m not interested in Murray.” He tried to seal off his annoyance. “Tell me about the maid of honor.”

A muffled sob as Abigail darted from the room sobered him like a slap. The unfamiliar ground he’d wandered onto without thought seemed suddenly perilous and treacherous.

Wiggins’ face had gone solemn, all warmth drained away. “It was Molly, sir. Margaret Hooper.” He straightened an afghan absently. “Some of the lads at the factory called her Molly. Abigail kept telling them she was no more Irish than they were, but…” He shrugged.

The half forgotten memory tried to rise no matter how he fought it. His stomach tightened into knots and he desperately wanted to not hear the rest.

“She died in that fire a few years ago, at Abigail’s old job. You remember; it was right before you met Doctor Watson.” Wiggins nodded at the door his wife had fled through. “Molly saved Abigail but died the next day. Abigail was carrying our first then. I owe Margaret everything.”

Sherlock knew he had stammered some lame excuse as the need to flee swallowed him whole. Wiggins suddenly was snatching at his arm but he couldn’t stand the contact. Backing away, he nearly tripped over something small with wheels. He had opened their front door, propelled himself to the street without knowing how he’d gotten there.

There were few enough cabs in this part of London but he couldn’t stop long enough to engage one. The absurdity of it all crashed down on him. It was just ridiculous; preserving the dreams of a child. Stupidly allowing them as a fertile playing ground for his pubescent fantasies. An absolute height of delusion to cling to the phantom in his darkest hour. The desperate insanity of a drowning man clinging to a mirage for the illusion of hope.

Laughter was beginning to rock him now. His eyes were going blurry and he narrowly avoided colliding with a stationary cart of vegetables. He supposed he could be forgiven for one flight of fancy in an otherwise orderly and well thought out existence.

He reached up to try to clear his vision but couldn’t understand why his hand came away wet.

 

Okay, either I’m prepped for a writing marathon, or awaiting poll results… Both? Can I get an IV for the coffee? 

No, I don’t eat them all (except the steak! Yum!), but I like having them within reach. 

N24213

Hypnopompic / by Nocturnias' request

Resting was something he didn’t do well at the best of times.  It was infuriating!  Full unconsciousness had been troublesome for him for decades, since a long string of vivid nightmares in his early teens.  He learned to put it off with caffeine, taught himself the technique of lucid dreaming, and when all else failed, he would simply push.  Push past all limits, all boundaries, all common sense, until he was sure he would drop instantaneously from consciousness to deepest sleep in seconds.  The ridiculousness of REM sleep would startle him awake, but if needed, he could drop back into stages three and four, where he could rest dreamless until his body got what it needed.  It was a concession, but one he couldn’t avoid.

This was different.  He could vaguely remember the impact over his temporal lobe, the sudden smell and feeling of a nosebleed, and then a long period of nothing.  He had been on a case; he remembered that, a sense it was concluding.  John had been yelling something, but he couldn’t remember what.  He’d be worried about his friend, but he could hear John droning on about sport scores somewhere to his right.  He remembered a joke he wanted to inflict the next time John got too sports obsessed; that the venereal disease rate in the team’s home city had made the players afraid to score.  That should have earned him at least one ‘make your own damned tea!’ 

Whatever the injury, he was obviously healing, but it was taking an abysmally long time.  For at least three days, he’d been floating like this in his own mind, unable to move, open his eyes, respond to the outside world, but his mind and his hearing were active.  Bored, but active.  For two days, he had enough awareness of his limbs to know nothing was encased in plaster or heavily bandaged, so he assumed the rest of him was relatively undamaged.  His sense of smell came back yesterday and he wished it hadn’t.  The orderly that came in periodically to move him to prevent bed sores had atrocious hygiene habits.  He thought he was regaining his hands, but hadn’t been able to move them enough to attract attention. 

His hospital room seemed to be a regular stop on the tour.  Mrs. Hudson had only been in once, but had wept so heartbreakingly that he hoped John would discourage her from future visits.  Lestrade came in once a day, never staying long, but his jokes were so terrible that his future visits were dreaded.  Donovan came in once, never speaking, but he could identify her by the pattern of her gum cracking.  Anderson may have been with her but he couldn’t be bothered to tell.

John was here twice a day, probably both on his way to and on his way home from work.  He had no idea how long he’d been totally oblivious, but it was long enough that John had built a routine: news headlines, any interesting messages from the blog, and quick notes about what he was seeing at the clinic.  John had a date with a new girl (another?) yesterday and was seeing her again tonight.  He always knew when John would get ready to leave because the pleading would begin.  It had been oddly touching the first few times he had heard it, but now it just added to his frustrations.  If he could open his eyes, he would!  He wasn’t just stretched out here so John had to get his own milk!  It wasn’t fair to be ranting at him, but conversely, if John couldn’t hear the rant, did it count?

Oddly, the visits he found himself waiting for were from Molly.  He had fully expected she would cry even more than Mrs. Hudson, grip his hand hard enough to bruise, make some painful declaration, then start that wet hiccupping noise children made when they can’t find words.  Instead, she was at least distracting, usually entertaining, even occasionally engaging.  This was the Molly he heard other people speak of, but he never seemed to meet face to face.  She came and sat with him at least once a day, but sometimes he would hear her talking to the nurses in the hall, checking his progress.

He could smell coffee; Molly was here.   

“Oh, sorry, John.  I thought you’d gone by now.  I’ll just wait out here.”

“No, Molly, it’s fine.  I was about to leave.  Please stay”

The odd assortment of sounds must have been her tote bag being placed on the floor.  He never could figure out what all she carried in it or why.  The smell of the coffee got stronger and he heard the now familiar clicking sound of a disposable lighter being placed on a table near his head.  She leaned in, a new perfume; the scent of bergamot and roses.  Too heavy, too old for her.  She was whispering, spearmint breeze across his cheek.

“You brought him coffee?”

“Pungent aroma.  He may be able to smell it.”

“And the lighter?”

“I know he hates this jumper.  I told him if he sits up I’ll get a metal bin and let him burn every last cherry off it!”

“It’s a Friday night.  You don’t have a date?”

“Just with tall, dark and silent.  I even brought dinner.”

She couldn’t have…  He heard the bag rattle and thought he could smell just the smallest hint of chicken, orange peel and soy sauce.  It had to be dim sum.  Wasn’t there something in the Geneva Convention forbidding her from torturing him like this?  She must have taken the chair; he could feel John perch on the edge of the bed.

“Molly, um…  I don’t mean to pry, but you’ve been spending a lot of time here.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Well, I do work here.”

“That’s not what I meant.  I know you have…feelings for him.  It’s just…this is a Friday night.  If you don’t have a date, you should at least be off with your friends, meeting people, having a good time.”

She laughed, but it wasn’t the slightly jarring giggle she sometimes made around him.  Instead, it sounded bitter, broken.  He hadn’t caused that, had he?  He had to admit he had wondered about some of the things John was bringing up, but frankly he didn’t want the answers right now.  This Molly, the one who didn’t stammer or over think every word was too interesting.

“You know, John, you’re so wrong in so many different directions that I don’t even know where to begin.  If this is what it’s like for Sherlock when he’s trying to explain his deductions, he’s got my sympathies.  It’s a wonder he doesn’t just walk around smacking people!”

“Molly…”

“No, John.  You started this and I’m going to finish it, so just sit down and shut up!”

Even without being able to see her face, he knew how furious she was.  He’d never heard her so angry!  He almost wished John would get a photo of her so he could see it later.  Did her cheeks turn scarlet or had she went pale in her fury?  He would have assumed she was making fists except he could hear her fingernails beating a staccato on the metal arm of the chair.  He could picture her eyes flashing.  She pushed the chair back, pacing, her trainers squeaking on the hospital floor when she turned.

“First off, my personal life is not up for judging!  You’re my friend, not my father!  I will spend my time wherever and with whomever I please without having to explain it to you or get your permission!  Do you ask Sherlock when his last date was?  His last night out with the boys?  Of course not!  You can handle the thought of him alone for the rest of his life, but not me?  Newsflash, Doctor, I’m pretty good company.  There are a lot of things in this world worse than being alone.”

“So you’ve given up?”

“My last date was Tuesday.  Dr. Stanley from neurology, one of Sherlock’s doctors.  He bored me so badly I wanted to stab him with my pasta fork before the entrees arrived.  His goodnight kiss should have come with roller towel.  Before that was a week ago Wednesday, a cardiologist from Royal London.  All he wanted to talk about was near-death experiences.  I faked an emergency call from a friend and left him at the restaurant.  Two weeks before that was…”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize…”

“Of course you didn’t!  You don’t live with me!  And I’m smart enough not to let any of them close to you or Sherlock unless I think it may be going somewhere!”

“I’m just surprised I didn’t hear anything from the rumor mill.”

“John, is it true that when you kiss a girl you…”

 He does what?  It must be some kind of hand gesture or..,  This was just not fair!  He needed a translator!  And why had she dated Dr. Stanley?  The man smelled like paprika!

“I kissed Linda Hancock like that once when I’d had a little too much at the pub!”

“The rumor mill says you’ve done it at least six different times with four different women.  I thought you did it just to stop the rumors about you and Sherlock!  I wouldn’t count the mill as a source!”

“And your friends?  They aren’t having fun?”

“Another hen night tonight. I seem to be losing my taste for alcohol.  Besides, it would be nice if one of the bridesmaids wasn’t swaying at the wedding tomorrow.”

Sounds of the chair moving again.  She must have finally opened the takeaway boxes because the smell was killing him.  When he could move again, he might relocate a little farther down Baker Street and eat until he went back into a coma.  He idly wondered who was getting married tomorrow, but was sure if it was important, Molly would have mentioned it by now.  She must have offered John a dumpling because he was talking around a mouthful.

“So you’ve gotten over Sherlock then?”

“You’re going to give me a brain injury in a minute!”

“No, I just thought…I don’t know.”

“There’s no ‘getting over’ your flat mate, John.  You know that as well as I do.  We both love him.  Can you imagine walking away because I certainly can’t.  I’d follow him through the gates of hell, but I’m sure the devil would lock him out.”

“Wouldn’t matter.  He’d just pick the lock.”

“Another dumpling?”

They both sounded amused, maybe even a bit proud, and it touched him more than he thought it should.  He certainly hadn’t made their lives any easier.  Okay, in a lot of ways he’d made them considerably harder.  He wasn’t oblivious to the chaos he seemed to cause; the peril both of them had been in due to association with him.  Moriarty alone could have cost either of them their lives or more, yet they both stayed.  Sentiment was harder to resent when he gained the benefit.  John did not ask a question.

“You’re still in love with him.”

“Forever and always, Doctor Watson.  It doesn’t really matter.  He’s had my heart for a long time.  Nothing to be done for it.  I seem to be able to live without it.”

“He’s so awful to you sometimes.”

“Says the man who found a metacarpal in the pot when he poured his second cup of tea.”

“I’ve seen him make you cry.”

“What is it he says? ‘You see but you don’t observe’?  You see me cry, you don’t observe me not punching him in the face no matter how strongly he asks for it.  It’s probably less stressful for me than you or Lestrade since I’ve got an outlet!”

“Ordering you around to get him coffee…”

“Bluntly asking, and that’s pretty rich from the guy who will fetch him his mobile phone from his own pocket!”

“Okay, we’re both crazy.”

“Agreed.  But it’s never boring.”

They were both laughing now, John’s laugh so familiar, but Molly’s laugh so new.  What happens to this Molly when he’s actually in on the conversation?  And he didn’t have her heart.  It would be far too large to hold.

“John, can I make one more observation?”

“Okay, sure.  But then I have a question”

“Sherlock does know how to behave despite anything you’ve written up in your blog.  Someone taught him the patterns of social behavior and he knows full well when he steps over the boundaries.  But he doesn’t have any of those patterns for the personal.  With you, Mrs. Hudson, Greg, even me sometimes, he doesn’t know what to do.  We got past some of his defenses and I think it confuses him.  I don’t think he’s ever going to be normal Please don’t try to make him normal.  It’s a miracle you’ve gotten this close.  Don’t risk that for anything.  So what’s your question?”

“You don’t hold his hand here.  You put his fingertips on your wrist.  Why?”

“We’ve never held hands but he used to check my pulse sometimes in the lab.  It just seemed the thing to do.  So who is it tonight, Lisa?”

“No, Wendy, and I’m late.  Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Probably not.  I’ll stop in after the reception, but you’ll have gone home by then.”

“Okay, Sunday.  It’s a date.”

“No it isn’t.”

The swish of John’s coat as he went out the door.  His hand was raised, and then he could feel the rhythm beneath his fingers.  Wrists could be extraordinarily sensitive.  A long pause.

“Sherlock, I hate to break this to you, but I never learned Morse code.  Always assuming I’m not losing my mind, let’s try the old ‘one for yes, two for no’ pattern, okay?  You can hear me?  Are you a vampire?  Hey, I had to ask a ‘no’ question to be sure!  Okay, death by embarrassment later.  Do you want me to call John?  Text John?  Good.  I’ve met Wendy and he’s wasting his time.  I’ll be right back.”

She stayed in the room but pulled her wrist away to send the text.  He thought she’d moved to the door, checked the hallway before returning to the bedside.

“I didn’t give John any details.  He should be here in a half hour or so.  Until then…no oxygen tanks or other combustibles…”

Cellophane crinkling, foil tearing…oh, Molly, you bad girl!  The flick of the flint wheel.

“John would kill me for this!  Don’t give the poor nurses fits and I’ll hide the rest in your shaving kit.”

Bergamot and roses drawing nearer and then the slightly bitter acrid cloud.  Ohhhh.  This could be the beginning of…he had absolutely no idea.

Minor Disturbance

John Watson knew the exact moment he loved Molly Hooper.  It wasn’t a romantic love, or even a brotherly love, as it may have appeared from the outside.  Instead, it was the love of fellow sufferers, of a shared experience understood, unexplainable to any who had not endured it.  It was nothing they would ever need to speak of.  It would always shine in their eyes as they met in crowded rooms, dark alleys, or even at Christmas parties.

It started the day Molly came to Baker Street to deliver several binders of test results Sherlock had requested.  He had started pawing through them even before she had a chance to put them down on a clean corner of the kitchen table.  She wandered into the living room, saying hello to John, but not distracting him from his newspapers.  She seemed aimlessly drifting, looking at this and that, answering Sherlock’s questions.

Sherlock went into his room to cross check some results with his researches.  Without hesitation, Molly immediately scooped up the small package of rosin from the side table, depositing it behind one of the back legs of Sherlock’s chair.  She smiled briefly at John, and then wandered to one of the bookcases, switching a blue volume on the top shelf with a similar size red volume from the bottom. 

John could hear Sherlock coming back, but by then she started paging through a magazine she found near the couch.  Sherlock never looked up from the binder.  “You’re sure about the ketone levels?”

“If I run the test again, there won’t be any sample left.” she paused, and then put the magazine down exactly where she had found it.  “I’d better get back.  Call if you have any more questions.”  A little wave.  “’Bye, John.”  Her footfalls echoed away down the stairs.

John was too flummoxed for his usual rant about how Sherlock should at least say “thank you”.  He returned to his paper.  Maybe Nick Clegg’s antics would make more sense than what he was seeing in the flat.  Stranger things had happened.

Shortly after, Sherlock dropped into his own chair, about to start digesting the new batch of information.  As John tried not to watch, Sherlock’s eyes kept darting over to the bookcase, his eyebrows drawing tighter and tighter.   

“John?” Sherlock cleared his throat.  “Have you suddenly developed an interest in the Pythagorean theorem?”

At that moment, John knew he was a co-conspirator.  “I don’t know if that’s a rare jungle disease or a lost civilization.”  He carefully folded the paper and added it to the pile on the floor.  “I’m going out for a bit.”

“We’ll need milk by tonight.”  Sherlock pulled the red book from the shelf, eyes looking over the room.  How had his violin rosin gotten on the floor?

 

“I’m guessing he’s not getting his own coffee?” Molly didn’t look up as John came through her office door. 

“And BT hasn’t fixed the phones.” John rested his palms on her desk.  “How long have you been doing that?”

She admitted nothing.  “The thing about pack rats is that they believe its okay because they know where everything is.  A little doubt goes a long way.  Did you want to play?”

He thought about it a moment.  “He has my fingerprints.”

Molly didn’t make a sound, but her shoulders shook as she opened one of her desk drawers, tossing him a couple of latex gloves.  “Never when cases are on.  No more than two items at one time.  No more often than every four days.  Have a cover story ready before you pick an item up.  Remember his eye level is higher than yours.  Never touch the violin, the skull or the coat; he’ll notice immediately.  Try to not put anything where he couldn’t have left it himself.  Understood?”

“How about one item every five days?” John counter-offered.  “That way we don’t have to check with each other.” 

She thought it over.  “Agreed.”  Molly shook John’s hand, cementing the deal.

 

A month later, Molly was delivering a box of files.  She set them on the floor near the kitchen table.  “The McClure family autopsy files you wanted to review.”

Sherlock hadn’t moved from the open fridge door.  “Why are my calipers in the refrigerator?” he demanded from no one in particular.

John turned down the television.  “Hello, Molly.  Nice to see you today.” in a forced cheery voice, trying to teach the overgrown eight year old in the kitchen. 

“Hello, John.  How’s the packratitis patient doing?” she sat on the arm of his chair.

“What?” Sherlock turned.

“Oh, the last time I saw John he was telling me about a pancreatitis patient he was treating.  It was very interesting.” she smiled innocently.   “Sorry, but I really have to get back.  John, would you walk me down?”

“Of course.”  John grabbed his coat off the hook.

 

 

“I’d stay away from the refrigerator if I were you.”  Molly cautioned as soon as the door to 221 closed.  “I think you’re in and out of it more than him.  Bit incriminating.”

“Its revenge for that liver you let him wander off with.  We have to repaint the ceiling.”  John guided her back across Baker Street.  “It’s too bad his brother can’t play along with us.”

“Oh, John!”  She leaned in, kissing his cheek.  “Who do you think taught me?  See you soon!”

Thunder Echoes Chapter 1

Sebastian Moran took his time lighting his Cohiba, his eyes never moving from the high definition monitor.  The night vision image didn’t hold the detail he would have preferred personally and professionally, but he had to settle for it.  There were goals to be achieved.

 

The room had been kept at .5 lux, like a clear night with a setting full moon, for just over a month.  Never brighter or dimmer, no sunlight had crept in nor true darkness fallen.  Shadows blended out to irrelevance.  In the few square yards hidden in the packed earth, time stood still.  The one lone occupant, light, humidity, a bank of armored regulators and the waterless toilet were the only constants the space held. 

 

Music was pumped in irregularly, sometimes quieter than a whisper, sometimes at teeth jarring volume.  Gregorian chants, symphonies, commercial ditties, punk ballads and even techno raves were turned on and off, softer or louder at random, driven by computer generated tables.  The only limit was to not draw attention from the world above. 

 

A small device in the ventilation system allowed scents to be forced into the room.  The unpleasant ones were obvious; sewer, old blood, sulfur, corpses.  The pleasant had secondary effects; roses and lilies associated with rare social settings, soaps and detergents with the cleanliness the room and its occupant were sorely lacking, sugar biscuits and chocolate cakes made Pavlov’s dog howl in agony.  When the scents were used, they were used sparingly so their power would not dilute.

 

Temperature control turned the minuscule chamber slowly from cold enough for breath to make clouds in the air to near sauna conditions, again at a completely arbitrary frequency.  Never let the flesh settle or the mind would follow.

 

Food was delivered on a randomized schedule and in ever decreasing amounts.  Water had disappeared almost entirely, but after a dangerous choking incident, had been recalibrated.  Death was to never access that room, for a single death there would trigger dozens of deaths above.  He had personally guaranteed it.

 

No one was to touch the electrical controls but Moran himself.  A constant current ran through the door, the regulators, and the delivery mechanism.  Not enough to do real damage, but enough to convince the occupant that freedom could not be achieved by such obvious routes.  Wiring had been embedded across the small floor, and even across the lone bunk hung on the wall.  He had intended to use it for sleep deprivation techniques, but they had proven ineffective.  Now the electricity was used only to test the occupant’s alertness.

 

Moran had fast forwarded through the recording again and again, watching the occupant’s slight movements; on the bunk for thirty six hours, curled in a fetal ball, fists crossed before his face, rocking minutely.  He switched back to the live camera.  Food had remained untouched for six hours, but the poor quality wasn’t much of an incentive.  What concerned Moran more was the ignored toilet.  Kidney damage could ruin everything in a shockingly short time.  A quick thermal scan showed that the bunk was efficiently drawing the occupant’s body heat away, but no shivering was visible.  Moran tapped a few keys, triggering a short burst of “Ode to Joy” nearly as loud as a jet engine, but the occupant barely flinched.  Adjustments would have to be made or the bait would be lost.

 

Sebastian tried to breathe past the sharp ache in his chest, a void nothing could ever possibly fill.  Friend?  Partner?  Mentor?  Lover?  Soul mate?   He could almost hear Jimmie laughing at him as he tried to pick a label for what they had been.  For what they should still be.  He snorted derisively at himself.  One thing they had never been was equals.  Jimmie had been amazing, brilliant, easily the most creative and insightful mind Sebastian had ever witnessed at work.  There had been nothing that could frighten Jimmie and it made him impossible to resist.  Jimmie dreamed and Sebastian found the ways to bring those dreams to life. 

 

The dreamer was gone now, but Sebastian remembered the dreams with painful clarity.  One of the few things they had ever fought about was the occupant of that room.  Jimmie had been obsessed with him directly while Sebastian saw him as a means to a possible end.  Perhaps his time in the military had given him a different perspective. 

 

Either way, things had changed.  He had always suspected Jimmie would leave him in the end, which made the next steps his to choose.  Jimmie had loved the dance, but this was to be a route.  He would crack the man in that room; use him as chum for the Iceman himself.  Once the score was settled, the chum itself could be simply disposed of.  Disposal would be his tribute to the fallen.

 

Movement on one of the gauges caught his attention.  A microphone was picking up the first sounds made in more than a week.  Sebastian turned up the speaker, curiosity pulling at him.

 

“582, 097, 494, 459, 230, 781, 640…” the voice was low, thick, and stiff with disuse.

 

It took a moment for Moran to fathom, but he suddenly laughed for the first time in months.  If calculating pi was the best defense left, perhaps this would all be in motion soon.

 

 

This couldn’t go on forever.  Sooner or later enough systems would shut down and the entire organism would give out.  Breathing had gone raspy ages ago.  Hunger had always been a familiar sensation but it had faded away to be replaced by a dull burning.  Throbbing ache in various limbs and in shoulders where joints had separated under stress.  Electrical charge leaving ashes in the mouth, prickling numbness echoing for days.  Tongue sticking to roof of the mouth, lips sticking to teeth.  Mind driven back, thought shattered until no focus remained.  Poetic justice.  Deception made real.  Her help traded instantaneous for this prolonged exit. Don’t let the body be found.  She would be the only one to understand.  Don’t ever, ever let her know she had made it worse.  Waves of nausea returning.  Would they carry him away this time?

 

 

Wiggins watched her slight form seem to play peek-a-boo through the warehouse windows.  It may have looked abandoned from the street, but he and his had known better.  It was more like a rising anthill, entrances and exits made from various points, most hidden from view.  Assaulting this particular fortress would be a nightmare, but the options were running out fast.  No packages large enough to hold his body had left the warehouse.  No fresh concrete had been poured in the broken mess of the basement floor.  Odors had been noted but had dissipated too quickly to be traced down.  It might still be too late, that’s why he had asked her for this surveillance attempt.   His jaw hadn’t stopped grinding since her soft boots disappeared over the sill.  Wiggins couldn’t lose her too.

 

It had been a full thirty days since he had disappeared inside.  They had kept tabs on the ever-increasing activities without seeing him.  He would have ridiculed their efforts, jeered their loyalties, but none of them would easily let him be taken from them.  Memories ran long when they were all a person had left.  He would know that, even if he lacked the faith to know rescue had to be tried.  He was different but had never seemed to believe that different meant better.  He had earned a measure of loyalty, wanted or not.

 

She silently slipped out a different window than she had entered, drawing her oversized bomber jacket close and moving toward the nearby park.  She would draw no attention to where Wiggins had hidden himself, to any connection between them.  Her loyalties were to Wiggins alone and no one would threaten her lover.

 

Her lover caught up with her beside a fountain.  “Hello, beautiful Spyder.” he bent slightly, whispering into her jet hair, knowing her emerald eyes were alight.  She must have had a different name once upon a time, before the damage had been done, but he had never known that person, only the tiny willowy form before him now.  He wove the stolen daisy into the end of her braid.

 

Her smile was false, her eyes burning in a way he hadn’t anticipated.  “The raven is in more trouble than you thought, my love.  Special tools have been brought in.  I’ve broken them, but the raven won’t live long enough to see the repairs.”

 

The word had given Wiggins a chill.  “Tools?”

 

She leaned close, mouthing the word like a caress, intimate and familiar.  “Electroshock.”  Spyder smiled bitterly, easing away.  “It won’t touch the raven, promise.  I made sure it can’t touch anyone for a long time.”

 

“He is still there, then?”  Wiggins fought the urge to wrap her tightly in what safety could be found and hide her from any who might hurt her again.  He had that impulse before and she reacted badly to it.

 

“Hmmm…most of him.” Her eyes stared beyond the horizon.  “Two sunsets left, maybe three and his clipped wings won’t keep him in the cage any more.”  She returned to her lover’s arms.  “We have to be clever before then or ignorant after.  You’ve a preference, my love?”

 

“For you to stay out of it now?” he tried to laugh but it fell flat.  Wiggins knew he’d given her a place in the plan as soon as he’d told her the tale of the disgraced knight.  Fairy tales and an unnerving physical grace had been among the few things she had retained from whoever she had been before.  Ballet, maybe.  Acrobat?  Aerialist?  Wherever the skills had come from, they would be sorely needed.

 

She breathed against his lips.  “I’d move without you if I had to.  No cages.  Not for the whitest doves or the blackest crows.” 

 

He kissed her then, desperate to capture this one moment before everything changed.  She tasted of smoke and cola and boiled sweets.  A breeze caught the hairs loosened from her braid, tickling his skin.  “I love you, Spyder.”

 

 

628, 620, 899.  The fuzzy edges bothered him the most.  Retreating like this had always brought a clarity that was missing this time.  All input had been stopped to preserve what tenuous hold remained.  Some demand should have been made, yet none had arrived.  862, 803, 482.  Being killed outright had been expected, even some level of torture had been anticipated, but this was without any justification.  Nothing had been asked.  A term floated up unbidden; tabula rasa, the blank slate.  What possible benefit could that provide?  534, 211, 706.  Thought processes were notably slowing, thought itself beginning to unravel.  If the thoughts stopped, what would be left?  No way to answer that question so it was discarded.  If he stopped, what would be left?  79…

 

 

Molly tugged the loose disposable gloves back up her small hands, continuing to pass out the yeast rolls.  She’d been tempted to bring some of her better fitting gloves from work, but crossing the sensations she experienced between the homeless shelter and the morgue just seemed like a very bad idea. 

 

It was strange that the shelter could be more heartbreaking than the morgue.  True, death was final while those she met here moved on, but at least their lives held a chance to be better.  She never could settle on which was the easier fate.

 

She had done some volunteer work from time to time, but since the Fall (she couldn’t think of it without capitalizing it), she was here twice a week.  It had been the one thing Sherlock had asked of her and as always, she couldn’t refuse.  She hadn’t understood it at the time, but it had proven to be invaluable in the strangest ways.

 

Wiggins, the one name Sherlock had left her, had found her in the first week, offering to do some handyman duties at her flat in exchange for food and cash.  When he came over the first time, he swept her flat with an odd box, claiming to check for any bugs.  He pulled some small bit from her phone, but she hadn’t been sure what it was.  Sherlock had ordered, and paid for, Wiggins creating a “panic space” at the end of her hall.  She had known her building had been an old Victorian mansion divided into flats, but she hadn’t realized the end of her hall had a large plastered-over linen closet.  Wiggins pulled the plaster and shelves out, creating a false front that would open outward if pressed at the right spot.  The following week, he wired in a light and a phone that was on a different circuit than the rest of the building.  Per Sherlock’s request, she had given Wiggins a key, but she hadn’t seen him since.  It felt vaguely like living in the Bat Cave.

 

Many times over the past year, a person in line for food had pressed envelopes or small resealable bags into her hand as they passed her.  Most of the time she couldn’t guess the contents until she got the lab results back.  She’d seal the results in fresh envelopes, wrap them in several pound notes, and wait until the same face would return to collect the same way.  Twice the envelopes contained picture postcards, folded in thirds and without writing.  They were her most prized possessions, yet she gave the one of the First World War trenches at Vimy Memorial Park to John Watson.  It was an interest of his, even if she couldn’t explain the full meaning.

 

The tiny black haired girl caught Molly’s eye for a number of reasons, not the least of which was her diminutive size.  Her bomber jacket was two sizes too big and the leather had seen better days.  Her suede boots had to be a decade old yet had been brushed to an amazing clean.  Denim jeans whose knees had given out long ago judging by the frayed edges.  As she approached with her nearly empty tray, Molly saw the ragged and dirty bandage wrapped haphazardly around her right hand.  Blood was visibly spreading through the stained cotton.

 

Molly grabbed her arm, passing the tray to Emma beside her and explaining she would give the small woman some proper first aid.  She walked her over to the more private table at the back of the room that was more commonly used for counseling expectant mothers.

 

“My name’s Molly, by the way.” She unwrapped the filthy cloth carefully, unsure of the damage below.  The wound wasn’t deep, was even remarkably fresh.  Had she been cut like this here?

 

The small woman’s other hand gripped her hard.  “Look to the door, Maid Molly.  My lover waits.”

 

She looked up sharply to see Wiggins nod solemnly, and then leave.  A very heavy weight seemed to settle in her stomach.  This had to be bad.  “Let me get the first aid kit, and then we can talk.”

 

“Understood.” She began pulling apart a roll, eating only the bits no crust clung to.

 

Molly began to daub the cut with peroxide.  “Can I know your name?”

 

“Spyder.” A small smile disappeared quickly.  “And I will call you Lenore.”

 

“Poe?  Bit ominous.”  Antibiotic cream applied with a cotton bud.

 

“Good evening for it.  Have you seen the fog outside?  Worst in a decade, they say.  Do you have any gum?  I’d like to blow bubbles.”  Spyder watched her work with interest.

 

“Um, here.” She handed Spyder one of several small bags of sweets donated by a nearby school.  “Did Wiggins want to give me a message?”

 

She watched Molly apply several butterfly bandages while she sorted through the sweet pile.  Three pieces of obnoxiously fruity bubble gum were unwrapped in seconds.  “I’m about to free your raven, fair Lenore.  His wings are broken but not as badly as mine.  Can you be ready?”  The gum disappeared behind even teeth.

 

Molly’s mouth had gone totally dry.  Spyder didn’t seem totally sane, but what she was saying…  “How badly broken?  Will he…” she hadn’t meant to ask but the words hissed out.  At least she hadn’t said a name.

 

Spyder took the bandage wrappers out of Molly’s hands, turning the palms up and grasping her wrists.  A smile grew on the smaller woman’s face as tears welled.  “I will bring your raven home.” She whispered.  “Wings heal.  The rest is up to you.  Be ready.”

 

“When?” Molly asked as Spyder stood.  She cursed herself for being so loud.  At least no one was looking.

 

“Go home, fair Lenore.  Boring tellie calls.  There will be a gentle tapping.”  Spyder gave her a smirk.  “But I may need to blow a bit first.”  With a bubble growing from her lips, she left the shelter and the fog swallowed her whole.

 

Two hours later as Molly curled up with the television on; breaking news came of a warehouse fire near the Thames.  Cameras were on site and what they saw chilled her to the bone.  Most of the witnesses carrying on to get the camera’s attention were familiar to her from the shelter.  She tried to dismiss it, but there were too many to be a coincidence.  As she watched, an explosion shook the camera, knocking a few people to the ground.  The witnesses and reporters were pushed back by a fireman yelling that a gas line had blown.

 

“Sherlock?’

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