Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Village Roadshow Pictures, Wigram Productions, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. All others belong to me, and if you want to borrow them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Dedicated to Cincoflex and the patient Laura27md. Just tidying up a loose end.
The voice was all she heard. Murmuring, imperative, it was the world and all there was, constant and inescapable. It wove around her, held her in its net, the only thing that was true and real. Heat and cold ran over her skin in shivering bursts, throwing sparks she couldn't see; she was lying on stone, on air, on water, on velvet that wavered and vanished and left her spinning in a void. Only the voice kept her from dissolving.
Once upon a time she'd had a name; once upon a time there had been something else, light and warmth and smiling faces--Nanny, Father, Mother--but they were dreams now, phantasms, ghosts. Nothing existed but the voice. She couldn't understand the words, but she did, somehow, they had meaning, weight, urgency. They told her what to do, drew her on, showed her the path to take. It was hard, hard--
The dreams came back, from time to time, sunshine and the taste of tea, ink on her fingers, her new gown, the young rector's smile, the hard clamp of a hand over her mouth. Came, and shattered, and were gone again. The voice was always there, whispering. Pulling her with it. Forcing her up a hill, and she wanted to go, she wanted to, the fire in her veins pushed her on. Bitterness choked her, turned to cloying sweetness and then to dust. She was so thirsty, but at the top of that hill--or was it a pit, was she going up or down--was culmination, was her goal, and once she'd reached it everything would be all right.
The voice. The voice was louder now, faster. Rhythmic and inescapable. Every syllable was a step up the road, and she ran, towards the darkness, stumbling but never quite falling. There, just there, was the goal, she felt it under her fingers, gripped it tight--
The voice stopped.
Her ears rang with its absence. Her head spun; her grip weakened. The goal vanished. There was nothing without the voice, nothing, and she hadn't--she hadn't--it wasn't right--
Other voices clamored, splintering around her in sharp echoes, but they were meaningless. Chill soaked into her, and all she could see was flickering shadows.
They swallowed her up.
The white-clad figure seated in the wheeled chair was motionless. Watson watched it as they approached along the graveled path, but the slight form didn't stir, and his heart sank yet again. She'd shown a little improvement last time, it was why he'd talked Holmes into coming along, but if she was back to catalepsy he didn't want to answer for his friend's mental state at the sight.
But Holmes showed no signs of the guilt that could plague him without warning. "Miss Patterson, I presume," he said, more to Watson than to the dark-haired girl. "The treatment was not entirely efficacious, I see."
"She was poisoned, Holmes," Watson said impatiently, knowing he was rising to the bait but unable to help himself. "She's lucky to be alive."
Holmes didn't even glance his way, instead dropping to a crouch in front of the wicker chair and reaching out to pick up one of the thin wrists. Miss Patterson didn't move, didn't so much as blink; her glazed stare seemed to watch something far beyond them both, beyond even the expansive grounds of the private sanitarium. Watson noted that her skin was paler than before, her cheeks hollower; she did swallow if spoon-fed, but he could already see the death certificate in his mind's eye, with failure to thrive as the cause of death, that frustrating catch-all for such mysterious wastings. He didn't believe it was supernatural, but she was dying all the same.
"A concoction of Blackwood's own devising, yes; it would have killed her soon enough, but that he didn't expect her to survive that long." Holmes took the pointed little chin in his other hand, cocking his head as if to catch Miss Patterson's blank gaze. "If not for your quick action, Watson, she wouldn't have at all."
Words of praise were rare enough from Holmes, but they brought no pride now. "Is this life?" Watson asked in a low voice, bitter. "The damage has been done. She's still dying--just more slowly."
"Oh, it's not damage," Holmes said, in that absent tone that meant his mind was miles ahead down some twisty track. "It's Blackwood's hypnosis. She's still in a trance."
Watson opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. "What? Holmes, that's ridiculous. Blackwood's been dead for weeks--in actuality, this time. How could a trance persist this long?"
Holmes' lips twitched in sour amusement. "He was very good." He let go of Miss Patterson's chin and took her other hand as well; it lay limp and unresisting in his fingers. "Drugs and hypnosis to simulate the effect of a spell; more importantly, to make her slay herself. In the eyes of the Church, a most potent damnation."
Watson shook his head, feeling helpless. "Very well, Holmes, a trance. Blackwood's dead. There's no way to wake her."
The look Holmes shot him was impatient. "Of course there is. He had to hypnotise her more than once, to be sure the suggestion was in place. Ergo, he had to wake her."
There was no need to point out the obvious--that there was no way to tell what of a thousand thousand words or movements Blackwood might have chosen. Watson damned the man again for his monstrous ego, that would casually enslave and murder innocent girls for his power-grab, leaving this poor child locked inside herself even after he was gone--
Holmes leaned forward, whispering something in Miss Patterson's ear, and at the same moment dropped her hands to snap his fingers. She jolted, inhaled--and screamed.
Holmes flinched backwards, landing with an undignified thump on his backside, but Watson didn't spare him more than a glance. Miss Patterson was trembling like an aspen leaf, eyes huge, and as Watson bent down she shrank back against the chair--but she was awake. He smiled kindly at her. "It's all right, Charlotte," he soothed. "You're safe. It's all over."
She burst into tears.
When her quite natural hysteria had been calmed and the situation explained, Watson extricated himself from the huddle of astonished doctors and clucking nurses and went to look for his friend. He hadn't expected Holmes to wait around, and he hadn't; Watson ran him to ground in the far corner of the garden, sitting on a stone bench and speaking with a man bound in a strait-jacket. Watson waited with careful patience; Holmes finished the conversation and rose, tipping his hat to the old man and joining Watson a little ways down the path. "That was educational. Do you know, Watson, it's been quite some time since I've conversed with--"
"How did you know?" Watson interrupted. "How the bloody hell did you know?"
Holmes scoffed gently. "Oh, come, old chap. Blackwood was a showman. A snap of the fingers--" He demonstrated. "--Is always dramatic. As for the trigger word, a little Greek. Quite obvious."
He slid on his spectacles and smiled. Watson sighed, and then grinned. "I'll give you dramatic. So was you landing on your 'fluffy white tail' on the path. I'll treasure that memory."
Holmes sputtered. Watson snickered, and kept walking.