wickedwanton

Fever Dream Chapter 10

It took Mycroft Holmes several moments of smoothing, tucking and straightening before he felt proper enough as he walked from the helicopter.  His brother’s smirking didn’t help.  He held the manila envelope out.  “Detective Inspector Lestrade thought you should see these.”

 

“Delivery boy?  New entry on your CV?”  Sherlock ripped an end open, pulling out the police photos of David Campbell’s death scene.  A short review and he handed them off to Ian.  “If you wore that bowler I got for you for Christmas, you wouldn’t have to worry about your hair.”

 

“That was four Christmases ago, Sherlock, and Anthea failed to appreciate the humor of it.”  Wordlessly, he looked over Max and Ian.  “Interesting company you’ve gone to keeping, but I think I prefer Dr. Watson.  Can I assume he’s guarding Dr. Hooper?”

 

Ian handed the photos back to Sherlock.  “That was no suicide.”

 

“Murder, then?” He was looking for confirmation.

 

“Awfully sloppy one.  I’d say accidental death, but the victim did not pull the trigger.” 

 

Sherlock nodded.  “The local constabulary flubs it again.  What did he buy, Mycroft?  A gold watch?  Fine cigars?  What was the going price on a dead son and murderous wife at that point in time?”

 

Mycroft brushed away a bit of non existent lint.  “I believe a large donation was made to the widows and orphans fund.”

 

“Poetic.  Are you joining us or did you just want a ride at taxpayer’s expense?”  He could see John’s shadow in the window of the top floor room and assumed all was quiet within. 

 

“I have some…unfinished business with Mr. Campbell.  He is planning to retire soon and plans need to be reviewed.”  Mycroft gestured toward the gate.  “Gentlemen, shall we?”

 

 

FD FD FD

 

 

A pounding on the door.  “John?”  Sherlock shouted from the other side.  “There’s a padlock out here.  Are you away from the door?”

 

Good thing there hadn’t been an emergency.  He looked around; made sure he and Molly were both clear.  “Ready when you are.”

 

It was an old door, taking three blows, but most of the splinters stayed hanging by layers of paint while the rest of it gave way.  Sherlock came through the gap first, but Max ran straight to Molly.

 

He wrapped the small figure in his arms.  “Damn it, woman, you’ve got to stop scaring the hell out of me!  Ian will think I’m messing around!”  Max kissed her damp forehead.

 

“No more scares, promise.”  Molly giggled.  “We’ve got to stop meeting like this, my friend.  Didn’t I tell you that you that I shouldn’t cross the Channel?  Going to listen next time?”

 

“Yes, Max.  You and Ian come to London next time.  I’ll even cover the hotel costs.  It will be easier all around than this mess has been.”  As Sherlock checked her pulse and her temperature, he couldn’t miss the flash of pain in her eyes.  A brief glance at John confirmed; not good.  He was profoundly out of his depth in this scenario.  “Of course, I haven’t been bored and we’ve inconvenienced my brother, so everything has its benefits.”

 

“He really is a git.”  Max laughed.  “You did warn me about that!”

 

“Play nice!”  Molly pouted.  “You aren’t exactly a prize yourself!”

 

As the banter continued, John pulled Sherlock aside.  “Her fever has been climbing for hours now.  How soon can we get her back into the hospital?”

 

 “As soon as we’re through downstairs.”  Sherlock checked his mobile.  Arrangements were being made for Lawrence Major’s arrest the moment his feet touched British soil.

 

John was obviously not pleased.  “Sherlock, you wanted me to be her physician, and as her physician, I’m telling you putting her through this right now isn’t the best thing for her health.  She needs time to heal and adding more shocks to the stresses she’s already managing won’t do her any favors.”

 

“John,” he was getting annoyed.  “Molly was sold an illusion.  An illusion she’s wasted years of her life being afraid of.  There have been at least three deaths, perhaps more.  You said yourself she’s been traumatized by it all.  I’m about to shatter that illusion.  Don’t you think it would be better for her to see it break, see what really happened to them all?”

 

“You figured it out?” her voice sounded very small.  “You know what happened?”

 

“You were only a bystander.”  Sherlock walked to the bedside.  “I can prove it, Molly.  Do you want to see?”  He offered his hand.

 

She seemed to study his eyes for a moment.  “Okay, but I can get downstairs by myself.  I…”

 

“Hate being carried.  Duly noted.” 

 

 

FD FD FD

 

 

“Ah, Dr. Hooper, Lawrence and I were just discussing your unfortunate illness.”  Mycroft had stood as the group entered the lounge.  He shot a stern look at the other man until he stood as well.  “I do hope the fever has been easing and you’ll soon be on the mend.”

 

“Molly will be just fine.”  Lawrence skirted the coffee table, reaching for her hand.  “In fact…”

 

Sherlock stepped between the man and his target.  “Don’t.”  He smirked.  “Just don’t.  Not now.  Not ever.”  He practically purred.

 

His face was reddening.  “Just exactly where the hell do you get off…”

 

“Where’s your wife, Mr. Campbell?”  Sherlock’s voice sharpened.  “How you must have hated her in the end.  Her illness cost you everything, didn’t it?  Everything twice.”

 

The older man was practically apoplectic.  “I don’t have to stand here and listen to this slander!”

 

“Actually, Lawrence, I’m afraid you do.”  Mycroft smiled in steel, resuming his seat in the Queen Anne chair.  “You can answer my brother’s questions or you can answer to Scotland Yard.  I’m afraid your government has revoked your immunity.”  He sipped his brandy as he handed over the completed set of papers.  “I would recommend you answer to Sherlock right now.  It wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law and the witnesses would be considered hearsay.”

 

Reviewing the papers took a few minutes, allowing John and Max to get Molly settled in an overstuffed chair of her own.  Ian brought her a glass of water. 

 

Eventually the papers were cast aside.  Mr. Lawrence Campbell sat quietly awaiting what questions would come.

 

Sherlock paced the room.  “Did Andrea Campbell have a history of mental illness before her son was born?”

 

“Of course not!”  Lawrence scoffed.  “If she had, I never would have married her.  Our marriage had been for the diplomatic service.  At some point all diplomats are expected to have a spouse. It isn’t in the rule book, but it is assumed if promotion is desired.   Andrea and I had gotten along well.  We both wanted the same things, including children.  Marrying her was the best decision.”

 

“So it’s safe to assume the affairs started immediately?”  Sherlock smirked.

 

“That was also expected.”  Lawrence nodded.  “Andrea became pregnant within the first year of our marriage.  We had been posted in Honduras at the time, so I sent her back to the states for the duration of her pregnancy.  I came home for the birth itself, but then had to leave again.  My understanding later was that Andrea suffered quite badly from post partum depression.  It seemed to start a vicious cycle in her.  The depressions seemed to swirl longer and darker.”  He rose, pouring himself another brandy.

 

“When was her first suicide attempt?”  Sherlock knew it would have been buried in her medical records, distorted to hide the ugly truth from any prying eyes.

 

Lawrence took several deep swallows.  “Her doctors believe she tried before I left Honduras permanently.  She had driven off a causeway with David strapped in the car behind her.  It was a miracle anyone saw her car leave the road.  I came home soon after.”

 

“You didn’t try to get her any help?” John was astounded.  “Not even after she tried to kill your child?”

 

“Dr. Watson, even now mental illness is seen as a weakness.” Lawrence swirled the dregs in the snifter.  “Her weakness could have cost me my career!  The doctors were willing to see her actions in a more favorable light and I made sure she and David followed me to every posting after that.”

 

“While you waited in America for your next posting, that was when you started your second family, correct?”  Sherlock was mapping out the time lines.

 

Lawrence spared Molly a sideways glance.  “Yes.  Pamela and I met when she was working as a nanny for a family friend.”

 

“And did she deliberately name your illegitimate son after your legitimate one?” 

 

“My god.”  Max gasped.  “There really were two Davids!  One father but two different mothers!”

 

“I think she wanted to punish me.”  Lawrence began to pace.  “She disappeared with our child not long after birth.  It was almost a decade before I saw our son again.  The resemblance to his older brother was astounding.”

 

“So what happened in Kent?”  Sherlock asked.  “How did the first David end up dead?”

 

Lawrence took up a spot near the fireplace.  “We had been posted to England for a year as part of preparations for here.  David was doing very well in school. Had even begun preparing for higher education that would have taken him back to America without his mother.  He was hoping for Harvard, one of the Ivy League colleges.  Andrea pulled farther and farther away.  She felt like he was leaving her behind.”

 

“How did she get the firearm?”  Mycroft asked quietly.

 

“I never knew.”  Lawrence poured three more brandies, taking one, passing one to Mycroft and setting one in front of Molly who ignored it completely.  “Only the two of them were home that day.  She called me when it was over and our son was bleeding out in our bedroom.  She claimed that she was trying to shoot herself when David came in and tried to stop her.  They struggled and the gun went off, killing him.”

 

Sherlock moved the snifter as if it were poisoned.  “You lied to the police?”

 

“Hiding weakness was second nature by then.”  Lawrence was obviously not proud of it.  “Turning her over to them was not an option, especially over a stupid accident.  David couldn’t be shamed; he was already dead.  The blame couldn’t possibly hurt him then.”

 

“Besides, you had a replacement on stand-by.”  Molly seemed to be getting paler by the moment.  “The David I knew was the younger one?”

 

“Molly, you have to understand, he was like a gift from god to me!” Lawrence tried to take her hands in his but she cringed away.  “I had failed so badly, but I had a second chance to get it right!  Pamela had been in touch on and off over the years, usually when she needed money.  Her son could never have afforded a college education.  Everything fate had denied him, I could suddenly give!”

 

“What about your wife?  I can’t imagine Andrea agreed to this.”  John was ice cold.

 

“I didn’t need her permission.”  Lawrence was colder.  “I set her up here.  The servants made sure she stayed in the house.  I couldn’t stand the sight of her any more.  She was no longer my problem.”

 

“You assumed she’d finish the job.  Kill herself so your hands would stay clean.” Ian had moved behind Molly.

 

“It was what she wanted, wasn’t it?” he hissed.  “I just got rid of the bystanders who might get hurt in the process.”

 

“You brought him to London, set him up in his own flat, gave him an expense account, anything he may have desired.”  Sherlock was watching her closely.  She was beginning to understand.  “But then your second chance got ill.”

 

“Molly tried to tell me how bad off he was, but I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t think fate could be that cruel.”  Lawrence seemed to be staring at a point beyond the horizon.  “I told David I had to come here for a few days but that I’d come to him in London afterwards.  See what medical arrangements could be made for him.”

 

“He knew he didn’t have time.  David wanted to meet you here instead.”  Molly sounded so tired.  “You never told Andrea about him.  She must have thought he was an impostor.  You let him walk through that door and right into her.”

 

“Jean, one of the servants found you, but he thought both you and David were dead.  He knew I would want all evidence disposed of, so he did his best, trying to hide you entirely or at least make it look like a murder-suicide.”

 

“By tying me to a dead man and dropping me in a lake.”  Molly’s eyes were frighteningly dry.

 

“Molly, I told you before, I am so sorry for that!  I would have stopped him, but he was already rowing back in when I arrived!  I thought you were already dead!”  Lawrence tried to move closer but Max interfered this time.

 

“And Andrea?  Where was she?”  Mycroft asked.

 

Lawrence had to try speaking several times before he found his voice.  “Jean found her hanging by the chandelier.  He wasn’t sure what I wanted done with her body.”

 

Molly stood on uncertain legs.  “You had him drop her in the lake as well.  That’s why that ogre found me at the dock.  He was getting ready to get rid of her, too.”  She slowly walked to the glass doors that overlooked the water.

 

“But why did you keep Molly here for a month?  She said you kept her locked in that room upstairs.”  John knew the answer as soon as he’d asked the question.  “You…you were making sure David hadn’t gotten her pregnant.  A third chance.”

 

Lawrence bolted, faster than any of them had expected he could move.  He had Molly’s arm, turning her to him.  Sherlock had a split second to see the fear register in her eyes; Lawrence had a weapon at waist height.  A gun was a safe assumption.

 

They were all moving, but he’d already gotten to her.  Her eyes were rolling back, her chin falling forward as her knees began to give way.  Lawrence tried to hold on as she sagged, but her weight pulled him forward slightly.  Molly suddenly straightened, her knees locking as the crown of her lowered head hit Lawrence with a sickening crack.  He folded, nearly pulling her over with him.

 

She had started to slide down the glass doors when Sherlock caught her.  “Did I break his nose?”  She was shaking hard enough to alarm him.

 

Max checked the unconscious Lawrence, rolling him on his side so the blood wouldn’t drown him.  “Oh, yeah, maybe his jaw as well.”  He snorted.  “You still got it, girl!”

 

Why was the room spinning to the left?  She smiled crookedly at blue green eyes.  “Can you carry me just this once, please?”

 

 

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.  

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.“

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.

If I Only Could - Chapter 8

Author’s Note: This tale is intended as a combination of both Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the current ‘Sherlock’ series. Any other characters the reader may recognise only exist in this tale as much as they do in the reader’s own experience. Yes, those words are carefully chosen.


James took the time to peel off his gloves, placing them in his greatcoat pocket. He hung the coat and his hat on the pegs that had once been their home. Finding the kitchen in such an orderly state deepened his concern. It meant his friend had not used the room since Mrs. Hudson last cleaned it.

It took him a few moments to find the tea; the leaves were in a tin marked ‘gun cotton’. Absently, he hoped the container had been washed before being pressed into this new service. As he waited for the water to come to a boil, he watched Sherlock staring out the window, his arm and clouds of rising smoke the only visible movements.

Once the leaves were steeping, he gathered the rest of the tea set. Not having to wash cups shook him. Even when Sherlock was at his most withdrawn, James could always count on his need for stimulants to keep him hydrated.

He placed the tray on its usual table between their chairs, but had to rescue a cushion from the settee before taking up his well-worn seat. An ocean of memories surrounded him; the uncountable times they had repeated this same scenario. In some ways, his friend was as much a mystery now as he had been that very first time.

“I do know you’re here.” Sherlock’s voice was thick with disuse. “I watched you step from the cab. You tipped the driver generously for such a short voyage.”

“I waved at you several times, but you didn’t return the greeting.” James busied himself preparing two cups. “Standing there like a statue. I do hope you at least blink.”

“Dangerous.” He remained fixated on the view.

James settled back, warming his fingers on his steaming cup. “I kept the leather case, but the contents have been destroyed as per your request.” The question hung in the air unasked.

“I don’t suppose you would believe I finally took your lectures to heart?” The contents of his pipe reduced to ash, Sherlock turned from the window.

James carefully walled up his reaction. He’d never seen his friend look so exhausted; eyes deeply shadowed, skin verging on waxy. “Not likely, no. Sherlock, sit down before you collapse.”

The sharp glance made it clear he was sitting by choice, not by order. He paused with the cup near his lips. “Stay away from Mrs. Hudson’s teapot for the time being. Your former landlady has been practicing medicine.”

Mrs. Hudson had confessed her subterfuge as soon as James had come in the front door. He might have prescribed it himself had he known how worn the detective had become. “Have you slept since?”

A forlorn lopsided smile. “I’m unsure I’m awake now.” Sherlock drained the cup, returning it to its saucer on the tray before repacking his pipe. “I thought mental clarity was one of the benefits you promised if I abstained.”

James took a moment to look over the literature piled on every available surface of the sitting room. Biology, mathematics, even histories might have helped him figure out what was so obviously vexing his friend. Instead, he found himself surrounded by volumes on world mythology, collections of folklore, legends, even a few tomes of western esotericism.

“Clarity can be hard to find on such ephemeral subjects.” Perhaps Mary’s thoughts of a possible romantic entanglement were not as ludicrous as he’d thought. Since direct questions had gotten him nothing, James was determined to get him to talk around the subject.

Sherlock shrugged. “Mythology can be more revealing than history. History is recorded by journalists, and their reliability is questionable at the best of times. They lose focus; forget the murkier aspects in pursuit of the illusion of heroes and villains.”

James leaned forward in his chair. “And what villain are you pursuing now?” The sharp stare he received confirmed there was some specific point to Sherlock’s efforts. “For god’s sake, man, let me help you.” He hadn’t meant to be so blunt.

Sherlock sprang up, returning to the cleared path through the books and pacing furiously. He was obviously considering it, so James paused in his questioning.

Mary had thought it perhaps had something to do with The Woman, but James doubted it. Mrs. Norton’s first name was ‘Irene’, and if the diva had returned to London, he was sure the papers would have informed the entire city by now. Still, as time dragged on, James thought perhaps a shove was needed.

“Sherlock, who is Molly?”

He had hoped to provoke a reaction, but the look his friend gave him made him wish he’d never asked. Anger, confusion, frustration, but beneath it all some kind of desperate pain the detective appeared to have been taking great care to conceal from the world.

After a few seconds, it seemed to have filled Sherlock with some kind of dread reserve. He folded his arms, staring pointedly at a small stain in the rug. “In cases of cardiac arrest, place the patient on their back on a flat surface, preferably the floor. Tilt their head back and open their mouth by moving their jaw forward. If the patient is not breathing, sweep their mouth to be sure their airway is unobstructed. If the patient is still not breathing, seal your mouth to theirs and force two breaths into their lungs.”

He began to act out the motions. “Place the heel of your hand on the patient’s sternum, the other hand on top. Press down hard and fast about a third of the depth of the chest, releasing immediately. Thirty chest compressions to every two breaths over two minute’s time. Repeat compression and breath cycle until medical professionals arrive.” Sherlock heaved a breath of his own, assuring himself he had covered all the instructions on the print he had seen in that ‘other’ morgue. “Cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It would work, wouldn’t it?”

James was stunned, the sudden change in direction leaving him scrambling. It took a moment before he began reviewing the physiology. “I suppose it would get oxygen into the blood and keep it moving around the body. Fracturing the ribs would be inevitable, but if the heart could be saved, that would be a minor price.” He nodded. “It could, but there would have to be years of trials before it could be recommended as a procedure. Did you read about this somewhere?”

With a dark look, Sherlock threw himself down in his chair. “Whatever is happening isn’t madness.” He steepled his fingers beneath his chin. What he needed was a way to interact with it, influence what he was seeing. Warn her. She was in terrible danger if he couldn’t find a way to…what, exactly?

James was blinking slowly, trying to come up with a reasonable response. “Sherlock, I don’t think…”

“Then you shouldn’t talk.”

James hastily prepared another cup to try to hide his irritation. “If you are going to quote Lewis Carroll, could you at least choose a character other than the Mad Hatter? A bit too close to the mark for humour, particularly over tea.”

Sherlock leapt from the chair, scanning his nearly empty shelves. He’d thought to check fables, but had ignored fairy tales. He bypassed Grimm with a silent hope none of its horrors were involved. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ sat neglected and dusty beside a copy of ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’.

James may have been trying to get his attention, but Sherlock was flipping pages furiously, not knowing what he was looking for, but sure some idea was emerging. It took him a few minutes to find the line;

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.’

As the implications caught fire in his mind, Sherlock thought of the card still gathering dust in his great coat pocket. He hurriedly checked it was still there. It seemed he was late for an important date.

Pulling his coat on, Sherlock looked at his friend’s bewildered countenance. There really wasn’t time to explain. “James, you would have moved heaven and earth if it could have saved your wife and child. How could I fail your example?” He was down the stairs and out the door in seconds.

oOo

Finding the theatre Miss Morgan was performing her ‘magic’ act in was difficult. The address had been on the card, but the building itself was small and nondescript. He had always assumed medium shows were an elaborate cover for fleecing the naive and gullible out of their savings and sanity. He wouldn’t have considered approaching the woman in question, but he suspected time was becoming a critical issue. He kept thinking of Mr. Carey; intelligent enough to have reasoned his identity by pub stories and addresses, yet enchanted by the woman’s illusions.

He had envisioned large signs, perhaps hawkers calling people in from the street, but there was nothing to indicate a spiritualist’s expected revival atmosphere. By the time he actually found the small venue, the evening matinee had well begun. A few people were milling about out front, seats were still being sold, but there was no sense of the excitement or the carnival mood he had predicted. Instead, as he watched, an older man drew a weeping woman clutching a faded shawl away from the exit. Whatever they had expected, they had clearly been disappointed

“She’s not a fake.”

Sherlock halted; turned sharply at the sound of a low, intense and unexpected voice coming from the shadows to his left. His eyes flickered over the man, nearly his height, curly and unruly bohemian hair glowing dark gold in the light from the street lamps. He was dressed in a manner that bespoke an artistic career, a navy scarf wound loosely around his shoulders several times before draping to his waist.

It was the man’s eyes that captured his attention. Vibrant blue, they bulged very slightly, which should have given him a whimsical, almost comical expression. Instead, they held a gravity and seriousness that testified to a wealth of experience.

“Thank you for your reassurances,” Sherlock finally responded. A fanatical follower of the medium, no doubt. The man was probably demonstrating his devotion by accosting those he thought sceptics on their way to view her performance. “I prefer to reach my own conclusions.”

“Oh, you’ll reach those conclusions, no doubt about that.” His lips widened in a delighted smile that lit his eyes from within, softening his face to a more benevolent demeanour. “But you’ll need to rethink them, Mr. Holmes. What you see on stage is but a test of the beholder; not at all what a private audience would reveal. I’d advise you to ask for one, but I’m sure you’ll come to that on your own. Forego the ticket; ask for Mr. Baker, her erstwhile manager. I’m sure he will guide you where you need to be.”

Sherlock was forced to take a step back as a crowd of wildly drunken revellers pushed between them, managing to mangle both the melodies and lyrics to “The Mikado”. By the time they had passed, the man who had known his name was gone.

oOo

James had the hack drop him down the road from where Sherlock had stopped. He had expected his friend to rush off to some library, laboratory, hospital, perhaps a private residence where this ‘Molly’ could be found. He had not expected to arrive in the theatre district. He was beginning to feel some sense of Deja vu.

Unwilling to have Sherlock aware of his presence, he looked over the placards for the nearest venue. An older couple tried but failed to stop his cab before it moved on. The woman’s face was a mask of tears and misery, but her husband was trying to console her.

It took James a minute, but he thought he’d recognized them from an illustration in the newspapers; Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, whose daughter had disappeared several weeks prior. Perhaps they were trying to find someone who had witnessed what had become of her. They had moved along before he remembered or he would have offered his sympathies. Perhaps once things were settled, he and Sherlock could help them. He watched them for a moment before someone ran straight into his back, sending him sprawling.

“Sorry, mate!” a voice from the swarm of revellers called back as they staggered down the street, laughing, dancing and singing in horribly off-key sing song falsettos.

A hand on his elbow helped tug him upright. James glanced over to see who was kind enough to assist and saw an incongruous man. Undoubtedly an actor or poet of some kind, judging by the ridiculously oversized greatcoat and scarf, but the man had a friendly and sympathetic aspect. “Sorry about that, Dr. Watson. The crowds in the theatre district can be somewhat unruly at this time of night.” The stranger’s voice had the depth and intensity for the stage.

As soon as James regained his feet, his benefactor stepped back. “You should take this as a sign; your friend needs to take this part of his journey on his own.” The man’s eyes were a vivid blue, seeming to shine with some deep emotion.

James was startled. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“Who indeed.” The other man grinned, tapping a finger alongside his rather majestic nose. “Just a friend, offering another friend a bit of advice; let Mr. Holmes travel this part of the path on his own, you will be by his side again soon enough.”

With a small salute, the man turned and vanished into the flowing crowd before James could gather his flustered thoughts and demand to know how the stranger knew who he was. He looked around, but Sherlock had disappeared.

oOo

Since the performance had already begun, Sherlock took the strange man’s advice and asked for the lady’s manager. The man in the booth showed no interest until Sherlock produced the card the dead man had given him. Oddly, it seemed to excite the ticket taker, who nearly fell from his stool, then bolted to allow him into the lobby through a discordantly loud door. The man asked him to wait, then darted down a small hallway. Apparently he was expected.

He took a moment to look over the cheap four-colour prints advertising the reputed wonders of the show in progress. He assumed the woman featured was supposed to be Charlotte Morgan; a willowy figure with scarlet hair escaping the ornate knots fashion dictated. Her eyes were wide in every illustration, but disturbingly without irises, just golden light pouring forth. Cartoon-like spirits curled across every available inch and the show seemed to promise miracles unending. He was a bit surprised a ‘donation box’ wasn’t prominently placed where the gullible wouldn’t miss it on the way out.

The ticket taker hurried back, showing him to a small office whose door was in desperate need of lubrication, the hinges squealing madly as they moved. Sherlock was practically shoved inside before the door slammed shut; leaving him alone.

A draft circled the room. It fluttered a mound of newspapers and hand-written notes, crowned with one scrawled in a different ink which read ‘Do Not Touch! That Means You!’ Beneath it in pencil was a small primitive sketch that reminded him of the image from Molly’s blouse.

An unusually tall man yanked open the office door and rushed inside; difficult given his height and the room’s low ceiling. He seemed to be staring for a moment at a spot just over Sherlock’s head. Leaning out of the room, he whispered harshly to someone, and then came back in, closing the door.

As Sherlock turned to look over his shoulder, the man snatched at his hand, shaking it violently. “Douglas Baker.” He continued on before Sherlock could introduce himself. “I understand you have one of Charlotte’s private audience cards. May I see it, please?” His forced smile reminded the detective of certain unsuccessful predators.

He showed Mr. Baker the card while carefully keeping it out of the man’s reach. “I engaged a driver named Peter Carey, and he gave this to me. Shortly afterward, he was murdered. Did you know him?”

Irritation in Mr. Baker’s eyes seemed to die back before he closed them, rubbing his face with his hands. He took a sharp breath, gesturing Sherlock to a chair while he took his place behind the desk. “The papers never named the victim. Mr. Carey was our driver when we first arrived. He wasn’t a client and shouldn’t have had one of those cards. I don’t suppose I could persuade you to simply give it to me and go about your business?”

For all of the excitement his arrival had caused, Sherlock now felt plainly unwelcome. He was aware that the title ‘manager’ was sometimes used as a euphemism for ‘lover.’ If the illustrations in the lobby were accurate, there would be quite an age disparity, but not an insurmountable one. Mr. Baker must be in his late fifties, while the posters made Miss Morgan appear in her early twenties, although she was probably older. “Could she have given him one without your knowledge?”

“I have no idea what that insane woman gets up to.” He shook his head with a scowl, his gaze seeming to settle just above Sherlock’s shoulder. The office was far too small for anyone to be concealed in it.

Mr. Baker’s tone was harsh as he continued. “She has some very odd ideas about how the world works. If she didn’t have more money than sense, she’d have been locked up long ago. I have my hands full just trying to keep her flesh and spirit somewhere in the same general vicinity.”

No love lost there, apparently. In fact, Mr. Baker was behaving more like a disappointed father figure, or more accurately like a disapproving uncle. Perhaps it was merely the odd eccentricities so often rumoured about his profession. “A romance, perhaps?”

Mr. Baker’s eyes widened painfully in bald shock. He enunciated carefully. “No. I can promise you that. She would never consider it, and I can assure you, Tobias would never allow it. Look, the card is of no real concern. We hadn’t used the man in weeks. If Charlotte thinks of anything that could help, we can contact the authorities directly.”

Sherlock put the card back in his pocket. “Could I perhaps ask the lady herself?” The sense of his being unwelcome was clear but leaving without some kind of answers was unacceptable.

A long pause seemed filled with the manager’s resignation. “She never meets with anyone privately in the theatre; only in the conservatory of her house. Some nonsense about not wanting to be overheard.” He seemed to look Sherlock over intently, his eyes finally settling yet again on a blank space behind him. “If you really want to meet Charlotte, I’ll arrange it, but I should warn you.” A brief glare seemed directed at nothing before the man looked him in the eye. “It can be a rather jarring experience. I know a few people who would like to buy back their introductions, including, on occasion, myself.”

Sherlock almost laughed aloud. He’d heard James say roughly the same about him. “I’m sure it would be for the best.”

Mr. Baker stood, his head nearly colliding with a low beam in the office ceiling. He stepped toward the door, but tripped over something Sherlock couldn’t see and barely caught himself on the edge of the desk. The manager hadn’t squinted, but perhaps he needed spectacles. He patted down his vest, directing another withering look at empty air. “Yes, perhaps you should see her at work while I try to arrange things.” Muttering viciously under his breath, he reached for the door, gesturing Sherlock to follow, but then he stopped abruptly.

A brief pause, then Mr. Baker sucked in a hurried breath. “Mr. Holmes, you’d better stay here. There’s been…oh, damn.” The door screeched wildly and the man was running across the lobby toward the curtains that lead into the auditorium.

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 7

Lestrade’s thumb hammered a rhythmic tattoo on the leather seat of the cab as they sped along. He fidgeted, glowering out the window, lips sealed in a tight line. Sherlock had asked, but the Chief Inspector wasn’t willing to part with any details until they were at the location. Sherlock had never seen the man quite so agitated.

He took advantage of the silence to note what he could remember from his unconscious hours before the harsh light of day demanded reasonable explanations. If anyone else had told him the tale, he’d have dismissed it as purest delusion. Madness was beginning to look like the simplest answer, but no longer the accurate one. Jotting the lines in his memo book was difficult what with the cab bouncing. Unable to find any order to the memories, he simply recorded each, carefully omitting Molly’s name. If the book were to disappear, perhaps purloined by his brother or James, he wanted as little known of her as possible.

Crowds had already gathered as they arrived at a nondescript pub, slightly less filthy than the buildings which surrounded it. Despite the numbers, silence was thick as Lestrade guided him down the alley alongside the drab building.

Sherlock knew their assumption as soon as he saw the state of the victim. Cuts, obviously inflicted by a straight razor, marred the body in a manner that testified to a prolonged and passionate attack. Few of the cuts would have been lethal on their own, but the accumulation of even the shallowest would have been fatal.

“Owner found him a couple hours ago. Thinks he was a customer, but no one seems to remember him.” The Chief Inspector stopped a younger patrolman from coming too close. “No one seems to see anything anymore.”

Sherlock shook his head. “It’s not the Ripper’s work. Male victim, the body cavity remains undisturbed, and I’m certain autopsy will show all his internal organs are still present.”

Lestrade visibly relaxed. “I thought so, but at this point, I wanted your corroboration. Anything else you can offer since we brought you down here?”

The victim’s face had been left relatively intact, but the mask of drying blood had hidden his identity until Sherlock leaned over him. “He’s a hansom cab driver named Peter Carey.”

“Friend of yours?” Lestrade pulled his own notebook from his pocket.

“No; I used his services once.” Sherlock quickly checked. The forgotten card lay crumpled in his great coat pocket. He hadn’t even considered such an avenue of inquiry. The hack had implied the girl ran some kind of magic show.

Sherlock ignored a faint ringing in his ears. “He was, however, friends with a number of your officers. He claimed he used to dupe them out of drinks with magic tricks.” What kind of show would have caught the man’s attentions?

Sherlock waited while Lestrade issued orders to a few of his officers, knowing there would be further questions. He was certain The Ripper had been nowhere near Mr. Carey, but some element of the crime scene had struck a chord within him. A familiarity to the brutal precision. It gave him a chill no hearth fire could warm.

oOo

The large man’s glower would burn a lesser man to a cinder as he made his way to join Dr. Watson in the booth at Benekey’s. James had felt a need to speak to Mycroft Holmes, but the Diogenes would no longer allow him on the premises. A public house may not be the elder Holmes usual type of establishment, but it would reduce the chances of the younger dropping in uninvited.

Mycroft carefully hung his walking stick on the back of the booth, draping his great coat over a nearby hook. His lingering silence shouted his displeasure as he eased himself into the narrow confines between the bench and the table.

James cleared his throat. “Thank you for accepting my invitation, Mycroft. I assume ales aren’t to your…”

“Please tell me you didn’t summon me to introduce me to Michael’s fine port?” A man seemed to coagulate from the shadows with a glass of the wine in question, setting it before Mycroft before disappearing just as silently. Mycroft himself didn’t seem to notice, never blinking as he awaited an answer.

None of the things James wanted to shout would be helpful so he cut immediately to the problem. “Something is happening with Sherlock. Have you spoken with him recently?”

Breaking off the stare, Mycroft removed his gloves. “Something is always happening where my brother is concerned. I’m sure you keep far closer track than I.”

James severely doubted that. Despite the elder Holmes reluctance to be parted from his self-imposed exile at his club, very little escaped his notice. “Mrs. Hudson is nearly frantic. The poor woman is being kept up to all hours by his pacing and incessant violin playing. What few groceries he has sent for amount to a river of tea and coffee, but no food to speak of.”

The stare now clearly informed James his concerns had better be based on more than inadequate grocery orders.

James sighed. “Chief Inspector Lestrade says he’s turning down cases. He’s not even answering his door, and if an officer tries to enter, as often as not, they are met with a barrage of profanity and even thrown cushions.”

A small twitch pulled at the corner of Mycroft’s mouth as he retrieved his pipe from his vest pocket. “He is amazingly accurate with that particular ammunition. I assume you divested him of your pistols when you left Baker Street?”

“Twice.” James confirmed. It irritated him that Mycroft seemed unconcerned, almost amused. He gave Mycroft the details of the visit Mary had paid a week ago, making it clear that both his nurse and former landlady were capable of raising the dead if need be. If they could not wake Sherlock, something was seriously wrong.

Mycroft let the match burn down past the sulfur before applying it to the bowl of the pipe. “Do you believe he’s been imbibing again?” He had thought his brother’s self-medicating days had been blessedly put behind them.

Silently, James pulled the leather case from his coat pocket and placed it on the table between them. He opened it to show the dried remnants in the tiny bottles, dust hazing most of the surfaces.

The elder Holmes looked at it like an unwanted floral arrangement after a funeral. “He will simply purchase another, Doctor.”

James tried to replicate the other man’s hard stare. “He sent it to my surgery with Mary, instructing me to destroy it.”

That seemed to bring the message home. As James waited, nursing his stout, Mycroft smoked in long, rhythmic draws.

When the ash had gone cold and James was verging on ordering another round, Mycroft blinked rapidly. “’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

Why would Mycroft Holmes quoting Shakespeare send such a chill up his spine? “I’ve tried three times to get some kind of answer from him.” James stared into the few drops still clinging to his glass. “He’s dismissive, distracted. Not unusually rude, but…” Perhaps he should ask about the name.

Mycroft seemed to shake off his reverie. “Dr. Watson, my brother has a long history of developing an intense interest in a variety of subjects. He will pursue that interest until all avenues are exhausted or explored, and then pursue a new focus for his attentions.” He tapped the cold ash away, pocketing the pipe and matches. “I’m sure whatever this new interest, he will emerge from its thrall presently.”

James felt as if he were trapped between the unmovable object and the unstoppable force. “You’ll do nothing, then?”

Mycroft checked his pocket watch, noting that he would need to ask the hack for extra speed. “I should keep my appointment with Mr. Crookes.” He donned his coat, brushing away a bit of nonexistent dust. “Do keep me notified, Dr. Watson.”

oOo

Trying to keep her simmering annoyance from showing in her face, Charlotte toyed mindlessly with the fringe on her shawl. She had been playing with the spoon the servant placed beside her tea while serving Douglas and her hosts their brandy, but the constant tapping noise drew a dark look from her companion. Douglas had almost admonished her like a two year old.

She supposed she should be grateful; by society standards, she should have been sent from the room the moment the brandy and cigars arrived. Being the topic of conversation meant they wanted her present, not unlike a well-behaved mastiff. Unfortunately, the men were speaking of her in terms one would expect to hear regarding a statue, or more appropriately, an exotic tool whose uses were still being considered.

Handling these situations was Douglas’ gift, and she was more than happy to step back and allow him to appear to run the show. It had been more than a year since she received the first letter from the Ghost Club. She had initially discarded it unopened, but Douglas had recognized the name and rescued the missive. He had insisted they were a reputable organization, legitimately interested in the scientific and objective study of the phenomenon she’d been living with all her life.

Charlotte had her doubts, but Douglas had listed several internationally recognized scientists who claimed membership. She remained unimpressed until he mentioned an author Charlotte was fond of was a founding member; Charles Dickens. The writer had died before she had any contact with them, but she’d agreed to exchange letters. Visiting them in their London headquarters was a trip she was unwilling to make until this latest conundrum made a trip to the country necessary.

So far, it appeared they were both better and worse than she’d assumed. Their lines of questioning showed some level of practical understanding without any of the pitfalls she came to expect when confronted about her abilities. No questions of angels or demons, no assumptions she had a direct line of communication with any gods. Instead, their inquiries were more practical; impulses and triggers, manifestations, after effects. They gifted her several black glass vials of the substance she’d previously heard called ‘angel hair’, but that they insisted on calling ‘ectoplasm’.

Or rather, they gifted them to Douglas, hence her foul mood. As usual, despite any of her skills, all practical discussion required a male voice. When she had first fled her family’s stifling arms, she had bound her breasts, cut her hair short, and under Tobias’ tutelage presented herself as male while she made her way to the East. Emerging biology made the deception impossible after a couple of eventful years, but by then her family had been anxious enough for news of her that they welcomed her home with open accounts if not open arms.

Her mind had settled into the pragmatism of family when her eyes rested on a high-backed chair shunted off in a corner during their meal with their host and several other members of the Club. Mahogany, with deeply carved leaves entwined across the back and spiral details down its legs. The chair took on the hyper level of detail requiring her attention.

Charlotte rose, walked over to it despite Douglas’ attempt to keep her in her seat at the table. Sitting in its mahogany embrace seemed disrespectful, so instead she traced the carvings with a single finger.

The man she was seeking had not sat in this chair, but very recently, someone associated with him had. Very similar patterns, but where the man she looking for was a whirlwind of energy, blazing like a star, this one was more like deep tidal waters and bedrock. A parallel came to mind and she laughed in recognition.

“Charlotte?” Douglas had taken her forearm, breaking her connection with the mahogany surface. The others were babbling about psychometry and telepathy, but if she didn’t speak the thought, it would run away from her like trying to grasp a single water droplet.

“Daedalus was here.” Charlotte breathed. He was one of the geniuses who created the Labyrinth at King Minos’ command. Chambers upon chambers upon chambers; built to hide the greatest of secrets, the Minotaur. “We need to find the other designer; Icarus.” Icarus had been Daedalus’ son, which was not the proper relation, but not far from the mark.

One of the scientists, a ‘Professor Swindler’ or something stood close, but that may have been due the man’s obvious nearsightedness. “Miss Morgan, I can assure you this chair is not of Greek origin.”

The man was feigning, trying to divert her. Of course, Daedalus had been very close to King Minos. If her impression were correct, her hosts would probably prefer she stop sticking her nose in where it didn’t belong.

Charlotte used the empty-headed giggle she’d developed for just such occasions, trusting Douglas to play along. “So sorry, sir, but it is a beautiful piece.” She was distracted by Douglas staring at the now vacated dining table. The glasses that still contained measures of brandy were rippling as if the floor vibrated. The air had gone heavy and still, much like before a thunderstorm.

“If everyone would step away from the table, please.” Douglas had seen this before and knew it would be safer for all if they moved away from anywhere objects could fall. He quietly hoped some of the older scientists had strong hearts.

Charlotte moved farther from the assembly, her arms and fingers spread wide. Something obviously wanted her attention and she gave it. She should be able to hear the group murmuring, noting the event, but could only hear the rushing of the blood in her ears. The smell came at her; ozone, the odor of lightning. She was tempted to snatch one of the salt cellars from the table; toss its contents around Douglas and the men.

The tapers that had been placed to light the room suddenly flared brightly, only to gutter out in the newly melted wax. The gaslights that had been turned down before the meal began now produced a hellish glow. Noxious energy looking for ground crackled the air.

She wanted to draw the fire, try to drain the strength before someone could be hurt. “Parlor tricks!” Charlotte hissed. “Impish stunts to frighten children! Is this the best you can do?”

A brief caress of lips on her cheek, so cold it burned. An Irish voice, male, whispered in dripping contempt. “The untested harlot seeks the untouched virgin.”

Douglas turned up the gaslight, shattering the tableau as an enraged Charlotte stormed from the room.

oOo

“Mr. Holmes!” Mrs. Hudson slammed the tea set down with a slight bang. “I will do many things for you. I have cooked, cleaned, nursed, lied to both the police and your brother, any number of things that will doubtlessly be questioned intently by Saint Peter, but I refuse to be the one to summon the coroner for you!” She folded her arms, her upper lip rapidly disappearing. “When did you last eat?”

Well aware he was in trouble, Sherlock still barely looked up from what felt like the thousandth pointlessly unhelpful tome. “I believe I ate half a box of digestives some time around sunrise.” He wondered where his copy of ‘Bibliotheca Classica’ had gotten to.

“That doesn’t count as food! And when did you last sleep?” The redness in her cheeks was spreading even as her voice grew louder.

He paused, thinking he should try for an accurate answer. “Night before last.” No, that volume was the Hindu Upanishads. Intriguing, but unhelpful in the current situation.

“No, you were caterwauling with that ridiculous violin until dawn!” She was beginning to rattle the windows.

“I needed to think.” He needed to clear wider aisles between the piles of books or he’d never be able to read the titles.

“You need to sleep!” Mrs. Hudson pulled the books from his hands, seeming to throw them for distance.

Sherlock paused. At this rate, the dear woman would work her way up to being ill, and he really didn’t want that. He tried for his calmest voice. “Mrs. Hudson, I do appreciate your concern, but I assure you I’m perfectly fine. I simply have a case…” Sort of. In a way.

She was giving him The Look; the one he had come to associate with her reaching the absolute end of her tether. Nothing short of complete obedience would get him out from under that weight.

She stepped forward, shoving him down into his chair and placing a tea cup firmly in his hand. She pointed at the food on its own plate. “You will drink your tea and eat the sandwich. Tonight, I don’t want to hear the slightest sound, not the smallest peep from up here, or I swear I will demonstrate exactly how effective a rolling pin can be as a sleep aid!”

He couldn’t resist a small pout. “James never threatened me with a rolling pin.”

Mrs. Hudson paused at the door. “Doctor Watson was trained in bedside manner. I spent one summer engaged as a nanny. Don’t make me have to hurt you, dear.”

Sherlock smirked at her retreating back. He sighed, and then sipped at the tea. He’d spent days poring over every book in his considerable collection and felt he had nothing to show for it. Nothing in his experiences seemed to match up with any record he could find. He couldn’t decide if that made it better or worse.

He eased back in the seat, picking absently at the bread, his mind running in circles. There had to be some element or pattern he’d yet to recognize. He began reviewing the memories as he ate.

When he next opened his eyes, the light from the windows had shifted, the room darkened. The nearly-empty teacup had gone cold in his hand. He hadn’t been lost in thought; in fact, he felt like he had been contemplating the topography of his own navel. The tea seemed to have left a bitter aftertaste.

He pushed himself to his feet, then immediately sat down again, his eyes growing heavier. He knew Mrs. Hudson was trying to help, probably thinking laudanum would only have a mild effect, but…

The teacup had tipped from his hand, spun toward the floor and he felt himself drifting away as his eyes closed. Sounds rose from the gloom, but no images came.

“Surprise, love.” A man’s voice, intimate, warm, but it chilled Sherlock to the core.

“Prat!” Molly; a tone of relief, even affection. Noises Sherlock was familiar with from times James mistakenly believed he and his lady were being discreet. “Jim!” a pause, then she panted. “Jim, wait…not here, we can’t…” The question of jealousy firmly trumped by the need to protect.

“Sorry, love. Guess I got carried away there.” The Irish accent, the false forced pleasantness, it was all too familiar and too frightening. The same voice had hissed at Sherlock; had spat in fury, and then in defeat.

“It’s all right.” Molly was dismissive, but sounded tense. “I do have to get back to work, though.”

“Yeah, work, I know, me, too. Thing is, Molls, there’s something I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind…” The voice of the cat assuring the mouse.

“Yes?” She sounded so innocent, so unaware of the danger.

“That detective chap you’re always going on about, Sherlock Holmes? Is he coming in today?” The steel undercurrent of true motive coming to light.

“I don’t…I’m not ‘always’ going on about him, am I?” She sounded vaguely embarrassed.

“No, of course not. It’s just an expression. I was just wondering…do you think I could meet him? If he’s not busy, of course. You make him sound so interesting!”

Sherlock thought of the mortician. If he were actually some version of himself, there was nothing to suggest their lives were moving concurrently. Of course! Molly was a doctor, working at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, not some run down factory! Molly was alive! And if somehow she survived, then perhaps the man’s voice didn’t belong to a phantom!

“He’s a prat!” she blurted, roughly.

Panic tried to grip him. She had no way of knowing the danger she was in, the jaws far too close to her unprotected throat. Sherlock wanted to shout, but steel bands seemed to have stolen his breath. His hands reached out, grasping at nothing.

“Oh, Molls! Don’t worry, there’s nothing he can say or do to chase me off!”

As Sherlock clawed his way to consciousness, a draft purred in his ear, sending him to his feet. It was a man’s voice, a rich Irish accent whispering “Surprise, love!”

 Author’s note; This was posted on ff & AO3 a week ago, but accessing Tumblr apparently required a new laptop. My apologies. Next chapter soon, promise.

If I Only Could - Chapter 9

Sherlock could hear shouting even as he followed the alarmed manager; the second man within the hour to know who he was without introduction. He had attended hundreds of theatrical productions in his life and breaching the curtain didn’t give him pause. He had always prided himself on slipping in and out of the darkness with a minimum of fuss or distraction to the other patrons. This time, however, he stopped as the lobby curtains closed behind him.

Usually the glow of the gaslights on the stage allowed enough illumination that he could move quickly and quietly. Instead, he had to spend several moments feeling his way toward the ongoing scuffle, willing his sight to adjust to the hellish glow. The crowd were staying seated, but he could hear their confusion and concern.

Pillar candles large enough to be at home in a cathedral burned a respectful distance from the stage exits while a heavily loaded candelabrum marked the front of a table at the centre of the boards. The tapers glowed in their usual flickering yellows, but all other lighting was being filtered through some form of ruby glass. It bathed most of the stage a bloody tint, throwing all other colours sharply to red or black. The tinged illumination only penetrated a few yards out, leaving most of the audience in a blended pool of shadow.

Sherlock had read of the use of red lighting. Mediums were said to produce an unlikely substance called ectoplasm; a physical manifestation of the ‘spirit world’ that simply vanished if exposed to regular light. The fact that the subdued lighting would also camouflage forms of trickery and thievery was a significant side effect.

Charlotte Morgan seemed less willowy than her print artist had depicted. She was wrapped in a golden bodice with black velvet skirts, her scarlet hair swept into a psyche knot rapidly escaping some form of shell and pin contrivance. Her waist and arm were being held tightly by a man whose sequined dress coat showed he was intended to be part of the performance. Her other arm was being roughly yanked at by a dishevelled figure who canted with drunkenness. Mr. Baker had a hold of the lout, but his bruising grip on her wrist wouldn’t budge. Her splayed fingers curled like talons.

Sherlock tried to see her face in the gloom, expecting fear, perhaps even a swoon. Instead from beneath the curtain of her liberated hair, her eyes blazed with undisguised fury. He heard her moan, but it sounded more of frustration than either pain or fear.

She drew her elbow back sharply into the solar plexus of the sequined man, reclaiming her arm and using it to shove her fellow performer away. Twisting a large ring on her now freed hand, she pulled back and slapped the drunk with considerable force. The stone of the ring cut a thin gash in the lout’s cheek and he released her. She stumbled back a few feet as the man lunged against the restraint imposed by Mr. Baker and a man Sherlock assumed was a soon-to-be-sacked security guard. Above the uneasy murmuring of the crowd, he thought he heard her tell the inebriated man that if his wife wanted her other arm broken, she would know where to find him.

Sherlock felt an empty chair and slid into it, watching as Mr. Baker and the security man hustled the drunk away. His vision further adjusted to the nearly monochromatic palette and he began to see the details on the stage. A glass cabinet containing a plain wooden chair stood alongside the table, which had its own seat. Atop the table a sound trumpet lay discarded beside a cheaply made poppet and a deck of some type of playing cards. A globe nearly the size of a dinner plate he assumed was supposed to be a scrying orb distorted and reversed the image of anything viewed through it. He had read that such spheres were supposed to be made of quartz, but suspected this specimen was glass due to its clarity.

An additional large pane of glass took up the rear of the stage. Some unseen mechanism wafted steam in clouds on the reverse side. Several fading scribbles seemed to have been made in the condensation, but they were dripping away as fresh vapour settled. They were too degraded to tell if they had been letters or depictions.

A man in livery rushed on from backstage, going to Miss Morgan as she turned her back to the crowd, cupping her indecently collapsing hair with one hand and ripping the shell viciously from its sliding perch. He was pantomiming some effort at comforting the supposedly upset woman, but it was obvious to Sherlock that the lady in question was fully in control of her faculties as she whipped the useless fastenings away. The liveried man produced what appeared to be a set of chop sticks from inside his vest, pressing them into her free hand. A deft flick of the wrist and she jammed the sticks through her now restrained chignon.

By the time Miss Morgan faced the disquieted and mildly scandalized crowd, she seemed to have retreated into a stage persona. The irritation was gone from her features, replaced with an overly sweet peace that now seemed vacant and unnatural. Sherlock wondered for a moment if they had met previously, but her face had retreated into that carefully poised blankness expected of her sex. She demurely lowered her head as the sequined man helped her back to her seat at the table.

“Our apologies, ladies and gentlemen.” He was making quite a show of squiring his supposedly distressed damsel. “I’m afraid that individual was in the grip of a spirit our lady has difficulty engaging with.”

Sherlock wondered if anyone else saw the look of purest venom that momentarily slipped past her carefully crafted visage.

oOo

Anthony poked listlessly at the bag of boiled sweets, his only companion in the private box. Large doses of sugar were usually enough to keep sleep at bay during any assignment, but oddly, the bizarre lighting seemed to muddle the flavours into a single cloying yet unidentifiable taste. He had an almost irresistible urge to simply crush them underfoot into a sticky uniform paste.

His was not to wonder why, and he usually never indulged in the exercise, but looking out over the squirming audience, he had to admit he wondered at the reasoning that left him assigned to this task. The lady on stage was obviously an adept performer, but no more talented than several he had observed. There was an interest in such things developing, which meant his superior needed information on anyone making a name for themselves in this new and questionable field. So far at least, his efforts had yielded nothing worth reporting on, which had led to many nights fighting drowsiness.

The physical confrontation appeared to be over; the agitated man was removed and hopefully arrested. Even assuming the performance was merely smoke and mirrors, creating that kind of disturbance was intolerable and needed to be redressed. The lady had returned to the table on stage, picked up the playing cards and settled back into answering a seemingly unending stream of inane and pointless questions. If she were actually able to see the future, communicate with the deceased, access some greater knowledge, Anthony was disappointed at the use people wanted to make of it.

He knew he shouldn’t, but he allowed himself to relax back into the chair. Anthony was beginning to suspect the damage the lead slug had done to his ilium was going to plague him for an extended time. It was an injury he was more than willing to endure. Death would have been preferable to allowing that bullet to strike its intended target; his superior. He had been rewarded by being allowed to continue his work, his loyalty affording him the ability to answer directly to the man himself.

Unforgivably, he must have drifted off for a moment, because Anthony hadn’t heard the other man enter the private box and settle into the chair beside him. It was jarring and he cursed his lax behaviour. He looked the intruder over, disquieted that the man’s voluminous coat had the potential to conceal all manner of weaponry. The odd lighting scheme rendered detail a homogeneous blur; the only thing Anthony could plainly make out was a small bag of sweets the stranger rooted around in with almost distasteful eagerness.

Anthony had relaxed enough to stop glancing suspiciously at the intruder when the man finally spoke a single word. “Attraction.”

Conversation during a performance was rude, but Anthony found himself unable to quash a reply. “Pardon me?”

“Attraction is the key. People recognise lovers, family, and companions. They are drawn to them by warmth, affection and acceptance. Somehow they find each other across vast distances and despite impossible obstacles.” The stranger gave a long sigh. “You are a far more interesting case.”

He felt no fear, but Anthony had the strangest urge to stand and flee the box. They had made no contact, but the stranger made him feel exposed, vulnerable, and naked in a way no clothing could cover. “Am I?” He wanted to lash out, create some barrier to this intruder lurking in shadows.

“Come what may, you follow him. He could lead you to the gates of Hades itself and your only concern would be how to maintain his supply lines. There are precious few capable of that kind of dedication; fewer still worthy of it. You are aware enough to follow that attraction. Sacrifices are required, yet you never hesitate to pay the price. Believe me, I honour your choice; I know too well the cost loyalty demands.”

Anthony was reaching out, determined to drag the man out into the hall where he could get a clear view of his face. His arm was fully extended, yet he felt nothing but empty air sliding through his fingers.

The man turned to him, but all Anthony could see was the faintest hint of a smile and a glint from his eye. “Tell him to stop arsing about and introduce himself. It’s later than you think.”

The smile faded, leaving absolutely nothing in the chair. Fully conscious, Anthony sincerely wished he could wake up.

oOo

Sherlock had come here to ascertain if the lady in question would be able to assist him with his unique situation. So far, he was getting an explicit lesson in banality. He had never supposed people were so invested in ideas of luck and chance, so confident that their deceased relations had nothing better to do than to attempt to arrange sudden financial windfalls. It was a public airing of details better kept private.

Two examples gave him some reason to keep his seat. The first was a lady inquiring after an antique broach supposedly lost from an unlocked drawer. It was obvious to him as she spoke that the broach had not actually been lost; it had been purloined, probably by the squirming husband sitting right beside her. Interestingly, Miss Morgan seemed to have perceived this as well, telling the woman that perhaps the object might return if the ‘spirits’ yielded to their conscience and returned the curio to its rightful place. The husband practically nodded at the suggestion. Sherlock wondered if the man had kept the incriminating pawn ticket.

The second was an inquiry posed by a workman, asked while worrying at a well-worn cap. He had lost a friend in an industrial accident. He presented an ideal opportunity for Miss Morgan to try to sell him further services at a price or to recruit him to some new faith. Instead the lady expressed a proper level of sympathy for his loss and assured the man that the nature of the accident itself meant that his friend’s passing was painless, instantaneous. It relieved him enough that he wiped away an errant tear, saying he would buy a round at the pub in the man’s memory.

Miss Morgan smiled warmly. “I’m sure he would have liked that.” It was a crack in her stage visage, quickly recovered by the placid mask. Sherlock noted that her phraseology gave no indication of contact between the deceased and herself. “None needed.” She gathered the cards back into an orderly stack as Sherlock wondered if he’d spoken aloud.

The sequined man was giving some stream of overly dramatic patter, trying to draw attention to the glass case. Sherlock ignored him, trying to identify Miss Morgan’s accent. It was definitely based in America, probably the upper classes of the northeast of that country, but it had some of the drawl usually heard in the deepest south. Oddly, she seemed to divert to a French pronunciation for certain words.

She took the sequined man’s offered hand and walked to the case, sitting down on the chair it contained. After demurely adjusting her skirts, she rested her hands on her knees, palms turned upward and drew her posture very straight. The man bolted the cabinet shut with a large brass padlock and stepped away, eventually quieting and retreating to the very back corner of the stage.

A murmur rising from the crowd told Sherlock that what they had come for was about to arrive. Perhaps someone should have informed Miss Morgan, because her eyes had drifted shut and her head had lolled forward as if she had simply fallen asleep. After a few moments, something seemed to be taking form in the air above her lap; a vapour coalescing.

A shuddering sound distracted him, and Sherlock looked to the pane of glass at the back of the stage. Someone he must have missed had written the letters ‘FREK’ into the settled mist, the letters running rivulets down the surface. He was a bit surprised the letters were turned the right way since they must have been scrawled on the far side.

The trumpet began to roll gently back and forth on the table. It was too heavy to be moving in the drafts on the stage, but the movement was subtle and fading fast. A wispy and breathy voice came from it, but it was several moments until Sherlock began to make out the words being sung.

“…be poison my drink, if I sleep, snore or wink, once forgetting to think, of your lying alone…”

Sherlock looked to the cabinet. Miss Morgan largely hadn’t moved, but the fingers of her left hand were twitching in some rhythmic pattern. He thought for a moment that it was sloppy; allowing the crowd to see how some part of the illusions worked, but a different interpretation gave him pause. He began to make the movements in time with her, checking his sudden insight. It was the exact fingering of Paganini’s ‘Caprice Number Six in G Minor’. He used it himself as a simple exercise before playing more elaborate compositions on his violin.

“…och, it’s how I’m in love, like a beautiful dove, that sits cooing above, in the boughs of a tree…”

A series of cracking noises drew Sherlock’s attention back to the table. The threadbare poppet seemed to draw itself to its feet, first swaying, and then pirouetting to the singing from the trumpet. It bowed to the assembled crowd, dancing along the edge of the surface.

People were gasping around him, but Sherlock remained unimpressed. Whoever had rigged the stage was obviously knowledgeable, but it was still only simple magic tricks, not the skills he had hoped might assist him. He looked back to Miss Morgan. The apparition seemed to have grown, but it was clearly, to him if not the crowd, some form of fine netting powdered liberally with talc or perhaps corn flour. He assumed she was producing the supposed ectoplasm from her décolletage.

“…it’s myself I’ll soon smother, in something or other, unless I can bother, your heart to love me…”

Someone somewhere in the building must have slammed an outer door. Sherlock heard the muffled bang; felt the rush of colder air that extinguished the pillar candles and left the flames in the candelabra flickering wildly, scattering sparks. The poppet tumbled from the table to the stage, its arm outstretched toward him. Sparks landed nearby, and he felt a horrific compulsion to extinguish them.

“…sweet Molly, sweet Molly Malone…” the singing stopped abruptly.

Charlotte Morgan’s eyes snapped open, locking with his as her hand shot forward, the ring still turned with the stone in her palm. The stone hit the glass hard enough to crack the front of the cabinet. The fracture raced outward in a spider web pattern, the glass collapsing into a pile of jagged shards.

Several of the sharper pieces fell into the cabinet, cutting into the lady’s skirts. Seemingly unaware of the damage, Miss Morgan stood and moved forward, fragments sliding away from her feet. The sequined man tried to rush forward, but Mr. Baker pulled him backstage for a whispered conference.

Her eyes never blinked, never left Sherlock’s. She peered at him as if he’d asked a vital question. Her mouth moved without sound, but finally words arrived. “Davos Platz”, she gasped, seeming to be pleading with him for understanding. Her hands were clenched in shaking fists, but her lips didn’t appear to be under her control. “…won’t make it to Lucerne.”

The words struck Sherlock like knives, pulling the breath from him. The last time he’d heard those words, they had come from James, right before the doctor went back down the path to the inn, leaving him on the side of the mountain. What was she seeing?

The sequined man was frantically pulling the ruby lenses from the gaslights, the heated glass burning his fingers and causing him to drop most of them to shatter upon landing. Someone was turning up the house lights and the sudden brightness was nearly blinding. The crowd shifted from a quiet muttering to a rising clamour, which Mr. Baker answered with assurances of full refunds.

Sherlock had stood without thought as the lady raised her hands, reaching toward him. She blinked rapidly as a tremor seemed to pass through her. “How could you? Heartless automaton!” she hissed. “You should have…” Miss Morgan stopped abruptly; her head leaned slightly to the right as if listening to unheard whispers. “Oh.” Her face seemed to clear with sudden comprehension, then resolution. “Of course.”

Sherlock was moving through the agitated crowd, determined to get to her. He had to know what she was experiencing. If she were somehow shadowing his own steps that fateful day, she had to stop, and quickly.

Mr. Baker seemed to turn the stage and crowd control over to the sequined man. He went down the short steps to the audience area in a single ungainly step and hurried to Sherlock’s side. “You can’t touch her!” he tried grabbing the detective’s sleeve. “You’ll make it worse!”

“Make what worse?” he demanded. Miss Morgan certainly appeared to be reliving one of the most horrifying moments of his own life, and Sherlock dreaded what might come next.

Miss Morgan’s eyes seemed to be trying to roll back into her head, focused on nothing. She pantomimed placing an object into a pouch and putting that into a pocket her dress didn’t hold. Her hand returned with an unseen memo book and she scribbled into empty air.

Four horribly screeching sounds came from the rear of the stage and Sherlock looked for the source. The pane of glass was now scarred with two vertical and two horizontal lines deeply etched and forming a rough box. As he watched, four more lines seemed to gouge themselves into the square shape, forming a crude ‘M’.

Miss Morgan had completed her pantomimed writing task, and Sherlock recognised her movements as following his as he’d left what he thought was his final note to James under his cigarette case. In the note, he had told James the evidence he’d collected was hidden in pigeonhole ‘M’.

Sherlock wanted to shake her, and she appeared to be trying to retreat from whatever had her in its grip. Miss Morgan’s hands had come up, as if attempting to protect her head. She was swaying, flinching as if struck, staggering. “Doll’s eyes; soulless,” she moaned. “Burn the heart out of you.”

She suddenly went very still, her arms dropping as she found Sherlock’s eyes across the intervening space. As they met this time, he fell back a step. It was her; the other girl he’d dreamed of. The lighting had disguised her copper hair as scarlet or he might have realized before. The words from the dream came back to him: ‘You and your lady are as bound to it as we are.’

The living colour seemed to drain from her face, her pallor becoming blue and cold. Grimacing, she gasped for breath. No one was left on stage with her, no physical presence, but as she sagged, something propelled her forward, her form clearing the small pit the theatre used for musicians and landing heavily in the seats as the antagonized crowd retreated.

The thin man in livery reached her first, pulling her from her sprawl across the scattered chairs and putting his ear near her lax mouth. He looked sharply up at Mr. Baker and shook his head. “She’s not breathing!”

Sherlock followed Mr. Baker to her side as a few in the crowd pressed closer in curiosity. She seemed to have re-enacted his going over the edge; the breath-taking fall, and then the harsh shock of icy waters that closed over his head, nearly killing him. How could she be drowning?

Mr. Baker was looking around wildly. “Tobias, so help me, if you let her get herself killed this time, I’ll find a way to end you forever!”

Without thought, Sherlock pulled her limp body from the servant’s arms. The lightening pallor of her skin reminded him painfully of Mary in her last days. He had no reasonable idea of what to do, but instinct lead him to place her face down on a now cleared area of floor.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Baker was shoving at him.

“It’s how I awoke.” Sherlock snarled. He stayed knelt by her body, looking for any sign of movement. Mr. Baker gave him a thunderous look, but turned to herd the gawkers away.

The manservant knelt on her other side. “How long were you unconscious?” He lifted her wrist, searching for a pulse.

“No way of knowing.” Sherlock guessed the man was having no luck because his hand moved from her discarded wrist to the side of her throat with hardly any delay.

A sudden gasping, choking sound, and she began coughing, trying to push up from the floor. After several hard fought for breaths, she retched, spitting out what looked to be at least a pint of pink tinted water. The liveried man pushed a cloth into her hand and she wiped at her mouth as she rose to her knees. “Merde.”

The servant was trying to assure himself of her condition, but her emerald eyes had locked in fury on the stage she’d just left. Their green colour, the livid anger, even the slow trickle of crimson from her nose were shockingly familiar.

“You’re bleeding.” Sherlock reached out with his own handkerchief, but the woman evaded any contact.

“Shh.” She dabbed at the slowing flow with her own cloth as the manservant helped her to her feet. “We’re attracting attention.”

Doubting the lady meant the few straggling audience members milling about, Sherlock looked around. Another uncomfortably familiar face looked back from one of the balconies. What was Anthony doing here? The man in the balcony seemed disturbed at being so suddenly discovered and retreated from the private box, undoubtedly to give Mycroft a detailed accounting of the goings-on.

“We’re too vulnerable like this.” The lady handed the bloodied cloth to the servant as she continued staring at the stage. “Tobias, you’d better stay with Mr. Holmes; she’s in greater danger than we thought.”

“She?” Sherlock asked sharply as the woman started picking a path through the overturned chairs.

The lady stopped, breaking eye contact with whatever had obsessed her and glaring harshly at the detective. “Do not, under any circumstances, complete this line aloud!” She pointed to the glass orb on the stage. “By the pricking of my thumbs…”

Sherlock looked to the orb. Movement in its glassy surface made him search for the source of the image, but nothing else on the stage matched the reflection. It looked as if a distant figure were walking closer. Reversed, it shimmered as if traversing waves of heat, head over heels and coming ever faster. Not possible, but every instinct recoiled as he remembered the lines from Macbeth; ‘Something wicked this way comes, open locks, whoever knocks.’ No.

The manservant was trying to get his attention as Sherlock watched Miss Morgan climb the few steps to the stage. Pulling a wad of black fabric from somewhere behind the curtains, she held it draped behind the orb. The image it contained remained unchanged, colouring his theories with doubt. She swept the heavy glass up, encasing it in the fabric and dropping the whole in a nearby fire control bucket. It hissed faintly and steam rose.

He jumped at the contact to his sleeve. “Mr. Holmes, my name is Gregory; I’m Miss Morgan’s servant. I can see you home, but Miss Morgan would prefer I take you to her residence in Chelsea. Is that acceptable to you, sir?”

“No.” Sherlock was determined to get backstage. Miss Morgan had clearly indicated some danger and he needed answers.

“Sir, please.” Gregory was calm and in complete earnest. “Miss Morgan is fully engaged and I promise you, she will do anything she can to assist you, but you must give her time to gather herself. For the safety of all concerned, this consultation must be had under very specific conditions that can be readily met at her home. Please come with me and I promise she will join you shortly.”

Sherlock followed him out a loudly screeching stage door and into a waiting cab.

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?’

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 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.

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!”

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.

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.

Thunder Echoes Chapter 3

SPECIAL NOTE: Nocturnias is once again blessing us by handling the SAMFAs.  Show her efforts a little love; go vote per directions, and give her a big “thanks”!  She’s more than earned it!

 A small infection seemed to have settled into his upper respiratory system, but there was no deeper rattle that would have indicated pneumonia.  Molly sat back on her heels with a sigh.  “Any other physical problems I should know about?”

 

Spyder had gone to feeding him the water directly, her eyes watching closely that he swallowed before she gave him more.  “His right shoulder was dislocated.  I popped it back in without too much trouble, so I think it must have been out before.  His first right finger and second and third left fingers were much harder, but he had passed out, so I put them back as well.”

 

“He should have all that braced, taped up.”  Molly knew she had the materials once they got him clean.  She held her hand up against the water bottle.  “Give him a little time; let his stomach get used to it.  How long has he been like this?”  She knew she didn’t want the answer.

 

“My lover would know.  He only showed me where the Raven was two days ago.”  Spyder shrugged.  “I would guess three weeks, maybe four if the Giant was careful as always.”

 

“You knew Sherlock before?  You’re part of the network?”  Molly started trying to figure out how to move him without straining his shoulder.  Getting him out of his clothes was going to be a logistical nightmare.  His usual buttoned shirts would have been easier on his shoulder than the t shirt he currently had on.  Small blessing that the jeans were now too big on him. 

 

Spyder had already pulled off his trainers and socks.  “Media games.  ‘Boffin’ Detective’, ‘Suicide of Fraud’.  Should have been ‘Fraudulent Suicide’!”  She giggled briefly.  “Sorry.  My lover says I have a macabre sense of humor.”

 

“That’s okay; me, too.”  She gave the smaller woman a wisp of a smile.  “If you can get him around the waist, I think I can get under his arm and we can get him in the bathroom.”

 

It took several false starts and one near collapse, but they got him leaned up against a towel rack.  Spyder kept him upright while Molly shook out a bath wrap, draping it around his waist.  She shrugged at Spyder’s questioning glance.  “This is how I used to help my dad bathe after he couldn’t do it on his own.  I know it’s dumb, but you have no idea how this would embarrass Sherlock.”

 

“He’s still in here, Lenore.  He’ll come out and play eventually.”  Spyder smiled gently.  “Better to treat him like he’s taking notes.  Can you take him for a moment?”

 

Molly barely got under his arm as Spyder dropped, something flashing in her hand.  The ripping sound startled her, but in seconds the jeans were pooling on the floor.  Spyder lifted his foot, pulling the remains away.  She stood, slitting the t shirt with the knife, and then ripping it up his right side.  She repeated it, cutting the sleeve, pushing the shreds to Molly to finish removing.  She leaned in, conspiratorially, whispering.  “Commando.”

 

Molly ignored the comment, more concerned with places she could see that his skin had reddened, inflamed.  At least his damaged shoulder showed no bruising.  Spyder must have gotten it back in the socket without pinching the surrounding muscle tissue.  The clothes were a total loss anyway.  She shifted her grip to around his waist.  “Can you get his feet?”

 

Getting him into the tub was more of a controlled drop than a lift, but they managed not to send a wave flooding the bathroom.  With her father, Molly would have pulled the towel out, bubbles covering his modesty, but she didn’t want to risk abrading Sherlock’s already irritated skin.  She used an old measuring cup to pour the soapy water over his shoulders and neck, desperately trying not to look in his face.  The few glances she’d already taken showed his eyes were still clouded, unsettled, unfocused.  Spyder might think he was still in there, but she couldn’t see any sign.  His eyes hadn’t been that empty when he had been stretched out on her slab.  The fact that they were still moving only made it more heartbreaking, unnerving.

 

The word floated across her mind, in his missing voice.  “Transport.”  She locked the sob down roughly.  She couldn’t begin to guess the amount of mass he’d lost.  As much as that frightened her, she knew where his concern would be; his mind.  His transport was here, but she had no idea where the rest of him might be. 

 

Long ago, John had given her an explanation of what he called ‘Sherlock’s Mind Palace’.  She hadn’t been able to stop herself from picturing it as some kind of medieval fortress, complete with battlements, moats and drawbridges.  She used to kid herself that she could see him deciding what made its way across the water and what didn’t.  Now it was far too easy to visualize it with the drawbridge up, battlements abandoned, the barbican unmanned. 

 

Spyder drew close; carefully easing the cup from Molly’s shaking hand.  “It took the thunder to drive me away forever.”  She brought Molly’s fingers up to a slab of old scar tissue hidden beneath the onyx hair at her temple.  “The thunder echoed at his door, but it never touched him, Lenore, I promise.  Wiggins told me how stubborn the Raven is.  He protected himself with all his skill and he will come back to you.  You just have to give him time to see the cage is far behind.”

 

Molly reached and Spyder allowed her to run her fingers across the matching scar on the other side of the smaller woman’s head.  Only one thing she could think of would cause those puckered circles.  Blindly, she dove into his curls, searching.  Nothing.  She forced her breathing to slow, her attention drawn again to Spyder.  “You’re bleeding.  Your cheek, a little on your neck.  Do you need…?”

 

“You believe me now.”  Spyder smiled.  “I’ll be fine.  Always am.  Why don’t you get him some clothes and I’ll try to untangle his hair.  I’ve had some experience with knots.”  She lifted the end of her braid.

 

“How did you know?”  Molly paused at the door.  “How did you know I believe you?”

 

The smile grew.  “You noticed someone else was in the room.”

 

 

 

Everything was too loud, too bright.  Focusing on individual noises was impossible, let alone what sounded miraculously like voices.  Color had returned to his vision, screaming in intensity.  Large smeary reds, yellows flickering.  There had been a sharp pain, searing in intensity, but it had faded away into the dark, leaving a vague stiffness in its wake.  He wanted to scream, break someone, but that hadn’t gone well last time.  Better to hold on, bide his time.  Things seemed to be easing, but he couldn’t make himself trust it.  Some viscosity against his fingertips.  Spheres with rainbow skins.  Flames?  No, candles; the flames were somewhere else.  Swallowing had eased to less than tormenting.  He wanted to curl back up, protect, but small hands were touching him, preventing it.  One set of hands belonged to an image out of the Brothers Grimm: ‘Skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony.’  Fairytales had already been the death of him once.  The other set of hands snatched life out of death’s maw…no.  Not possible.  She always saw him, but she wasn’t looking now.  Don’t let her look.  Spare her this one heartbreak.

 

 

 

Molly wrapped his damaged left fingers together gently in the tape, careful to not to limit his circulation.  They should brace each other effectively enough.  After helping her get Sherlock onto her couch, Spyder had talked her out of trying to bandage his shoulder.  Anything that could be perceived as restraining him might drive him farther away.  If he somehow jarred the shoulder out again, Spyder swore she’d get it back in the socket.

 

Wiggins let himself in with the key Molly had given him.  Spyder ran to him, burying her face in his shoulder, humming brokenly.  For a moment, Molly wondered if the smaller woman’s bravado had been an act to try to keep her spirits up.  No, she’d been worried about him.

 

“It’s okay, beautiful.  Lot of noise, lot of smoke, but I never saw your giant, promise.”  Wiggins was rubbing between her shoulder blades.  “How’s the Raven been?  Take good care of him?”

 

Molly stood as Spyder led him over.  Wiggins gave Molly a subtle nod, recognizing she had questions but knowing how scarce answers were.  “Spyder?”  Molly folded the end of the tape over so it would unroll easier next time.  “That pot of broth should have cooled by now.  Think you could use that syringe trick again?  No more than a cup, though, okay?”

 

Spyder nodded.  “He could use the salt.”  She gathered the needed supplies and perched on the edge of the coffee table.

 

Wiggins was waiting a bit down the hall.  Molly grabbed his elbow in a grip usually reserved for first year students attempting to walk out with pockets full of free needles.  “What the hell happened?” she hissed.

 

“You can just talk, Doctor.  I swept for bugs two days ago.”  Wiggins had the grace to look chagrinned.

 

Her mind hiccupped over the hundreds of questions that statement raised.  She’d come back to it later.  “Sherlock has been tortured.”  She choked on the word.  “What the hell did he get in the middle of?”

 

“You think he let me in on it?”  His own anger was flaring.  “He told me to meet him, bring him a handgun.  He went strolling off into that warehouse and didn’t come back out!  I was supposed to leave him there, but I just couldn’t.  Then Spyder found out and…”

 

Molly leaned against the wall, her head dropping back on the plaster.  Of course Sherlock hadn’t told anyone.  The only person he ever confided in about such things thought he had died months ago.  He wouldn’t have made any backup plan; just assumed he’d been on his own as he’d been most of his life.  So wrong, but he never seemed to understand it.  She took a deep breath, pursed her lips, blowing slowly.  “Who was using that warehouse?”

 

Wiggins shook his head.  “Too many people in and out to tell.  I think half the organized crime in London was keeping some kind of stash there.  Spyder was the only one of us who could keep going in and out without getting caught.  If she hadn’t found him in the basement, done the whole recon, I don’t think he’d have ever gotten out.  She…she knew what they were doing to him, wouldn’t let him end up like her.”

 

“How does she know him?”  Molly didn’t want to be suspicious of his rescuer, but she couldn’t take the chance, not when he couldn’t defend himself.  “And why ‘the Raven’?  His own name not distinctive enough?”

 

“Spyder never calls anyone important by name except me.  She makes up code names, like she’s hiding identities from someone.  She’s called him the Raven as long as I’ve known her.  If she gets scared, she goes to see the ravens at the Tower of London, loves the legend that if they leave the Tower, England will fall.  I don’t know, maybe it was that damned coat.”

 

“But they’ve never met?”  Molly had thought ‘Lenore” was just a Poe reference.  It had been Spyder’s way of making her important.

 

“No.”  Wiggins was emphatic.  “When I saw she was keeping press clippings, looking up his blog at the library, I offered to introduce her.  She didn’t talk to me for days.  She ran the whole length of King’s Cross Station just to avoid him once.  I even put off asking her to go into that warehouse, thinking she’d refuse if she knew he was inside.”

 

“And the Giant, who’s he?” 

 

“No idea.  Tonight’s the first I’ve heard of him.”  Wiggins eyes shadowed with concern.  “We got separated getting Sherlock away from the building.  When she caught up to us, she just kept saying that the Giant had come back, the Giant was going to finish the job, but she wouldn’t explain.  He’s why I went all the way back there.  I thought maybe I’d see some big guy in the crowd, but no such luck.”

 

“Lenore?”  Spyder called softly.  “The Raven isn’t going to sleep on this couch.  Can we move him to your bed?”

 

“Is the couch too short?”  This wasn’t the first time Molly cursed having bought a sleeper sofa.  The building her flat was in made moving some larger furniture pieces through doorways practically impossible.  The sofa had been one of the few that could be moved past her front door.

 

“He doesn’t know where he is.  He’s unsettled.”  Spyder shrugged.

 

“I don’t see how my room would help.”  Molly muttered, missing the smaller woman’s eye roll.  “Wiggins, want to give me a hand?”

 

The two of them maneuvered him down the hallway while Spyder ducked past into the room, pushing Molly’s duvet aside and switching on the hardly-used bedside lamp.  To be safe, Spyder pulled the alarm clock from the wall socket. 

 

As she and Wiggins got him atop the mattress, Molly was rattled by how little he looked like the man she knew.  Her oversize track pants and a battered old work shirt of her father’s would be replaced tomorrow once she had a chance to get somewhere she could buy men’s clothes discretely.  He could put the weight back on, but it would be easier if he could help.  The bandages would be removed as soon as she was sure his joints stabilized.  Maybe tomorrow Wiggins could give him a shave.  Molly had cut her father once like that and wasn’t brave enough to try again.  If she couldn’t reach his mind, she’d at least take care of the transport.

 

Molly dropped into the chair she used for reading as Wiggins rejoined Spyder at the door.  She’d call in to work in a few hours, take what holiday she could get in the spur of the moment.  Leaving him like this was not an option.

 

Spyder gave her a small wave, and then pointed to the bed.

 

Sherlock spent a few moments staring down at the pillow beneath his head before his eyes darted elsewhere.  A few seconds later, he repeated the process.  After the fourth cycle, he reached up, wrapping his fingers in the case, his eyes drifting shut.

 

Molly held her breath.  It was the first independent move he’d made since they’d gotten him in the door.

 

Spyder drew close, whispering.  “He knows your scent, Lenore.  Safety.  He’s starting to make choices again.”  A pause.  “Can we use your couch?”

If I Only Could - Chapter 6

Nurse Mary Smith stood, stretching her stiffening back. A small clatter in the sitting room drew her from her current patient’s bedside. She had just reviewed his condition, as she had every quarter hour since she had arrived. Waking seemed the last thing the detective was apt to do, and tea was definitely in order.

Mrs. Hudson had already ensconced herself in what James had warned her was Sherlock’s chair, leaving the nurse to pour. Normally that kind of snub was not in the older woman’s nature, but her concern for her tenant was blurring her judgment. “Have you sent for Dr. Watson?”

“Ja-”, Mary corrected herself. “Dr. Watson was called away from London on a family matter, which is why I’m attending the patient. I assure you there are several very reputable physicians I can summon readily, but Mr. Holmes doesn’t seem to be in any danger.” She tried to smile reassuringly as she handed the landlady a steaming cup.

Placing the cup on the table beside her, the older woman continued fretting at a lace handkerchief. “I don’t mean to pry, dear, but Mr. Holmes told me you and Dr. Watson are to wed?” She seemed to be seeking some confirmation.

Nurse Smith bit back a retort. Wasn’t that James’ news to share? She had secretly been hoping her husband-to-be had overstated his friend’s lack of propriety. Still, James spoke of his former landlady as almost a proxy mother to both her tenants. It certainly explained her worrying over the detective as she would a son. With a deep breath, Mary put the formalities aside. “Yes, Mrs. Hudson; James and I are planning a quiet ceremony in a month’s time.” She braced for some sign of disapproval.

It seemed to resolve something for the matron. She reached out, briefly grasping the nurse’s hand. “That’s all right, dear. We widows can’t wear weeds forever. James deserves every happiness after all he’s been through. I’m sure you do, as well.”

Mrs. Hudson rose slowly from the chair, reaching deeply into one of the pockets of her starched apron. “I don’t know if James confided in you yet, but I’m afraid Sherlock has certain…habits.”

Mary now recognized the lady’s hesitation. “You mean his abuses? James told me how Sherlock treats his boredom.” It had been the first thing she had looked him over for. He had a small slab of scar tissue on the inside of his elbow that was unusually reddened, but contained no clear puncture wound. His condition did not seem to require further disrobing and probing.

The leather case weighed heavily in the older woman’s hand as she gave it over to the nurse. “It was on the mantle when I let myself in. I hadn’t seen it in so long; I thought he’d retired it.”

Mary opened it, glancing quickly over the contents. An oddity drew her attention. The apparatus was unassembled, each piece resting in its proper place. She picked up the syringe, holding it to the sunlight. If the detective had used it, then somehow kept his wits long enough to clean his tools, some bit of moisture should still be present. The glass cylinder was bone-dry; even a bit dusty.

Mrs. Hudson had returned to the chair. “Did Sherlock..?”

She shook her head. “I don’t believe so. This hasn’t been used in some time.” She supposed he could have secreted away a second set elsewhere in the flat, but had already looked for any hiding places. The patched-over bullet holes were appalling. The search yielded some very interesting things, but the only medical equipment was a stethoscope she was sure he had purloined from James.

“Then why won’t he awaken?” The handkerchief was fraying.

“I think Mr. Holmes refuses to wake because he wore himself too thin and became ill. He’s a bit warm, but his heart is steady and pulse strong.” Mary closed and fastened the leather pouch. “An extended sleep, maybe some actual sustenance and he should be fine.”

An exhausted man’s voice breathed from beyond the open bedroom door. “Molly?”

Mrs. Hudson hid a smile behind the abused handkerchief. “I didn’t know you were so close! He habitually refers to you as ‘Nurse Smith’ when we speak! If you’re close enough that he uses your pet name, then…”

Mary lost the rest of the sentence in shock. She and Mr. Holmes were not on even a first name basis, let alone such familiarity. No one had used that diminutive for her since her late husband. She tried to remember the name of the opera singer James had told her of.

oOo

The banging drew his attention through the murk; as rhythmic as a metronome, the force of the impact slowly growing stronger. A child sitting with her nose pointed at the corner. A fleeting hope, but the girl’s hair was more copper than chestnut, sausage curls that must have once been orderly but were now askew and entangled. Her dress was of high quality, but the satin bow sewn to the back had ripped, clinging on by a few threads.

Sherlock guessed her to be around six, and he assumed the sniffling meant the child was quietly crying. He could hear two adult voices, angry, but too vague to make out words. As he tried to move closer, he realized he was seeing, hearing, but not actually present.

She seemed to be taking vicious joy at the growing black scuff mark her shoe left on the wall as her leg swung back and forth, hammering ever harder. It reminded him of himself as a child, hours he’d spent outside the headmaster’s office when he’d been stupid enough to speak without thinking. What had the girl done?

He tried focusing on the bickering adults and it drew him closer to an office door. Someone must have tried to close it, but it remained slightly ajar. A mature man sat behind a desk while a younger woman paced. The man ran his hands through what was left of his hair. His accent was thick; Bostonian, perhaps? “Blast it, Maggie! She’s only nine! Do you know who her grandfather is? He’ll have our hides nailed to his gates if he finds out…”

“I don’t give one care about her, you filthy pig!” An object flew from the woman’s hand and past the man’s head too fast for Sherlock to identify. A book, perhaps? “That little sprog says you’ve been ‘wrestling’ with Cook for more than a year!”

A wet voice from the child; American, but softer than the headmaster’s accent. “Not supposed to say ‘fornicating’.”

An unknown man’s voice seemed to come from near Sherlock’s ear. “She never cries. Not once since infancy.”

He looked at the child, who had turned her head toward him. A scarlet handprint stretched across her face, a small trickle of blood from her nose being repeatedly sniffled back from dripping.

Sherlock tried to draw closer, assess the damage, but a sudden wave of nausea washed through him, his vision blurred almost to blindness. It cleared in a moment and the girl was still there, but obviously older than she was a few seconds ago. She was taller, her hair longer, but still loose as befitted a child. The whitewashed walls replaced with damask wallpaper.

An old man gathered the front of her blouse in tight fists, lifted her from the floor and shoved her back into the wall behind her. “Who told you Wallace sold the formula?!” he spat in fury.

Her face reddened as she clamped hard on the wiry wrists. Her lips pulled back over gritted teeth. The question and blow were repeated several times while she tried to get purchase with small fingernails. She seemed to reach some kind of a decision; her hands moving to lift her skirts out of the way as her foot flew out, connecting hard with the old man’s groin. He dropped her, reflexively falling back.

“You did!” She spat as she ducked his grasping hands, ran for the French doors. Shoving them open, she bolted for the tree line.

Sherlock followed, expecting to find the girl a sodden heap in need of several handkerchiefs. Instead, he watched as she carefully selected a downed branch. She determined the best point to place her grip, and then began to use the branch to beat a much larger tree.

He watched soundlessly as she swung again and again, making unladylike grunts until she began to visibly perspire. Finally the branch dropped from her lax hand.

She panted for breath, dejectedly lowering herself to sit on the leaf-strewn grass. “Why can’t we just go now? I won’t be missed; they might even be grateful!”

Sherlock wondered for a moment if she were talking to him. No one else appeared to be there.

That same man’s voice, deep, resonating, coming this time from somewhere in the trees. “Soon, my love, very soon. You need to grow a bit more, and then this will only be another forgotten memory.”

She laid back, flung an arm across her eyes to shield them from the setting sun. “Together forever?” A breeze lifted her hair.

“Forever and always.”

It was too intimate; Sherlock looked away, feeling every bit the outsider. Oddly, it reminded him painfully of how it felt when he dreamt of Margaret.

“Molly.” The man’s voice was right in front of him now. When Sherlock looked up, the world spun once again.

The light had changed, sun replaced with a single flickering taper. The girl was still there when his sight cleared, but the vision was worse, the air rancid with old grease and far too much brandy.

The girl had begun down the road to adulthood, as the rip down her nightdress revealed. A rotund man had her pinned to some enormous bedstead, her copper plait wound tightly in one of his ham-like fists. She was shoving, hitting, kicking, but her attacker was more than twice her size.

He raised himself from abusing her throat. “Your whore of a mother got me all bothered before she gave into her cups! I want what I’m owed!” He resumed his attack with his teeth, releasing her hair to maul her breast.

Where was her defender now? Her attacker’s voice was too high, too reedy to be who had spoken before. As Sherlock tried to intercede, to have some effect, the shadows themselves seemed to draw together into a form that eclipsed him. No features were visible, but eyes seemed to blaze from the gathered dark.

The eyes never wavered, never blinked, but the voice roared out. “On the nightstand! You can reach the chamber pot, my love! Hit him with every bit of strength you possess!”

Sherlock saw her reach it, lift it high over her assailant’s head, but as she brought it down, all light faded, leaving him with only those blazing eyes that seemed to cut him to the bone.

“You aren’t supposed to be here.” The voice was firm, but without accusation. “This isn’t your area. You have no idea the danger we are all in.”

“Is this real? Is this happening?”  Sherlock was lightheaded, fighting to get what answers he could.

“This is memory; a moment trapped like a fly in amber. Other moments continue to form, to change and shift as they pass the horizon. Order has been broken, but must be restored. You are seeing through the cracks, but it jeopardizes she you protect.”

Could he mean Molly? “I don’t understand.”

The eyes narrowed, but Sherlock sensed in some amusement. “Your flesh is dust and clay, but the fracture is letting you see beyond that limitation. You did not cause the rift, but the chemistry you used is compounding the damage, bringing greater risk to us all; we two as well as your lady and mine. You must not return by this method.”

“Madness.” Sherlock breathed.

A rumbled laugh. “This is more than you are meant to see. A sip that drowns you. Your vision outstrips your experience. Do not discount what you know; realize there is more than you see. You’ve always known that.”

Some memory of a ghost story Mycroft had once tried to frighten him with. He had thought it bad storytelling that the ghost never simply introduced itself and asked for whatever it needed. “Are you…dead?”

“Alive, dead. Past, future. Acceptance, rejection. Light, darkness. Creation, destruction. Duality limits. Don’t mistake knowledge for belief.”

Sherlock was suspicious. “Good versus evil?” Was that the implication?

“Morality play. Try order versus chaos. A maddened wolf has broken his chains, ready to burn the world to watch you suffer. He tears at natural law, not just the laws of man. Doors unmovable have been blown from their hinges. His chaos must be ended. You and your lady are as bound to it as we are. I failed my lady once upon a time. I will not allow you to fail yours.”

“Your lady is precious to me and I will defend her. I expect the same for my lady, Sherlock.” Five fingertips placed on his chest pushed lightly and he went under without a ripple.

oOo

The scent of cooking wafted by Gregory as soon as he opened the back door. Normally such a scent would bring thoughts of a good meal, perhaps good company to share it with. Instead, the memory of the damage Mr. Baker had done attempting to cook a chicken in Miss Morgan’s Manhattan apartments had Gregory dropping his purchases to sprint for the kitchen.

Two pots bubbled away on the fairly clean stove. As he went to lift the lid on one, a small hand smacked the back of his and he let the lid fall back into place. “Do that again and you’ll pull back a bloody stump!” the feminine voice growled from near his elbow.

He rubbed the back of his unhurt hand. “If Miss requires food, she could simply ask me.” It was an old disagreement between them, but the ritual of repeating the exchange seemed to please her.

She smiled, taking a moment to stir the other pot. “You thought it was Douglas, didn’t you?” Charlotte blew an escaped curl from her forehead.

Gregory stooped to collect his scattered purchases. “I don’t think it’s my place to say, miss.” Much of his life since he’d been in Miss Charlotte’s employ he would refuse comment on.

The lady herself didn’t seem to mind. Each of them ill-fit their lots in life, yet neither were willing to bend their stiff necks. Gregory would be employed by a lady, even if the lady in question forwent the conventions of the day and spent her time in private dressed in eastern attire.

Charlotte lifted the lid, letting the condensed steam drip back into the perfectly cooked rice. “We have to keep an eye on him, you know. Fool once broke his nose with his own knee.”

He swallowed back a laugh. “I’m surprised to find you awake. It is before the crack of noon.” A small pile of vegetable trimmings hadn’t made its way into the bin yet.

She portioned the rice into two bowls. “I dreamed of the girl again. She’s very strange, but I think I like her.” In the dream the girl had been racing around, obviously expected somewhere. Charlotte had watched her feed her cat from a tin that seemed self-opening. She may have paid more attention, but Charlotte was distracted by the brush that hung entangled in the girl’s hair. At least it was less disturbing than one dream she’d had; the girl fully composed yet elbow deep in gore.

Gregory fussed, wiping down the counters despite knowing Charlotte had already done it. “It sounds like you have much in common. ‘Birds of a feather…’ “.

She ladled a large scoop of a brown soup over one of the bowls of rice, and then thrust it and a spoon into Gregory’s hands. “I thought bird wasn’t to your taste?” She frowned as he tried to set the food down on the nearby table. “That’s for you.”

What she had left unsaid warmed him; affectionate teasing over their mutual oddities. “It’s not proper that…”

She folded her arms, her moue making protest futile. “It might be poisoned. Can’t have me dying on you, now can we?” Charlotte raised her chin defiantly.

He braced himself, all too aware of what region she had learned to cook in. The broth was thick, but the flavors of the meats and vegetables were rich and clear. There was a spice to it, but not the scorching flavor he had feared. Gregory nodded. “It is quite good.”

“Gumbo.” She filled a bowl of her own, eating while leaned against the sink, just as she’d watched the girl do. “First, we make a roux.”

oOo

The nurse and the landlady spent the next several hours in shifts, taking turns checking the patient. Eventually, Mrs. Hudson produced a deck of cards and they began playing ecarte, Mrs. Hudson keeping score.

“My turn.” Mary stood, checking her chatelaine. Two steps and she was interrupted by a soft knock at the open suite door.

Lestrade had his hat held to his chest. “Sorry for interrupting, ladies, but I was hoping to find Mr. Holmes.”

Movement she had seen from the bedroom had Mary attempting to get the man out of the flat as soon as possible. “I’m very sorry, Chief Inspector, but Mr. Holmes will be indisposed for at least a fortnight.”

“He hasn’t slept for days, sir.” Mrs. Hudson poured the newcomer a cup of the cooling tea. “I’ve been so worried.” She stood, offering the cup and saucer.

Sidestepping Nurse Smith, who was obviously going to attempt to stop him, Sherlock intercepted the tea before Lestrade could drink it. “Nothing to fear, dear lady.” He paused as the memory washed through him, then emptied the cup in one swallow. Lukewarm; awful. A reassuring smile as he returned the cup to its owner and began wrestling with his open cuffs.

With a dirty look at the thief’s back, Lestrade guided the older woman back to her abandoned seat. “I’m afraid it can’t wait, Mrs. Hudson. In fact, I’ve brought Detective Lewis to keep you company while we’re gone. He’ll be up as soon as we leave.”

“I assure you he knows his way here. He’s become a regular visitor downstairs.” Sherlock took a moment to look the Inspector over. Despite his outward calm, Lestrade was razor-tense, shaken. Something else caught his attention and he gestured Nurse Smith closer.

The woman was furious, but seemed to know this wasn’t the time. If she were going to marry James, she would need to know how to participate in certain ruses. Sherlock carefully looked directly into her eyes, then sharply at the trail of blood Lestrade had left on the parquet in the hall, then to Mrs. Hudson. “Nurse Smith, your efforts are appreciated, but unnecessary. I’m fine, I assure you. You could do me one service, if you’d be so kind?”

Peering slightly over her shoulder at the mess, Mary swallowed back her first three retorts. A deep breath through her nose before she trusted herself to speak. “And what would that be, Mr. Holmes?”

Sherlock glanced around the room. Mrs. Hudson or Nurse Smith must have cleaned, put his things back into his discarded case. He finally spotted it on the mantle. He thrust it at her, and then moved to retrieve his great coat from behind the door. “Please see to it that that is properly destroyed. Let James do it; he’ll be thrilled.”

The Inspector followed Sherlock down the stairs.

Author wishes to thank the Ministry of Sound for needed distraction.