He's a pallbearer. Again.
The coffin is heavy, far too heavy than any single body, any morgue full of bodies, should make it.
No, he's not a pallbearer: he's the pallbearer. Again.
He seeks vainly for any other soul on this bleak, blasted moor, but he is alone.
Hoisting the coffin awkwardly up to his shoulder, he stumbles forward before sinking to his knees.
Then, with a dream's utter disregard for logic or cause and effect, a coil of rope appears at his feet. Knotting it around the coffin's handles, he fashions a harness for himself. He will be an ox at the plow, a donkey at the cart. Looping the rope across his chest and shoulders, he yokes himself to his burden, and then begins his ascent of the rocky incline, step after dogged step.
The coffin drags at him. His muscles throb with the strain, they burn, but he continues to put one foot in front of the other and lean his weight against the rope.
Despite his stubbornness, he makes precious little headway in his struggle.
He never opens the coffin, never looks inside. It might hold the child from the crime scene last week. It might hold the old woman who was murdered last year. It might hold Jenny, as lovely as she was on their wedding day, as cold as she was on the day he buried her.
At last Gregory Lestrade opens his eyes and drinks in the darkness. His alarm clock will sound in less than half an hour. He turns it off, staggers from his bed, and heads to the shower.
As the hot spray of water beats on his back and neck, he rolls his shoulders and stretches his spine. It was just a dream, the usual one, but he aches from it all the same.
The sound is wicked and shocking and ceaseless, echoing down the halls of St. Bart's. Molly Hooper follows it, dread coiling in her belly like a fevered serpent.
He's not a monster, not a criminal mastermind. He's just Jim from IT, smiling in boyish delight as he brings the riding crop down over and over and over again on the still form that rests on the gurney. The effort draws grunts and gasps from him. His pale forehead shines with perspiration.
The corpse he's flogging is slender and long-limbed and white as marble, its head crowned with a halo of black curls. Its face is turned away, hidden from its assailant.
The body should be beautiful to her eyes, she thinks, but instead it's pitiful, the skeleton too visible beneath the spare flesh, its nakedness too close to defenselessness, its display too much like violation. And although she knows it's dead, dead, dead as stone, it bleeds lines of crimson everywhere the crop strikes it.
Jim pauses and grins, gesturing at the body with his free hand. "Molly-dear, what a thoughtful gift you've given me," he says, panting slightly with exertion. He lowers his voice, more intimate now, and winks. "It's what I've always wanted, you know."
She wakes gagging, and barely manages to stumble to the bathroom before she's violently sick. After she has retched and heaved until she's empty, she curls on the floor beside the toilet and weeps.
The phone rings and vibrates, trembling and wailing like a living thing.
The call might originate from down the street or across the globe. It might represent the culmination of the work of months or decades. It might decide the fate of a man or a nation. There is no question, however, that it is for him, and it is of the utmost importance.
But the phone lies beyond his outstretched fingers, just out of reach.
He frowns in his sleep.
This is not real. The words intrude on his dreamscape as if through a loudspeaker, imperious and uncompromising. Randomly firing synapses. Your subconscious mucking about with metaphors.
The ring grows shriller. If only he could inch forward just… a… hair…
Ignore it. He recognizes the voice as his own.
With a ruthless act of will, Mycroft Holmes strangles the sound. The scene goes dark and utterly silent.
He sinks into the pillow with a fierce sigh. To wake would be to show weakness.
She runs and runs and runs. One time she might run through fog and rain, another over ice and snow. It's always dark. It's always cold.
She's never quite fast enough.
By the time she reaches her destination, the victim is already lifeless.
Sometimes it's a baby boy, shaken far too hard and far too often by his mother's new boyfriend. Sometimes it's a young woman, raped and dumped like yesterday's trash by her pimp. Sometimes it's an elderly man, broken into pieces by the thugs who craved his wallet.
Sometimes it's Anderson, a knife buried to the hilt in his chest. Although she wasn't there when he groaned his last word, she knows it was his wife's name. She paces, she curses until she's hoarse, but she doesn't cry.
Sometimes it's her boss, taken by a bullet in the throat. It seems death came far too quickly for surprise to register in his warm, dark eyes. She closes them with her chilled fingers and then lets her hand linger for several moments on his silver hair like a benediction.
Then she runs and runs and runs, through office hallways and along empty rooftops and around alley corners.
Sally Donovan never remembers her dreams.
When he closes his eyes, he relives the scene in every minute detail: the scent of chlorine, the dampness of the air, the echo of footsteps on tiles. The parka, the semtex vest, the red dot from the sniper's rifle hovering over a vulnerable chest.
He sees John. His John.
And he feels… well, he feels.
Sherlock Holmes has avoided emotions, avoided all entanglements that threatened to eclipse reason. As a self-proclaimed high-functioning sociopath, he could remain above the masses and their feelings and their lives of quiet desperation. He could hold himself apart, untouched.
But this vision, always waiting now behind his eyelids, stalking his most unguarded moments, proves that he does, in fact, possess a heart. It can be broken, and it can be burned.
Fortunately, he also possesses a violin and nicotine patches and, when he remembers to remind John to purchase some, tea and coffee and other welcome forms of caffeine. He has experiments to pursue, research to conduct, data to mine. He fills his nights with these things in a frantic kind of defiance.
After all, he can't have nightmares if he never sleeps.