The House was awake.
It stood poised on the tip, coiled to pounce. Even after the crashing horror of only moments before, the hush was no salve at all. What's to come, John thought, if that was just for trying to leave? What now?
Teetering on the brink, the atmosphere jangled nervily, every atom of dust hanging still in the air. The leap would lead to what? When the storm broke, what lay after? A darkness, roiling, angry. Rustling and full as a pit of snakes.
John limped down the hallway, shaking, trying hard to keep his focus ahead. The corner of his eye caught a detail that almost made him moan in terror. Every statue he passed, disfigured. Their mouths hung open, too wide, frozen in a sickening, silent howl.
John was halfway down the main staircase when he noticed the trail of wet footprints trailing across the tiles. They led from the cellar all the way to -
The front door was open. A cool breeze drifted in, smelling of cut grass and myrtle. In the distance, John heard the serrated call of a nightjar. A soft helpless sound of relief escaped his lips. It was over. He picked up his pace, but stopped at the end of the stairs as the realisation hit. Immediately, John understood the terms. They were free to go. Sherlock was not.
John started as a shrill sound guillotined the mute air. On the hall table the rotary telephone was ringing. The surreality of the mundane noise echoing through the House was oddly nauseating. Light headed, John crossed the hallway and slowly raised the receiver to his ear.
"Hello there sir, regional electrics here. Nigel speaking."
"Yes sir, electrics sir. Nigel."
John slowly raised his free hand to his forehead, bewildered.
"Hello sir. Looks like you went off the grid for a while there, just calling to see if everything's back on form."
"Yes, we - we're fine."
"Don't need me to send someone out to take a quick look at the box for you?"
"No. Definitely not."
"Right you are sir. These old houses eh? I lived in one like it myself actually, few years back. Well, not quite as grand, mind..."
The crackle of interference crept over Nigel's chatter.
"Sorry, you're breaking up-"
John snatched the phone from his ear as if it were red hot. The voice coming down the line was distorted, but recognisable as a young girl's.
"He has been taken. Leave now. You leave him. Leave now. You leave him. Taken. You leave him."
The voice repeated with the grating monotony of a dial tone.
John slammed the phone down and stared at it, panting.
Sherlock. She meant Sherlock. He had guessed right.
"Well, I'm going to take him back." John hissed at the silent telephone, then headed for the cupboard to find some rope.
"If he wakes up and he's still possessed this will keep us safe until we think of something. And if he isn't possessed… Well, I'm sure he'll understand. Anyway, I believe he likes sort of thing…" John trailed off at Molly's questioning look.
"Not quite the time for humour, Doctor Watson," she muttered, testing the bonds at Sherlock's chest.
They had tied him in the manner of old psychiatric restraints, feeding the rope under the mattress to encircle Sherlock's body at the ankles, waist, wrists and chest. They worked fast, scared that he would wake up and terrified that he wouldn't. Blessedly, he began to stir as John pulled tight the final knot. Wondering at the strength of the rope, John wished fervently that Coulter hadn't left. He had gone to fetch help as soon as he heard that the door was open. John wouldn't have blamed him if he never came back.
"He's coming round," said Molly. Then, "God, his eyes…"
They both stepped back from the bed. Sherlock lay staring straight up at the ceiling, methodically flexing and unflexing his fingers. His eyes were the cloudy grey of smoked glass.
"Two hundred and forty three types of tobacco ash," he intonated clearly, expressionless.
"Molly, be a dear and… Coffee. Would you? Zip snare. Cat's paw. Lark's head. Half hitch. Single column tie. Oh. Single column tie, that's clever. Try not to stare, you're breaking my concentration."
"Sherlock." Molly moved towards the bed. John's arm shot out to stop her.
"It's not… Sherlock." John swallowed, looking fearfully at the figure on the bed. "It's just… He's picking through his brain. He's trying to cobble together a semblance of Sherlock. But it isn't him."
"Ah, John," said Sherlock robotically. "Here's where I tell you you've got it, isn't it? Well, almost got it. Missing a few key elements. I could have guessed, being that your mind is so magnificently basic."
"It's doing quite a good job," said John wryly. Sherlock's body drew a deep breath into Sherlock's lungs, and his chest strained against the bonds. Molly touched his forehead. He was cold, and the grey eyes flicked up at her.
"Oh, god, Molly…" The voice was hoarse this time, exhausted. Molly thought she saw something surface beneath the cataracts, the desperate thrashing of a fish on a hook.
"It's him." she whispered.
"Molly, I can feel that… I can't see you, please…"
Sherlock turned his head, staring at her with wide, blank eyes. Molly swallowed hard.
"Fight it," she said. "Sherlock, fight it. With everything you've got."
"Yes," said Sherlock. "For you."
Molly held his hand under the ropes.
"For you, dear girl."
The hand closed tightly around Molly's fingers before she could pull away.
"Thin little fingers. Give me your sweetness."
Molly gasped. Those dead eyes roamed her face.
"I will use his body so well on yours. Oh sweet girl. Just wait. Just wait."
John tried to prise Sherlock's fingers open, but the grip was like iron. Molly's knuckles ground together sickeningly, and she swore. Sherlock's body twisted, his eyes flashed - there, sea blue irises, his pupils blown out, Sherlock stared Molly in the eye, livid.
"Let her go," he roared, and his hand opened like a sprung trap. He began to hyperventilate.
"Wake up. Damn you. Stupid, weak, scared-wake up. Molly, run. He wants-"
Sherlock's head jerked back as if he'd been hit. His eyes rolled into greyness. A bright line of blood trailed from the corner of his lips, garish against his pallor.
"That," said John, "was him."
Sherlock raised his hand to where he'd been hit. He felt blood, and the raw swell of a new bruise, his lip split against his teeth. Tasted the sweetish, shrill metallic tang, but when he looked at his fingers they were stained not red, but black. He smelled the lakewater, and the taste changed from metal to stagnant dirt. He retched and spat. The walls billowed dizzily around him, meeting over his head, swelling, pulsing. His vision blurred.
Where was he?
Sherlock looked around, struggling to focus. A long hallway. His mind palace. Yes.
But the hallway hadn't been this long before, had it? No.
And he felt-
(invaded, infiltrated, polluted, just… Wrong.)
Sherlock shuddered with the realisation. There was something in here with him.
Then a flash of something horrible, pictures arriving in his mind, awful, awful. The girl. And he was-
Sherlock ground both fists into his eyes.
"Don't show me this."
"Don't show you what?"
"What you did to her. I don't want to see it."
"But it is here. I am not showing you anything that you did not choose to see."
"You came here, and you wished to look, long and hard, and find, and dig, and see."
"Not like this."
Sherlock bowed his head, covered his mouth with one shaking hand. He opened his eyes but the pictures remained, jittering through his vision, projected on the walls of his own mind even as he twisted and cowered away.
"Here you are. Everything."
"Make it stop."
"You invented your power. Your glass and your chemistry. In here, there is nothing. There is only me. You grow weaker every second."
"Who am I talking to?"
"Don't you know anymore?"
"Why am I here?"
"Every second, a little more."
"Where.. am I?"
"It's killing him."
John looked up. On the bed, Sherlock's body tensed, head thrown back, pale throat rigid. He choked and more blood trickled from his mouth. When he relaxed back into the pillows, Molly leaned in to dab at his lips with a crimson stained tissue. These spasms had been occurring every minute or so for the best part of an hour, and the detective was weakening.
Molly took Sherlock's pulse, her brow furrowed in concentration. Then she went back to the book.
Molly scanned the pages. A possession.
In a way, she thought, you knew this was going to happen. But then again, you never thought that it would happen to him.
She read methodically, taking in information like a medical textbook. What is required. What materials. What must be done.
Molly looked up and caught John's eye. He watched her in reverence, trusting her. Two doctors of medicine placing their faith now in snake oil, mugwort, silver and wax. There was nothing else to do. Here in this shadowed room with the dusty velvet and the moon stilled in the sky, a pale figure convulsing on the bed, and something lost trailing its wet footprints through the halls; there was nothing left of what was true before. Nothing at all.