Chapter 1: Home Is Where The Ghosts Are
The sky was a deep and angry shade of grey, a backdrop for the lightning that flashed, and soon a large clap of thunder roared above. It was impossible to avoid the sound, which explained the bunched set of shoulders belonging to a lone figure that made their way to the front door of a looming building. There was no doubt it was once beautiful, with craftsmanship woven into the dark bricks that made up the architectural masterpiece. Now with each flash of lightning, the crumbling facade revealed that the building was no longer in its prime, instead it stood out like an inescapable shadow.
And yet the inside of the dwelling was not much better, only revealed when the heavy oak door was knocked upon. It took a few moments, but eventually the sound of locks being undone and clicking was heard. The door was swung open and sheer darkness, much like a gaping void, outlined a stoic man in the door frame.
The visitor squinted against the rain pelting their face, "Is this Rose Point Manor?"
They paused, a terrible gust of wind lunged at their back, ignoring the thick wool coat and many layers of clothing. It made talking almost impossible through the chattering of teeth, but still they managed.
"I-I'm M. Hooper, I e-exchanged letters with the caretaker?" Anxiously, Hooper removed a series of letters that had been tucked in the coat's pocket, and despite the protection, already the rain was causing the papers to become illegible. Still, Hooper offered them with a shaking hand.
The stoic man refused to even touch the documents, only glanced at them with a raised brow before he stepped back.
Before Hooper could voice any inquiry, the man was soon returned with a lantern in hand. It was raised to Hooper's face, casting an orangish glow as it made Hooper's eyes involuntarily close. After a few painful seconds the blinding fixture was finally moved back and Hooper was free to see once more.
Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, the man made way for the manor's guest, allowing the short form to scurry inside to get away from the night's frigid weather.
"Thank you," Hooper mumbled, ever thankful to be somewhere warm and dry for the time being.
The man said nothing, only used the lantern to guide himself to a wall where a knob resided. He twisted it, and the Rose Point Manor came to life.
Lights that lined the stretch of walls flickered on, breathing into the building as if it were morning. M. Hooper was aware, being in the medical field, that there was constantly new inventions popping up every day. But such creations were still met with an audible gasp of awe.
"Yes, it is a useful little thing," The man offered with a humourless smile; he clasped his hands together before him, "The master of the house is away, so I'll be in his stead. My name is Mr. Lancret, my duties are to make sure you enjoy your stay, Dr. Hooper."
"I'm not one for formalities, Mr. Lancret. Mark would be fine."
Mr. Lancret stiffened, "Such customs are necessary to keep society in order, Dr. Hooper. Lest we turn into animals."
Mark flushed with embarrassment at the cold tone, staring at his muddy shoes instead of meeting the other's gaze. The two found themselves surrounded by silence as they travelled down the long corridors. The lights made sure that the floor was visible, but did not alleviate the feeling of being suffocated.
The portraits on the walls seemed to leer at Mark, their eyes following his movements. His spine crawled with the thought, and he hurried his pace to stay closer to the manor's caretaker. If Mr. Lancret noticed, he made no comment on the action.
Eventually they ventured up a grand staircase, which Hooper couldn't fully appreciate visually, but he liked to believe he could estimate its beauty just from the smoothness of the wooden banister. This led them to even more hallways filled with rooms.
Like a rat in a maze, Mark thought bitterly.
They stopped in front of a door which appeared to be painted darker than the rest.
"This will be your room for the night. Your early arrival didn't give us adequate time to prepare a proper room, so you'll be using the Master's for the time being."
Mark nodded and accepted the lantern Mr. Lancret still carried, he almost dropped it from its surprising heaviness, but he held it long enough for the other man to remove his set of keys from his coat pocket and unlock the door. The metal of the key glinted against the shadows, catching Mark's eye.
I'm sure some birds would fancy something so shiny, Mark thought wistfully.
The door creaked as it opened up, adding to the stillness of the house. Mark shifted his weight, somehow nervous of what lay ahead.
Mr. Lancret grabbed the lantern from Mark's hands and strolled inside, bringing Mark's safety with him. This house was strange, filled with tension that made no promises of good intent.
Just remembering the paintings and their eyes had Mark chasing after the man and into the room.
As Mark entered the room, he took note that the lantern was placed on a table as Mr. Lancret roused the flames in the fireplace.
The crackling and spitting comforted Mark. His body ached and slumped with exhaustion. The trip had been a long and arduous, and he was eager to finally get some rest.
He stared longingly at the bed at the opposite side of the room, but he didn't advance towards it. Mr. Lancret instilled a harsh reality that one's appearance meant more than comfort, which held Mark at bay.
Mr. Lancret grunted as he righted himself from his crouched position, hand automatically placed on the muscles of his lower back as he stood up straight. The poker was placed in its rightful place, among the rest of the iron tools.
He turned back to the manor's guest, hands clasped together before him, "The bed has been made already, and there are spare clothing in the dresser's middle drawers for tonight and tomorrow. Though I'm sure by that time your luggage will manage to show up, the storm can't delay it forever. If that's everything, Dr. Hooper." He made his way to the door, grabbing the lantern as he went.
"Sir!" Mark called, causing the elderly man to hesitate with the doorknob in his grip.
Mark cleared his throat, "May I perhaps have a key to the manor? I wouldn't want to constantly bother you over opening every single door I come across."
"Usually that would have been a splendid idea..." Mr. Lancret slowly answered, his brows knitted together, "though I'm sure the Master would prefer certain doors to remain locked."
Mark smiled in a way that he hoped was relaxing, "I hope you don't see me a thief, Mr. Lancret."
It was silent as his words rang through the room, and as the seconds ticked by, Mark wondered if it would be enough. His worries seemed pointless, as Mr. Lancret gave a single and curt nod.
"Not at all, Dr. Hooper." The door began to slowly shut, "It'd be more for your own protection. Good night."
The glow from the lantern painted the old man in a ghoulish light, as his final words had a shiver running up Mark's spine. As the door came to a shut, Mark waited until the footsteps disappeared from the door and down the hallway until they eventually faded.
He quickly crossed the room to the door, turning the doorknob until the lock engaged and then slid the bolt at the top into place. In any other instance it would appear to be an over excessive amount of protection, but at that precise moment, it felt like too little to Mark. He couldn't take the chance of someone coming into his room while he slept, and discovering his true identity.
Mark sighed and reached for his hair, hands gentle as they slid under the chestnut locks and prodded until fingers found wads of spirit gum. This was the tricky part, trying to separate the wig without removing clumps of Hooper's natural hair. With a few whispered curses, eventually the tiresome endeavour was ended and the wig was placed on the dresser. The sideburns and the accursed mustache next, the latter left an angry red streak across the upper lip.
The clothing was the worst, but the joy of removing the sodden garments surpassed the dislike. The coat, folded, was placed on the fireplace mantle so it could be dried. The rest of Hooper's attire was stripped down, until only the undergarments remained. The chest bindings, which Hooper despised even greater than the foul weather howling outside, were slowly unwrapped.
A great exhale was released, as if finally one was able to breathe. Eyes shut in bliss, small hands expertly reached up to unpin the long locks of hair attached to Hooper's head, and to let them fall.
Molly Hooper opened her eyes, and smiled weakly. She tiptoed around the clothing pooled on the floor, and wandered over to the dresser. The heat from the fire was on her back, easing the chill from her body as she searched for some clothing to wear for the night.
Near the back she found what she sought. Withdrawing it, she let it unravel as she held it before her. The cream coloured nightshirt was at least three sizes bigger than her own, but Mr. Lancret did believe his guest was a man. Molly's smile crumbled away at the thought. She was so tired of pretending to be something she wasn't, just to perform the duties she loved.
She uttered a soft sigh as she slipped the shirt over her head, covering her once bare knickers as the article ended just below her knees.
After giving the door once last glance to make sure it was indeed locked, Molly crept into bed, humming with delight at the mattress that eagerly embraced her sore body.
She had spent many a nights in a carriage, resorting to sleeping in uncomfortable positions to shorten the distance between her and this house. All those sleepless nights and twisted muscles had been worth it for this, a warm and soft bed to have for the night.
The fire cracked loudly, overseeing the tired woman slipping into a welcome slumber.
Chapter 2: A Skip Backwards
Sunlight streamed in through the room's windows, brushing past the heavy curtains as if they were of no importance. There they bathed everything inside in golden hues, reminiscent of the day's pale yellow morning sky.
Entangled in silken sheets, Molly rolled over, left hand subconsciously clutching the thin material. An easy sigh escaped her lips, nestling the room just as she nestled the pillow under her head.
Her eyelids twitched with the sound, and her once peaceful expression morphed into one of vexation. She willed the silence to continue once more undisturbed, but the same startling noise of knuckles upon wood fluttered about.
Knock knock knock
This time, an equally troubling voice accompanied it.
"Dr. Hooper? It is morning, sir."
Molly groaned lowly before she begun to answer Mr. Lancret, "Thank y-" She jolted, eyes flying open in panic. The natural tone of her voice was sweet and feminine, praying that the caretaker didn't hear her, she tried again. This time the deepest pitch she could do quickly overtook the sentence, "Thank you, Mr. Lancret. I'll be dressed in a minute."
"As you wish; breakfast is already set in the dining room."
Much like vicious hounds were snapping at her heels, Molly hurried to peel the blankets and its sheets off of her and dress. As fast as she could, she removed her night shirt and picked up her chest bindings off of the floor, carefully wrapping it around her torso.
After it was secured without fear of slipping, her sockless feet nudged yesterday's clothing out of the way as she went to the dresser, already searching for the clothing Mr. Lancret previously mentioned.
The garments inside were of last season's fashion, but it was of no importance to her. She was staying in an old house in the middle of the country, and Molly didn't think Mr. Lancret cared much, and in all honestly Molly was just happy they were clean.
Finally dressed, Molly walked to the door and slid the bolt back. She paused, turning back to the room.
Dark wood furnished the bedroom, with the furniture engraved with twisting vines. The wallpaper's deep wine red colours were emphasized by the cherry timber of the large bookshelves that covered the walls. The bedding and curtains were black, casting the room in a permanent sense of despondency.
She moved back to where her clothes rested on the bare floorboards beside the bed. She picked them up, folding and setting them aside on a dresser, lest the spirit of her deceased grandmother haunt her for being unorganized. Mumbling to herself, she began to don the mask of Mark Hooper. Something that she was caught being hateful or appreciative towards, as it made the switch from being an invisible spinster to a confident doctor that was recognized amongst her peers. It was as much as a blessing as a curse, a rose with sharp daggers for thorns.
Molly gathered her hair up, curling the locks in a braid and pinning it back to her head. Cursing under her breath, she fastened her wig and then stuck her sideburns and moustache into place. Glancing to the mirror hanging above the fireplace mantle, she nodded at the young man staring back at her. Right now her main priority was to fill her belly with food.
The door shut softly behind him, sealing Mark's fate as he peered down the hallway leading either left or right.
Now, which way to the staircase? Mark pondered with a frown. He tried to recall from last night's arrival, but the directions were blurry with the darkness turning the manor into an endless labyrinth. Praying that he was heading in the right direction, Mark took a chance and headed left.
Everything was quiet as his shoes padded against the floorboards, cementing the idea that he was alone as he travelled down the corridor. As he went around a bend he caught sight of a door cracked open, and curiosity had Mark stumbling towards it.
He only lightly pressed his hand against the wood, but it swung open easily, and compelled by a force larger than himself, he looked inside.
A bedroom unlike his own, this chamber was filled with windows filtering in brilliant light. The walls were painted a pearl white, with a small bed tucked against the far corner, covered by a blanket made in a soft shade of violet. The only other furniture was a dresser and a vanity, both dwarfed by the open space of the room. Resting on the vanity was a perfume bottle and a petite ivory hairbrush adorned with flowers that Mark had never come across before, at least not in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
It was as if this room once belonged to a young child, a child that preferred little to no belongings and was considerably tidier than him.
Mark quietly stepped inside and pressed a finger to the surface of the vanity. Immediately after he inspected his fingertip and the collection of dust that accumulated there; he frowned, glancing over the room once more before a sound reached his ears.
"Shit," he whispered, and immediately regretted it. Such a coarse word sounded too vile in a room as sweet and childlike as this one, and yet he had no time to dwell on it, not with the sound coming closer with each creaking of the floorboards.
A chill raced along his spine as he hurried to enter the hallway once more, closing the door behind him. And as soon as he did so, the hallway became quiet once more. Praying that Mr. Lancret nor anyone else had caught him looking in places where he ought not to, Mark crept to the bend in the hallway and peered around.
No one is there, Mark thought with an audible sigh of relief. Despite this Mark was doused in goosebumps, couldn't escape the feeling of being watched as he headed back in the direction where his room was.
Just as he came across the familiar door painted darker than the rest, Mr. Lancret came strolling down Mark's hallway and approached him with an annoyed expression.
"Sir, your breakfast is getting cold."
"I apologize, Mr. Lancret. I wasn't sure of how to reach the staircase from last night."
Mr. Lancret studied him for a second before nodding, "I figured that would be a problem. Please follow me."
The two ended walking beside one another, and a silence teetering on the edge of impolite behaviour was upon them both. Not wanting to spend his whole trip without even knowing this man in the slightest, Mark engaged Mr. Lancret in conversation.
"I couldn't help but wonder, the master of this manor. What kind of man is he?"
The image lodged in Molly's mind was of a man with considerable wealth but no particular connection to any other person, with a well kept house that lacked heart. Molly supposed that the master was an old man, without any friends or family to call his own.
Mr. Lancret seemed to weigh up his answer before answering in a well polished tone.
"My Master is a man of a healthy and intelligent mind, I have never come across one of his nature before."
"Last night you mentioned that he wasn't here."
"Is he away on business?"
Mr. Lancret gave a fleeting look to Mark's face before he answered him, "I don't see how that pertains to you, Dr. Hooper."
Mark shrugged, "Is it unusual for a guest to ask after his host, Mr. Lancret?"
Lancret seemed to hesitate. "...I suppose not. My master is indeed away for business, which doesn't upset him. He enjoys his work, seems to be held in high esteem. However, Rose Point Manor is one of his many estates, and he doesn't hold a preference for this one in particular."
"Why on earth not? Surely he thinks it's a handsome house?"
They finally came to an exit for the jungle of hallways, at the staircase's landing. The pair headed down the steps, and as they descended Mark couldn't help but wonder if he pressed too hard on the caretaker. To his relief, Mr. Lancret responded when their feet touched the hardwood floor of the entrance.
"Keep in mind, Dr. Hooper, that all old houses have a history. This one in particular doesn't have anything akin to happiness, and because of that, Master would rather stay in any of his other residences. No doubt you've felt it already, the sense of tragedy that has seeped into the house's bones."
"I have," Mark admitted, his cheeks warming with the admission. His eyes couldn't meet Mr. Lancret as he continued on, "Do you usually care for this estate, Mr. Lancret, when… " He couldn't bring himself to finish the thought.
"When no one else is here? No, I'm the head butler at my Master's main house… I only venture to Rose Point to occasionally air it, but since you are here, I was tasked with making it presentable for visitors and caring after yourself."
Mark was considerably relieved, being alone in such a large house was a sad thought.
"I'm sorry to have caused such a fuss."
Mr. Lancret waved away the apology with his hand, already resuming the walk to the dining room.
"Think nothing of it, for it is my job after all. And I could hardly ge-" he quickly cut himself off before he corrected his speech, "wish any of the other staff in my stead, they aren't as… well trained as myself."
Warnings flashed inside of Molly's head, but Mark kept his smile in place.
"I'm glad you tend to all visitors with such consideration, Mr. Lancret."
The elderly man gratefully accepted the praise with a tilt of the head, finally leading the young man into a room that immediately smelt of fresh bread and cheese.
Mark's stomach loudly growled at the scent, joining the watering of his mouth at the sight of breakfast upon the dining room's large table.
There a plate piled high with slices of recently baked bread, wonderfully golden and crisp, which were lightly covered in butter. Next to it was bacon and eggs, steam still rising from it. And lastly, there was a cup of tea and a small platter made up of fruits.
It was nothing like Mark's usual breakfast, which tended to consist of four meager slices of bread, and a pint of tea that varied from being of bad or weak taste, sometimes even both.
Eagerly, Mark crossed the room to the table and took a seat, with haste taking the fork and knife in hand and started to eat.
Mr. Lancret watched on, "I took the liberty of warming up your breakfast before I came to get you. Do you like it, Dr. Hooper?"
"Yeush!" Mark replied with his mouth full of food, causing the simple word to be jumbled around the bits of bread and bacon. A look of disgust flashed across Mr. Lancret's face, but that was quickly overtaken with a stony expression.
"I'm glad. Your luggage has already arrived, along with your…tools. Being ignorant in the field of science, I had the items left in the parlour until you could look them over."
Mark perked up, and the fork a mere inch from his mouth was stilled, "I'll do exactly that as soon as I've finished. Thank you, Mr. Lancret."
The elderly man nodded once before he left Mark to eat in peace, closing the room's door quietly behind him.
Excitement coursed through Molly's veins at the thought of being able to work once again, away from the noisy bustle of the city so she could finish some experiments. For that was the whole point of this trip.
To relax and quietly write those scientific journal articles she had been meaning to do, the ones that Mr. Stamford kept badgering after. That and the constant act of pretending to be someone she wasn't really put her through the wringer, she hated it, hated the facade that now consumed her life. So she packed what little things she had and left, only two people knew of her current whereabouts. Mr. Stamford, who welcomed the change at the promise of the articles done, and her beloved friend Meena.
Three days prior
The sun was high in the sky, partly hidden by the thick grey clouds lurking about. While it was certainly warmer than it had been for the last week, the nipping wind kept thick coats upon every person that rushed along London's streets.
Even in the early morning of the day, everyone was hurrying about like ants, uncaring if they climbed upon one another. The city was in a constant state of noise, from the cry of street vendors, horses noisily neighing as they stomped down cobblestone paths with their burdens, mischievous children laughing, and the screeching sound of nearby factory whistles had everything in a buzz.
Molly was just like them, set in a panic to travel to places in an orderly time. A gentleman of high society, a Mr. D. Austin had been found dead at his residence. From what she heard, Mr. Austin was profound in his wealth and in his botany, specifically his English roses which were created from mastering years of intensive breeding.
There were no suggestions that his death was due to anything other than natural causes, as Mr. Austin was known to be in declining health. Scotland Yard on the other hand, wanted to be sure, which Molly presumed was because the person adding coin to their purses was interested.
So Molly had arrived at the morgue as soon as she received her letter, dressed in her costume as always. With her heart hammering in her ears, Molly sped down the hallways of the hospital to a section closed off to a select few. Just as she rounded a corner, a familiar curvaceous form was standing outside the door she needed to enter.
"Meena," Molly whispered, voice still deep despite her company, "what are you doing?"
The young woman straightened herself at the inquiry, smoothing the creases of her white apron as she turned around.
"The nerve! You know not to sneak up on me like that!" She chastised, but a warm smile overtook her face. Quietly the two stepped up to one another, with Meena swiftly leaning in to run a finger along Molly's moustache.
"You've been eating with this ridiculous caterpillar on, haven't you?"
The corners of Molly's lips were pulled upwards into a smile, "I was in a hurry."
Meena snorted, "And look what good that's gotten you, there's crumbs in it."
"From the bread." Molly hummed, feeling a little embarrassed about her appearance. Though she knew she shouldn't be, not with Meena. As her best friend was the only other person to know about Molly's secret, something that she kept close to her heart.
While Molly had pushed the boundaries that limited her sex to become a doctor, something that she would surely be indefinitely jailed if anyone else ever found out, Meena had decided to stay a nurse. The thought of having a true friend so close by when she worked had Molly's chest aching with affection, the weight of her facade was lifted whenever Meena was around.
"And you never considered your sister?"
Molly rolled her eyes, wordlessly she removed the package she carried in her coat pocket. Hastily it had been wrapped in a cloth, though it was rather squashed from the journey to the hospital. Still, her friend took it from her hands, and gently unwrapped the offering.
The end of a loaf was inside, still crisp from the oven, though the wind outside had taken its heat.
Meena glanced back up to Molly, "If you were a natural man, I would marry you on the spot."
"How unfortunate that I am not. And here I thought it was a poor thing. I'm sorry I couldn't fetch you anymore, Mrs. Petti was careful on the rations."
"The old hag she is." Meena mumbled under her breath, rolling the loaf back up and placing it in the pocket of her apron. "Still, thank you for remembering me." She placed a chaste kiss on Molly's cheek, light enough for a feather.
The door to the morgue opened up, and Sherlock Holmes cleared his throat loudly as he watched the display before him.
There had been nothing other than friendship behind the kiss, but the action of being caught had the two jolting back from one another as if they'd been burned. Molly could feel the heat of her blush on her ears, which had turned a revealing shade of pink.
"If you are quite done, Hooper, there's a body that needs your attending." Sherlock's glare moved to Meena's form, expecting her, in her scandalous position, to curtsey and scurry off. Instead Meena met his gaze with one of her own, raising her chin in proud defiance.
After a few tense seconds, Sherlock turned on his heel and descended into the bowels of the morgue, letting the heavy door slam after him.
"Good riddance." Meena sniffed, then her dark brown eyes softened when she caught sight of Molly's flustered state. She knew that her friend was fond of the detective, even with his harsh words towards her, and the fact she constantly feared her gender being exposed made it harder to bear his presence.
"Are you alright?"
Slowly Molly nodded, swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat.
"Oh dear!" Quickly Meena embraced her in a hug, arms tightening until she felt her friend finally relax. Molly sighed, soon allowing her arms to wrap around the other as she breathed in her friend's scent. Somehow, despite the tiresome hours she worked aiding the old, sick, and injured, Meena always smelt of lemons and cinnamon.
Eventually Meena pulled back, their bodies joined together by their clasped hands, "Now you pay him no mind, Dr. Hooper. He's just upset that he can't wear a moustache as attractively as you can."
Molly permitted a small giggle to escape her lips, "I'll try my hardest."
The two shared a smile before they parted ways, each had their own task to perform. While Meena walked back down the hallway filled with light and awaiting patients, Dr. Hooper descended into darkness.
Mark set his knife and fork down, his breakfast now devoured.
The rest of the morning wasn't as sweet as the moment shared between the two friends, something his past self couldn't predict. He had rightfully expected Sherlock's cold disposition, however, he was not fully prepared for the severity of it.
Every action he performed was under question and mocked, the whole event had been a struggle to remain calm. Not even ten minutes into the autopsy Molly had wanted to run from the room sobbing, but Dr. Hooper would not do such a thing. The professional side was only enraged to the point of seething aggression, and more than once did Mark think of stabbing Sherlock with the scalpel in hand.
Recognizing this, the sympathetic Dr. Watson and Mr. Lestrade cut their observation short lest a crime unfolded before them. It was clear, however, that neither would think less of Dr. Hooper for attacking Sherlock.
An annoyed Dr. Watson had to drag Sherlock from the morgue, the latter which was not satisfied with happening.
Afterwards, Mark finished recording his findings on paper, inspected four more bodies before he finally retired to his modest apartment.
There he was welcomed into the arms of his roommate Meena, and turned from proud Dr. Hooper into a woman crying from frustration, heartbreak, and the injustice she faced in this cruel world.
Comforted and given sweets that Meena had purchased from the bakery down the street, she thought of the price for peace of mind.
Together they settled that Molly needed a break from the stress of the city and after alerting Mr. Stamford, they collectively fashioned an advertisement.
One holiday needed for a doctor;
Single, quiet and tidy; searching for dwelling to spend a month or two.
Grounds to walk through preferred, as is adequate housing and staff.
Answer with discretion.
Dr. M. Hooper, 267 BIRMINGHAM ST.
That same evening they received a response from a Mr. Lancret who offered the services of the Rose Point Manor on behalf of the master of the house.
Not soon after they had packed Molly's things for the trip, and the very next day just before the sun had even thought to rise, Molly was in the carriage.
There wasn't enough room for the luggage and her to share, so another carriage was sent for. Unfortunately the storm that raged morning to night throughout the journey, had delayed the arrival of her luggage until this day, a time when the rain and howling wind ceased altogether.
Which brings us to the current state of things.
A knock came from the dining room's door before it opened a minuscule amount, just enough for Mr. Lancret's face to peer inside.
It would be rather plain if his nose was not present, for it was large and hooked. It wasn't a particularly handsome feature, but it was distinct enough to be looked upon as fascinating. The rest of his face was hard, with lines from frowning deeply engraved into his leathery skin. Though none were not as rough as his eyes, a set filled with an ever present dislike that made it difficult to stare into without flinching.
"Are you finished breakfasting?"
Mark nodded once before he climbed to his feet, "Yes, please take me to my luggage."
The head of Mr. Lancret disappeared, a second later the door to the dining room was swung open as the caretaker gestured for the young pathologist to follow after him.
Together they walked to the parlour where Mark looked after his possessions, and rightfully ordered them to be sent to either his chamber, or a room made up as a temporary lab. This went on until the very last items were properly placed, a journal used for sketching and a set of thick pencils, those were moved to his dresser. By the time they were finished, the astounding truth was that the day had simply vanished.
Mark refused to have his supper anywhere but in his room, for he was still a stranger to this manor, and the thought made him fearful.
That night's solace came in the form of a wine bottle, one of the lesser from his host's expensive cellar. What guilt Molly might have felt from drinking from the alcohol most definitely worth more than what she made in a year was dissipated by the feeling of warm food in her belly, a soft bed under her back, and a fanciful novel about true love to put her to dreamless sleep.
Chapter 3: Endlessly Yours Always
The day was late in the morning when Mark approached Mr. Lancret, who was donning a coat for a trip to the local town, Bromwich.
"Sir, can you please do me a favour and drop this off at the post?" Hands stained with ink passed two heavy letters to clean and orderly ones, the exchange was silent as Mr. Lancret observed the documents.
"267 Birmingham Street? Isn't that your place of residence?"
Mark shifted his weight, "It is."
Mr. Lancret studied him for a second, but it was enough to have Mark sweating, "I hope you aren't planning on cutting your stay short, Dr. Hooper."
Mark offered a smile to Mr. Lancret, "Not at all. It is of a personal nature. To an acquaintance that shares my longings" Mark couldn't help but offer.
There was a moment of silence before Mr. Lancret accepted this vague answer, tucking the letters into his inner coat pocket as he begun to set off.
After undoing the numerous bolts and locks upon the front door, Mr. Lancret turned to stare at his guest once more, expression troubled.
"I shan't be gone long, sir. In the meantime, however, can I trust you not to delve too deeply in the manor? If you get lost, I'm afraid I might never find you again."
His words rang out, causing something horrible to chew at the skin of Mark's belly. The young pathologist wasn't sure how to take the warning, but he had a smile ready enough for the caretaker. "Thank you for the concern, Mr. Lancret. I plan to spend my time near the lab, and nowhere else."
"I wish you luck then." The elderly man nodded once before he twist the door's knob and headed out, letting the door close slowly behind him. The sound of it reminded Molly how alone she was, determined to forget the feeling, she hurriedly made her way to the lab.
The room they had decided on being fashioned for Molly, or rather Mark's work, was once an old painting room. The mother of this generation's owner loved the arts, and she particularly favoured this room for the large windows that overlooked the flower beds. The gardens, Mr. Lancret had said, had once been the envy of the entire county.
The Rose Point Manor in particular had placed this town on the proverbial map, but not so much as the family name behind it. That had been as ancient as the forest that surrounded the manor, successfully keeping it away from prying eyes and listening ears.
Molly stood by the windows, peering into the bleak world outside. Winter was supposed to be done with these lands, and instead everything remained icy with death.
That made staring at the damp stretch of land hard to imagine as brimming with life, no, that felt wrong even in this manor. Maybe this had been a happy place, many years ago. Now it just felt cold, inside and out.
Forbidding any more depressing thoughts, Molly turned around to survey her lab once again. Every table or chair had been stacked high with research papers, each pile seemed ready to come crashing down from its leaning arrangement.
Sighing at the work before her, Molly took a seat at the only desk in the room. This room had been rather bare when she first entered, a desk was very much needed for her line of work, so she had one carried down with Mr Lancret from one of the many rooms upstairs.
It was well taken care of, despite its obvious age. Small flowers guarded the secrets of their full fragrant bloom, remaining sheltered buds that crept along the surface of the wood. Smiling fondly at the dedication and beauty of this desk's workmanship, Molly took up the first paper closest to her, which was labelled:
The Proper Etiquette with the Dead
It was her own concept and pen that flourished upon the paper, the beginning of a journal that discussed the proper conduct one must have when dealing with the parted, put in a way to preserve the dignity of the deceased.
The title was one she was proud of, though the writing underneath was certainly not finished nor ready to be published. To set it to the side for later recall, she settled on placing it in one of the many drawers to the desk.
Paper in hand, she used her other hand to pull at the largest drawer that was under the belly of the desk. It groaned in spite to her, and refused to open. Molly tugged with increasing desperation until finally she placed the paper on top of the desk and yanked as hard as she could with both hands.
The drawer giving way had her reeling as she was pushed back, almost taking her chair with her as she fell. Thankfully, she adjusted her balance in time to prevent that.
"How useless!" Molly grunted, furious as she opened the drawer a tad bit more to see what precisely had given her so much trouble. She fished it out with a cross expression on her face.
Crammed inside had been a small collection of dusty letters, each held together with a thin emerald silk ribbon.
Perplexed, she undid the knot that brought the two lengths of material together, and removed the top letter. Quickly Molly cast a glance over her shoulder, frightened that Mr. Lancret would appear looming over her shoulder, expression a mixture from being distraught and angry. Surely these papers were once smooth and creamy, but now the edges had bent and were yellowed with age.
Sighing at such a loss, Molly unfolded the letter and began to read. The first thing to reach her was the scent, something that reminded her of the young fellow she pined for in her schooling. It was the feeling of being holed up with one's book, rain pelting the window outside. It was familiar and comforting, but when she breathed deeper, something captivatingly spicy arose. She couldn't place that particular scent, but it somehow went with the others.
The hand that wrote this specific letter made his words small, but endearingly rounded and messy. As if he had so much to share with such little time, the thought brought a small smile to Molly's face. She felt guilty for reading someone's intimate thoughts, but her never ceasing curiosity had her pressing on. The letter was written as follows:
My dear, creative, Viola.
That had Molly blushing.
It is a saddening thought to have you so far away, but as you once said, 'duty comes first'. I hope in the deepest confines of my heart we meet again, even if that meant facing your brute of a husband. I know you wrote that you preferred not to mention him, as you have enough dealings with him by the day and night, but my declarations are true.
I hope everything has been well with your house, you never did like the simple country life, even with all of its flowers. I came across a book, and it reminded me of you, so I will spread its piece of advice along.
'A woman who moves without taking salt with her will have bad luck'. It will do you good to take this to heart, Viola.
I hope you remember your oldest friend and send me a painting to have nearby in my now monotone life.
The apparent yearning reminded Molly of herself, and an ache in her heart answered the one beckoning through these pages. Perhaps this is why she was so consumed with the desire to read the next one of this mysterious H.G.'s letters, something she made haste to peel open and read. Instead of the same messy writing she expected, Molly was presented with a new form, with pages perfumed with something distinctively expensive and potent.
This one had been carefully written, the words flowery as they joined with one another. It reminded Molly of the exotic vines she read about in strange lands across the world, places where they could snatch colourful flying birds from the sky and unsuspecting explorers from humid jungles.
My ever dear & moody, Hugh.
I share your sentiments, it is tragic to have you across the world from me. However, do not let these base emotions cloud your work, nor any of our happy memories. My lack of closeness does not mean I am not there for you, my Hugh.
I do not doubt your affection for me, nor will I ever. And though I felt silly, I kept your words close to my bosom, and had salt within my pocket. When changing for the evening, my maid was bewildered to discover it, and made a great big fuss over the effects it had on my clothing. I was terribly embarrassed, but my position prevented being spoken to in such a way. I am sure Cassandra would have been proud of my candid spirit, and as she liked to say, 'tongue lashing' I gave the maid.
You are right, I miss the excitement of the city. Though I am glad that I do not have to go to balls as frequently, I crave to do something other than stare at the same rolling fields. We are not even two days settled and I've claimed a room for painting, the first piece I've started is to be sent to you. It is of the same lands I see whenever I look out a window, you having it will make you all more closer.
Perhaps it is the dire circumstances we are in, but I noticed you changed the ending to how you addressed me. There was not any glimpse of the usual, 'endlessly yours always'. I am a fool to have presumed this change would not make things different, but still I crave…
Molly squinted at the paper, specifically at the blob of ink that stained the next word, erasing its meaning. Thankfully the letter soon picked up once again.
Your friendship is what keeps me pink and breathing, fresh with air in my lungs and a heart pounding loud enough for the whole world to hear.
Your charming friend always,
The desire to finish reading the rest of the letters was hard to ignore, but the sound of the front door opening again had Molly quickly stuffing them into one of her journals, right in the middle. Later that night she would finish them, even with Mr. Lancret peeping around the corners.
"Dr. Hooper?" called out the familiar rasp of the caretaker.
"Yes?" Mark responded, twisting around to address the man standing by the lab's door frame.
"I dropped the letters off as you requested."
"Thank you, Mr. Lancret."
He took a step into the room, now removing an envelope from the inner part of his coat, "It appears your mindset matched another."
Mark frowned as he cautiously accepted the document from Mr. Lancret, turning it over to see who it was sent by. Very few knew of where his holiday was taking place, and the thought that Sherlock Holmes had managed to discover his location was frightening. Though why he would do that was flabbergasting to Dr. Hooper.
He seems like the sort of man to do all of this work just to harass me, Mark thought with a sigh. And yet it wasn't Mr. Holmes that this letter was from, instead it was a pleasant script that had Mark smiling with affection.
Mr. Lancret who was used to a short range of emotions expressed by those he interacted with, was startled by this change in the Rose Point Manor guest. This wasn't fear, anger, disgust, greed, nor simple melancholy. This was something entirely different, and he wasn't certain as how he should perceive it. So he stood by his instincts, which was to stiffly stand there until it was stated he could finally leave.
Breaking away from the letter, Mark smiled, "That will be all, Mr. Lancret."
A gush of relief escaped the old man's lips, filling the space between them until he quickly dashed from the room. Well, as much as he could with someone dedicated to remaining emotionless and exact with pride.
The letter was placed on top of the journal that hid the rest, there it would remain until it was carried up to Mark's room to be read in peace.
Mycroft Holmes stood vigilant from his place before a grand window, watching as people hurried to escape the weather with little to no luck. He was glad to not be in their midst, they surely had dull and worthless lives. Unlike his, whose importance could only be conducted from the shadows. They had no idea how much they owed him.
Not unlike a certain relative of his. His younger brother would never know the depths to which he protected him, not if Mycroft had any say in it.
A knock roused his attention from the citizens on the street below, and slowly his bulky form turned around.
One of his servants stood in the door frame, or as Sherlock would call them, his underlings.
Heavily Mycroft breathed out, making his annoyed state obvious as he wandered back to his desk, and pulled a chair out. He made the servant wait until he sat down in his chair, at that moment he took the chance to study him.
Plain features and ready posture, he was perfect for the mindless life as a servant. Discrete, though not above gossiping surely with the other staff members, he wouldn't speak of the dealings here to anyone else. He was well trained that way.
"Yes, what is it?"
He entered the room, softly shutting the door behind him as he brought the item that had been hidden behind his back.
A small box, delicately wrapped in material that was striped black and navy blue, something that shimmered as it caught the light. The servant gently placed the box on the desk, setting so it could be further inspected by Mycroft.
There he waited until his master would assault him with inquiries, he didn't have long to wait.
"You've opened it." Not a question, but a certain fact.
"Yes, sir. I was instructed to open and investigate any items that were sent to this manor that appeared unusual."
Mycroft leaned back in his seat, thick fingers drumming against the wood of the desk as he eyed the gift, from the box to the beautiful silver ribbon that once wound around it.
"And how did this come across unusual? How did you determine this wasn't a personal gift for me that you destroyed to fuel your curiosity? No doubt to share the contents with the rest of the staff."
The servant politely shook his head, eyes fixated on the spot above Mycroft's head, "Any item that has a chance to enter these walls needs specific precautions fulfilled before it reaches you, at your own discretion, sir. The staff must be alerted ahead of time to any deliveries, the appearance of the items will all be listed beforehand for any discrepancies. And finally, above all else, items shall be inspected for any occurring abnormalities."
"And how did this strike you odd?"
"There is no card stating where this came from, and who it was sent by, sir. Since its arrival was unannounced, a maid found it on a doorstep, we took the precaution of checking its contents outside. The inside... may I sir?"
Mycroft waved his hand, letting his expression appear bored while the gears inside his mind were spinning a mile a minute.
The servant lifted the lid, "as you can see the contents of this box are comprised of two items: a rose, and a card." As the servant wore his standard white gloves, he was the one to remove the items, and showcase them.
Munstead Wood, a deep velvety crimson flower that had a strong old rose fragrance with notes of blackberry, blueberry, and… Mycroft leaned slightly in, eyes sliding shut as he inhaled... damson. "Sumptuous." He mumbled to himself, his eyes peeling open to stare at the servant. "And the card?"
Silently the other man briefly stuck his spare hand into the box before he withdrew it, presenting the card in all its glory. It was blank besides a small set of words, seemingly not important if a context was brought up. To Mycroft, it proved to be hindering.
I shall be Mr. Seek.
The day before
A loud, high-pitched whistle struck throughout the manor, drawn out until it left the inhabitants filled with tension. All but one, the person who whistled in the first place.
He never felt more relaxed in his life, never mind the unease set around him.
With a small huff, he sat down on his chair, stretching his legs before him as his eyes slid closed. He sat there for a moment, content until something nagged at his subconscious. He was forgetting something, he could feel it. And he hated to forget things.
He opened eyes, and did a quick survey.
Wearing only the best clothing? Check.
Interesting jobs to do? Check.
Everything seemed to be in order, but he could still feel it, tugging at his mind with needy hands.
A young maid poured a glass of wine, standing nearby to place it onto his table.
She jolted in shock, sending wine over the brim from the glass and onto the hardwood underfoot. Just as the liquid hit the ground, already another maid was lunging at it, rag in hand to wipe up the spill before it seeped in.
The clumsy maid darted a glance to him, eyes blown up with fear, "A-are you talking to me, s-sir?"
He leaned forward, bracing his stance with his folded elbows on the table's surface as he smiled at her, "Who else would I be talking to?"
He cut off her stuttering speech by raising a hand, "Something's off here…?"
"Samatha," he tested the word on his tongue, swishing it around, "what an utterly mundane name. Do you know what is different today, Samantha?"
She was about to shake her head but she froze, suddenly considering. Her eyes, the colour of upturned dirt was filled with uncertainty, unable to voice her thoughts. He smiled at her, showing his waning patience with just the right amount of teeth, "Go on."
"M-Mr. Lancret." She blurted out, clutching the fabric over her apron until her knuckles became pale.
Satisfied with the response, he leaned back, "Old Lancret, hmm? And what has he done?"
It is amazing how quickly a forgotten memory or thought can be returned to the human mind, in this case of Mr. Lancret's whereabouts. He waved his hand again, this time signalling for everyone to leave the room. This was done quietly, and respectfully. Even poor Samantha had managed to do that correctly. Alone with his thoughts, he recalled as much as he cared to know about the old butler's circumstance.
There had been an advertisement in the papers for a doctor, a young doctor as he remembered with a smirk. He hadn't stated the reason for a place to rent, but the sheer desperation had been obvious. He had merely been doing his usual work when he glimpsed it, and interest was born in his belly, crawling its way up to his throat before it slithered from his lips and ordered the use of the Rose Point Manor.
Just thinking of that place made him want to spit in disgust, and he wasn't ignorant of how the help recalled the mention of it with horror. To them the house was filled with spirits, and though they weren't wrong, they hadn't fully grasped that he was one as well.
Mr. Lancret had been part of the staff before he was born, he could be trusted, so he was the natural choice. Especially around such treasured disastrous secrets.
He tapped his fingers, pondering on how the doctor was faring in the old house. Perhaps he should pay them a visit? He did have work in the area… At the sound of the bell on his desk being rung, a servant stepped inside, ready to be ordered about. "Pack my things, I'm going on a trip."
Chapter 4: The Doctor's Orders
Leather boots crunched the snow underfoot as they travelled through the dense forest, the owner of them observing the wildlife that had emerged after a long stretch of winter induced torment with an abundance of noise. Noise from the birds hopping from bare tree branch to the next, or the rustling of leaves swaying against the nipping current of wind.
Spring was soon to step into the limelight, with her sweet call of life. Molly could not wait until this happened, she was so sick of the cold and its seize on her.
Lack of inspiration had dulled her mind, so she took to the Rose Point's forest that surrounded the estate. And much like the building itself, the forest was known to be confusing and inescapable if one delved too deeply.
Taking this into consideration, Molly had kept the building well in sight to mark her distance, and constantly checked the state of the sky overhead. Despite the wind still being present, the sun was a permanent fixture that warmed Molly. Much like a child with a magnifying glass burning ants with sadistic glee; it was sad to say that Molly was the ant in this comparison.
The cruelty of it had Molly removing her coat, and draped it over her shoulders as she continued to wander the lands, journal and pencil in hand.
She was set in an undetermined path and appeared to be aimlessly wandering the snowy terrain when she spotted some flash of colour on the far side of a clearing, something that could have been easily overlooked without the assistance of a critical eye.
Molly hunched over to get a closer look as soon as she walked over to it, brow furrowed as she opened her journal to a new blank page with her pencil poised.
"Oryctolagus cuniculus... the European rabbit" mumbled Molly, eyes taking in everything to be offered.
The small creature had fallen prey to something that was larger and had sharper teeth, as was the way of the world. Though Molly sketched the complex structure of the animal's spilled innards and the natural mechanics of it, she couldn't help but feel sad.
It reminded her how life was too short and cruel, with the phantom noose that curled around her neck, pulling tighter and tighter with each passing day masquerading as something she wasn't. It was a dangerous game, one she hoped she wouldn't lose. Otherwise, she was afraid she'd turn up like this rabbit, dead in some unknown field, rotting.
Her hand stilled from drawing a mangled set of lungs for a moment, releasing a melancholy sigh into the crisp air. Her stomach rumbled in response, hungry for the delicious fruit inside the manor. Ignoring her cravings, Molly forced herself to finish her sketch before she started to make her way back.
Lifting her eyes to the sky as she walked, she studied the pale blue overhead with a soft smile. The clouds above were like sheets of fabric stitched together, something that would form the softest blanket ever known. "What I'd give to slee-" The words from Molly's mouth were interrupted by a startled yelp, the sound of the young pathologist tripping over something, and suddenly falling onto the snow covered ground.
"Shit," she wheezed, the air knocked out of her chest from the impact. She calmed herself after a minute, trying to replace the stolen oxygen with deep steadying breaths.
Thankful that the snow cushioned her fall, she slowly lifted herself into a sitting position, glaring at the protruding object by her feet. Lightly brushing snow from its surface had Molly's eyes widening, a lump forming in her throat at the sight of a small tombstone.
The words on the crumbling stone caused her to gasp as much as from the cold seeping into her wet clothing.
Here lies Lillian R., a child taken too soon
Below the wording there was a small drawing of a single lily, made for the namesake of the child and her purity. Molly shakily climbed to her feet, taking a step towards her possessions lying on the ground, when a flash of pain in her left foot had her tumbling once again. Kneeling over, Molly hissed through her clenched teeth at the lingering agony.
"Are you all right?"
Molly's head snapped up, expecting Mr. Lancret to be looming over her. But there was no sign of the elderly butler, only a woman that appeared a decade younger than herself.
Rather confused by her current circumstance, Molly quickly eyed the stranger. She was certainly handsome, with petite features that made her seem like those little fairies her grandmother would read to her about. Russet hair was held in braids thick like rope, which was pinned back for simplistic convenience. Her modest dress was beautiful, grey with small yellow flowers, though nothing expensive. A thick wool shawl was wrapped around her shoulders, slipping down arms carrying a woven basket.
The clearing of the woman's throat brought Molly's attention to her eyes, steel blue that observed her expression with concern and barely hidden amusement. Realizing that Mark hadn't answered her, Molly quickly made amends for that.
"I'm afraid not, I twisted my ankle. And it's too painful to walk on."
"Are you staying anywhere near?" The young woman made her way over to Mark's side, frowning as she hunched to peer at the foot Mark tried to place the least amount of weight on.
"The Rose Point Manor."
The nameless woman perked up, staring at Mark with a confused expression."Are you helping Mr. Lancret with the house?"
Mark shook his head, "I needed a quiet place to stay at for my work, now, do you mind helping me up? I'll need some assistance getting back."
"Not at all, Mr...?"
"Hooper." Mark grunted, surprised by the other's strength as she helped him climb to his feet, and bared a great deal of his weight. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, offering a tip lipped smile, "But feel free to call me Mark."
"Mark it is. My name is Charlotte, but Lollie will do just as well."
With Lollie's help, Mark managed a few steps before he twisted to look back. "I'll need someone to grab those for me."
Lollie hummed her understanding, shuffling her basket in her other arm as she steadied her companion with a hand to his waist. "I'll let Mr. Lancret know as soon as we get you home," she spared one last glance to the jacket, journal, and pencil laying in the snow. The journal had opened up to the page of the rabbit drawing, already it was starting to become wet.
"Dear Lord" came Mr. Lancret's response to Mark limping through the manor's entrance. Startled just as much as the obvious injury to the man enlisted into his care, Mr. Lancret was thoroughly surprised to see a familiar woman assisting him. "Dr. Hooper and Ms. Charlotte, what on God's green earth has happened?"
Sighing as she shifted Mark's weight onto her shoulders, Lollie rolled her eyes, "What does it look like, Mr. Lancret? Mark has hurt himself. Now, I'd be grateful if you helped me take him to his room."
Mr. Lancret opened his mouth to readily comment on the intimate use of Mark's name, when the realization that perhaps once, aiding his guest was more important. He shut his mouth, and gave a collected and curt nod. "We'll need to head upstairs," he grumbled, taking his place on the other side of Mark's body. The journey up to their destination was a long and tiresome one, there is only so far one can hop without taking a break. Those moments were brief, with just enough time to allow Mark to catch his breath before they continued on.
While it was a rather silent affair, Lollie praised the manor every chance she got, which was a lot. Everything from the paintings on the walls to the plushness of the cushions resting on the sofas, nothing was left unnoticed. And yet, despite the constant chattering, the house seemed unnervingly quiet. Any sound briefly echoed before it was swallowed by the massive building.
Everyone was thankful when they reached the bedroom, with Mark releasing a particular loud sigh of relief as he finally sat on his bed.
Humming under her breath, Lollie fluffed the pillows around Mark before she faced the awkwardly standing butler. "I'll keep him company while you go get help."
"Are you sure that's wi-"
"There's no time for your dawdling, Mr. Lancret." Lollie loudly interrupted, crossing the room with a frown, "This man needs a doctor! And you best be on your way."
Any attempts at protesting were ignored as Lollie ushered the elderly man out of the room, whispering something until he resigned to his fate and went back into the nearest town, Bromwich.
Mark was unnaturally quiet during the exchange, not even making suggestions on how to tend to his foot, as being a doctor himself gave him plenty knowledge on the task. He was left rather dazed with an overpowering sense of fear, and was thankful that the two seemed unaware of his lopsided hair and moustache. Coyly he adjusted the articles, hoping no one would notice, specifically that the snow had made his shirt transparent in some patches.
He prayed that his bindings hadn't been shown, and had taken one of the many blankets on his bed, and covered his chest with it. If anyone asked about it, he resolved to say he was feeling chilled from the incident outside.
Closing the door, Lollie spun around to face Mark with a grin. "Finally, we're all alone."
Mark cleared his throat, trying to sit up straighter as he addressed the young woman, "Thank you, Lollie. Do you mind if I ask a question?"
"Oh, not at all," she responded, plopping down on the edge of the bed.
"What were you doing in those woods?"
"Ah, is that all? Nothing to do with my deepest, darkest secrets? Well, you see, I was on my way to this manor when I came across you."
"Yes, to visit Mr. Lancret. I have a gift for him." She placed the basket she still carried onto the bed, relaxing enough to let her shawl slip off as she pulled the small cloth covering the contents.
Mark leaned forward, "Jam?"
With a proud gleam in her eye, Lollie removed a jar from the basket, showing it to Mark. "Not just any simple jam, it's made from rose hip."
"Is that common around here?"
Lollie nodded, taking in the bedroom as she said, "It's where the manor gets its name, the grounds are absolutely covered in roses. Since my father is the local doctor, Mr. Lancret allows us to collect the fruit when it ripens in autumn. Since we generally preserve it as jam, we often give Mr. Lancret a couple of jars to help with his joints." Lollie turned back to him, finally done with taking the room in. "Now enough about me, do you mind if I ask questions about you?"
"Not at all, it's only right."
Glad to hear Mark's response, Lollie climbed to her feet and crossed the room to the dresser which was stacked high with books. "I didn't take you for a romantic, Dr. Hooper" Lollie giggled, removing one of the novels. It was the one Molly read about true love a couple of nights ago. Cursing himself for leaving the book out in the open, Mark heavily blushed as Lollie laughed at his expression, saying "Don't be embarrassed, I find it sweet. Not many men would admit to tender emotions, your wife must be very happy."
Looking away from the other's gaze, Mark mumbled out, "I'm not married."
"You aren't? But surely there's someone a man like you is courting?"
Ignoring the thought of Sherlock flashing wantingly, Mark forced himself to say, "No. My heart belongs to no one."
"Surely, you're jesting! You're a fine catch, anyone would be-" Lollie paused in her rummaging of the books, coming across a stack of old letters hidden in the middle of a journal. She picked one up, something Molly had read to herself this very same morning. After gently unfolding it she read a few lines before she turned around, "What is this?"
Mark was slow to explain the origins of the bits of paper, "I found the letters in the manor, and I've been trying to piece together who they belonged to."
Lollie's eyes flickered towards the letter in her hand before she quickly strolled to Mark's side, offering it to him, "Well go on, read it."
Despite the dread burrowing itself into his stomach, Mark accepted the letter with a perplexed expression. "I'm sorry?" Smiling in a way she hoped was comforting, Lollie reclaimed her seat on the edge of the bed, gesturing for Mark to read. It took a few seconds, but Mark eventually did that, husky voice shaking as he spoke aloud.
My dear beautiful Viola,
I met a strange man two days ago, something I had completely forgotten until now. I was strolling through the gardens we spent many a nights in, when I came across a man smelling some peonies.
I was content to walk around him when Eloise thought to introduce us, which at the time I was rather ill at ease, but now I am glad she persuaded me.
He had something of a toad appearance, but his clothing were tailored and of a rich quality. The name I came to know him by was, Mr. Allardice. I later felt ashamed of my initial unsavoury view towards him, as it became apparent he was a kind man. And to make things even better, Mr. Allardice is a publisher that always thirsts for a new story. Eloise mentioned that I had one stuffed away in my library, and Mr. Allardice said he would be content to read it, even more so if I wished to have it in print.
I am overcome with joy, Viola. That night Eloise and I dined enough to satisfy all of London. I cannot help but think your prayers helped me, my own angel.
"Do you think they lived in this house?"
Mark placed the letter to the side of the bed, "I know for a fact that Viola did. Though I'm not sure why both sets of the letters would be here, much less hidden away."
"Maybe it wasn't so much their communication that was secretive, as their relationship?"
Mark opened his mouth to comment on the idea, when the bedroom door swung open. A tall man stood in the door frame, with the same shade of red hair as Lollie, though the difference being grey peppered the sides of his. He carried a leather black bag in his hand, which immediately had Mark noticing the white medical symbol upon it.
"Father" Lollie said, immediately on her feet.
"Mark Hooper, my name is Dr. Welter. I hope my daughter wasn't pestering you." Dr. Welter said as he made his way to Mark's side, easy smile upon his lips.
"Not at all, she made sure that I never suffered a dull moment."
"She tends to do that. Now, I hear it's your foot that has been hurt?"
Mark nodded, "Yes, I believe I injured it on my way down. It's the left one."
Humming, Dr. Welter removed Mark's shoe and sock, and began to softly prob the skin. Taking note of the low whistle of misery that came from Mark as he did so, though this didn't stop him from slowly moving it around and asking of the threshold of pain. After a few moments he placed the foot back down on the bed, but not before taking a nearby pillow and putting it underneath.
"There's no cause for alarm, it's merely being twisted. It should be sore for a day or two, so I'd recommend staying off of it." He offered a small smile before he gathered his things and left, calling "Lollie" over his shoulder as he did so.
Quickly Lollie grasped Mark's hand and squeezed it, saying, "I hope we meet again under better circumstances." Her eyes lingered on his for a moment before she too collected her things and left the pathologist to rest. And soon as the door softly clicked shut, Molly frowned. She was uncertain how to process the events that had just transpired. To calm herself, she leaned towards the small table by the bed, picking up the letter Meena had sent her.
The familiar script and scent of lemons and cinnamon that wafted off of the papers was comforting, and eagerly Molly read the letter before she drifted to sleep.
My beloved friend,
While you packed for your trip, I wrote this letter, hoping to somehow instill the bravery I know you have. I'm a selfish woman, as already I wish you weren't going, but I know how much this means to you. So I want you to know, that despite the distance between us, I will always be your most loving friend.
Do not worry about him, as we both know how he hates change. He will not hear one word about your location from me, nor anyone if I have a say in it.
Please use this time to enjoy yourself, and delve deeply to find whom actually you are. As I know the question is a heavy burden for you.
I count the days until you return to me.
May 24th 1858
She was ashamed to say, but staring at Hugh's recent letter had a worm of envy crawling its way from her belly and up to her heart. There it burrowed deeply, until only terrible jealousy remained. Letting out a shaky sigh, she folded the letter back up and grabbed the corner chair, the one angled towards the window. She dragged it to the wardrobe, using it as a stool to place the letter on top of the large wooden furniture. The chair had mere seconds to be placed back in its rightful place when the door was knocked upon. "Come in."
Slowly it opened, "My lady, you're requested downstairs."
She rolled her eyes with a teasing smile, "Viola."
"Viola is my Christian name, Fredrick, and I would prefer it used."
Frederick Lancret's eyes darted to the side, unsure how to proceed with such declarations. After a moment he stuttered out, "B-but your husband would be rather cross if I used such familiar terms with you..."
Viola snorted, waving the comment away. "And?"
"And... I'd prefer to keep this occupation, madame."
Humming, Viola tapped at her chin with her pointer finger as she mulled these words over. Eventually smiling at the worried butler, she compromised with, "Perhaps Mrs. Viola? Just so it isn't so stuffy with lavish titles?"
Frederick began to reply, but was quickly cut off by a maid brushing past him. The familiar ashen locks had a shiver run down the length of his back, something that always happened when he was in the same room as Penelope. Gulping down the lump in his throat, he could barely get his legs to cooperate with him to slightly bend in a bow before he scurried away like the grim reaper was present. Only Viola paid him any attention, bemused by the sight as she turned to the maid before her.
"Sir Edmund wishes to see you in the dining hall, m'lady."
"Do you have the faintest idea why, Penelope?"
"I'm afraid not," the young maid glanced to her feet, "should I inquiry the reason?"
"There's no need now, and I certainly don't want to risk making him wait any longer." Smoothing over the peach paisley of her gown, Viola headed downstairs, maid shadowing her footsteps.
The entire manor was lively, filled to the brim with bustling bodies that had an endless amount of tasks that needed to be completed. The majority being the decoration of the building, walls were painted, rugs, furniture, clothing, and everything else you could think of were added to the contents of the house. All being supervised by Viola's mother-in-law to make sure it was in fashion, and nothing of poor taste. It had been found necessary for Viola's arrival, a new pilliar within her husband's family tree.
Personally the new wife hated it. Hated she had been forced to move in a home far from her family and friends. That even Hugh was becoming increasingly distant from her, but she couldn't help that, not after all she's done. Breezily she stepped around the swarming mass of staff, all too aware of their disheartened expressions. Everyone had to keep busy, if Sir Edmund saw anyone sitting down for a brief second, then all of hell would break loose.
The thought of him had a chill racing down her spine, dousing her in goosebumps as she walked down the staircase to the main floor, and anxiously made her way to the room he'd be waiting in. Taking in a deep breath, she schooled her face into a soft and easy smile, an expression that was oblivious and carefree. As if she didn't know of the horrors that took place in this home, a place where she was expected to live.
Penelope rushed around her, making sure she was the first to open the door and stand to the side. Viola cast her an appreciative smile, belittling the swoop in her stomach as she entered. Across from her, at the head of the table was her spouse.
Edmund was a large man, someone who commanded fearful respect at all times. A scowl was seemingly always pressed into his expression, leaving him to have a cold disposition to everything and everyone. Dressed in shades of black, Sir Edmund mechanically chewed his breakfast as he read from a letter.
Viola paused for a moment to behold him, eyes studying his face with sheer fascination only. She couldn't deny he was attractive, nor anymore could she say he wasn't cruel. A spidery moustache was upon his stiff upper lip, hair coloured in shadows, similar to that on his head. The only thing that seemed distant of monotone was his eyes, a blue made up of summer skies and wishful thinking. It was a waste to have something so gentle on this man's face.
She made her way to her seat, on the opposite end, already her breakfast placed before her. To her surprise, it was Frederick that pulled her chair out for her, and tucked her against the wood of the table. She had expected him to remain in some dusty corner of the house, sulking somewhere that Penelope wouldn't venture. Pitying the butler, she mumbled a soft "Thank you" with a sympathetic darting glance. She made sure to wait until he met her gaze, swallowing thickly as if he read her mind. After sharply bowing, he hurried to leave the two alone. Her thoughts of the young man were pulled away at the sound of crumpling paper.
"You must have had important things to tend to."
Viola frowned slightly, picking up her fork. "Nothing too arduous, the day has hardly started."
"That's a relief." Edmund stabbed an egg, intensity an opposite to his emotionless expression. "I was worried that you couldn't find time for your husband." Gaze fixated on his plate, he was ignorant of the sudden paleness of his spouse.
"Of course not." Viola said gingerly, watching as the egg's yolk oozed onto the white porcelain surface. Nausea upon her, she peered down at her own meal. Beside her bread was a baked smelt, the entirety of its body still intact. Although she favoured food from the sea, it wasn't welcomed in a moment like this.
"I'm glad to hear that. Anything else would be most unfortunate."
She set her fork down, grabbing a slice of bread to butter it. The pause in their conversation let her think of just how much her husband knew, was it possible that he found her letters? That she still kept in touch with her... with Hugh?
The thought had a shiver run along her spine. Edmund had a temper unmatched, and tended to not only get jealous easily but violently. If he ever found out about their continued correspondence... Well, she was afraid for Hugh's health. "My love," she said pleasantly with a smile, "I cannot bear a moment too long from your presence." A falsehood, but she hoped Edmund wouldn't notice. Often he thought highly of himself, so perhaps he wouldn't question her affection too much. "After all, this time is crucial for the beginning of our family."
He gave a nod, indifferent as he reached for the paper again. Thankful to his waning attention, Viola bit into the bread, eating for the sake of appearance. Forcing it down her throat in spite of her protesting stomach. The whole time while she ate, she couldn't help but be aware of the fish's cloudy eyes staring right at her.
The knowledge made her mouth bitter with the lurking taste of bile. Leaving the fish untouched, she was all too happy for a nameless maid to lean over her shoulder and take the dish away.
Picking up her napkin, she daintily dabbed at her mouth before setting it back on the table. "May I be excused?" Sir Edmund's hand gave a dismissive wave, preoccupied by the article.
Instantly a servant was behind her, pulling her chair back. She was unsure if it was Fredrick again, her mind was elsewhere. Making her pace comfortable, Viola exited the room and strolled down the long twisting corridor. After letting another servant pass by, and certain that no one was spying on her, she took a door that led to the gardens. The weather only a tad nippy outside, Viola didn't mind going without her shawl. Air sweetly scented with the nearby flowers, it made the churning of Viola's belly all the more worse. Taking the stone stairs down, she veered from the path leading along the property, and instead headed to the nearest bushes. Grabbing fistfuls of the vegetation, she vomited until everything she had eaten was gone from her body.
Cold from the breeze on her back, she gave a shudder before spitting one last time. Satisfied that she had gotten everything out of her system, she rightened herself. Hands now free from the bushes, she gave her gown a pat down, settling any creases. "God permit it'll rain." Her eyes turned heavenward. Viola wished terribly that all of the illness would be washed away. Not only that in the dirt, but the sickness in her husband... in her. Torso aching, she let out a sigh.
"Viola?" Startled, she spun around to see-
Molly's eyes opened, confused by the sight of the ceiling. Why wasn't she in the garden? She sat up in her bed, mustache barely hanging onto her upper lip. Where on earth... That's precisely when it all came back to her. She was Molly Hooper, a pathologist staying at the manor for holiday not the Lady of it.
Cursing under her breath, she laid down once more. Perhaps she shouldn't read those accursed letters before bed, not if they made her imagine being another woman. Speaking of her, poor Viola. Although her dream was already slipping from her memory, she could still clearly recall the sadness in the other's life. It mirrored her own far too closely to be forgotten. To be stuck in an unhappy marriage to that vile Edmund. Molly frowned. Strange she couldn't remember hearing that name before, but surely it was written down? Squinting for a second longer at the ceiling, she forced herself to sit back up, grabbing the letter from its place by her pillow.
Scanning the letter from last night proved no mention of the man's name; alarmed, Molly threw the covers off of her, wary of her foot and the worrying soreness of her torso. Hopping to the dresser, she opened the bottom drawer, and fished the letters from their hidden place under her blouses. Returning to her bed, she propped her foot up before skimming over the messages. But no mention of the name, only that Viola possessed a 'brute' husband.
Then where did I pluck Sir Edmund from? Molly thought with a knitted brow. She didn't get long to dwell on it, distracted by the knuckle rapping on her door.
"Dr. Hooper, it is morning. I am here to assist you in dressing."
"Shit," Molly cursed, tucking the letters under her pillow. "I-it's quite all right, Mr. Lancret. I'm more than able to get ready by myself."
"Sir, with your recent injury it would be inappropriate if-"
"Mr. Lancret," Mark cut off, "I'll be dressed in a moment. Please could you..." He took a steadying breath, ridding the panic in his voice. "...See if you could find a crutch or a... a cane? That would be far more helpful." Please just leave, Molly added. Hands slick with a nervous sweat, she desperately tried to make her mustache straight again.
The butler was silent for a moment, to the point where Molly fret he'd attempt to unlock the door and make his way inside. Thankfully, he submitted with a slightly annoyed "Of course, Dr. Hooper. I'll return with one shortly."
That gave Molly the time needed to hastily limp over to the dresser, peel her old clothes off. The process was slower than she would have liked, her chest ached terribly after leaving her bindings on overnight. She rewound them, giving herself more breathing space and then slipped into some loose clothing. Another knock at the door had her heart leaping into her throat. "Yes?" Mark called out, making sure that his wig was flat.
"I've retrieved a cane for you, sir. May I enter?"
Mark hopped over, letting the butler in. And immediately the cane was being offered into his hands. "Thank you," he mumbled, admiring the workmanship behind it. Made from hazel wood, it held a firm strength. The handle was fashioned out of brass and adorned with the images of roses. An obvious theme for the manor. He leaned his weight onto it.
"Naturally you are now mobile to walk around the estate, but someone will always be readily available in using the stairs."
"I presumed nothing less, Mr. La..." Mark blinked. "Excuse me, but did you say someone? Will Lollie or Dr. Welter be joining us?"
Mr. Lancret grimaced at the casual mentioning of the doctor's daughter, "No they shan't be visiting. My Master has business a town over, and has requested that other servants be added on, he wishes your stay here to be of the highest of quality."
"I... Will I be meeting my host?"
"Not in this manor, but you have been invited to a ball he'll be attending."
"Oh no, I couldn't possibly intrude." Honestly, what would be the point of all of this to solely gallivant around balls? Don't get her wrong, Molly fancied a ball here and there. She may not be asked to dance a lot, but they were pleasant enough if Meena was present. "And besides, I'm hardly in any state to dance."
"No one would fault you to refuse a lady's whims, sir. However, my Master is quite eager to at least converse with you. That requires no standing."
The pair fell silent, staring at one another. Mark slowly said, "If my gracious host wishes my support of the ball, I will gladly join. However, I don't want to offend his company with my plain garments."
Mr. Lancret smiled, verging on a smirk. Frustration rose within Mark. "Such trivial concerns have been dealt with, Dr. Hooper. My Master has already made arrangements." God, that statement had Molly breaking out into a cold sweat.
An hour later, Mark stood alongside Mr. Lancret on a sidewalk, staring at a store's sign.
Emersons' Tailor Shop
Mark swallowed down a curse, praying that the building would miraculously catch on fire. To his dismay, nothing of the sort happened. He turned to the butler, "Will a suit really be complete by the time of the ball?"
Mr. Lancret scoffed, "Mr. Emersons is a fine tailor, sir, but he is no magician. He will not be able to create a finely made suit from thin air." Molly bit the inside of her cheek hard, nearly cursing the man out. "My Master tends to be..." Lancret pondered over the correct word "unpredictable. He sometimes chooses to make appearances near this area, and requires fashionable attire at hand constantly. The local tailor had a suit made up already in the case of one of these moments."
"Roughly you're around Master's size, so we're only here to make some minor adjustments. Now, are we ready to enter, sir?"
Mark gave a nod; Molly still hoped the building would erupt in flames, but now with Mr. Lancret in it.
Meanwhile, in London
Arms burdened with a heavy bin of linens, Meena trudged to the laundry room. She set it down with a large groan, placing a hand to her lower back. Usually days spent at the hospital have been tiresome but bearable, however, she found with her friend's absence the days seemed to never end. She started wishing she never encouraged Molly to go on the trip, but later felt guilty. If anyone deserved some peace and quiet, it was her. And if that meant Meena had to suffer until she got back, well, it was time she pulled her knickers up. But that didn't stop her from missing the timid girl terribly.
Miffed at her foolishness, she began her work, dumping the linens into a large tub. Taking water from the boiler, she carefully poured it inside, and then grabbed a washboard and bar of soap. Sighing as she picked up her first cloth, she scrubbed at a stain left from spilt soup. Fixated on her work, she didn't hear the door behind her opening up until it was too late. Warm breath on her neck, Meena whirled around. Clutching the cloth as a makeshift whip, she struck out at what she reasoned was a demon straight from hell. Instead, she hit Sherlock in the face with the sopping fabric.
Swearing, he stumbled back, bumping into Dr. Watson. To be fair, she wasn't too far off.
"Good heavens! How could you sneak up on a lady like that?!"
A bewildered John went to check Sherlock's face, but his hand was slapped away. "Ms. Meena." Sherlock snarled, upon her in an instant. Mood considerably worsened than its already poor state, Sherlock towered over the nurse, face streaked with a red line.
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes." Meena snapped back, resting a hand on her hip. "I won't apologize for acting in self defence. Were you raised by some ghouls? Who taught you to creep around like that!?"
Sherlock scoffed, about to say a scathing comment when the sensible John Watson intervened. After all, he wasn't in the spirit to see his stubborn friend be beaten to a pulp. He cleared his throat, eyeing how Meena tightly held onto the bar of soap. "I'm sorry for the rude interruption, Ms. Meena, but we're looking for Dr. Hooper."
Meena's eyes slid over to him, "Dr. Hooper?"
"Yes," Sherlock spat with a sneer, "we're quite aware of how fond you two are of each other."
Decidedly Meena ignored him, eyes only on the blonde doctor. "I'm afraid he isn't here, is everything all right?"
"My company was hop-"
Unable to be forgotten any longer, Sherlock stepped forward. "I won't tolerate that moron in his place, so tell me where Hooper is."
Finally Meena's gaze met his, "He isn't here, that's all I can tell you." They bore into the other's eyes, mirrored expressions of dislike. Sherlock was the first to break away, favouring to lazily look the nurse's appearance over.
"Ms. Meena, you're dedicated to your work, but you've been reprimanded numerous times." He took a step closer, "Unmarried, lonely, and too fond of sweets." Meena's teeth ground together, the bastard knew how upset she was with her weight. "You spend your time frequently with Hooper to appear more intelligent than you actually are, for a sense of superiority over your fellow nurses."
"Um, Holmes..." John whispered harshly. He knew too well when war was about to break out, and going by Ms. Meena's face, it was going to be a bloody one.
"Right," Meena snorted, embracing the challenge. "If you're so bloody intelligent, Mr. Holmes, then why don't you-"
"...Sherlock, we really best be leaving."
"Figure your own character out, and admit the truth."
Sherlock cocked his head, "And what would that be?"
"You're even more miserable and lonely than I am and..." She bridged the distance between them, whispering into the consulting detective's ear, "hopelessly in love with my Hooper." When Meena pulled away, Sherlock was staring at her like she'd grown a second head. There was a blankness about him, that halfheartedly she became concerned that he was broken. She squashed the feeling.
"Sherlock, I think we're done here." John grabbed his friend's sleeve, dragging him away. "I'm sorry about everything, Meena." He tipped his hat towards her with his free hand. Still frowning at the detective, she nodded.
Blinking out of his stupor, Sherlock yanked himself free and brushed off his coat, shoving the wooden doors open. Dr. Watson gave one last apologetic smile before he chased after the sulking man.
"Good riddance." Meena snatched the cloth from the floor, and tossed it back into the tub. Grabbing a new one, she scrubbed hard at a bed sheet, wondering how long it'd take until she committed murder.
Chapter 6: Will I Measure Up?
Chapter by BookishTea
Thank you everyone for the lovely comments, I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas(holiday season).
This is my gift to all of you. :-)
Mark stared at the wall directly across from him, sweat on his brow as a lanky man leaned into his personal space. He circled the pathologist, offering an occasional hum. Mark had never been more terrified. Finally the tailor took a step back, “Well,” he grunted, “you’re short.”
Mark’s lips twitched with the need to pout, “And?” It was hard for Molly to reject the sudden desire to fight this man, even if she thought she’d win.
Mr. Lancret sighed from his spot by a mannequin, “My Master isn’t. New trousers will have to be made up.” In response to that statement, Mr. Emersons plucked the tape measure ribbon from around his neck and checked the length of Mark’s leg.
“As I thought,” he said, pulling away, “at least a four inch difference.” Mark glanced from the tailor to Mr. Lancret, “Will it take long to get something else?”
Mr. Emersons shrugged, climbing to his feet. “It may. I’ll have to check the back first. We’ll worry about that later, please lift your arms, sir.” Mark swallowed, but did as the man asked. His heart beat loudly in his ears, a drum that threatened to drive him mad.
While Mr. Emersons leaned in close, wrapping the ribbon around Mark’s chest, the pathologist looked to the side - profusely resting his weight on his good foot. God, Molly was sweating so much. But even with the terror of her secret getting out looming right in front of her, she couldn’t help but peek at the man’s face. Wondering what he thought, if he’d say anything while Mr. Lancret was in the room. The ribbon was drawn tight, and the tailor mumbled out the measurement. He looked up, making their eyes meet. And in that moment Molly knew, knew that the old Mr. Emersons understood why she was filled with helpless terror. They stared at each other a second longer, and before she could interpret the meaning behind it, he was asking her to hold her hands out straight.
Still trying to compose herself, an unnerved Molly did just that. Flabbergasted at the other’s lack of interest, of outrage, she silently stood there as her arms were measured. Mr. Emersons cleared his throat, now addressing the pair, “I’ll make the suit up as soon as I can, but it’ll be done near the ball’s start. I’ll have it sent with haste, gentlemen.”
“Thank you Mr. Emersons, you’ve been a great deal of help to Dr. Hooper and my Master. We shan’t forget this.”
The tailor sniffed, “Think of it all in the past.” He considered Mark as he said that last part, soothing his frazzled nerves. Gently Mark nodded, relieved by the generosity of the man’s action. Or better yet, lack of.
“Come Dr. Hooper, we’ll return to manor for rest before the festivities begin.” Following after the butler, Mark gave one last appreciative glance to the tailor on the way out. Maybe if everyone was as sympathetic as this man, the night wouldn’t go as terribly.
“In love?” Sherlock repeated to himself, finding his leisure reading interrupted once again by the memory of today’s happening. Ms. Meena’s inferior mind and its reasoning were revealed in full with that comment. Sherlock scoffed as he picked his copy of The Count of Monte Cristo back up, “I’m in love with that stubborn Hooper? Ridiculous!” He read another line of text before he became distracted by the accusation again.
What a preposterous notion, that he had intimate feelings for the man in between all of his important work. Sherlock stood up, letting his book slip from his grasp and onto his chair as he grabbed his pipe from a table. Shaking his head in disbelief, he added some more tobacco before he reached inside his robe’s pocket. Withdrawing a small box of matches, he struck once before he lit the top layer(of the tobacco). "Absurd," he mumbled between puffs, "absolutely absurd."
He waved the match out, then tossed it onto the table; free hand casually placed in his robe pocket, Sherlock strolled over to the parlour's large windows. He exhaled, smoke slithering from his mouth as he stared out onto the street.
It wasn't that Mark Hooper wasn't an attractive man, in fact, it was the opposite. Often Sherlock found himself comparing the pathologist's visage to the rest of St. Bartholomew's staff. He had pleasant enough features with a pair of handsome eyes, a tad short, but nothing too debilitating. For the most part, Sherlock could spend a great deal of time in the other man's presence, and no doubt Hooper was competent in his work. All aspects that Sherlock favoured immensely.
He thought about it longer, it was true that they tended to argue, but that didn't mean Sherlock held any form of dislike. Just look at his friendship with Dr. Watson, even on amicable terms they fought constantly! Sherlock sniffed, "I couldn't be in love with Hooper, I don't have the time for it." He put the pipe's bit into his mouth, contemplating the dexterity of Hooper's hands and the countless times Sherlock had seen them in a corpse's guts. The profile of his face and the sweat on his brow when he broke a rib cage open, how beads would trail down his throat and-
Sherlock coughed loudly, chasing the smoke encircling his head away like that would somehow also clear his cloudy mind. "Ridiculous" he mumbled to himself. It was pointless considering any of Ms. Meena's opinions.
....hopelessly in love with my Hooper.
Sherlock pursed his lips, if anything he had more of a claim than that fickle nurse. Annoyed of the impact of that woman's words on his life, Sherlock closed his curtains, casting the parlour in darkness.
Mark sat down with a sigh at his desk, overwhelmed by the stacks of paper and journals. He leaned back in his chair, briefly closing his eyes as he contemplated where he should start. He eventually settled on the journal he started recently, as proper etiquette with corpses is of grave importance. The introduction had already been written; Mark tapped his pen on his chin, trying to find out a way to put all his thoughts on paper. He started a new chapter, labeling it: Crimes of Passion, the section would centre around victims of a violent demise.
He spent the next several hours working on his scientific journal, underlining the need for the common man to forget proprieties and to leave a corpse undisturbed for Scotland Yard. He was sure Lestrade would appreciate that commentary. Mark dropped his pen onto the desk, flexing the muscles in his cramped hand.
"Time for a break." Mark hummed, casting one last glance around the room. As he recalled, his last writing session had been delayed by the discovery of the letters. Speaking of such, Mark - rather Molly, had a theory about that. With the help of his cane, Mark walked to the entrance of the room where a wire hung by the wall. He gave it a pull, waiting a few seconds before he returned to his seat.
In a few moments Mr. Lancret entered, "Yes, sir?"
"I didn't mean to bother you, but I had a question."
Mr. Lancret straightened himself, interest piqued, "Of course, Dr. Hooper. What is the inquiry?"
"Well..." Mark looked around the lab. "I had these rolls of diagrams I wanted to store, but I didn't want to clutter any corners. Do you have any furniture I can use for storage?"
Mr. Lancret's brows knit together, mulling this over. "...Any furniture...?" He mumbled to himself.
"A wardrobe, if you have one?" Mark offered.
Finally the butler said, "There isn't one downstairs, but we have several in the rooms above. I'm not sure what use they'll do, they're far too heavy to carry down to your lab. Even if we both tried lifting them."
Excitement building within, Mark attempted to diminish how outwardly happy he was with the turn of events. "Would I be able to take a look?" Unsure Mr. Lancret glanced over his shoulder, like the disapproving ghosts of the manor would be glaring over his shoulder.
"I cannot see the harm, they are in fact beautiful pieces."
Eagerly Mark nodded, standing up. "My thoughts exactly, maybe you should take me to them now?" Reluctantly Mr. Lancret relented. Leading Mark to the main staircase, he offered an elbow and helped his guest up to the second level.
As they touched the landing, Mark inquired, "Are any of the them near windows?" He was worried that he said the wrong thing, as Mr. Lancret turned his head in bewilderment. "So they're easier to see," he quickly explained, "with the lighting."
Guardedly Mr. Lancret took Mark to a door at the very end, he fished through his trouser pockets and took out a large ring with an assortment of keys. Wordlessly, he flipped through them until he chose a large brass key adorned with swirling lines. He slipped it into the lock, filling the tense air with a loud clicking noise. Gripping the door handle, he then opened it. And all of the hair on Mark's arms rose on end at the rusty hinges squealing. Mr. Lancret gestured for him to go first. A stone of fear in his belly, Mark crossed the threshold. His immediate reaction was to sneeze, there was dust everywhere in the small room. "My master's mother tended to have headaches, so she would often retire here."
Mark frowned as the butler walked past him, "Why pick a room so tiny?" Mr. Lancret pulled the curtains open, dousing everything in daylight.
"She was a very private and melancholy woman."
Blinking until his eyes adjusted, Mark asked, "And where are all of her things?" For the most part everything was gone, only a few odd bits of furniture remained. The fireplace took up a majority of the space, leaving barely enough of an area to fit the left behind wardrobe, chair and vanity.
"My master was very fond of his mother, most of her possessions are in his main residence. Now do you have a good en-"
"Do you mind going to my lab?" Mark cut off with an appeasing smile, "I could use my notebook for the dimensions. The one with a green ribbon." They stared at each other until Mr. Lancret relented, restraining himself from scowling. Silently, he stalked out of the room. Springing into action, Molly dragged the chair to the wardrobe as quickly as she possibly could. It was difficult with her foot and the cane, but she managed. The hard part was mounting the chair, and standing on one foot's point to blindly search the top, but she somehow did that too.
"Come on..." Molly whispered, ears straining to hear if any footsteps were approaching. Her heart stopped when she touched something, grasping it, she brought it down. A letter, worse off than the others, it was crumpled to a wad. She pressed into the side of the furniture, smoothing it out until it was semi-decent. Hurriedly she then folded it and put it in her trouser pocket. Shoes on the floorboard echoed down the hallway. Breathing heavily, Molly got down and put everything in its place.
Mr. Lancret arrived empty-handed. "Dr. Hooper it isn't in the lab, are you certain you placed it there?"
"What? Wher-" Mark cursed, "The forest! Did no one retrieve it?" Although it wasn't expensive, it held a great deal of importance to Molly. Meena had bought it for her birthday.
"Ms. Charlotte assured me she would, perhaps she hasn't had time to simply return it?"
"Maybe." Mark couldn't help the doubt from entering his voice.
"If necessary I could always purchase a new one for you, we can discuss that at a later date. We still have to get you ready for the ball, I've received notice that your suit is complete."
"Indeed, my Master is quite looking forward to meeting you."
Islesbury was a bustling town, and nothing was more apparent of that than the town hall. Carriage pulling up to the building, Molly had moments to breathe in before Mr. Lancret opened the door and climbed out. Gladly Mark accepted the butler's hand. Shoes hardly hitting the cobblestone, already Mr. Lancret was brushing his shoulders free of invisible dust with a cloth.
He was wearing a dark maroon slim double-breasted suit, and as beautiful as it was, it drew attention. Something that Molly couldn't afford having. "I look like a peacock," Mark grumbled.
Mr. Lancret sniffed loudly, glimpsing other guest's outfits as they passed by. "A fine looking one, sir. Now shall we head in? We should be meeting my Master in a reserved study, it should be plenty quiet there."
Walking together they trailed after the others and entered the building. Everywhere you went the lights were bright and people tried to speak over one another. It was utter madness. If Molly had it her way she wouldn't even be here, she'd be back at the manor with her books. Instead she ignored the stares she inevitably got, and anxiously followed her companion through the twisting halls and past the grand room where already dancing had started. As they walked by, Molly couldn't help but get a glimpse of the happy couples. In between all of the guests and twirling dresses, Molly thought she saw Lollie standing in a corner - conversing with another young lady, but she couldn't be certain.
The longer they walked, the fainter the sound of people became. It was present, but nearly not as bad. They ultimately arrived to find a strong looking man standing in front of a door. Although dressed well, his clothes were simpler than the other guests. Nodding in familiarity at Mr. Lancret, the gentleman moved to the side to open it. Mark started to walk in then paused, "Aren't you coming?"
Mr. Lancret shook his head, "Your discussion inside is private, sir. I'll be waiting here until your return." Mark gulped, and with a coldness running through his body, he headed inside. The door softly closed behind him.
Reclining before a fireplace on a sofa was a young man reading a book of sorts. When he looked up, Molly was visibly dismayed.
"H-hello, I'm Mark Hooper."
The man stood up when Mark crossed the distance between them, and grinned when he was offered a hand. He didn't take it. Instead, he tilted his head, gaze devouring the sight of the pathologist. "You wore it."
"I-I... Pardon?" Mark blinked at the deep Irish lilt.
"Oh, I... Yes, yes I am. T-thank you for that." Breathe Molly breathe! But it was hard to do that when she noticed what he wore; a form-fitted dark grey suit. Even without the bold colour he looked incredibly dashing in it. Amused by her panicking, he took another step closer, ignoring the fact that he breached her personal space as he fingered her jacket's lapel.
"It fits you rather well."
"I.." Molly - er, Mark tore his eyes from those intimating dark ones, determined to forget the warmth radiating through the fabric by that simple connection. Or how wonderful this strange man smelt, a bittersweet mixture of gun powder, apples, and pepper. Best never breathe again.
Her tormentor dropped his hand, leaving Molly to feel oddly disappointed. "Jim Moriarty," he said over his shoulder, strolling over to the sofa and plopping back down. Jim patted the seat next to him, "Come, rest from your trip. I won't bite too hard... At first..."
Mark chewed on his bottom lip, trying to stay as physically far away as possible. He took the chair across from Jim's, nerves appeased only momentarily. Seated, Molly noticed the book Jim had been reading was her missing journal.
"I've been waiting for this chat, Mark Hooper."
Chapter 7: Mr. Spence & Mrs. Clarke
Chapter by BookishTea
“I-is that...?” Recovering from her surprise, immediately Molly corrected herself, lowering her pitch a few octaves. “My journal?” Mark swallowed, watching as a slow grin crawled across his proprietor’s face. A chill rushed down Mark’s spine, causing him to shudder.
“It is.” Thoughtfully Jim eyed the book’s cover, “I haven’t changed the bindings.” His dark eyes met Mark’s, raising a brow as he said, “I would have thought you’d recognize what belonged to you.” Harshly his companion bit his bottom lip, irritation tempered by confusion and an instilled polite nature. Deciding it was perhaps better not to curse at the man leasing Mark’s current housing, he pointedly resolved to change tactics.
“Sir, may I?” Quietly he held out a hand, hoping his expression looked placid. Jim contemplated it for a second, taking the time to open the journal and flip through a couple of pages. Brows furrowing, Mark gradually dropped his hand into his lap.
“You know,” Jim drawled as he inspected a particular sketch of Mr. Spence. A favourite at the mortuary, the corpse of a late tosher - who had lost his life and head when the tunnel he’d been working in collapsed. The drawing was one of Molly’s, something she had pride in. Staring at this man, she wondered whether all of those meticulous details and hours spent were lost. "This has been very informative."
"I'm glad I could impart some education, w-was... were you fond of a particular entry?" Apparently pleased with the question, Jim crossed a leg over another, thumbing a messily jotted note.
"I'll tell you," he started, closing the journal after a moment, "how I got so much... pleasure from this piece of literature." Mark's eyes darted to the book, not willing to directly look at the smirk being given. The emotion behind it was far too discerning, as if this complete stranger could see into Molly's soul, and wanted to devour what he saw. She had never been the most pious woman, never attended religious rituals asides from the occasional holiday mass. However in this instance, Molly wished she had a rosary to hold onto. She feared this devil, and the forbidden temptations it dangled before her. "If you give me something in exchange."
"Sir I.." Mark took a second to breathe, "I don't have much. I'm sure what little coin I hav-" Jim cut him off with a dismissive wave.
"Don't be obvious. What I want to know is," he abruptly bent forward, whispering "who you enjoyed most" as if they were long time conspirators.
Mark blankly blinked before catching on, "What corpse did I find the most likable...? I um..." After giving it a thought, he answered honestly. "Mr. Spence is a close second, but I'm fond of Mrs. Clarke, page twenty-two." Jim naturally opened the journal again, moving to the aforementioned page. Pasted to it was a photograph of an elderly woman, visage appearing to be sleeping. "Wolfsbane" Mark explained, incapable of meeting the other's gaze.
"And this one holds a special place in your heart?"
"I'm not sure of the best way to phrase this, but I find it reassuring. How even with the miraculous advancement of the world around us, how terrifying it all is, that simply touching a plant with an open wound can end your life. Mrs. Clarke reminds me of that... she'd be turning sixty-five this year." When Mark finally found the courage, he became breathless from the smile awaiting him. Back home in London, it was hard to find someone who was interested in what he had to say. The common gent found Mark's topics too dismal, and Meena - wonderful Meena had enough grey in her life. The only plausible person to share his interests with was Sherlock, but they were never in the same room long enough before wanting to cut the other's throat. That left only the corpses, who Molly would defensively add if ever asked, were immensely good listeners. The dead couldn't comment on her being a spinster wearing a silly moustache.
"Incredible." It was startling to see that this man earnestly meant it, and in fact held a forthright attentiveness in Mark's words. It was refreshing. "It's very disappointing."
Jim shook his head, gaze off to the side in thought. "How I've met such a delightful person only now, it's off putting." His attention snapped back to Mark, "It doesn't matter. Now that we've met, I want to" he broke into another gut-wrenching grin, "gobble up every thought in that curious head of yours." Mark then became alarmed when Jim stood up, crossing the space between them and balanced precariously on the armrest of the chair. Before Mark could question this man's logic, he was stunned by a warm hand being placed on his thigh. Instinctively Mark gulped, mouth dry. The touch was nothing if not gentle, but in Mark's mind it weighed a ton, pinning him in place like a butterfly for observation.
Jim casually drummed his fingers, breath blowing onto Mark's neck when he sighed. Molly wanted to squirm, unsure what to do now with this strange energy. It had been manageable moments ago, at least then there had been some space in between them. But now she feared that if she moved the slightest, those fingers would slide further up her leg. And to her shame, she found a desire to do so. It was a small idea, sincerely she hadn't the faintest clue where it came from - maybe she'd been without the company of another for far too long, but she immediately crushed it.
As if sensing her inner debate, Jim's vexing digits crept along Molly's leg to her inner thigh. Dark eyes studying her reaction, and more accurately her lack of breathing, he stopped to rub his thumb along the clothed flesh. Teasingly he offered a promise with his stare, and sooner than Molly could expect he gave her a squeeze before he moved away. "As much as I've enjoyed this conversation, it's been rather one-sided." He sat down on his own seat once more, resting his head on his hand, "Aren't you curious?"
"I..." Mol- Mark, needed a second to compose himself before he could even think of responding. This man was clearly a devil, sent from the deepest pits of hell to personally torment Mark. He was sure of it.
And although the option to distract himself with an inquiry was wholly welcomed, it was a bit perplexing as to where to start. The questions he had, the ones that came promptly to mind, were intrusive. He didn't imagine finding much success in properly phrasing them, much less bringing the poor topic up. The best he could aspire to was:
Sir, when I ought to have been working on medical articles, I instead took the time to pilfer through your familial belongings. During one of these excursions, I came upon a series of letters in which I discovered that your late mother was having a torrid affair with another man. If you do in fact have knowledge of this, I would be inclined to learn more of the individual I know as, Hugh. Also, do you mind if I continue to read them? No, that didn't sound good. He decided to step into safer grounds, although still mystifying.
"Sir, how did you come across my journal?" Yes, that was far better.
"That's it?" Jim frowned, "Of all the inquiries, that is the one you choose to ask?"
"Yes." Mark tried to not let the other's disappointment affect him too much, he had to be firm.
"Very well. It was given to me."
"I don't mean to suppose anything about your statement, sir, but is that it?" Mark's brows knitted together, "If that is the case, then do you mind me asking who gave it to you?"
"It was one of my servants, he'd come across it in a young woman's possession. You see, Dr. Hooper, things that enter Rose Point have a habit of coming back."
Young w- Mark perked up, "Sir, was that woman named Charlotte? A Ms. Charlotte Welter?" Indifferent, the man across from Mark shrugged.
"I don't hold any knowledge of a name, I didn't find it striking, so it wasn't necessary to learn."
"H-how... it wasn't important to you?" The thought was irksome, but it became pointless when Mark realized he wouldn't be getting much more out of the subject. "Mr. Moriarty, I understand that I hardly know you, but perhaps if I became educated on your character I could fully accept this situation."
"You want to appreciate more of my nature?" Mutely, Mark nodded, unsure how this response would develop. Jim's nose crinkled, which Mark was thankful to notice wasn't directed at him, but at the surrounding room. There had been care into making it up, but it was of last year's fashion - Molly found it handsome, but chose not to say such. Disdain obvious, Jim returned his attention to Mark with a chagrin pout. "I'll tell, but not in this hideous study. We'll talk again at a later date," he climbed to his feet, movement having Mark hastily doing the same. Sauntering to where the apprehensive pathologist stood, he continued with, "then you can fully dissect me." His gaze dropped to Mark's lips, smirk spreading across his face. "I expect to witness the entirety of your skills, Dr. Hooper." Mark found himself incapable of making any comment. Satisfied Jim stepped away, saying "It was a pleasure to meet you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening's festivities." He gave a slight nod, and Mark took the cue.
Feet unsteady, Molly left without a backwards glance. She knew even then that he stared after her, image having her ears roaring with her heartbeat. A curious Mr. Lancret held his position by the door, opening his mouth to comment on her expression, but she hurried past him. This building's atmosphere was suffocating, but more importantly she needed some distance to think. She wasn't certain where she was, taking random turns in the hallways until she finally took the right door and made it outside.
The chill of the night was heavy, causing Molly to break out into a series of shivers. Still, she gulped down the dry air, praying it would ease the panic. She had only met one other man of that intensity, Sherlock, but he never looked as closely as Mr. Moriarty did. Never wanted to feed on her like Jim. Absently she rubbed at her arms, blaming the goosebumps underneath the jacket on the cold. It was worse because a small horrid part of her wanted that, to be consumed.
"That was no man," she whispered staring into the nothingness of the sky, "he was a beast in human clothing."
"He often has that response." Words of terror caught in her throat, Molly spun around to face the person she hadn't noticed in her daze. He was tall, reasonably the same height as Sherlock. Leaning against the brick of the wall, he casually inhaled from his cigarette.
"Moriarty" the stranger exhaled, smoke slithering from his parted lips. "He tends to get reactions like that" he nodded to Mark, "from people. Especially at a first meeting." Wetting his lips, he peered at Mark, turning a notion over in his head. Coming to a conclusion, he offered his cigarette. Now Molly wasn't the keenest on smoking, it tended to give her an awful headache. But she needed to be rid of the edge. She took it, inspecting it before she rose the cigarette to her chapped lips. A first time of sorts, she inhaled far too eagerly and hence broke out into a ghastly coughing fit. Her company accordingly patted her back, solid smacks that had her reeling. He plucked his cigarette out of her hand, returning it to his mouth. After a few straying coughs, Molly peered up, eyes hazy with tears.
She had to admit that he was charming, form strong and sturdy with years of physical work. The manner in which he acted reminded her of a solider, a man who had experienced untold tragedy in battle and was calm in it's presence. The rest of his features were neat, blonde hair slicked back and his stubble cut short. The greatest hint of his status was his clothes, a suit that although well-made was plain. It didn't allude high class like the rest of the other guest's outfits, and it wasn't of a servant's quality.
"I'm sorry, I've lost my sensibility. My name is Mark Hooper." Molly held her hand out, smiling softly.
"I know." He took one last drag before he flicked his cigarette onto the ground.
"...you know?" Her stranger rolled his neck, heedlessly cracking it.
"Yes, and I'd head in shortly if I were you. Mr. Lancret is a handful when upset." He offered no other comment, just patiently waited until Molly reluctantly headed inside. She couldn't help but feel that he'd been sent to watch over her, like a guard dog making sure she didn't venture too far.
The sooner she could find Mr. Lancret the better, only then would Molly be able to leave. The thought of returning to her quiet bedroom the motivator to her pace, eyes rapidly scanning the rooms for the familiar form. Playing the quite real part of a fool, helplessly she made her way through the building. What persons she asked about her missing butler, had either apologized for a lack of acquaintance, or took in Molly's appearance with disregard. She tried to not let it get to her, she was a strange outsider from London. And what interest they could possibly have, mainly the latest fashion and drama that came from the city life, would never been fulfilled by her; she was boring.
"Mark!" At least to some. It wasn't at all a surprise to see Lollie, standing shyly with a crystal sherry glass to her chest. From the colour of the contents, and the flush to the young woman's cheeks, Molly was certain it was wine. "How unexpected to meet like this." She hooked an arm around Mark's, stealing him away to a dark corner. Gaze drifting down his body, she smiled, "You're dressed handsomely tonight." The nearby candles flickered, shadows dancing across her face.
"Thank you" Mark mumbled, still looking for the caretaker. The sound of Lollie sighing had him redirecting his attention. "Are you alright?" He received a pout in response.
"Hardly. Aren't you going to return the favour?"
"Oh, um." Not wishing to insult his company any further, Mark examined the other's attire. Her hair was knotted into a chignon, held in place with an ivory clip. While her pale daffodil gown was elegant, sleeves long and ruffled at the ends. With a white sash tied around the waist, the pattern of oak leaves were adorned. It was beautiful. "Y-you're splendid this evening."
Lollie giggled lightly, taking the other's expression as admiration instead of jealousy; Molly could never hope to own such pretty things, not with her allowance. "Mr. Hooper you are a flirt." She glanced over her shoulder, elated when the hall was filled with the beginning strung of a song. Two lines of guests had started to form, signalling the start of a dance. "Do you mind?"
"I'm..." Injured foot or not, Molly had never been graceful. Often she tripped over thin air; "I'm afraid I'm not in my best condition." Lollie's face fell. Feeling awful at the sight, Mark grasped Lollie's gloved hand, reassuringly giving it a pat. "There's no need to fret, it won't be hard finding another partner."
"Are you sure you can't manage one waltz?" Mark shook his head. "Right, well I expect you to at least watch." She took a step back, "To see what you'll miss out on."
Warily Mark watched as Lollie glided across the floor, joining a line with an impish countenance. He let out a sigh, taking to leaning against a wall. His release seemed nowhere in sight, "Mr. Lancret, where are you..?"
Resting a hand on the mantle, Jim continued to stare into the fireplace as the door behind him closed. "Well?" He broke out into a frown at the lack of response, hearing only someone roughly sitting onto the sofa.
"Well?" A voice eventually said, parroting the word in a gruff tone. Exasperated, Jim spun on his heel.
"Come now, dear Sebastian. What did you think?"
The man in question leaned heavily on his seat, impassivity it's fullest as he wiped some soot from his trousers. "He can't smoke for shite."
Jim rolled his eyes, "And is that all you noticed?"
"And..." Sebastian paused, "he's a short thing, soft. Seemed in a fit over you." He crossed his arms, "Nothing unusual with that."
"No... no, right you are." He reached a hand out to the mantle, drumming his fingers on the marble. Tonight had been refreshing, Mark Hooper was far more interesting then he let on. A smirk pulled on Jim's lips, recalling the pathologist's mixed emotions. But he wasn't here for that, Hooper had been a dessert - one he had yet to properly savor. And he planned on doing exactly that, but work had to be completed first. "And our guest, how is he?"
"Paid his debts off, but not his sins. Which reminds me, your bloke said a comment."
Jim's brows knitted together, "Who?"
"Hooper." The drumming stopped. Sebastian took the interlude to say, "He considers you a beast rather than a man." Jim broke out into a dark chuckle, stuffing his hands into his trousers.
"...He isn't wrong."
Grumbling Mark climbed into a carriage, thankful to be at last leaving for the manor. Mr. Lancret followed him in, silent as he closed the door. He hadn't made any inquiries about Mark's meeting, or had given an explanation as to where he went, only stiff apologizes. It led Mark to the conclusion to let it go, that maybe the mystery of the ball would be staying with the building. It was wishful thinking, as he would learn in the coming days.
Tired by the irrational events, Mark stared out of the carriage's window, looking after the town hall as they moved down the road. The wind howled in the distance, shrieks lulling Mark into a fevered sleep.
Tosher: a person who would sift through raw sewage for any valuables that would have fallen down a drain. Highly dangerous - tunnels crumbled, fumes, rats, etc., it became illegal after 1840 for people to access the sewers without permission. Toshers typically got past this by working late at night and through the early morning.
When Molly opened her eyes, she knew she wasn’t in the carriage, or even the manor anymore. She breathed in sharply, crossing her arms as she glanced around the room, slowly backing up into a corner. She wasn’t bothered by death, but this… she didn’t know what this was.
The dance hall she had been in hours before was now a warped version of itself, cast in shadows, the sole lighting was from the many candles that littered every available surface. The heat from them had her dosed in sweat, and so she turned her head to her side, watching a candle from an overhead chandelier drip wax onto a man wearing a crow mask. From here she could see the smoke hissing and the smell of burning flesh. Swallowing, she looked away. How was she going to escape this nightmare? Just as the thought entered her mind, a voice called out.
"Don't you look divine tonight." Cautiously, she peered to see who it was.
Jim stood beside her, grinning as he looked her up and down.
"I..." The words caught in her throat. Like herself Jim was without a mask, he didn't need to wear one to look like a monster, it was his natural form. Admittedly, he was very handsome, dressed in a black tail coat, crimson silk vest, and black tie and trousers. What was strange about this man, was that on either side of his perfectly coiffed head of hair, there were two black horns protruding. If she could manage to look past that detail for even a second, she still couldn't ignore the bat wings adorning his back. As if they noticed her stare, they boastfully rippled. To make up for the awkward silence, she glanced down at her own body, curious as to her attire.
Her horned company chuckled at her scandalized reaction, watching as she tried to pull her outfit down, to cover more of her legs. If she didn't die from the ghouls, she was going to die from her own regretful indiscretion. She stood with no shoes, in a white cotton and lace detailed night gown. It was several inches shorter than it ought to have been, proudly showing off her bare legs. Not only was it disgraceful, but utterly unfitting of their current whereabouts. She was surprised that only Jim was making a comment.
He grabbed a hold of one of her free flowing locks of hair, inspecting it in the light. "There's no need to be ashamed of what you are, dear." Jim's gaze rose to meet her's, entangling her in a trance. "Not with me, we're one in the same."
With a loud crash of a bell tolling, the candle flames rose to blinding brightness. "What's going on?" Molly whispered, fearfully looking around the room. Jim scoffed, as if Molly's question was a very stupid one.
"The dance, of course! It's nearly starting." Dropping her hair, Jim held onto Molly's wrist, dragging her to the centre of the room.
"Wait!" She tried to escape his grasp, but he was impossibly strong. The only thing that she managed in doing was depleting her strength, making it easier for Jim to move her as he pleased. He placed a hand on her waist, and tightly held the other in preparation for a waltz. Molly had at that point, come to terms that she wouldn't be able to do anything Jim didn't want, and grudgingly moved her hand onto the upper part of his arm. Jim's grin widened at the action.
"Relax, a little fun will do you wonders."
"It's not the fun I'm worried about," she mumbled, staring anywhere else other than those dark eyes.
"Ah, my devilish visage then?" Jim cocked an eyebrow, flashing his teeth. She remained silent.
As a piano started them off, they greeted each other as standard, and then returned back to their position. Following the rest of the instruments joining in, they began to dance around the room, pausing for Jim to twirl Molly then bring her back into his arms. The worry about his wings knocking into the fellow guests seemed unfounded, as he had politely folded them tightly, but even then no one came close enough for it to be an issue. Odd that, they were utterly alone in such a busy space.
Around and around they went, time meaningless as Molly increasingly became dizzy. Trapped almost on a carousel, and unsure how to get off. "Ms. Hooper, are we enjoying ourselves?' She knew she should have been bothered by the use of her natural gender, but as it is with dreams, the distress never came. In fact, she felt as if he'd always known. The hand on her waist drew her closer, their chests touching more than socially acceptable.
"Yes" came her response, screwing her eyes tight with the tidal wave of nausea washing over her. "Please, may we stop?" He twirled her around.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" She felt his breath on her face, her eyelashes fluttered. "For someone to sweep you off your feet? To partake in balls, to be a woman?" Beyond her eyelids she could see the noisy flickering of the lights. "I can do that for you, Ms. Hooper.... make you a woman.." Without warning, he spun her harshly, and instead of his hand grabbing a hold of her, he let go.
Molly's eyes opened, vision blurry as she stumbled backwards and fell. All of the oxygen in her lungs leaving her, she lay in a stupor on a bed. They were still in the ballroom, although tilted on a peculiar angle. And yet everyone continued to dance around them, uncaring that there was a large bed in their midst, their forms foggy smears. Their concern was only of the waltz, of its completion.
"H-how'd you..." The mattress dipped, and she looked up. He touched her lightly, but the force was of a big shove. Gasping as she fell back, she stared at him in shock as he covered her with his body. A hand on either side caged her in, smirk sending Molly in a state of astonishing excitement.
"Molly," he whispered, "Do you truly wish this?"
"I don't know what you mean, sir." But it was a lie, they both knew, she was after all staring at the embodiment of her hidden desires. How easy it is to lie to yourself, to not face your demons. Molly wet her lips, panting from the heat from the candles and the person... thing above her.
....make you a woman... She didn't need to voice her decision, the smirk on Jim's face became deadly. He grabbed her face, tilting her chin up, "It'll be fine now, dear." He released her, nose brushing against her jaw and upwards until his mouth was on her ear. Hissing gently, "You don't need to pretend, not when I'm here." He pressed his hips into hers, grinding until she was breathing roughly through her nose. A small nagging part of her knew this was all fake, that she was alone back in her bed. But it was hard to think clearly, he felt so real. Kisses on her neck, a warm hand lifted the hem of her gown up to her hips. God, forgive her damaged soul, she wanted it to be real. To not be tragically abandoned, for someone to care. She dug her hands into his back, moaned when he hungrily kissed her, stealing all of the air in the room... in her.
Without thought of respectability she wrapped her legs around him, bringing him close to get more friction, to feel his clothed erection against her fully. How he would fit, h-
Her throat constricted, a pair of hands wrapping around her throat. The pressure was uncomfortable, increasing until she was struggling, clawing at his fingers. "Ji-" In horror, she watched, his face rippled like a stone thrown over the surface of a lake. Two identities fought for dominance, changing into the man strangling her, Jim or Sherlock. Molly tried to scream out, thrashing to get away, to breathe.
"You wanted this" Jim jeered, look of dislike turning him into Sherlock, "isn't that right, Hooper?" The grip around her tightened; her head felt on the verge of splitting open. But no, she didn't want this, she didn't want to die. Overcome with the need to live, she tore at her assailant's face. Surging against him in rage, how dare he, she shoved him off. Coughing at her free neck, she stared at the manor's ceiling, tears rolling down her cheeks.
It took her a second to sit up, still light headed, but she squinted at the early morning light. There was no one there, she was alone.
Shaking as she held a hand to her throat, crawling to the end of the bed to peer over. No one was on the floor. Physically and emotionally drained, she forced herself to stumble over the bed and to the dresser. Picking up the hand mirror there, she took it with her to the window, throwing the curtains open. The terror she felt was still very much with her; Molly stared at her reflection, gingerly moving her collar.
Already forming bruises were there, in the shape of two hands. She choked on a sob, pressing her arm into her mouth to silence the sound. When she had calmed down, she slowly went back to the bed, sitting down as she stared at the locked door.
Mycroft frowned, contemplating another slice of pie. These were, after all, difficult times. How else was he going to muster the proper strength to investigate the murder of a fellow member of the Diogenes Club. Who had done a great deal for their country, and who's flowers especially had been a favourite with her Highness. Tricky indeed. He picked up his fork, shoveling a piece of the dessert into his mouth. The flowers had continued to arrive on his doorstep, a fragrant, but still nonetheless an all the same annoyance. He was far too busy to play games, he had people for that.
He paused in his eating, "Sherlock don't just stand in the doorway, come in for God's sake!" Mycroft didn't need to look up to know that his brother was seething, the sound of teeth grinding was proof enough.
"Yes, brother? Why have I been summoned to your lair?"
"There's a body at the morgue."
"And..?" Sherlock placed his hands on the other's desk, leaning forward.
"And" Mycroft sighed, like talking was beneath him. "I need you to investigate, do what you and whatever your goldfish do."
"Why should I?"
"Because I said so," Sherlock scoffed, "and you'll be rewarded." That piqued the other Holmes' interest.
"Pray tell, what can you possibly possess that I desire?"
Concluding he wouldn't be finished with his food anytime soon, Mycroft set his fork down. "Simple. The answer to a question you haven't deduced yet."
Sherlock frowned, "And you merely wish me to investigate a body?" The unvoiced question hung in the air: why can't you?
Mycroft rolled his eyes, "Legs."
"Now, if you have all that you need, there's a body in the morgue just dying
(ha) to be inspected." Snorting, Sherlock spun on his heel, stalking out of the room like a bloodhound sent out for a fresh hunt. Left to his own devices, the eldest Holmes child shook his head. Muttering, "Always prone to the dramatics" under his breath. He picked his fork up again, pondering the wager he currently held. Another piece went into his mouth.
"Mr. Lancret, may I have a horse made ready? I have business in town."
The butler frowned, "Business? Must it be attended to right away, sir?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I must leave promptly." Mark offered a tired smile, voice still hoarse. Thankfully, his collar hid the marks. He needed answers, and time away from the manor. The whole morning had been spent jumping at shadows, unsure whether a demon or a friend would be attacking him next. He prayed it wouldn't take the form of Meena, he didn't think he nor his heart could handle that.
Mr. Lancret nodded, concerned. "It'll be only a moment, sir. Would you like to breakfast in the meantime?" Mark wet his lips, shaking his head. The thought of food had him near vomiting. Answers were all he needed right now, and he was determined to get them. Whether the manor wanted him to find them out or not.
It wasn’t often that Molly travelled by horse, she tended to stay in the London region and exclusively used carriages. However, it wasn’t too much of an issue, the Connie mare was very gentle. Still, Molly tried her best to keep her swearing to a minimal. In front rode a courier from Moriarty’s staff, he was the quiet sort. Usually she would comment on the awkward behaviour, but after the morning Molly had… she didn’t mind. Actually, she preferred the silence over forcing a meaningless conversation; she tensely swallowed, throat sore from the action. Softly sighing, she looked up at the pale sky. It was beginning to cloud over, later it would snow. Her grip tightened on the reigns.
It took two hours of a light pace to get to the neighbouring town of Bromwich. When they did ride into town, Molly tried not to shrink away from the stares. People went down the streets, attending their duties, but were able to permit a gander or two. Mark was a stranger amongst their midst, and the fact he'd been spending his time in that manor, had whispers following after him. Housewives holding bundles of their purchases, paused to appreciatively look over his figure. And while all of the former was true, he was still an eligible bachelor with a considerable pay, at least to this small farming community. If they had a unwed daughter, he was a prize to be won.
One had to be fortified in a place like this, even now Mark felt the wolves were snapping at his heels. "How much further?"
"Not too long, sir. We'll reach our destination at the end of the road." The courier spoke nothing but the truth, after only a short while the sound of bells tolling was heard. Past the shops, the street led them to a church resting on a slight hill. Protruding out of the forest was its steeples; made from dark grey stones, the building presented itself in an impressive spirit, looming in its nature. They came to a halt near the stables, courier getting off first to tie his horse down then moved to stand by Mark. Unsure of himself, Mark slowly got off, reigns being passed to the patient servant. "Thank you," he mumbled, distraction not allowing him to see the courier's surprised reaction - in his household, it was unnatural to be thanked by his Master, the meaning could either present a punishment or a reward. "I will return shortly." Mark gave his companion a nod before he walked on the path towards the building.
Since morning mass had come to a finish, already the doors were being opened and people were pouring out. Dressed in their fine clothing, the churchgoers exited in groups, each chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Mark took to standing to the side, waiting by the doors for the swarm of people to pass. Some noticed, conversations falling short to start again in hurried whispers. Mark tried his best to look unaffected, but felt his face warming.
Attention directed to his boots, Mark was startled to hear someone call him by name. Looking up, he found himself staring at his agreeable acquaintance, Lollie. Ever aware of his current whereabouts, he gave an astounded "Ms. Welter?" Not at all one to practice her societal manners, the young woman joined him with an air of indifference to the ogles garnered.
"You are well, Mr. Hooper?" So she was playing the part. Mark smiled, admiring the sensible attire she wore.
"Indeed I am. I can only hope you are the same?"
"Very. Though I am afraid you've shown late to mass today."
"Oh no," Mark glanced to the church with a hint of a smile, "it was not my intention to attend, rather I've come to see the Father. Is he...?" No more words were needed, being as perceptive as she was, Lollie immediately understood his goal.
"He's immensely kind, and eager to do a favour for his fellow man. Would you like me to introduce you? I've known Father Peter my whole life." Mark gave a curt nod. "Wonderful, we shall enter at once. But before we ask, I'd hate to be a bother..."
Mark furrowed his brow, "Is everything all right?" Lollie grinned at his response, eyes lighting up with an unknown emotion.
"I would need to call on you for lunch, after the task is completed."
"I..." Molly was at a loss, she enjoyed the other woman's company, but couldn't ignore the lingering looks she gave, or the brief brushes against her person whenever possible. It hadn't been the first time Molly found herself rejecting another lady's advances. It seemed the fairer of the two sexes were keen on her presence, perhaps it was the mustache? Meena always liked to joke that it was far better than John Watson's. "I wouldn't want to..."
Lollie waved his concerns away, "I won't take no for an answer, now let's meet with Father." She started off, and Mark could do little but trail after her.
Together they crossed the room, on either side was richly coloured pews, all with their books of prayer on the seats. In awe, Mark took in his surroundings. The walls were made from the same stones that made the exterior, which opened up to high arched ceilings and stained glass that depicted a holy struggle on each. Mark stared at one in particular, Daniel with his hands raised in prayer had his eyes heavenwards. The lion in front of him, had its head bent downwards as an angel held its mouth closed. Mark shivered, looking away.
At the altar they came across a priest taking his stole off, he held it upwards before lightly kissing it. Father Peter smiled at the sound of their entry, folding his garment neatly and letting an altar boy take it. "You must be Dr. Hooper, our dear Charlotte has spoken of you."
"Father" Lollie hissed, darting a glance at Mark with a flushed face.
"Only good things, I hope," Mark joked, holding his hand out. Father Peter accepted it, giving a surprisingly firm handshake.
"Certainly. Now, what can I do for you today?" Dropping Mark's hand, the priest spared them each a knowing look. "Is there a... joyous event being planned?" While Lollie made a sputtering sound beside him, Mark decided it would be best to redirect the conversation back to the reason why he was actually here for.
"I'm here for advice, my recent days have been... troublesome..." Mark could feel Lollie now staring at him in concern.
Father Peter's disposition became quiet, sensing the serious mood. "I see... Why don't we converse in my office?"
They were directed to a small room, made up of a large field maple desk. Behind it hung an ornate cross and a painting depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, and a bookshelf holding many tomes. Mark and Lollie took their seats, waiting for the Father to sit across from them. Sighing as he settled in, he leaned forward, "Now, what ails you my son?" Mark peered at Lollie before starting.
"I'm sure you've heard that I've been staying at the Rose Point manor...?" Father Peter nodded solemnly "During which I've noticed my spirit has undergone... concerns. I was wishing to come in possession of a rosary or even a bible."
"I certainly have one to share, it must be hard living there."
"Father" Mark paused, timid in how this next question shall be received. "Have you been preaching in this town long?"
"I joined Bromwich as soon as I completed my holy orders sacrament, a number of years ago. Why?"
"Were you... would you be able to relate some of the manor's history to me?"
Father Peter frowned, gaze shifting to Lollie, "I'm sure Mr. Lancret knows more, did you not address your inquires with him?" Mark shook his head "I see... What would you like to know? I shall try to answer to the best of my abilities."
"Has there... I apologize if this is impudent, but has there been a wrongful death there?" Father sucked in his breath, now leaning back in his chair.
"That manor has seen several, it has a reputation for being cursed amongst the locals. Even myself, I would be reluctant to go there."
"Did you know of a Viola?" Mark was alarmed to see the colour drain from the priest's face, he knew now that he was on the right track to discovering the truth.
"Yes, she was the late lady of the house. I met her on a few occasions."
"You've met her?"
"On an odd incident here and there, not as often as I would have liked, though she was a most agreeable person. Charming whenever I saw her, she would sometimes take walks into town."
Mark wet his lips, "Do you happen to know how she passed?" He ignored the hissed "Mark" to his side.
Father Peter grimaced, "I must admit I know little of the details, only that it was unnatural."
Lollie surprised them both by saying, "Unnatural...?" They had forgotten she was with them.
"Yes, she died rather early in life. A shame with the little ones, but by the end she was a sad thing."
"Did you think she..." committed suicide?
"I can never be sure, but there were always nasty rumours afterwards."
"I'm not.." Father Peter squinted, lowering his gaze to his hands.
"Father," Lollie said softly, "I assure you it'll be the last question." She sent Mark a look, making sure he nodded.
"Right, well," Father Peter wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, "Sir Edmund was a difficult man to like, often the servants would be sent to the physician on the verge of death. That would be Charlotte's grandfather, and after being healed, they'd go back to the manor to work. After Lady Viola's death, although she was a rare guest she was easily loved, people questioned it. There was always whispers of whether she was murdered or not."
"Have you met him? Sir Edmund?"
Father Peter flinched, "Once, it was not a meeting I took pleasure upon."
"Do you think he would be above murder?"
"If you had met him, you would know your answer. That man had... bottomless eyes, something sinister lived there. In short, no. I would be shocked if he hadn't." Heart pounding in her ears, Molly thought of Jim, those eyes peering into her soul with his hands around her neck. She shivered, "T-thank you, Father." Legs feeling like jelly, she stood up. A concerned hand was placed on her elbow, Lollie peering at her. "You've been most helpful."
"It was my duty, now let's find you a rosary."
The doors to the morgue were shoved open and standing in the doorway was the clever Sherlock Holmes, flanked by his companion John Watson. Drawing forth the scent of London with him, smoke, rain and something undeniably unique, he strolled to the covered body on the slab with an air of boredom. Pointedly, he ignored the man currently writing his findings to the side, he'd already had the displeasure of meeting Dr. Holcomb. It wasn't as if the man did anything particularly unpleasant, he just wasn't Sherlock's Hooper. He was clearly Mycroft's, rather too old to be working, Sherlock presumed that his older brother took the poor doctor out of retirement just for this case. Although well accomplished, Dr. Holcomb was slow to perform a proper autopsy, at least in a pace lesser than Hooper's. Really, he wasn't at all that bad, in fact Dr. Holcomb was excellent at following rules, never straying too far from them and unable to give Sherlock even the smallest of toes.
Dr. Holcomb paused in his writing, pushing his falling glasses back up. "A J. Morris, was the owner of a shipping company."
Sherlock bent over the corpse, lifting the sheet off, "Cause of death?" John went around, joining him in inspecting the dead man's face, and then moving on to his hands.
"Death of the heart. In the stomach I have found bits of a pl-"
"Poison," Sherlock whispered to himself, "mouth foul and irritation on skin, clearly foxglove." Sniffing loudly, he turned to leave - having all the information he needed, when Dr. Holcomb called out to him.
"There was one other thing." Eyes narrowing, Sherlock turned to face him. "There was a note."
"A note...?" He stalked over to the doctor, "Why didn't you start with that? Where is it?" Dr. Holcomb picked the piece of paper from his desk, at once it was ripped from his grasp. Quickly Sherlock read over the text, frowning, his brows knitted together.
"Sherlock, what does it say?" John stepped up to him, confusion increasing when Sherlock offhandedly tossed the note to him. Catching it, quickly John turned it over. Typed out were the words:
If he be Mr. Hyde.
"Sherlock, what do you think it means?" The man in question shot a glance to the elderly doctor before he made a swift exit, John went after him. Jogging to catch up in the hallway, he overheard Sherlock whispering to himself, "If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also..."
"I beg your pardon?" Sherlock came to a sudden halt, finally addressing him he said "It's a quote from a gothic novella, John. Our murderer has an appreciation for theatre."
John blinked blankly, "Does that mean we'll be heading over to the Royal Opera House?" Sherlock sent him an exasperated look, walking once more. "Oi! Does it?!"
Gifted now a rosary and a bible, Mark felt considerably better as if a weight was lifted from his soul. That invisible noose around his neck had gotten looser.
"Now don't be forgetting our deal, Mark."
Softly he smiled, "Of course not, when do you wish to eat?" She hooked her arm around his, grinning with delight.
"Right now would be splendid."
"Yes," she flashed him a smile, "and you can join my family for a meal."
"Lollie, I wouldn't want to intrude on anyone." The grip on his arm tightened.
"Don't be daft, I'm inviting you. Besides, my aunt was alive during that harrowing business, she was friends with a maid that worked there."
"She... she was?" Lollie held back her giggles, she knew she had him hooked now.
"Yes, and you can discuss it over some food. How does that sound?" Mark nodded, now Lollie was free to giggle all she wanted, joining him at the stables. Already the courier was getting them ready to be mounted. Whether he was confused by the addition to their party, the servant made no comment, merely steadying the horse for Mark to climb on. Grunting as he eventually sat down, he twisted in his saddle to ask Lollie whether she would send for a carriage, when he became aghast with her vaulting up beside him; elegance in which showed him she had practiced such numerous times. Feeling very warm, Mark could only weakly sputter as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
"We'll have to take a less travelled road, my father is fond of his peace." She rolled her eyes, "Pray tell what are we waiting for?"
"I-I... Yes." Mark nodded to his servant, waiting until he too was settled before he nudged his horse. Setting into a trot, Mark now rode in front, directions said into his ear. He shivered, the warmth of another against him.
Ever so softly, Mark cleared his throat. He sat at one end of a table, Dr. Welter the opposite to him. It was a small gathering, Lollie was seated next to her father, who would often glance up from her lunch to spy a look at Mark. He shifted in his chair, intimidated by not only her gaze, but Lollie's younger brother and sister - of course neither could compare to the aunt.
"Dr. Hooper was it? Why don't you tell us more about yourself, things tend to get rather dull in our little town."
Mark paused, spoon halfway to his gaping mouth. Slowly he closed it, putting his utensil down. "Er- I'm not sure what information I have that would interest you."
Aunt Emma grinned, leaning forward "You possess a great deal I'm sure. Tell me, are you engaged?"
"Aunt!" Lollie called out, scowling in anger.
"No," Mark lowered his gaze to his bowl, wondering whether he'd ever get the chance to finish his vegetable soup.
"A shame" Aunt Emma shook her head, appearing as if it was anything but. In fact, the older woman acted as if she just discovered a nugget of gold. "And you live alone?"
"No I..." Mark winced, he shouldn't have said that, not if he went off the sudden silence. How was he to explain Meena? "I have a friend," he finally mumbled, "we share an apartment together."
"How sensible, but would it be difficult for your friend to find lodgings elsewhere?" Mark squinted, living without the sharp tongued nurse had a bitter taste on his tongue.
"He's very capable, I'm sure he could. If I may ask, madame, why?"
"Well..." Aunt Emma was watching him carefully now, to see how he would react to these next words "You do hope to marry soon, Dr. Hooper?" Words had left the pathologist, who sought after them in a desperate attempt with the eyes upon his person.
"Emma" the voice of his saviour uttered, tone exasperated "leave the poor man to himself."
"Henry" the older woman snapped back, glaring at the intervention in her fun. "I'm sure Dr. Hooper doesn't mind a question or two, is that right?" Mark was far too busy staring at his dish to answer, willing the nausea that assaulted him to calm down. He was fairly certain it wasn't polite to vomit in another's company, especially at a first meeting.
"May I be excused?" Dr. Welter nodded, scooping another spoonful of soup. Lollie looked after Mark's retreat, brow furrowed with concern as her two siblings snickered. Aunt Emma was the most devastated from these turn of events, giving her a brother a sigh while a servant removed the abandoned meal.
Molly stood in the powder room, hands clasped on the sink as she hunched over it, willing her nerves to settle. It wasn't working; God, she wished Meena was here! She'd know what to say, to do.. She always did. She looked up at the mirror hanging on the wall, a pale man was staring back, eyes searching her own. "What do I do?" She whispered. Mark shook his head, he was just as confused. "What help you are," she mumbled, scowling.
"Mark?" A hand was knocking on the door.
"One moment!" He called out, sighing when the sound stopped. Couldn't he have a moment to himself? When he opened the door, Lollie was still standing in the hallway. The sight of which had him flinching.
She had the nerve to appear downcast, prettily looking at her own feet as she said, "I wanted to apologize for my aunt, she has no conscience speaking like that." Oh for heaven's sake, Molly fought to not roll her eyes.
"It's quite all right, it wasn't the first time something of the sort has happened." Lollie had an unreadable expression when her head lifted.
"No," Mark admitted, subconsciously tensing at the memory of the ladies in London. The lot paid him a worrying amount of attention, even though Mark's occupation dealt with the dead.
"I see..." Lollie threaded her fingers together, unnaturally quiet. "The rest of my family has finished dining, if you'd like, I can ask to see if my aunt would speak to you now? I cannot say if she'll continue to badger y-"
"It'll be fine," Mark sent Lollie a gentle smile, soothing any hurt. He was partially pleased to see the renewal in Lollie's demeanour, who now spoke brightly.
"We'll have our discussion in the sitting room, you may head there, I'll fetch Aunt Emma." Casting him a smile, tinged with a hopefulness that Molly couldn't ignore, Lollie bounded down the corridor with more gusto than what was appropriate. Having already had a tour of the home, Mark casually went down the hallway, wondering if the courier was still enjoying his own meal - and whether he would assist in leaving as quickly and quietly as possible.
Don't get Molly wrong, she was delighted to be in the younger woman's company. She had aspects of her personality that Molly heavily appreciated, the ease in which she conducted herself, in engaging other's in conversation. The air of confidence she presented, they were all things Molly had hoped for herself. But regardless of how fond she was of Ms. Welter, she didn't like her quite enough to marry her. The prospect of marriage in itself was terrifying for the pathologist. Mark strolled into the empty room, taking in everything as he sat on the sofa.
He adjusted his position, a grey colour, the sofa wasn't the most pleasant thing to sit on. The cushions were thin, and the wooden frame was apparent. Even with this discomfort, this was Mark's favourite room in the house. With the fireplace going, it held a sense of consoling. The walls were a lovely olive green, and a rug that of pale lapis covered the entirety of the floor. A series of paintings hung on the walls, the largest being set over the fireplace mantle.
Turned to the side, a woman in a lace wedding dress stood a field with pink wild roses surrounding her. In her hands was a bouquet of white roses, ribbon matching her veil. Her expression was peaceful, cheeks rosy and her brown hair held back in a clasp. The words beautiful and kind came to mind.
"Our sweet, Alice. She was taken too soon."
Hastily Mark stood to his feet, sitting back down when Aunt Emma took the chair in the corner. "I take it that's Lo- Ms. Charlotte's mother?"
The older woman had a glint in her eyes with the slip up. "She passed away shortly after George was born." There was a pause, Aunt Emma forgetting his company.
"If..." Mark cleared his throat,"if you don't mind me asking, how did she pass?"
There was an audible sound as Emma cleared her throat, no longer able to admire the painting. "There's a lake near here, we would all skate there when everything froze over. It was a dozen winters ago, she'd been sick with a fever, going on about seeing someone outside. Henry had been away, he had business in London at the time and..." Emma cleared her throat again, hands searching in her lap. Mark took a tissue from his pocket, offering it. She took it, but fiddled with the piece of cloth. "She was left by herself for only a second, but it didn't matter, the next moment her bed was empty and the door was wide open. They found a crack in the ice later, she fell straight in."
Mark reached over, grabbing her hand. He may feel awkward around Emma, but he wasn't able to let her suffer alone. She may be a busybody, but her love for her family was strong - a quality that Mark found redeeming. Dabbing at the corners of her eyes, Aunt Emma forced a cheerful smile, "I hear you have some questions about the manor?" Mark slipped his hand away.
"Um, yes. You held a friendship with one of the maids?"
"Her name was Penelope, we were friends despite our positions."
"And did she ever tell you how it was like... Working there?"
Emma regarded Mark with a careful expression, one that always seemed to come from the locals when he had questions about the manor. "She did, the conditions weren't easy."
Mark rubbed his hands on his trousers, "Did that ever have to do with Sir Edmund?"
"Of course," Emma sniffed with dislike "he had a nasty temper, and in general was unpleasant." Mark wet his lips.
"And Lady Viola, what can you tell me of her?"
"Viola?" Emma drew the word out, like she was tasting it. "A tad melancholy, but she was agreeable enough."
"And..." Mark exhaled mildly, "Have you heard of a man going by Hugh?" The expression Emma gave him was that of disturbance, the muscles in her face drawn tight. Now we're on the right path, Mark thought to himself in satisfaction. He may be an amateur at sleuthing, but at least he was making progress.
"There isn't much to say, Dr. Hooper." The look she gave said otherwise. "Penelope had come with Lady Viola from her place of birth, and had spoken highly of Mr. Gaskins."
"Gaskins" Mark repeated, he now had a surname and so another piece of the puzzle. "And had you met him?"
"Only once, he left Bromwich in a hurry. And I wouldn't be surprised, not with all of the rumours."
Mark leaned forward in his seat, "Rumours?"
"You couldn't blame anyone" Emma smiled impishly, pleased with the chance to spread some gossip. "They didn't look like him."
"Sir Edmund" Emma hissed, darting a glance to the doorway as if an angry spirit would be there. "There was maybe some similarities, but those children didn't look nearly alike enough. That, and the way Lady Viola acted around Mr. Gaskins." She shook her head. "It's difficult, hiding one's love." Meaningfully she peered upwards, raising a brow. Mark directed his gaze elsewhere, ignoring the implications.
After collecting himself, Mark finally said "And what about the others?"
"I heard.." Mark took a deep breath in between the pause, "I heard there was deaths at the manor, unnatural ones."
"Do you mean that child?" Emma shook her head, tsking "A horrible thing that."
"What child?" Mark's brows knitted together; he had figured the deaths involved servants.
Emma waved her hand in the air, as if ridding the space of negative energy. "It was before my time, she was only seven when she died."
Mark thought about it for a second, finding himself staring at his recently healed foot. "Lillian?" He whispered, unsure.
The aunt beside him hummed, "They say that family has been cursed since then."
"Why would they...?" Mark broke himself from his trance, "Do you suppose she was murdered as well?" Emma shrugged, fingers tearing at the cloth.
"Perhaps, all I know is that she drowned in that bloody lake." Emma bit hard on her bottom lip, anger shocking Mark.
"Madame, I don't wish to upset you any further, but had there been any idea of why she'd die in such a way?" Mark's heart ached, seeing how suddenly tired Emma appeared. This topic wasn't helping in easing the pain of the Welter's loss.
"Is there any sense?" Emma mumbled, voice becoming funny "In killing another?" With a start, Mark realized she didn't mean about the manor's family. Unable to help it, Mark glanced at the painting above the mantle. Emma's sudden "I've had my fill of morbid talk," had him flinching "let's join the others." Mark followed her lead, standing to his feet. "I'm sure Lollie is missing you." She gave him an affectionate smile, the hidden knowledge behind it had Mark's skin crawling. Mutely nodding, he followed her out of the room and into the living area.
Dr. Welter sat at a writing desk, wordlessly composing a letter as his young children fought over a book. With a smile, Mark noticed the title, The Old Curiosity Shop. Fondly he thought of the author, Charles Dickens had been a steady companion to Molly. Even in the darkest periods of her life, his clever novels never failed to raise her spirits. The rustling of cloth drew his attention to the window, where Lollie stood, her back to him as she peered out. At the sound of their entry, she dropped her hold on the heavy curtain, turning with a concerned smile. She raked her eyes up and down his body, as if her aunt had harmed him in some way. Seeing nothing to suggest injury, her expression became placid.
Mark cleared his throat, "Sir, I am thankful for your hospitality." Dr. Welter set his pen down. "But I shall be leaving shortly, I'm s-"
"Haven't you heard?" Mark blinked at the high-pitched voice, staring at the young girl, her hands empty of the coveted novel.
"And what is that, Ms. Rebecca?"
"A storm," Dr. Welter answered, "it will overtake the roads, the weather will be too ill to ride in."
"Ah..." Mark appeared calm, but inside Molly was panicking, the desire to pull her hair strong. "So I shall be...?"
"We'll have a room made up," Dr. Welter nodded. Mark's eyes skimmed over the rest of the family, they looked far too happy for his liking.
Noisily Mark cleared his throat, giving a bow as he said, "I apologize for the inconvenience." He couldn't ignore Lollie's and Aunt Emma's burning gaze on him, he suppressed a shudder.
Molly blankly stared at the ceiling, blankets pulled up to her chin as the world beyond her window howled. True to the aged doctor's words, a blizzard overtook Bromwich, and even with her dislike of her current situation she was comforted that she wasn't outside.
"Truly," Molly whispered into the night "hell has frozen over." Immediately she buried the lower half of her face into the covers, stifling her laughter. That had been the small light in these deary days. Even now in private, Molly was unable to be relaxed. With the fear of the sleeping family members and their servants stumbling in, Molly had resigned to wearing her costume to bed. The spirit gum was doing horrible things to her scalp, pulling painfully whenever she moved incorrectly.
Sighing loudly, Molly sat up, grabbing the piece of paper she had set on the bedside table. After today's revelations, she had went over the script with renewed intrigue. The hand in which it was written was undoubtedly Lady Viola's, her hesitance was present with several lines scratching out words as she tried to frame the message. Molly empathized with her.
My sweetest, Hugh.
I apologize for the lack of correspondence, I'm certain the shortage of letters was noticed by you. You were always keen in observations, perhaps that's why writing comes so easy to you. The passion and ability for creation, in making new worlds filled with fantastic tales are one of the reasons I l
ove you enjoy your friendship. I'm hopeful that you are doing well, is the publishing coming along?
How is Eloise faring?
I dearly hope she's taking care of you. Does already she know your likes and dislikes, that you hold a fondness for Hamlet, but despise A Midsummer Night's Dream? Has she kissed you yet? If not, I'm sure she knows by now. And to soothe your worries, everything in this beautiful lonely manor is fine. My material needs are quite well met.
I wish I could show you the garden, ther
e The line of text there was gone, replaced with angry strokes of ink. The letter in which she wrote formally was dissolving as Lady Viola attempted to say her real intentions. Hugh, you ought to be the first to
I love it here, Sir Edmund is a kind man.
I wanted to tell you, none of it was your fault. I hadn't forgotten to make you a painting, but it is the most vexing thing. I can't seem to finish them, they don't come out as I envisioned.
From the deepest part of me, I wish that you're happy, even if it's with Eloise.
Our love may have burned bright, but it was a hungry flame, and it was
Molly settled back, hand letting the paper slip from her grip. It fell silently to the ground, but Molly didn't notice. Eyes closing, she could still see those last words behind her eyelids. The frantic scrawl was imprinted into her mind.
Hugh, I'm pregnant.
May 24th 1858
"God permit, it'll rain." Her eyes turned heavenward. Viola wished terribly that all of the illness would be washed away. Not only that in the dirt, but the sickness in her husband... in her. Torso aching, she let out a sigh.
"Viola?" Startled, she spun around to see...
"Hugh!" Viola gasped, the shock having her louder than would be preferred. Her darling friend awkwardly before her, soft smile making her belly feel like it was summer, that butterflies were dancing about. He looked as she last saw him, though a tad scruffier. If things weren't so perilous she would have run to him, thrown herself into his embrace. Never now, not with the spies lurking about. Forgetting the taste of vomit on her tongue and the chill she closed the distance between, ignoring the current that went through her when she grabbed his sleeve. Wordlessly she tugged him towards the forest, away from prying eyes. Hugh stammered at the force behind it.
Stepping over roots and stones, Viola took him as far as she could. Enough that they won't be overheard, but can't get lost. They get to a clearing, one she recognizes by the small tombstone. Her mother-in-law had taken her here earlier that week, to talk about the future and past. It had been unusual at the time, how she didn't linger here - something about the 'restlessness of the dead', but for Viola it was now a blessing. It was less likely anyone from the family would venture here. Coming at a halt, Viola turned to face him, reluctantly releasing her hold.
"What are you doing here?!" She finally hissed, eyes squinting. Viola tried to stay firm and angry, but it was hard with the wounded expression he was giving her.
"Viola" Hugh breathed, nearly undoing her entirely. He placed a hand on both of her shoulders, "I had to see you, to make sure you weren't hurt."
She bit the inside of her cheek, her fury nearly evaporating into thin air. It was hard being cross, she had already hurt him so much. She exhaled, taking every new detail to his face. The distinctive parts of him were the same, the large forehead, dark eyes, and thin eyebrows. But he'd grown a beard now, she frowned at it, absently running her fingers over it. Did it bother Eloise when they kissed? Viola barely bit back her snarl, thinking of the letter she had started yesterday. Wondering whether their unborn child would look more like him or her, and if she would be able to hide the sin she committed. "Viola" a thumb rubbed her cheek, and she looked up.
There were so many things to say now, she didn't know where to begin. "How..." Hugh's brows knitted together "how is the book? The one to be published by Mr...?"
"Allardice," Hugh finished distractedly "he's... Oh bother! Viola" his hands gently squeezed "I don't care to talk about some bloody book, I'm here for you."
"Hugh..." Viola began, sensing where their conversation was destined. "You know I can't-"
"Just, listen." She wasn't sure which of them was the one shaking, maybe it was both. "I've been talking to my publisher..."
"Mr. Allardice" she mumbled. Hugh nodded his head, "Yes, I have set up a contract with him. Love, I'll be getting a bit of coin and maybe..." Hugh broke off, wetting his lips, "Maybe you can divorce him." He spat that last word like it was a disease.
Viola shakily inhaled, blinking back tears at the man she loved, the man she would cut her arm off to marry. In another life maybe they would, in a nicer world, but not in this one. Viola Farrow-Moriarty was from a wealthy family that mined iron in Yorkshire, her hometown. They had been at first outcasts because of their French origins, but that eventually changed because of her ancestors' hard work. The Farrows were now known for being righteous and responsible, it was important to them. Viola had been born the eldest of a generation of sisters, with no brother to continue the bloodline.
With her father's health and the mine declining, Viola had to come to terms with her duty. As a woman she couldn't take over, the only option for her was to marry someone of her own class. Kind Hugh was not that, he was wealthy in intelligence but not money. And with his social standings below her's, Viola had to look elsewhere for a husband - had to force herself. Tried to, but look where that got her.
Viola snorted bitterly, a bubble in her throat forming as her eyes burned. Hugh may become famous for his novels, but it would never be enough to support her family. "Hugh" she choked out, wanting to tell him of the baby in her belly. She couldn't form the rest of her words, it hurt too much. He pulled her to him, getting rid of the chill. Face buried into his chest, Viola began to cry, feeling a kiss on the top of her head.
She didn't want to be the strong one, didn't want to go back to her husband. "It's all right," he whispered, "we'll be all right." Desperately she wanted to believe him. Wetness hit her face, as the heavens clouded over, raining upon them. Standing in that clearing, their clothes soaked through. Viola pulled away slightly, struggling to calm herself, she peered upwards. Hugh's face was drawn tight, the pain present stealing her breath away. She wasn't sure if the wetness on his cheeks was from the rainfall or tears. She fruitlessly prayed it was the weather.
If only they were in one of his stories, that everything would go as they wanted. Viola shivered, skin crawling as if someone was watching them. In the corner of her eye, she saw them, three magpies perched on a tree, staring. The nursery rhyme for the birds came resentfully to mind.
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self
She screwed her eyes closed, holding him tighter. Pretending... Wishing she never saw them.
Mark sat rigidly at the table, staring at the thick depths of his porridge. Last night he hadn't slept well, he had thought... Hoped, that with his distance to the manor the dreams would cease. At this point he wasn't sure how much was fiction and borrowed information from his sleuthing, or the dreaded theory - there was a supernatural element at play. The idea of such a being having an impact on his life was daunting, the intrusive nature that a spirit could alter his thoughts and dreams was terrifying.
"Dr. Hooper." Mark rose his head, attempted to smile at a concerned Aunt Emma.
"Yes, madame?" His expression didn't change her's.
"Are you all right? You seem rather... melancholy."
Mark attempted to stir his spoon around, "I see..."
"Only a pinch" Lollie offered, her smile mirroring Mark's. He wished he could tell them what was wrong, to in turn hear them say everything would be all right, but he couldn't. Mark was a scientific m... a scientific person. He was always far too busy learning of a cause of death, the thought of afterwards was never much of a concern. Inwardly Molly sighed, for the dozen time she wished Meena could be with her. Mark scooped another spoonful of porridge into his mouth, attempting at swallowing it down when someone was heard knocking throughout the house. The sound was swiftly stopped, and a servant entered the dining room with a bow.
"Sir, there's someone to fetch Dr. Hooper."
"Ah," Mark sighed in relief, "that must be Mr. Lancret." He stood up, putting his napkin on the table. Another member of the staff hurried to his side, clearing the dishes. Dr. Welter stood up, signalling the rest of his family to sit back down when they did also. He walked around to meet the pathologist, hand outstretched.
"It was a pleasure, I hope you accompany us again." They shook hands, Mark winced at the other's grip.
"I'd very much like that, sir." Mark smiled, but Molly was thinking otherwise. She was glad to leave this house, and the probing of these people as well. Dr. Welter gave a curt nod, "I'll see you out." Mark paused before he left the room, saying "Ms. Emma, Ms. Rebecca, Mr. George.." he glanced at Lollie "Ms. Charlotte." And with that he left, following the other doctor to the front of the house, where he was given his coat. Donning it, he once again thanked his host, and said goodbye before he stepped out. A carriage was waiting. Inhaling the crisp, cool air, absently Mark checked his pockets for the rosary and the bible. They were all there.
"Dr. Hooper, you are to join us once more."
Mark smiled at the approaching butler, a tad fonder from their brief separation. "It seems so, Mr. Lancret."
The taller man gestured him towards the carriage, "Though I'm afraid your journey to the manor will be brief." Mark frowned.
"Yes, my Master is calling upon you for a social gathering." Mark's stomach dropped, involuntarily remembering ghostly hands around his neck, squeezing.
"I've had my fill of festivities, Mr. Lancret. Perhaps Mr. Moriarty can wait until a later time."
"Sir," Mr. Lancret drew out in a stiff voice "my Master doesn't wait on anyone. And if I'm correct, he spoke of you conversing on a later date."
"Yes," Mark gritted out, not liking how he was being forced into something.
"And today is that later date." Mark bit hard on his tongue, it was very clear that he had no option in the matter. Mr. Lancret gestured to the carriage; breathing heavily through his nose, Mark took a step towards it when a voice called out.
"Dr. Hooper." They froze, turning to see a woman hurry from the house. Mark blinked, shocked to see it was Aunt Emma. As she stopped before them, she gave Mr. Lancret a look over, raising a brow. Mr. Lancret appeared like he'd got the birch, quickly leaving to stand by the horses.
"You'd have to teach me that." Mark whispered, glancing to the sulking butler.
"Another time" Aunt Emma laughed, "but for now I'll help you another way." She grabbed his hand, putting a small bundle in it. Mark frowned and before he could ask, she said "Dried holly, burn it and it'll protect you against evil spirits." She patted his hand, and with a knowing glint in her eyes, she left. Fighting his apprehension, he put it in his pocket with the others.
It was some hours later, dressed in a clean suit that Mark arrived at his destination. Not quite in Islesbury, but a town over. Mr. Lancret had said its name, had given a recollection of the town's history, but Mark hadn't listened. He'd been far too preoccupied, trying to calm himself before he walked into the devil's embrace for a second time.
There was no way to know what was waiting for him, what Sir Moriarty had meant previously when he said, 'then you can fully dissect me.' Molly shuddered, remembering Jim's hand on her thigh, and then his dream version leaning down upon her. She tried to free herself from his grasp, but when the carriage came to a rocky halt, she knew it was pointless.
Mr. Lancret got out first, helping Mark climb down. Blinking against the brightness of the noon sun, Mark looked upon a large house. Not as sizable as the Rose Point Manor, but still impressive. Leaning on one of the columns on the front of the building, that tall man from the ball was smoking as he had done before; the sunlight brought out more of the copper tinge in his hair. "Dr. Hooper" he grunted in a rough tone, eyes raking up Mark's body when he walked past.
Mark paused momentarily, striking up a conversation to delay the inevitable. "We've met before, haven't we, Mr...?"
Sebastian snorted, knowing fully aware of what the small pathologist was doing, so many have done it before him. Gaze burning, the sniper flicked his cigarette away. "C'mon then, he's waiting."
"I..." Mark took one longing look to the carriage behind him before he resignedly said "all right." Mr. Lancret now replaced, he followed this strange and intimidating man inside.
The interior is a drastic contrast to the Rose Point, where darkness prevalent there, here everything was lighter. The walls and decor are all painted in pale colours, and the window curtains are all open, letting in brightness. Mark's temple throbs, a headache that has him squinting. He's thankful when this nameless man takes him into the back, into a room that has its curtains shut firmly.
He blinks for a second, trying to get adjusted to the difference. The room is stylish but the beauty behind it is easily forgotten, Moriarty is reclining in a chair, mouthful of teeth glinting in a peculiar smile. When Mark walks in, slowly he climbs to his feet. "I'm glad you could join us, Dr. Hooper."
There's no need for Mark to ask who the other person is, on the table, there's a man lying down, his head in his lap. Staring at glassy eyes of the corpse, Mark doesn't hear Jim walking up to him until his breath is on his cheek. He flinches, gaze sliding over.
Jim's hands are stuffed into his pockets, smirking as he studies Mark's reaction "I know I said you can dissect me, but this fellow really wants to go first."
Mark's gaze slips from the corpse and back to Sir Moriarty, offhandedly wondering whether he could make a dash to the door before being caught. Taking in his company's grin, he doubted he'd survive the action. In all likelihood Sir Moriarty would be upon him in an instant, snapping his neck like a cat playing with a mouse. Mark gulped, but took a step forward, ignoring the hairs on his arms raising.
"And that is all you wish of me, sir?" Faster than expected, Jim is gripping Mark's chin, forcing it up in a bruising hold. Those bottomless eyes are sucking him in, a void in space that makes Mark think that this is the monster everyone fears in the dark. Rooted in place, absently Molly wonders if this is how she'll die, trembling when Jim brings their faces closer together.
Ever so quietly he whispers, "Are you disappointed, Dr. Hooper?" She's conflicted as to what to say, how to not make it obvious that despite this certainly life threatening circumstance she's hopelessly attracted to this strange man. Painfully and foolishly so. His thumb is rubbing her chin, creeping up to swipe along her bottom lip. Sweet breath on her face, she forces her eyes to stay open, watering with the effort.
The corner of Jim's lips pull to the side in a smug smirk and he drops his hand, taking another piece of Molly's heart as he does so. Even now Molly can't relax, without him touching her it feels as if she's missing something. With the heat of his presence and the roaring fireplace, Molly feels feverish, that she can't get a hold of herself. By the look Jim is giving her, it's apparent he knows all too well what's happening to her. Delights in the fact he can reduce her to such a state by doing so little. "Let's get started, my dear Dr. Hooper." The implied possession behind his words has Molly stumbling towards the table, feeling hands wrap around her neck in a phantom grip. She wasn't sure if it was a noose or a collar, but was there a difference?
Ignoring the decapitation, Mark looks over the corpse in a series of procedures that have been engraved into his being. Even a person such as Sir Moriarty can't disrupt that, his medical training had been thorough. Lifting bits of the suit up to peer underneath, he noted the stab wounds - caused by a hunting knife, or something of the sort. The bruises show the victim was beaten prior, not enough to be fatal, only to hurt. There's even superficial cuts, the killer was fond of torture before the metaphorical final curtain was closed. Mark glances up, a question in his eyes.
Standing beside him, Jim hums, meeting the unspoken inquiry with a raised brow. "This isn't my handiwork, not enough..." Jim sniffs as he looks the corpse over "Violence to sate me." Mark frowns, thinking of how cutting the head off of a person wasn't 'violent enough' for this man. "Love," Jim hisses "if I killed someone, you'd know."
"R-right well..." Mark catches a glimpse of the corpse's head, appearing as if its grudgingly staring up at him. Judging his taste in men, his own ongoing interest in the unusual. He fights the desire to grab a piece of cloth and to cover the bloody thing with it. Mark clears his throat, "how do you wish to proceed?"
Jim grins as he absently pats the torso of the corpse, "This fine fellow has donated himself wholly to the cause, I don't want to waste this sacrifice. There is something of his I have a claim to."
"Dr. Hooper, be a dear and open the belly up."
In no place to argue, Mark rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, not commenting when Jim did the same. Determined not to grumble that this would be a lot easier and efficient if someone had unclothed the corpse beforehand, Mark set upon the task of picking a pair of scissors from the tray of tools and cutting the poor dead fellow's suit open. It was a waste of a fine jacket, but there was little he could do.
Cold flesh now bare to the room, Mark made an eight inch cut to the lower belly, making an exact incision so peeling the skin back was done with ease. Hunched over, he could feel Jim's gaze on him, he tried his best to ignore that. Setting it to the side, he quickly surveyed the condition of the organs. "What's next, sir?"
Jim approvingly hummed, "I'll be be needing those intestines." Mark's head snapped up, brows knitted together.
"Um... Both of them?" It wasn't as if that was an issue, the skill of Mark's hand made it as easy as walking, but they were always pesky things to deal with. Jim sighed, rolling his eyes.
"The smaller will do, just get on with it, Dr. Hooper." Nodding hastily, Mark renewed his purpose and cleanly cut it free from the stomach and the rest of the guts. Hands slimy with blood and death, Mark pulled it out as if he was dealing with a snake or a considerable length of rope. He placed the accursed organ on a separate tray, turning back to the corpse to sew him back up when Jim rose a hand.
"I still haven't partaken yet."
Mark took a step back, warily making way as Jim joined in. Sparing him a lifted brow, Jim held his hand out. Biting his bottom lip, Mark passed the scalpel to Sir Moriarty. Now armed, Jim dug into the corpse and completely severed the stomach with surprising grace, placing it with Mark's own handiwork. "For later" Jim said over his shoulder, winking, "if you get hungry." He wasn't completely sure, but greatly Mark wished he was jesting. "Would you like to do the honours?" Mark snapped out of his terror driven daze, mumbling out a "Pardon, sir?"
"It would be improper would it not, Dr. Hooper? Leaving our friend to be so..." Jim gave the body another look, "naked?" He turned back to the alarmed pathologist with a consideration that had Mark bristling, "Or is that something you take pleasure in...?"
"N-no," Mark shook his head "it isn't. I'm not..." A high-pitch sound entered the room, and like he'd been struck Mark realized Sir Moriarty was laughing at him. Face burning, Mark let his cross attitude get the better of him and he stomped over to the table once more, snatching the needle and thread up. Biting hard on the inside of his cheek, he pointedly ignored the man beside him and sewed the skin back together. The behaviour wasn't the best thing to do as with a shiver Mark noticed while tying the thread off that Jim had stopped laughing, and instead there was a new silence. It was terrifying to see what expression was in store for him, but Mark needed to know. He looked up, and was convinced the man beside him was in fact not a human but a vampire.
What was another reasonable explanation asides from a creature of the night? The deliberation behind his step and his regard had Molly enthralled, and tales of superstition playing in the back of her head - monsters that fed on virgins. Such events were plentiful in these modern times, in penny dreadfuls and the popularized Varney the Vampire. Succumbing to these strange powers, Molly could do little but remain in place as Jim breached the distance once more. Leaning in close he admitted in whispered breaths, "I admire this part of your person the most."
"S-sir?" Molly weakly called out, heartbeat in her ears with the sudden and inappropriate intimacy.
Jim slowly looked her up and down, "That fiery attitude of your's, it comes up most unexpectedly." He grabbed one of her hands, turning it over as he inspected the blood and grime. There was a spot untouched on her wrist, paleness brought out. Bewitched Molly watched as he placed a chaste kiss on her pulse, slight stubble scratching her. The sensation went straight to her toes, clenching in her shoes. He peered up at her, still mumbling against her skin, he said, "I was curious about that fire in you, whether or not I would get burned from it. Do you believe I will?"
Molly audibly gulped, wondering how she could possibly answer such a question. "S-sir, I..." The thought of her life back home rose to the forefront of her mind, her unhappiness in the city, and now in the country. What few joys she had were overshadowed by the fear of the unknown, of being discovered. Watching her reaction Jim got his response, and so he basked in the heat of it. Dropping her hand, he did what he wanted from the moment he met this captivating pathologist. Molly stumbled into the table, knocking the head from its perch and letting it fall onto the carpet, where it rolled God knows where. She couldn't care less at the moment, not when Sir Moriarty was kissing her with such fervour.
Truthfully she hadn't done so in a while, so when Jim started it was like remembering the steps to an almost forgotten dance. When she did remember, she startled herself with her own passion. Moaning Molly's eyes screwed closed, the image of Jim with his brows furrowed lingering behind her eyelids. Pressing her into the harshness of the table's edge, one of his hands went to the side of her face, cradling her jaw while the other wrapped around her torso - pulling her up into him. Caught between gasping and moaning, Molly held onto his shoulders for dear life.
When Jim pulls away, all of the pretence of being a gentleman is thrown out of the figurative window. Molly can't open her eyes after the bruising kisses stop, she's lost her voice as she feels his panting on her. It lasts for a few seconds, then he's latching onto that spot just below her ear, teeth scraping and then swiftly followed by a tongue. More and more he's putting his weight onto her, unwittingly forcing her further onto the table - and in essence, onto the corpse.
"Jim" Molly utters, the realization of such inching towards her, and the mess of dried blood smeared on her skin. The reflection disappears when Jim catches the lobe of her ear into his mouth, sucking on it. She's a second from saying to the hell with it and dropping her trousers, when a knocking is heard throughout the room. Jim stills, and Molly can feel the tension in the muscles of his strong shoulders. The knocking continues and Jim pulls away with a shouted "What?!" Molly flinches, not only from the volume but the anger behind it.
The door opens up, and in the door frame is that nameless man from earlier. He doesn't seem impressed with the sight before him, his darted glance to Molly having her flushing hotly. It makes her want to hide behind Jim, a feat that isn't hard to do with how he's covering her.
"Sir" the man starts, wary of his boss' current mood. It was never good dealing with a pissed off Jim Moriarty, usually people ended up dead or wished they were. "You're needed."
"Now?!" Jim growls, baring his teeth. "Of all fucking times?!"
Sebastian bit his tongue, saying "I wouldn't have interrupted if it wasn't important." Snarling Jim waves him away, and when the seething man turns back to Mark his expression is one of devious promise.
"We'll continue where we left off at a later date, return to the manor for tonight. I expect to see you tomorrow, Dr. Hooper."
Voice hoarse, Mark repeats "Tomorrow." Jim smiles softly, and pinches Mark's cheek before he leaves the room. As soon as the door closes behind him Molly sinks to the floor, gasping for air.
May 26th, 1858
Sitting in a pub that he couldn't remember the name of, Hugh Gaskins frowned into his drink. Although the bland taste wasn't what distracted the young man, no it was the rejection of someone he dearly loved. Whom he wished to spend the rest of his life with; Hugh scoffed, taking another sip. What a ludicrous notion this has all been, he couldn't offer her what she needed, security and a proper home. The best he could do was entertain her, fashion castles out of ink and paper.
"Sir, are you all right?" Hugh forced himself to lift his head up and look over his shoulder. There was a girl behind him, barely on the cusp of becoming a lady. Dressed in a gown that was well-made, but of last year's design, her copper hair was held in a bun, in her arms there was a woven basket. Hugh straightened up.
"Don't mind me. Anyways, what's your business in this pub, girl? Shouldn't you be off doing..." Hugh tiredly waved around "catching butterflies?"
"Butterflies?" The girl giggled, looking at him like he was a bug she wanted to pin on a piece of board for her collection. Hugh shivered, turning around on his stool to ignore those piercing eyes. "Are they all odd like you?"
He tried his darnedest not to, but he bit the bait. "Who are these 'they'?"
"Londoners." She said, as if it had been obvious. Hugh merely sighed, lifting his beer in hopes his annoying companion would run off to bother someone else. "You haven't answered yet. Haven't you been taught it's ill mannered to leave a lady waiting? I thought you would have in London."
"I'm not" Hugh sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose "I'm not from London. Now run along, Missy."
"My name isn't 'Missy'." Hugh put his glass down, imploringly looking for someone to release him from this insanity. Today of all days was not the time to test his patience, already it was thin and brittle, but this nameless girl could not take a bloody hint. "It's Emma. Emma Welter. My uncle owns this business, I'm here to deliver some rose hip jam."
"Right, good luck with that." Gaze locked onto the counter, he could still feel her there, judging him. It made his skin crawl.
"You seem like a very sad man, are you waiting for someone?"
"No" Hugh spat out, blinking back the tears at the thought of Viola with that man. There was shuffling behind him, and before he could snap at her, Emma placed a small glass jar by his elbow. Sniffling, he picked it up, turning it over in his shaking hand.
"I had extra," Emma said gently, "but I think you need this more than I do." Hugh swallowed and turned around, the simplicity of the kindness shook him to his core. "My mother..." she broke off, sudden embarrassment alarming him. Exhaling Emma quickly said, "my mother said it's good for the heart." She nodded to herself, proud. With a swift curtsy she was on her way, leaving Hugh to gawk after her.
Shaking his head, he twisted back in his seat, darting a look between the beer and jam in his hands before he set the alcohol down. He smiled wistfully, wondering if this meant something brighter awaited him. Of course he was completely unaware that after returning home to Yorkshire, he would die a week later.
At the bit of inner dialogue about vampires, although it was a preference of mine to reference Bram Stoker's infamous Dracula, the novel was published in 1897. Which of course would be too into the future for me to knowingly use, as this fic is set prior to TAB. Varney the Vampire became the obvious substitute. First appearing in 1845-1847, it was plausible that Molly/or Mark would come across it.
Notably Varney introduced several of the vampire tropes we know today: sharpened teeth, attacks sleeping maidens, has supernatural strength and hypnotic powers - and the also uncommon: is able to walk in daylight, has no fear to crosses or garlic, and drinks and eats human food as a means of disguise(though it doesn't sit well with him.) I rationed this could tie into Jim's own humanity, while still talking of his akin monster attributes.
Mycroft clicked his tongue, staring unimpressed at the box in front of him. The smell alone was enough for the servants to clear out, throwing all the windows open in an attempt to rid the manor of the unfortunate smell. Fingers drumming on the hard surface of the desk, he gave one large sorrowful sigh - his late dessert had been put off, before he lifted the lid of the box. Already the ribbon that had previously adorned it was cut off, which made the task easy from the eldest Holmes' swollen hands. Placing the lid to the side, Mycroft leaned forward, peering down.
There was a dried plant on the top of what appeared to be intestines, if he had to guess - a laughable thought, they were human. It took him a few seconds to recognize the foliage, and when he did he exhaled in annoyance. The tall stem and vase-like flowers helped in placing it as moluccella laevis, or Bells of Ireland. And if his knowledge of floriography was correct, it meant good luck. Its placement with the organ was a clear jab, childish really. Mycroft couldn't help but tug the hem of his suit, self esteem prickling. The nerve! And all because he didn't want to play the game. If he ever did... Mycroft gave a snort, the lot would be shaking in their boots.
Grabbing the tiny silver bell on his desk, he gave it a wave. Instantly a servant opened the door, carefully peering in as he said, "Sir?"
"Take this away and throw it in the bin, for God's sake. And while you're doing that, I'll need someone to fetch me a slice of cake."
"Of course, sir." The servant quickly entered, strolling across the room to fetch the package. Mycroft rolled his eyes as the staff's nose scrunched up, was he the only adult in this world?
"How was your stay, sir?"
"Ah, it was..." Mark shrugged out of his coat, a tad startled when a servant took it from him. Everything was alarming right now, when he had finally returned to the manor it was bustling with activity. Curtains were thrown open, showing the diminishing sunlight as the servants went through the rooms and cleaned. To be honest, there wasn't many, but it had just been Mr. Lancret and him for so long, that what handful new people appeared like an army to him. "The Welters were all very agreeable, I didn't find a person not taught in civility among them."
"I'm pleased to hear that, now sir." Mr. Lancret clasped his hands before him "I wish to show you your new room."
"New room?" The tips of Mark's ears felt hot, immediately thinking of the letters and whether someone had discovered them. "I'm quite comfortable where I am, Mr. Lancret. Is there truly a need to move my possessions?"
"As I mentioned when you first arrived here, your stay in the Master's quarters was only temporary. I apologize for the lengthy delay, but we have another room that will suit you much better. And while it is unlikely, if my Master ever decides to rest here, I would hope it would be in his own bed." Molly nervously cleared her throat, suddenly thinking of Sir Moriarty arriving in the middle of the night, finding her in his bed. Would he get angry and kick her out, or would he join her? She shook her head, forgetting where she stood for only a moment.
"M-Mr. Lancret, would it be possible for me to collect my own things?"
"Sir, I assure you won't find anything missing in your belongings." He lifted his head in pride, "You have my word."
Mark smiled grimly. I was afraid of that... "Well, the room?" With a sharp turn on his heel, Mr. Lancret led him from the front and up the grand staircase, where they passed a quiet maid carrying linens. Mark couldn't help but notice how the staff were all demure, that they knew this place was haunted and wished to not upset the spirits here.
Coming to the upper level, they turned left, the way Mark had previously gone up his... Jim's room. They ended up where that child's room was, inwardly Molly prayed she wouldn't have to sleep there. "Mr. Lancret," she called out, voice a whisper. The elder butler came to a halt, turning to face her with an inquisitive raise of his brow.
"Yes, Dr. Hooper?"
"That room, who did it belong to?" He followed her line of sight, and unable to help it he grimaced. "Lillian, she was the younger sister to Lady Rosalee."
"Rosalee?" Molly repeated in a hushed tone, searching her mind for any remembrance. She couldn't ever recall hearing the name.
"Yes, the grandmother to my Master."
"And she..." Molly broke off puzzled, "it's rather uncommon to have your younger sibling living with you, isn't it?"
"Yes, well..." Lancret looked around the corridor, as if someone would suddenly appear. "Lady Lillian suffered from ailments, and her stay at this manor was only supposed to be a short while. However, she became sick, and they feared moving her would worsen her condition." Molly's brows furrowed.
Aunt Emma had told her that young Lillian had drowned in the lake, but if she was far too ill to return to her home, why was she in the forest? Molly broke into goosebumps, there seemed to be a few knots in this story. And thinking back to the person who Mrs. Welter saw before her death, and in that same lake... She reasoned she would be getting little sleep these days. "It is quite interesting," Molly's head snapped back up, "our discussion of Lady Rosalee, you'll be spending your nights in her room."
"Ah, how... delightful..." Molly followed the butler a couple of doors, opening one before he gestured her in. Reluctantly, she did just that, fearing as she entered that the late Lady of the house would be there, judging her and the moustache she wore.
The specter wasn't there, only an empty chamber. The walls were an ochre, matching the dark wooden furniture as well. The blanket and sheets upon the bed were recently done, smelling of fresh soap. There were white lace curtains that let in the setting sun, casting it in golden and red hues. To the side of the windows there was a fainting couch against the wall, dusty pink cushions appearing comfortable. Above it there was two small paintings hanging on the walls, but what really drew Molly's attention was the crib that rested at the foot of the bed. With mounting dismay, she realized it was made up, with a recently cleaned tiny blanket and pillow. Slowly she turned around, "M-Mr. Lancret" she forced out, "is this necessary?"
Determinedly the butler didn't look in the direction of the crib, "I would move it, Dr. Hooper, if I could."
"If you could?" Mark angrily gestured, "Mr. Lancret, the weight could hardly be significant. If you are unable another servant could do, or I could lift it! Put it another room..." Slowly Mark peered over his shoulder, glaring at the sight.
"Physically, Dr. Hooper, lifting it wouldn't be a problem... But however..."
Mr. Lancret brushed his trembling fingers against his jacket, and it took Molly a second, but she realized what she was seeing. This disdainful man was afraid, even he could sense that something wasn't right with this place. This hallway in particular magnified that feeling, and knowing this Molly shuddered. "Leave it, I'll take the room as is" she involuntarily spat out, not wanting to know the reason behind the fear and what would happen if Molly attempted to move the infant's furniture. Mr. Lancret gave a nod, the twist of the mouth an imitation of a grateful smile.
"As you wish, Dr. Hooper. I'll join the rest of the staff in their organizing, if you have any questions or needs, simply call." Mr. Lancret gave a bow, closing the door gently behind him.
Fiercely putting her terror from her mind, Molly searched her new chamber for her belongings. Finding her clothes neatly folded in the dresser, and the books were stacked on top. Plucking her journal from their midst, she flipped through its pages. And as she had expected, the letters were gone. Weakly, she closed it, putting the journal back. Mr. Lancret hadn't said anything, but would he? Or was another servant the one who rifled through her belongings, and if so what did they do with them? There were so many questions, she didn't find herself any closer to discovering the answers.
Several hours later and after a quiet dinner, Molly returned to her bed, fireplace roaring and a hot water bottle between the sheets. Slipping her shoes off, she climbed underneath the covers, warming her feet as she rested them against the heated soft cloth bag it was wrapped in. Sighing, she blew the candle out on her nightstand, praying silently that sleep would come easily.
May 27th, 1858
The night had been approaching, manor doused in twilight as Viola wandered the halls like a restless spirit. Hugh's arrival had her anxious, looking around corners with a heavy weight on her shoulders. She was a stranger in this supposed home, stomach twisting as she ached for her family. For the kind faces that she recognized, not the marred quietness of servants that tiptoed around her, like lost souls.
Fingers brushing along the walls as she walked, she sought her husband in the maze of corridors. Even if she despised him, he was necessary in her facade. Their coupling was needed to explain the baby in her belly, to convince him that it was his.
She came to a halt to where his study was, Viola swallowed her doubt down and rose a hand to the door. Just before she could knock upon the wood, she paused at the muffled sound beyond it. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she lowered her hand to the brass knob, gingerly twisting it and pulling the door marginally open. Peering in she saw Sir Edmund sitting at the writing desk, talking to the man standing before him. From the back of his figure, Viola knew it was Mr. Lancret.
"Are you sure?" Sir Edmund asked, tone threatening another punishment if any falsehood was found.
"Yes, Sir Edmund." Lancret said quietly, cheek still throbbing painfully where he had been struck. He was only glad that he still possessed his tongue, that his master hadn't cut it from his mouth. "I witnessed Lady Viola speaking with a gentleman two days prior, they seemed well acquainted."
"And you wished to alert me of this only now?" The fountain pen in his tight grasp made a cracking sound.
"I..." Mr. Lancret cleared his throat, searching for the correct words that would prevent the approaching beating. "I assumed that he was someone you knew, sir. But after a few days, the memory struck me as odd and so... So I thought it'd be best to bring it to your attention." Viola flinched, eyes widening as the chair Sir Edmund had been sitting in clattered to the ground. Standing behind the door, even Viola could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
"You assumed?" He tossed the broken pen to the desk, hand dripping with black ink. "Your lesser position should have prevented you of that, your thinking. Or do you need a reminder?!" Like Mr. Lancret, Viola was frozen in place, body tense as her husband stalked to the butler. She watched in wordless horror as the first hit its mark, a punch that sent the servant stumbling on a chair and falling to the ground. Gasping Viola let the door close, terrified of the muffled grunts of pain as Mr. Lancret continued to be punished. This would be a day she would look back at in regret, of being so absorbed in her own horror that she ran as quickly as she could.
Still hearing the screams in her ears, she went into her painting room, grabbing a scrap of paper as she frantically wrote on it. She flinched at the sound of someone coming in, but it was only Penelope, expression concerned as she took in her appearance. Shushing her maid's questions, Viola signed the letter and folded it, hurriedly stuffing it in Penelope's hands. "Go," she harshly whispered, "this must reach Hugh at once."
"Lady Viola, I..." Viola pushed her from the room, making her put the letter in her apron pocket. Reluctantly, she gave one last confused look over her shoulder before she speedily walked down the twisting hallway. Breath coming in shuddering gasps, Viola rubbed the wetness from her face. She knew it was a foolish attempt, but dearly, she hoped it reached Hugh in time to tell him of the danger.
"Viola!?" She spun around, blinking back her tears at the person at the end of the corridor.
Molly sluggishly opened her eyes, mouth feeling as if it were stuffed with cotton. She blinked at few times, the darkness telling that it was still night. Befuddled as to why she'd be awake, the sound that shook her from her nightmares came to her. It was an ominous creaking, one she couldn't place at first. The fire had died down to embers, blanketing everything as if Molly were blind. She forced herself to lift her head, searching for the source in her daze.
A movement came from the foot of the bed, it registered a minute later. The crib was being swung back and forth, as if someone was calming an upset child. Molly weakly blinked, shocked more than anything at her lack of fear. It felt as if two heavy hands were pressing her back down onto the bed, the smell of dirt and sickly sweet flowers filling her nostrils as a shushing rose into the room. She wanted to fight against it, to reach for the rosary on her nightstand, but she felt so tired.
Losing the battle, her eyes came to a close, falling once more into a restless dream. Although it wasn't her own, it was one she didn't recognize at all. She found herself being placed into a body, the space around her forming like a impressionistic painting until it solidified into reality. Feeling warm breath on her face, she opened her eyes.
June 21, 1810
Opening her eyes, she stared at the drifting blanket of clouds overhead. Calm blue summer skies, and the brush and scent of grass. Molly recognized her consciousness, but quickly that was tucked away in some corner of her mind. Slowly she lifted a hand to her face, brushing back some strands of hair. She paused, dropping her hand down to study it, the paleness to her skin was one she didn't recognize. Her hands were nimble from years working on the dead, unlike these dainty things - freckles that weren't her own, and free from calluses from work.
Drawing herself from her laying position, she became another person as she surveyed the land around her. A young bride of the age sixteen, Rosalee took in her recently acquired land. This is where she would raise her children, grow old, die here. Sighing, she forced herself to climb to her feet, absently brushing dirt from her gown. She should be happy, truly she should, her parents were - after all, her couple of years older husband was from a high standing lineage.
Looking away from the stretch of fields, the swaying of grass, she turned back to the sprawling manor. Her mother's words ringing in her ears, she touched her lips, pressing the corners until she was smiling. Offhandedly she remembered to fetch her novel, a copy of Castle Rackrent from where she once lay. Holding it to her chest, she walked towards the building. Strolling along the path, she eventually reached the stone steps and went up to a heavy wooden door. Pushing it open, she peered cautiously before she stepped in.
Servants fluttered down the hallways, heads lowered as they went about their tasks. Whenever they spotted her, they gave polite bows and curtsies. Ignoring them, she hoped to not catch the attention of her in-laws and quickly walked to the main staircase. Racing upwards, she headed left, rounding the bend to find the door she was looking for. No, not her own, but her younger sister's. It wasn't as if it was hard, she could make the journey blindfolded. Rapping her knuckles once, she headed in before she heard a reply, closing it quietly behind her.
She wasn't able to visit as long as she would have liked, her new family thought she sat with her sister for too long, coddled her. As a wife, she had duties to her husband, she was meant to be with him now in town - but she had told him of latch work she needed to finish. On any other day Rosalee would be happy for the chance to roam, to make purchases at the local shops, but she couldn't while knowing her sister wasted away in some dusty room.
"Lillian" she whispered, making her way over to the bed. Hearing her footsteps, the tiny body that was under the covers shifted, turning to face her with a small smile. It was tired, but nonetheless pleased to see her. Taking a seat on the edge, Rosalee lifted a hand to her face, brushing hair back and feeling the heat radiate from her forehead. "Are you feeling a bit better today?"
"A bit." Lillian yawned, leaning into the gentle touch. It brought a sadness to her older sister's heart, who wished that her recovery would come quickly.
"Is there anything I can get you? Maybe a sweet from the kitchen? I know where they hide them."
"You won't get in trouble?"
"Hardly." Resting her novel on the bed, she stood up, "I'll be back shortly." She left her sister in her room, hoping the cook wouldn't mind a treat before lunch started. Pace eager to be back to the chambers, she speedily walked past the servants and headed downstairs to-
The world spun on its axis, leaving a horribly ringing sound in her ears when it finally became straight again. She cursed as she tripped, bottom of her gown and knees becoming heavy with mud. Panic increasing Rosalee forced her legs to cooperate, and unsteadily climbed to her feet, yelling out "Lillian!" It hung in the air, bouncing in between the trees where it scurried in every direction. "Lillian!?" She tried again, shrill and desperate. "Where are you?!" A muffled sound came from behind her, which she at first thought was an echo, but soon placed it as the servants instead. Night was upon them, the sky rapidly darkening, they had to find her. Lights flickered in the distance, if they were fireflies or lanterns she couldn't tell. Her mind was elsewhere, her focus swiftly dissolved as she stumbled around the forest, eyes trying to find a hint to where her sister might be.
She shouldn't even be out here, what was she doing? What were these foolish servants doing, allowing her to stumble out? No, what made it worse was that Rosalee knew her sister could hardly walk a few feet. That someone had taken her out, and she wouldn't be able to do anything, to run away. This manor was supposed to be safe, but her in-laws didn't hide their contempt for such a sick and useless child, and the servants were indifferent. Rosalee was the only one who cared for her, and she didn't know what she would do if... "Lillian?! For God's sake, where are you?!"
Breaking through the forest, she made it to a clearing that in a dozen yards turned into a lake. Body shaking with fatigue and the cold of the night, she caught a shifting in the water. Highlighted by streaks of the remnants of sunset, indigo and amber, Rosalee crossed over to the lake shore. She wished it would be an animal, perhaps an otter bobbing in the waters, but she knew in some awful part of her soul that it wasn't.
There were shouts of her name, the lights were growing stronger, but Rosalee paid them little attention. She was a poor swimmer, and the dress would be a hindrance, weighing her down like a stone. Still, that was the farthest from her mind, her feet had her marching onward, choking on a sob as the cool water soaked through her shoes.
"Rosalee!?" It was past her knees now, quickly approaching her waist as she neared a drop off. But before she could get any further, the sound of splashing came from behind. Her hand was outstretched, fingers searching to touch the back of the form, but a hand was on her shoulders, drawing her away. She wanted to scream out, to break free and continue, but exhaustion hit her with the contact and unwillingly she succumbed.
Molly blinked, body aching as if she'd just had a long shift at the morgue. Besides the horrid headache she now seemed to possess, it was hard not to be caught off guard by someone knocking on her door. For a moment she thought it was a specter, moving things about, when there was a "Sir?" And ever so thankful that she had kept her costume on during the night, Molly made sure her wig was facing the right way, and leaned to the side, picking her moustache from the nightstand. Already she had stuck it with spirit gum, which helped as she pressed it into place. Masking the movement as covering a cough when a maid opened the door and stepped in.
"Were you cold, sir? Shall I have more blankets fetched?"
"No, it's" Mark dropped his hand "quite all right." He watched as she crossed the room to the window, drawing the curtains back to let in the sunlight. He had to shield his eyes, momentarily blinded. While his sight adjusted, the maid withdrew some clothes from the drawers, carrying them and putting them in a neat pile on the edge of the bed.
"Breakfast is waiting for you downstairs, sir. Mr. Lancret also wishes to see you." Sighing, Mark pulled the covers back, turning to the side as he sat up.
"Do you know what for?"
"My Master, sir. He's keen on seeing you once again, and has a carriage waiting at your discretion."
Chewing on his bottom lip, he released it with an annoyed "Does he now?" He wasn't sure he was more upset about, the presumption, or the longing he felt that Jim would do such a thing. Though he wasn't sure what he could provide Jim, he clearly sought after a man of his own sex - someone that Molly was clearly not.
"Yes, sir." She took a step forward, but Mark waved her off.
"I'm more than capable dressing myself."
"Of course, sir. Are you in need of anything else?"
"No, that will be everything. Thank you." She gave him a sparing look after that, clearly not used to being thanked. Mark waited until she left, falling back onto the bed and scrubbing his hands down his face as he sighed.
Yesterday afternoon, back in London
"I'll be on my way." John donned his jacket, looking from the front door to the living room, saying once more loudly "I'm leaving now." Reclining on his chair, Sherlock's attention was preoccupied with the novel he was currently reading. He had purchased a copy hoping to find some possible connection to his newest case. "Sherlock?" Still, he ignored him. Mumbling a curse under his breath, John rolled his eyes and headed out, making sure to say his goodbye to his former landlady as he left.
After getting an earful from the elderly widow about his next novel and her future lines, John took a carriage from Bakers Street and to downtown, brushing his hair back when they arrived at his destination. Paying the driver his coin, John climbed out. The winter air was cold, steam escaping his mouth as his body ached from the temperature. Tucking his hands into his pockets, he eyed the building before he headed inside.
Immediately a man greeted him, waiting patiently for John to find his ticket and hand it over. Passing him the slip of paper, he momentarily paused for the attendant to check it before he handed it back and gestured him to continue on. Following a swarm of people that moved from the entrance to find their seating, John was about to enter a set of doors when he was startled by the calling of his name.
"Dr. Watson, is that you?"
"Yes, it..." He turned to face the voice, "Mr. Lestrade?! What are you doing here?"
Dressed in one of his finer suits, the inspector flushed "It's er- it's for a case."
"Is it?" John's brows knitted together "Does it have to do with that Mr. Morris fellow?"
"Admittedly, yes, it does. And what about you, Dr. Watson? I never took you for someone who enjoyed theatre."
"That is correct. I'm investigating a lead that Sherlock didn't find worthwhile." John cleared his throat, glancing towards the doors. "Would you like to, um..." It took Lestrade a moment, but he quickly nodded. "That would be delightful, though it's a tad strange." The pair ventured on together to find their seats, "You and I, deducing and whatnot without Sherlock - maybe you'll write a series about us having adventures, yeah?"
"We'll see after we catch him." Walking past the usher, they found seats in the front middle row. The lights dimmed as the auditorium filled up, and the story begun. Just as the narrator took to the stage, lanterns reflecting off of his thick makeup, John could hear Lestrade mumbling beside him.
"...Watson and Lestrade... I like the sound of that..."
After having her breakfast, Molly haven't the slightest clue what to expect where her carriage would take her. Perhaps another neighbouring town? On the contrary, she was sent on a long ride - it was at least longer than the previous ones. The forest fell back, like a tangled oppressive mess that revealed sloping hills, the snow already melting. And the further they rode out, the greater the smell of the sea. Watching as the grey landscape passed by, they came to a rocky stop. Molly waited for a few moments, confused, but climbed out when Mr. Lancret held the door open.
Breathing in deeply the fresh salty air, Molly heard birds screeching. Shielding her eyes against the sunlight, she squinted, cheeks aching from the sting of the cold.
Mark turned back to the butler, "What's all this?"
Down a small path Mark walked to the house. It was tall and impressive, made from sharp lines that he couldn't help but think that at any moment a strong stray breeze could knock it over. The house was built on a hill and overlooked the beach, the chill from the waves was so harsh that the sting brought tears to his eyes. Licking his cracked lips, he looked on, jostled by a mumble behind him. Mr. Lancret, didn't want to make his Master wait any longer for them.
"Dr. Hooper, please." Mark spared a glance over to him, giving a curt nod, but when he turned back to the building he paused again. He couldn't help it, there was something different here than at the manor. Maybe it was the lack of supernatural elements or Mark's familiarity, but he felt that his time here would change everything.
Inhaling, he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to calm his racing heart. Gradually opening his eyes, he continued along the path, hoping he would emerge from here unscathed.
Mark strolled up the stone steps, trying to appear he wasn't nervous, he paused so a servant could hold the door open and gesture him in. Moving so he was now in front, Mr. Lancret led him through, speaking in a lowered voice of the building's history. In all honesty, Mark hadn't heard a word the butler had said since they stepped inside, he was far too busy taking in the interior than to listen to a lesson.
Through the great panes of windows, the outside painted the rooms in shades of blue and pale greys. Wind faintly howling in the background and the house groaning as if in protest, they made their way from the entrance and down a narrow hallway. Rounding a bend, he caught sight of an opened door. The whispering catching his interest as they went past, and he frowned at the sight he glimpsed at. An old woman in distress was hunched over on a sofa, talking to a stocky greatly bearded man. He held her hand, grip appearing tight as he gave it an occasional pat. Hearing the duo in the corridor, he twisted in his seat, dark eyes catching Mark's. The pathologist glanced to the side, the movement of the bearded man revealed more of his company, and Mark was not only shocked but swiftly uncomfortable when he realized she was naked. Immediately he looked away, nausea rising up in his throat. The remains of their conversation clung to his ears, a mumble of a foreign language. He decided it was best to stare straight ahead the rest of the journey, lest he run the risk of seeing a similar sight.
The pace quickened, they went along that seemingly endless hallway to the very end, where they came to a set of two large doors. Mr. Lancret pushed them, stepping to the side. Sighing Mark went on forward into a spacious semi-circle room. The walls were pale blue with a cream trim, flowers and plants painted on top. Bathed in the light from a large window, Jim sat on a white sofa, feet stretched in front of him. In one hand he sipped from a teacup, in the other he read from a piece of paper. At the sound of Mark's arrival, he peered up from the rim, lips quirking to the side with a smile.
Frozen in place, Mark watched as Jim's Adam's apple bobbed with a sigh. When finished, Jim held his cup and paper out and immediately the items were taken from him by a servant. Eyes dragging across the timid pathologist, he drawled "Well, now, don't be a stranger. Have a seat." The servant hurried past Mark, closing the door gently behind him as he left. They were now alone together, once more.
Reminded that the last time they were together, Mark had been moments away from saying to hell with it and dropping his trousers, he took the end of the sofa. Knitting his fingers together as he sat up straight.
"Oh my," Jim hummed, studying Mark as he put his arm on the back of the sofa. "You've gotten brave, hadn't you?"
"That's your perception, sir."
"Is it?" Jim purred, obviously amused as he drank him in.
"Please, dear. You were doing so well before, what happened to that courage?"
"I..." Mark breathed in "Sorry, sir. I'm a bit flustered."
"And that's all it takes to fluster you?" His company inquired with a chuckle, "If so, Dr. Hooper, I'm afraid you're in serious trouble."
Mark cleared his throat and went on to elaborate, "Not necessarily about you, sir."
"Not me?" Jim leaned closer, fingers drumming away at the fabric. "You're starting to make me jealous. All right, I'll bite. Who's my rival for your affections?" Mark grimaced.
"No rival. I was... May I ask you a question?"
Caught off guard the drumming paused, but he soon picked the tempo up with a sharp grin. "Is this where you finally dissect me, love?"
"It's about that woman." Jim's smile dropped.
"Woman?" He drew the word out as if he was tasting it.
"Yes, I saw a... An immodest woman of advanced age in one of your rooms, she appeared to be in the midst of being consoled by a gentleman."
"Do you mind that I asked after her?"
"Not at all, doctor. I find it rather delightful how noble you are, really it's quite adorable. That woman is a... Well, let's just say she's a client who was accompanied by her son. She had a case of poisoning a year ago - someone laced her clothes with it, and now she refuses to even wear her drawers. It's a tad annoyingly boring, isn't it? All that hysteria over an previous attempt at her life. You're far more interesting than her."
Mark wasn't sure how to comment on any of that. Was it a good thing that this man found him fascinating?
"And is that it, no more questions?" Jim pouted at the silence, rolling his eyes as he stood up. He raised a brow at Mark's startled expression, "Fancy a walk down the beach?"
"Down the- er..." Mark climbed up to his feet, "uh, yes? But isn't it rather cold, sir? Aren't you worried about getting sick?"
Jim snorted. "I never get ill, not if I have a say in it. But yes, my dear Dr. Hooper." He took a step towards Mark, suddenly grabbing the pathologist's hand and tucking it into his bent elbow. "It is nippy, so I should expect you close by to keep me warm." Mark sputtered at Jim's wink.
"I... Um. I'll do my best, sir."
Jim began to chuckle, "I'm glad to hear it."
All too aware of how warm this strange man was, Mark exited with him out of the room and went down the hallway, noticing that door from before was now closed. Everything was empty, the servants were out of sight like they never existed in the first place. Their mutual solidarity hung above them, covering as they finally made it back out.
Unlike back at the manor, there wasn't a lot of snow here. It was more of frozen tufts of grass crunching under their feet as they descended down the rocky hill and to the beach, where the waves they looked onto crashed into one another angrily. The wind that swept towards them from the ocean had Mark wincing, turning his face at the bite of it. Shivering, he glanced back towards the house, seeing a figure standing before one of the top floor windows. He squinted, trying to distinguish the face.
"Am I that boring, Dr. Hooper?" Immediately Mark looked away, shocked.
Jim raised a brow at him, "Is being with me so tedious that your attention is elsewhere?"
"O-of course not, sir. I just..." The words fell flat between them. Mark turned away, chewing on his bottom lip.
"Relax, Dr. Hooper. I'm not insulted." There was a pause filled with silence, it was lifted when Jim started the conversation up again. "Tell me about yourself."
"Myself?" Mark's nose scrunched as he watched the stretch of coarse sand disappear under his shoes. What could he say without revealing his true self? Would Sir Moriarty be disappointed? "I'm an only child, my father has been dead a number of years and-"
"No, not like that." Jim haughtily sniffed, "I don't want the boring bits and pieces you spoon fed others, I want the real you. When did your love of death first begin?" They came to a stop, Mark staring at his feet as he thought it over. Patiently Jim waited, fixated on the crease of his companion's eyes, the tiredness and despair that seemed to waft off of him. He felt the small fingers around his arm absently clench.
"In my youth, I... I would wander our property and the neighbouring one, looking for the woodland animals that died. My mother hated it when I brought them in, so I had to sneak them to a shed and examine them behind it. It used to be mice or squirrels, but..." Mark's fingers dug into Jim's arm. "...When I got older the animals grew in size, I studied cats and dogs, and when my dad died I... I knew that his soul left his body, so as a child, I had rationalized it was fine to inspect him like I had done with the other animals."
"You were curious, there's nothing wrong with that." His pathologist sighed.
"I suppose, but my mother never saw it like that. I haven't gotten far, our maid stopped me before I could even open his suit up, but my mother wasn't a fool - she knew how fond I was of science."
"And after that?" Mark removed his hand, shrugging.
"She couldn't handle me much longer, I was sent to live with my grandmother. Are you satisfied now, sir?"
Jim gave a short bark of a laugh, "Not in the least." They resumed their walk, numb hands stuffed into their pockets.
"Sir" Mark started, nervous.
"Yes?" Jim hummed, amused at the other's anxiety. Who knew someone so small could fidget this much? It was rather endearing, Mark peering up at him with a red little nose.
"Did you ever meet your grandmother?" He knew it was a baited question, but truly Mark couldn't help himself. As the living heir to his family, Sir Moriarty possessed all of the answers to his questions. The real inquiry here was whether his company would be willing to share such familial secrets. Chewing on his bottom lip, Mark hoped dearly that he hadn't offended him. Jim stopped walking, staring at Mark so blatantly, it had a shiver running up his spine.
"Briefly. At that point in her life, my grandmother had quite her fill of curious children running around, especially ones from her family."
"Mr..." Mark took a glance at Jim's face before directing his gaze over his shoulder instead, "Mr. Lancret mentioned your grandmother had a younger sister..."
"Lillian... Mr. Lancret does say a lot, doesn't he?" Shit. Mark gulped, praying he didn't damn the butler.
"Not too much, sir. If anyone were to be at fault, it would be myself. I hope you aren't angered by my bringing it up."
"There's no shame, Dr. Hooper, in wanting to know more about the past. Who the bed you slept in belonged to, what they did with their lives... If you're that inquisitive, I may be of some form of relief." Desperately, fruitlessly Mark tried his best to ignore the double-entendre.
"I-if... if you don't mind."
"Did Mr. Lancret tell you how she died?"
"No... Just that is was difficult for the family."
Jim snorted, "In some ways." In some ways? Before Mark could gather the courage to ask after Sir Moriarty's choice in phrasing, he closed the distance between them. Expression darkening with a frightening smile, moving until they were excruciatingly close, like he wanted to steal the air from Mark's lungs. Instinctively the pathologist took a step back, movement followed by Jim taking another forward. They were stuck in this strange dance, Jim saying on a whispering breath "She'd run out into the night, mad with a fever and went into the lake. My poor grandmother went nearly crazy over it, lucky us."
"Um, sir..." Another step back, another step to join him.
"I find myself wondering, my dear doctor, of a great many things." Flinching Mark's gaze darted to the side, unsure if he should try to escape, whether Jim would catch him immediately. It was hard to think right now, the thought of being on the receiving end of this man's anger was terrifying. His unblinking stare had Mark panting, skin freezing as he shuddered, sweating. "I'm sure you're the same way. Do you ever imagine what it's like being one of your corpses?"
"N-no, I, uh... I mean..."
"What it felt like when they died? Or, in my dear great aunt Lillian's case..." Mark's shoes were wet, toes prickling from the frigid cold, wind hammering at his back. "...What it was like, all of the air in her lungs leaving her? Choking and-"
"S-sir, please... I..." Mark glanced back behind him at the roaring waves, shaking as he defensively held his hands out in front of him.
"So alone. Frantically trying to stay alive, not to sink-"
His heart was lodged in his throat, swept up in weightlessness as he tripped over a rock of some kind. Mark held Jim's dark eyes as he fell back, hands outstretched as they sought to grab onto something. Father Peter's words rang out, something sinister lived there...
He was dazed when he hit the ground, water splashing and then rushing to cover him. Choking on the salt of the water and the pain of the fall, he stared up. His body was now overcome with a bout of shivers, chest heaving as he gasped for air with quivering lips.
"Oh dear," Jim crooned, "you've made a mess of yourself, Dr. Hooper." Mark flinched when Jim offered a hand, not wanting to take it. Rolling his eyes, Jim then took it upon himself to seize one of Mark's wrists and hauled him to his feet. "You must be freezing in those soaking wet clothes, we should go back and fetch you some new ones." He dragged a finger along Mark's shivering cheek, rubbing his fingers together at the moisture. "You are clumsy, aren't you?"
Mark couldn't say anything beyond his chattering teeth, hunched over with his arms crossed.
Jim giggled, gaze taking in his appearance. "Don't fret, love. I'll take care of you."
It was less of being ushered, and more like Mark was hustled back inside and led into a guest bedroom. Thankfully, they had accepted his request at undressing himself. Shivering, Mark stripped of his heavy, sodden clothes, passing them through the cracked door for a servant to take. Covered in goosebumps and self conscious, Molly tucked her hands into her armpits, shifting her weight on her feet as she waited for the clothes to be passed through - the bindings were left on the floor, where she'd try to sneak out with later. A minute passed and someone knocked on the door. Grumbling under her breath, she took the bundle handed to her by the disembodied gloved hand. Door closed, she unraveled it.
Holding the single garment in front of her, she stared it in simple shock. She shuddered, this time it was not from the cold. Mind racing, she put it on. There was another knock on the door.
"Dr. Hooper?" Jim called out. She cursed, head whipping towards the door. "Are you decent?" It started to open, but swiftly Molly pressed into it, forcing it back to a close - fought to do so.
"N-no, I'm not! Don't come in!"
"You sound distressed, should I come in?"
"No, I'm quite all right, please-" She stumbled backwards, Jim not one to be constrained, let the door hit the wall as he stood in the door frame. He dragged his eyes over her form, smirking as his gaze burned her flesh.
"Now, that suits you better than I expected. You do have a body under all of those ill fitting suits."
Hands clenched at her sides, she roughly breathed through her nose. The realization struck her, ripping her thin veil of safety to shreds. "Y-you..." she ground out, "you knew the whole time. Didn't you?" In response he entered the room, pleased when Molly didn't move away, meeting his gaze with such harsh accusing eyes. He crossed the distance between them, giving the white cotton nightgown she wore another approving glance. Gently he touched her face, gingerly dragging his thumb along her cheek before he lowered his fingers to her lips, peeling the moustache away. Offhandedly inspecting it, he let it fall to the ground between them. Looking up he asked, "Yes, but what are you going to do about it?"
"How..." She forced out, "How long?"
He tilted his head, nonchalantly shrugging. "A while. It seems eons now. Are you disappointed that this little charade between us didn't last longer?"
"T-this... This isn't some game I'm playing!"
"I don't see why not," he leaned close, fingers gently reaching out to peel the spirit gum and the wig from her head. She winced, letting him toss it over his shoulder. "I do love playing games, they make me so competitive. Why don't we start a new one?"
"A new- What?"
"A game," he sung with a smirk "to see how long until I have you begging." Molly's eyes widened, taking a step back. Jim turned around, slipping the lock on the door on. He faced her again with a mischievous smile, assuring her with "So we aren't interrupted like last time."
"I'm not..." She gulped.
"Not what, dear? Afraid?"
"N-no, I am." She admitted, "But that doesn't mean I'm a... A plaything for you to use then discard."
Both of Jim's eyebrows shot up, "Who said anything about discarding? Does it look like I'm going to get rid of you anytime soon?" She couldn't meet his gaze anymore, lowering it to his shoes.
"What happens now?" She mumbled. "What are you going to do now? Are y-" Her gasp was cut off, muffled as he pressed his lips into her's. His fingers were digging into her jaw, drawing her close. Immediately her eyes squeezed shut, hands reaching up to hold onto his arms, to keep the room from spinning. Everything was happening so fast, she peeled herself from him, panting as she tried to get back into control.
Tried to find some semblance of it in this room. Jim was having none of it, pulling her back in for seconds. His groan in her ears, Molly's legs went weak, buckling under the weight of everything. He dropped a hand to her lower back, holding her up as he kissed her with such fervour that her mind dissolved altogether. Holding her steady, he went forward, blindly steering her.
Molly yelped when something hit the back of her knees, making her stumble and fall, taking Jim with her. With a start she realized they were on the bed, Jim's weight bearing down on her. She moved her head to the side, gasping as Jim set to work on her throat, teeth roughly scraping. The thought of Jim being a vampire rose to the forefront of her mind, their pose a classic in Gothic novella literature. A beast upon a helpless maiden, readily devouring her. If Jim kept up this pace, she was afraid that by the end there would be nothing left of her.
Her breath hissed through her teeth, the searing bite Jim placed on her bared shoulder had her toes curling. His hands drifting down her body, one finding the hem of her nightgown, pulling it up to reveal her pale legs. He dragged his tongue along the sore imprint, moving back to smirk at the sight of how easily her legs fell open. The other went to slide down her clothed chest, feeling the breathless rise and fall through the thin fabric.
"You're taking this better than I expected." In no position to hold a conversation, Molly merely stared up at him, on the verge of catching fire. She thought absently, that Jim would like that, being the reason behind her destruction. He was already well on his way to doing so. "What no reply? Have you become mute, my dear M... What is your birth name?"
Molly wet her lips, needing a few seconds to focus on something other than how delightfully warm he was. "You...You didn't research that, sir? I thought you would have." Jim snorted, squeezing her thigh painfully at the jab. Wincing she decided it was best to be honest, "M-Margaret... But I prefer Molly."
"Molly," he drew out, studying her face. "How terribly boring. I do adore when you surprise me, dearest." It was Molly's turn to snort.
"I'm glad I have your regard, sir."
"Careful of that wagging tongue of your's, Molly." She shivered. "If not, we'll put it to good use." A wave of courage sweeping over her, Molly grabbed onto the front of his suit and pulled him back down again, their lips smashing together greedily. Pleasantly surprised that she was so eager for things to continue, Jim yanked her nightgown fully up. Parting momentarily so she could slip her arms and head out.
As soon as she was fully naked, she went to cover herself. She had forgotten her drawers had been given to that servant, alarmed at how indecent she was. It really shook her to her core, how this situation was developing. She never thought her first time with the opposite sex would be with anyone other than her future husband, someone she had long waited for, but maybe due to her circumstance and character he never arrived. She never thought someone like Jim would take her virginity, but she never knew someone like him existed to begin with.
Perhaps Sherlock was the best comparison, a reflection of Sir Moriarty that waned in the correct light, but unlike him the man that was with her was tangible. His desires of their joining was pronounced, his- She hissed again, thoughts robbed of her.
He let his fingers drop from her thighs, his nails making red streaks. The corner of his mouth twitching with a smug smile, he started the task of undressing himself. The confidence behind his actions made it easy, tossing his coat and suit onto the floor until he was left in his drawers. Molly lifted her head, transfixed. He blindly undid the ribbon on the back himself, raising a brow as if waiting for Molly's approval and awe. He didn't have to look far to find it. The last garment on his person was soon put in the pile, and ever content with himself Jim returned to her side.
Yesterday evening, back in London
They stepped into the chill of the city together, huddling near some brick alleyway to escape the wind. Lestrade took out his tin from his coat pocket, withdrawing a cigarette and placing it in his lips. He paused, thinking better of his manners and offered one to John. The doctor responded with a polite shake of his head, explaining "Mrs. Watson hates the smell of smoke, says it clings to me. I've been expressly forbidden to use one."
"That's a shame." The inspector removed the cigarette, staring at it between his fingers with a sigh. He opened the tin once more, placed it inside and tucked the container back into his pocket.
"Really now," John said with a frown, "you don't have to do that on my behalf."
"No," Lestrade sighed, "I'd feel guilty otherwise. Like eating while another went hungry, it's only polite to be miserable together." John gave a laugh, rubbing his hands together. Even if he may need the occasional help with a case... Daily assistance, that didn't stop Lestrade from being one of the best men John had ever met. Heaven forbid, but if he ever returned to that battlefield, it would be a comfort if Lestrade was by his side. "Will you tell him?"
Stolen from his thoughts, Dr. Watson blankly blinked at Lestrade "Pardon? Tell who what?"
"Sherlock," Lestrade said with a sniff, digging his hands into his coat to keep them warm. "About the play?"
"Ah, well..." He mulled it over, "I'll mention it casually, but I'm not sure what difference it'll make. We didn't see anything unusual, did we?"
"Yes, that's what I'm saying. Hardly a grisly death on stage... Asides from the planned ones."
Lestrade shifted his weight "This is a tricky one, it isn't like we'll catch the killer in the middle of lunch or with his trousers down."
"I'm afraid not." John gave Lestrade a firm pat on his shoulder, "I'll be off then for dinner. Don't stay out for too long, Lestrade."
"Goodbye, doctor." The inspector watched as the shorter man went back to the main road, taking a carriage home. Sighing, he dug into his pockets once more for that bloody tin.
She took one glance at his pale, scarred torso, then hastily stared up at the ceiling, face burning. The image of his lean muscles and the trail of hair underneath his navel lurked in her mind's eye, making her shudder. It wasn't as if she was unfamiliar with the human form, she had seen a countless amount of bodies at varying conditions. The issue was none were still living, they didn't have blood coursing through their veins. Our dear Molly was in uncharted territory and she was terrified.
A hand was on her chin, bringing it down so her eyes would meet his. "Molly," he said with an amused smile, "I'm not sure what you expected, but this isn't the place for propriety." He gave her a devilish grin, showing his sharp teeth as he took her hand and placed it above his heart. She audibly gulped, feeling the fast drumming underneath. He dragged her hand down his chest, watching her reaction to touching his skin. Eventually he let go, letting her take things at her own pace.
Jim was never a gentle lover, he was a selfish man who needed his appetite promptly satisfied. It was unlike him, but he took the time until he couldn't handle it any longer. He was thorough in his preparations, removing his fingers and mouth when she was drenched for him, fingers and toes clenching. It made entering all the more appetizing for the both of them, though he did enjoy the flicker of pain and discomfort over her face. It was hilarious how endearing everything was, her pressing her own arm into her mouth, trying to stifle any sounds that came out. She was mortified that someone would overhear them, would realize that the master of the house was deflowering the poor clumsy doctor. He wondered as he started to thrust into her, if she knew how enchanting it was to watch her.
Most likely, not. Her teeth sunk into her arm, eyes squeezed shut as she tried to force her moans back down her throat, but ultimately failed. If ever asked, Molly would compare having sex with Jim to drowning. You struggled against it, pulled at in every direction at the weight of his presence. Just as she surfaced above the water, gasping for air, she was dragged downwards. Fingers clawing at everything and nothing, trying not to go mad. She panted, sweat on her forehead as a hand was on her breast.
Her release rose up like a great big wave, looming and frightening, enough to block out the sun until it came with a mighty crash. She clutched at the blanket, crying out into the fabric. Jim's pace quickened, chasing his own climax, he gripped one of Molly's legs and hooked it further onto his hip. Doubling over as he ground into her, his mouth was puffing onto her throat, muffled groaning reaching her ears.
Molly shuddered, hands moving down his broad shoulders to his back. She wet and bit her lips, the sound of Jim cursing having her moaning. He gave a few more thrusts, pulling out to stroke himself to completion. In fascination she watched his expression, hoping it would forever stay in her memory, the furrowed brows and biting of his bottom lip. He hissed out something that vaguely sounded like 'Hooper!'
With a final shudder he opened his eyes, fingers dragging through his hair and brushing it back. His eyes returned to her, raising a brow at her small smile. "I didn't beg."
"Trust me, my Dr. Hooper, there's plenty of time for you to do so."
Yesterday, once more in London
"Of course I'm here, this is where I live." That foolish maid of his looked to the side, stuffing her hands into the front of her apron.
"Rough day was it, sir?" She looked back at him, with that knowing gaze. "Or did you and my lady fight again?"
"I..." He sputtered, "we didn't fight."
"Whatever you say, sir." He bristled, feeling as if he had never left the battlefield.
"You're right, it is whatever I say. And what I say is..." He floundered for a second, continuing on in a hushed voice, "Get back to the work you're supposed to be doing, or I'll be telling my wife."
"Yes, sir." He had wanted to seem stern, but by that smile she gave him, he must have made himself look like a fool once more. Cursing, he removed his hat, and tossed it onto the coat rack's hook along with his jacket. Mumbling under his breath, he strolled down the hallway, calling out to his wife.
"In here!" He found her in the living room, elegantly reclining on the sofa with a box of chocolates. He squinted at the sight of them, wondering where she got the sweets and whether he could have some. Honestly, he was the man of the house, he had rights! He should be free to take as many as he wanted... But it would be the polite thing to ask.
"Dear, are you-" She held a hand out, silencing him.
"Not until you've proven yourself."
He sighed, walking up to the sofa and bending down slightly. Mary grabbed the front of his suit, sniffing the fabric. "Are you done?"
"Now the back." He grumbled, but did as she asked. Rolling his eyes at his bloodhound of a wife.
Happy that her husband kept to his word, she patted the cushion beside her, placing a chocolate in John's awaiting mouth when he sat down. "Anything of interest today?"
Chewing around the sweet, he said "Nothing to get a lead from. The play was enjoyable."
Mary reached for her novel, asking offhandedly "And which was that one, love?"
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was rather good as well."
Mary paused, "Ah... Is that so?"
"Have you heard of it? Sherlock said it was printed as a book first."
"I may have. Here, why don't you have the rest of these?" She passed him the box. "I'll wash up before bed."
"Um, all right." He watched her walk off, popping another piece into his mouth.
Has there ever been a single moment in your life where everything was changed? For the better or worse, equally it was terrifying. For Molly it would be the realization of her actions once she woke up, but for now she remained blissfully ignorant in her slumber. For once it wasn't interrupted by another's memory, she sat in a field. The air was crisp and sweetly scented, springtime all around her. A cherry tree in full bloom was behind her, its pale pink petals fluttering in the breeze. Sighing, Molly closed her eyes, breathing in deeply as she stretched her legs out. Her unclothed skin brushed against the dewy grass, having goosebumps rising to her flesh. She didn't mind too much, the weather was warm and pleasant.
After a few moments she opened her eyes once more, feeling a tad parched. Humming a gentle tune under her breath, she climbed to her feet. Lightly she brushed dirt from her gown, making her way to the pond that appeared a yard or so away. Sitting down beside it, she admired the rippling surface, tugging a lock of hair behind an ear. Dipping a hand into the water, she hunched over as she scooped some of it into her mouth. Pleased with the coolness as she swallowed it down, Molly peered down at the pond's surface once more, studying her reflection.
Molly frowned, leaning forward as she took in her moustache and suit. Startled, she looked down at her own self, confused by the contrast of the dress. At that point a cherry blossom landed on her cheek, the coldness having her raise a hand to her face. She wiped it away to find it wasn't a flower, but a quickly melting snowflake. From the now darkened heavens they drifted downwards, announcing the season of winter. Wetting her cracked lips, she crossed her arms over her chest, shivering as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped.
Nose catching the scent of something burning, she drew her gaze to her reflection, hoping it would have some answers. It was gone. Molly dropped her arms, gripping handfuls of brittle grass as she moved closer yet, trying to find where her other self went. "H-hello?"
There was of course no response. How rude... She would have thought another version of herself would at least be polite, and act with dignity and proper manners. Clearly that wasn't the case here. Sighing, she lowered a hand down, fingers disrupting the serenity. Frustrated, she was about to pull away, to find shelter in the midst of this rapidly worsening weather, when a hand emerged from the depths and grabbed a hold of her wrist. She had mere moments to be suspended in terror, the chilled and wet hand locking around her and yanking her downwards. Molly cried out, frantically attempting to hold onto the grass, but it was to no use.
Water entered her nose and mouth, making her choke as her eyes closed at the sting of it. Her hair floated above her like a halo, bubbles of air streaming up from her nostrils. The space was depleted from noise as she was forced downwards, struggling until she managed to break away from the grasp. Forcing her eyes open, she squinted against the murky water, spinning her body until she saw the light from above. Salvation. Oxygen creeping from her lungs, she kicked her legs out as she swam upwards, energy draining with the cold and the weight of her clothing. It seized a hold of her ankle, pulling her back down.
Hands outstretched, she fought to break free, but she was getting so tired. Her chest hurt, squeezing painfully as her body finally succumbed.
Molly gasped, eyes suddenly opening. She lurched forward, hand to her throat as she took as many breaths in as she could. Black spots were dancing in the corner of her eyes, making her feel lightheaded. She hadn't felt like this since... She clawed her hair from her clavicle, pushing it back to see if she could find the familiar bruises from this point of view. Of course she couldn't see anything without the aid of a mirror, dropping the cause to take in the empty room. It was odd, her throat wasn't sore, though everything else was. She squinted at her surroundings, how unknown they were. At that moment it all came rushing back to her, how she had spent her night and why her naked body was covered in markings.
She hurriedly moved the blanket to her chest, hiding her breasts from the room. The empty space next to her spoke volumes, regret overcoming her as she wondered where Sir Moriarty was. Molly criticized herself for her foolishness, for letting a man so easily deflower her. Had she not any respect for herself? To let a man she'd only met on a few occasions become so intimate with her.
The sin of their joining left a bitter taste on her tongue, of having been used so carelessly and then discarded. She was meant to be more intelligent than this, she knew the injustices of her gender far too well. And yet she'd let this happen willingly... Her hands clenched the blankets, fingernails digging in as a wave of sadness and anger bathed her in its loathing hues.
The tears that pricked the corners of her eyes were furiously wiped away. It wasn't the first time she felt this lost, but now she was without the warmth of her friend's presence. Dear Meena would know just what to say, to comfort the rising emotions with a gentle touch and phrase. There was none of that here, she was utterly alone.
"What am I trying to achieve?" She mumbled under her breath.
"Precisely what I was thinking." Her head snapped up. Jim was leaning against the closed door, she hadn't heard him come in. He was cleanly made up, brow arched as he drank in her distress. The silence prolonged, making Molly shiver. Jim was the first to break this disharmony, "Are you unwell? Should I fetch you a doctor?"
Molly shook her head, eyes staring to the side. The disadvantage between them was unfair, how she was so exposed, so... Raw. While he stood in both a suit and a metaphorical armour, protected from any prying of his person. Though she suspected Jim was never an individual to be caught off guard, he didn't have the patience or care for it. "I'm... I'm in no need for one. My body is well, sir."
"But," he drew out, hands tucked into his pockets as he strolled to the bedside, "how is your mind faring?"
"It's in turmoil." She wearily admitted.
"Turmoil?" Molly winced as the word hung in the air, cautiously watching as he took to sitting on the edge of the bed. "For what reason?" She didn't know how to answer such an inquiry, didn't want to break her shell further open. She should have known Jim wouldn't allow that, he relished in tearing her barriers down and amusing himself with her squirming. He wouldn't be satisfied with Molly running away, that would be such a boring and useless response.
"You... You know why."
"Do I? Maybe. That doesn't stop me from so greatly wanting to hear you say it. Go on, my doctor. Use your words like the human you are. You have a brain, don't you?" Bastard. The insult hurt her more than she would ever like to permit, she enjoyed his company, entertained that they might... Forget it, such reasoning was preposterous. He plainly didn't see anything between them, not the way she did. It may have been her fault for jumping to conclusions with an encounter like before, to think something sweet and fruitful would develop. "Doctor Hooper?" He cooed, playing the part of worry perfectly.
She bit the inside of her cheek hard, wanting nothing more than to hit that attractive face of his. Jim leaned backwards at the glare, smirking at the response. It was delightful watching her reactions, they were so... Genuine. Entertaining as this was, he didn't want the festivities of last night to end sourly, at least not yet. He held his hands up in surrender, "I see you're in a state of post-coital tristesse, we'll save the banter for another day. Now, you must be famished, aren't you?" She didn't want to answer him, still upset despite the change in topic, but her traitorous stomach loudly groaned on cue.
Jim smiled at the noise, nodding. "Breakfast has been made up. I'm afraid I have duties to tend to, so I won't be able to enjoy the food with you." The thought of eating was wonderful right now, but there were a number of problems not addressed. There was one particular part she found herself pondering over, glancing down to her form. Jim made a sound of understanding, lowering his voice. "I personally oversaw having your clothes cleaned. I could have offered you a new outfit, but I speculated you'd be uncomfortable with the action." She nodded, gaze drifting over to where Jim gestured to. Her suit neatly folded on a chair in the corner, set with her wig and moustache. She was relieved to see the ensemble.
"Does," she cleared her throat, "does anyone know?" Loudly her heart hammered in her ears, anticipation going to be the death of her.
"No," he hummed, as though his words didn't have much importance or weight. "The staff are dangerous enough, they figure out the juiciest morsel of gossip to whisper amongst themselves. They know of my interest in you, but nothing else. Even dear Mr. Lancret remains as oblivious as always."
She let out a sigh of relief, "So last night was left unknown?" Jim's smile dropped.
"Don't be absurd, of course they know." What? Molly's cheeks burned hotly as she sunk into the covers. "They won't say anything, their lives matter too much to them."
"Mr. Lancret" she croaked out, "does he know?"
Jim gave a bark of laughter. "It would be near impossible for him to not. The whole house was filled with your reverence, might as well have been a church with the praises being shouted."
"Lovely," she sighed, wishing the floor would cave in and she would plummet to her death, dragging Jim down with her. Things never went her way, and the floor remained in place.
He shrugged, "I don't see why you'd care, they're here to clean not voice their opinions. The only one that matters here is mine, and that is for you to dress unless you want your food to be cold." She nodded, waiting for Jim to leave. He didn't move, instead, that smirk of his slithered back onto his face. "What? It isn't as if I haven't seen your nakedness before." That was true, but she still didn't like it. Hesitating, she peeled the blanket away, equally shivering at the lack of fabric as his stare. Reminded all too well of last night, she climbed down from the bed and strolled hurriedly to the chair, dressing in haste. His eyes were on her back, watching as she donned her drawers and went to put on the new bindings that had been so generously provided.
The time in which she finished these tasks was hampered by his presence, it made her fingers fumble and make unnecessary mistakes. There was a strange energy here, embarrassing how intimate the simple action of dressing was. Underclothes on, she was in the process of putting her dress shirt on, when Jim made a low sound. She froze, looking over her shoulder as he got up from his seat and walked over to her. Molly turned, confused as he brushed her hands from the garment.
Questioningly staring up at him, a pit settled in Molly's stomach, made from anxiety and other troublesome emotions. He did the buttons up, a small smile tugging the corners of his lips.
"How long," she whispered, "did you know about me?"
"You in general, or the nature of your gender?"
He glanced upwards, but looked back down to continue his work. "I had an inkling when I first looked into you, I tend to do research on those living on my property. But that turned into truth when you had that appointment with-"
"The tailor." Jim frowned at being cut off, finishing the last button.
"Yes, Mr. Emersons told me. Did you really think he wouldn't?"
"I had hoped..." Prayed that he wouldn't consider the meeting. Jim laughed softly.
"You do that often, don't you? Hoping that the world won't notice, Molly."
She tried to restrain herself, to make it less obvious the effect he had on her by just saying her name casually. She waited a few seconds before she answered, ever so softly saying "Someone like me has to."
He was quiet after that, watching as she turned to fetch her vest from the pile. There were a few footsteps that neared her, the warmth that radiated spoke of his closeness. She wanted to break this silence, chewing on her bottom lip until the sounds of his steps retreated. Confused, she lifted her head, peering over her shoulder to watch the door close.
Mark left the room, soon joined by a quiet maid that showed him downstairs. The food plated and waiting for him would surely be a delight any other day, but for now its taste was left unknown to him. He wasn't as hungry as he was before, but Mark forced himself to eat everything, to pretend everything was fine. Dishes cleared away, he was helped with his coat and then led to the front of the house. Mr. Lancret was waiting outside, expression blank as he opened the carriage door.
The ride back to the manor was taxing, the silence lengthy as Mark's night rested over their heads. The thought that the elderly butler heard his moans had Mark mortified, though he told himself that there was nothing he could do about it now. The only relief he had was that the servant didn't know of his true identity, no one knew besides Sir Moriarty, Meena, John, and a tailor. Mark had been worried enough that John might slip up, that Sherlock might realize, but now that a man like Jim knew... He wasn't sure what to do, how Sir Moriarty would act with that knowledge in his possession.
It was several long hours until they returned, limbs stiff with the prolonged sitting and the chill. Eager to escape its confinements, Mark hurried to leave the carriage and to cross the path up to the stone steps. He could hear Mr. Lancret following swiftly behind him. The door swung open as a nameless servant held it, bowing as Mark headed inside. He ignored the servants' appearance at his arrival, making his way to his laboratory. Working on his papers would be the perfect distraction, allowing for a clear mind. "I'm not to be disturbed." He called over his shoulder, sated when Mr. Lancret said, "Yes, sir."
Entering the lab, Mark turned to close the door firmly when a hand shot out from the shadows, catching the frame. Startled, he stared at the face in the gap.
"Sir?" A maid said softly. "I have an item that may be of importance to you." She removed something from her apron pocket, careful that no one else who walked down the hallway would see it.
"I'm not..." Mark's eyes widened, and he pulled the door further open, ushering her inside. Closing it, he turned to face her with a frown, ever aware of what she held in her hands. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
There was a delay in a response while the maid looked around, admiring the seemingly endless stacks of papers and rolled up diagrams. She stopped looking when Mark started to speak, gaze sliding back over. "Would... would you like to have a seat?"
She slightly curtsied, taking one of the chairs in the corner and moving it over to the desk where Mark sat down at. Their two differing social classes rarely sat at the same table - if ever, but he tried to put that from his mind.
"Thank you, sir." She mumbled, items and hands neatly placed on her lap.
Mark leaned back in his chair, hoping his disposition was gentle. "What is your name?"
Her eyes lifted to his, frightened but... Determined? "Samantha, sir."
"Samantha" he said to himself, then saying louder "It's a good name."
"Thank you, sir." He waved it off.
"Relax, there's nothing to fear here. I'm not mad, I just want to know why you..." As if remembering why she was here to begin with, Samantha glanced down and then handed the items over with trembling hands. Mark quickly touched the letters, absently counting them. They were all here.
"I know I shouldn't take things, sir. Even if they aren't yours to possess." He began to chew on a spot in the inside of his cheek.
"You've read them." He didn't need her to respond, he already had his answer, but she nodded all the same. Mark sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "And?"
"And, sir?" He dropped his hand, squinting at her until Samantha fidgeted in her seat.
"What do you plan to do about it? Does Mr. Lancret know?" Heaven forbid, but did Sir Moriarty?
"Ah." That rose far more questions, why would she do such a thing? And jointly, what did she want for her silence?
It was Samantha's time to read Mark's gaze, shaking her head as she said "I didn't do it for a reward, sir. I... I'm not fond of my employer and Mr. Lancret, though it's nothing ill against either of them. The pay is good, and they keep me off the streets, but..."
"...But?" Mark leaned forward, threading his fingers together.
Samantha's gaze moved from his, fixing to the floor instead. "They aren't good people, sir, unlike you. I saw it in you when you first arrived, and I overheard that physician's daughter in town." Lollie? "She's fond of you, sir." Mark winced, nose scrunching. "She speaks highly of you, what a good man you are. I don't want to see another person turned into an awful thing - not being kind to your fellow man."
"Your conscience is bothering you."
Samantha nodded, tugging on her sleeves. "I wouldn't betray the master of the house, but I can't help but notice things. That's why I did it, I hope you won't become cross and tell-"
"No." Mark said firmly. "I won't. No one can deny your loyalty, Samantha. But we both have done foolish things, it's in our best interest(s) to forget this meeting ever took place between us." The maid started to climb to her feet, but Mark held a hand out, stopping her. Slowly she drifted back down again, still wary, but also now confused. "Since you've read the letters, may I intrude to ask after your opinion on their contents?"
"My opinion?" She said softly, as if she's never heard the two words before.
"If it isn't too much of a personal task."
"No, sir. I'm... I'm ready for any inquiry you may have."
"Wonderful. Now have you read them all?" She nodded. "And have you heard of those names before?"
"Not of the name that went by Hugh, but I did know of Master's mother. He doesn't talk about his family, his nature doesn't let him recollect such things with us... That is, the servants." Mark encouragingly nodded. "But he does own several of her belongings, which needs the utmost care in handling and maintaining. I tend to be a little clumsy, especially when he's around so Mr. Lancret never lets me near them."
"And Edmund?" She lifted her gaze, expression blank with confusion. Right, she wouldn't know.
"Sir Moriarty's father, do you have any knowledge what happened to him?" With that question the atmosphere around them changed, she became more nervous, as if suddenly sensing how inappropriate this conversation was and what would happen if anyone discovered them like this.
"Sir... He doesn't talk about him. Though his dislike is apparent."
"I'm not..." Samantha glanced at the door, "I have chores that I should really finish before Mr. Lancret becomes upset, sir."
"Samantha." She stopped moving. "I swear that will be the last question I ask of you."
"Well..." Mark glanced down to her hands, taking in the whiteness of her knuckles. "One evening, my master arrived in one of his better moods, happier than I'd ever seen - he ordered a bottle of wine from the cellar, and he drank the whole thing. I was cleaning the room over, and had opened the window to let the air circulate when I heard him talking. The room they were in must have had their's open as well-"
"They...? Was it not just Sir Moriarty?"
"No, sir. Mr. Moran was present."
"Ah, he's tall... Intimating blonde fellow?" So finally there was a name to him.
"Oh yes, go on."
"Master wanted Mr. Moran to share the bottle with him, but Mr. Moran doesn't like to drink whilst working. Instead, he listened while Master's tongue loosened, talking about, well... I only heard bits and pieces, sir."
"It's quite all right, Samantha." She took another glance to the door, but quickly finished her tale.
"He was in great spirits, mentioning he hadn't felt this alive since he did the... And these are his words, sir. 'Did the old bastard in.' I didn't need to hear more, I closed the window and finished my cleaning before I left. I haven't said this to a soul until now."
"He killed his own father?" Mark mumbled, shocked. He already knew that Sir Moriarty was a man of great violence, but to kill his own flesh and blood. Admittedly - if the letters and dreams held a truth to them, the man who played the authoritative figure in his life. But still it was unnerving. From what he remembered from Viola's memories, Sir Edmund wasn't a person who Mark held any sympathy for, but... To go so far as to snuff the life from another person. Did that mean Jim knew of Hugh? Or was the murder from the maltreatment of his mother or himself? From what Mr. Lancret had said, it seemed that Jim genuinely cared for his late mother, so each reason was plausible.
"Thank you, Samantha, you've been a great deal of help. I won't forget it. You're free to leave."
She hastily climbed to her feet, giving a polite curtsy as she mumbled "Thank you, sir" before leaving. Door closing once more, Molly leaned back in her seat, scrubbing her face with her hands. If Sir Moriarty wasn't above murdering Sir Edmund, where did that leave her? Would she join the ranks of the dead lurking in this manor?
Meanwhile, in London
Meena made her rounds, though she went about it more morose than most days. The letter from dear Molly had arrived earlier that morning, and eagerly she tore the wax seal, eyes frantically reading every line. She had read it again immediately afterwards. She knew sweet Molly was attempting to sate any worries, and she did do that to some degree. Meena by no accounts liked the image her friend painted of the manor, it seemed too cold and distant for her liking. It held an air of danger to it, that some fiend could be lurking around any corner. Nor was she content with the caretaker tending to Molly, he seemed of a strict disposition. She dearly wished he took his duties seriously and looked after... Well, Mark.
If not, he would most definitely face her wrath. At least Molly wasn't completely alone in that house; she was already far too timid, Meena couldn't imagine that place doing much good. Carrying an empty tray of dishes to the scullery to be washed, Meena took comfort in her friend's letter, folded and tucked into her apron pocket, it made her feel all the more closer.
Sighing, she went down the corridor, passing fellow nurses and their patients as she headed inside. Pushing past the set of doors, she placed it on a table, changing the water to a basin and lighting a fire underneath to heat it. She waited until the temperature was hot enough, adding soap flakes. Fetching a nearby clean hanging scrap of cloth, Meena sighed as she dumped the tray in, taking the first dish from the bubbling mess.
"Do you mind some company?"
She didn't need to bother to lift her head, set on a particular stain. "Not if you don't mind offering a hand."
"Not at all."
The other nurse moved beside her, air whistling through her teeth at the heat. She calmed down when she was shot a look, taking a plate. Meena knew she should be easy on the poor thing, she was new and the work was tough, but her patience was thin for whining. She got that enough from the miserable souls here, and that's without thinking of the morgue below.
She must have mumbled something about it under her breath, as the other nurse hummed. "To be quite honest, it scares me."
"The... the morgue? All those bodies, they give me the shivers thinking about it."
Meena snorted, "They're dead, it isn't like they can hurt you. It's the living you have to be worried about."
"But being in the dark the whole bloody day? It isn't right. I heard they get cut up like they're pigs at a butchers. I don't think I could have the strength to meet one of the workers there." Meena bit her tongue, trying her hardest not to laugh. The thought of someone being afraid of Molly was preposterous, she couldn't walk without tripping over half a dozen times. She smiled softly, remembering when her friend came home one night, holding a trembling bundle to her chest. It was a kitten she had found outside, she had been desperate for them to keep it, even if they didn't have the time or money to properly look after it. She had cried until she became sick, not wanting to let it die in the cold.
"Oh, they aren't so bad."
"I guess you're right, there is that one man."
Her head snapped up, eyes narrowing. Too many silly girls here fancied her moustached pathologist, it was becoming an issue. They were naturally drawn to Mark, how he was kind to all of the nurses, quiet and intelligent. A few days before Molly's departure, Meena had overheard a sister to a deceased man refer to Mark as 'considerate in his brooding'. She swore, ever since the publication of that bloody book she's heard nothing but of men with lamenting characters. If she had made an acquaintance with the late Ms. Jane Austen, whether by séance or some supernatural event, she would be sure to express her grievances to the author's apparition. It was hard enough keeping her friend's identity a secret without being fawned over. If one more daft nurse attempted to drag naive Mark into an empty room, she was going to scream.
Gripping the cloth tight, she glared at the other nurse from the corner of her eye. "A man?"
"Yes." The nurse's cheeks reddened, "I caught sight of him today." Oh, thank God. Meena sighed, resuming her cleaning. "He seemed to be a man of authority, he was accompanied by a shorter gentleman."
"Ah, is that so?"
"Yes, he was in quite a hurry to head down to the morgue. I wished he stayed in the halls a bit longer, the light down there doesn't do him justice."
"We could use a handsome face around here."
"My thoughts exactly. And he did have proud features, a very sharp set of cheek b-" Meena dropped a bowl. They both cursed, stepping back from the basin. There were shards of glass all over the floor, a fact not helped when it was slick with soapy water. The nurse looked up at her in shock.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm..." Meena touched her apron, making sure that the letter was still there. She couldn't let Sherlock see it, not if she wanted to keep Molly safe. "I need to fetch a broom!"
"But there's-" The nurse watched after her in confusion while she scurried from the room, gaze shifting to the broom resting in the corner. "One over there...?"
Shoes clacking loudly on the wooden floorboards, Meena's steps were of a quickened pace, attempting to appear as if nothing was wrong but still permitting the casual glance over her shoulder. It was as if a devil was at her heels, at least a man with the social grace of one.
Turning back, she travelled down to the bowels of the hospital, skin crawling with how the shadows danced on the walls. Pressing a hand against her hips, where the letter lay in the apron pocket, she went down the twisting and narrow steps until she reached the basement.
It may be seen as foolish to take such a lengthy journey instead of finding a fireplace in one of rooms on the main level, but if she followed that logic there would be more of a chance to come upon the doctor and detective upstairs. No, she had to deal with this swiftly. Shuddering at the rapid change in temperature, Meena strode into the furnace room, pleased that there wasn't a worker inside. Stepping around piles of coal, Meena grabbed a nearby hanging cloth and used it to unlatch one of the doors to the furnace. Mindful of the heat, she squinted against it and peered into the hungry flames for a moment.
Wordlessly, she fished the letter from its hiding place, gaze dropping down to the crumpled papers held in her hand. With a sigh, she tossed it in, raising an arm as it stirred the fire up. Watching as Molly's words and secrets burn before her, the relief Meena felt was bittersweet. She hoped the warmth it gave off would soothe the hollow feeling in her chest, the ache for a friend, but it didn't. It made the contrast all the more obvious.
June 9th, 1858
Viola sighed, fingers knitted together as she stood in front of the fireplace. Her eyes slowly closed, breathing in deeply. She thought she would never be here again, in this house. Without its owner present it had lost its charm, it only held memories. At one point sweet, they were forever transformed into dreadful regrets - a melancholy hopelessness she couldn't even begin to imagine escaping. Everything was ruined, she might as well jump into the flames and burn like those logs, if only it wasn't for the child in her womb.
"Don't." She spat out, "I don't want to ever be called that again." It was painful how late she was, if only she had arrived sooner. That bloody wheel to the carriage had gotten stuck in mud, a byproduct of a sudden bout of rain, they'd been delayed trying to get it out. In the end they had to seek shelter in a nearby inn when it became too dark, she had thought they could have regained time by continuing on early in the morning, but it didn't matter in the end.
"I'm sorry, my lady."
"It's fine, Penelope." She said with a sigh, it wasn't the poor girl's fault. If anyone was to be blamed, it should be her. She killed Hugh with her in action, her negligence. He had deserved better, better than her. Viola bit hard onto her bottom lip until she tasted blood, the sting of pain she felt wasn't enough of a punishment for her.
"My lady, I thought you would like to see what I've discovered, it was put within a dresser drawer."
Momentarily distracted from her self hatred, she turned around to the unusually nervous maid and what she held in one of her hands. No one could blame her for fidgeting, her surroundings encouraged nothing less. Hugh had always enjoyed keeping things, bits of cloth he admired, an endless amount of books, and rocks he had found on the beach and kept for its handsomeness. In his own quaint way, he reminded Viola of a bird. She swallowed a lump in her throat, trembling fingers taking the stack of letters. Immediately she recognized the curve of the print, the diction used. Tracing the dried ink and imprints from her pen, she smiled sadly. He had kept every letter she had sent, cared for it. Viciously she took the handkerchief offered, and wiped the tears prickling the corners of her eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered, not willing to lift her gaze. It would only remind her of her sin. Hugh's house, although cramped, had been neat. An organized chaos, as it were. When Viola and her chaperones had stepped inside, she knew at once that something was wrong. Papers and books were on the ground, bits of broken glass that crunched noisily under their shoes. The signs of a struggle had filled her with dread, and racing upstairs... The landlord who provided a key in their emergency didn't let her fully see, she caught a glimpse of the familiar form on the floor before she was dragged away from the door frame. But it was enough... The unnatural twist and blood from his body was- She sucked in another breath, hoping to soothe the hysteria before it sets in.
She wanted... Her hand clenched the papers, she wanted to get revenge on her husband, to bestow on him the same fate. No, he deserved worse. She needed to see him writhe in pain like the worm he was, to relent only when she saw fit, and that manor... The manor...
Legs feeling unsteady, Viola was thankful for the assistance in sitting down on a plush chair. "My lady, should I get you a drink?" She nodded, grimacing at the sound of the floorboards creaking above, they were still tending to her late Hugh.
"Penelope," she said softly, as much to no one as the maid. Perhaps she just needed to talk, it didn't matter to whom, so long as this awful silence was filled. "What am I to do?"
"Pardon, Lady M- Lady Viola?"
"The manor." She croaked with such disdain, "I never want to go back, but where shall I go?" Her eyes and voice became distant, losing herself in her grief and sorrow. "I cannot run away, I have no place to go, my family is hardly in the proper situation to care for another pair of mouths. They're depending on my... On my marriage to that beast. Maybe I should..." She bit hard on her lip again, brows furrowed, "Maybe" she hissed out, "I should slay it."
"My lady," Penelope whispered harshly, hoping her tone didn't offend, but her worry outweighed her sense of reason. Truly, she liked Lady Viola, she was kinder than most, even those of a simple inheritance. She never held her class above anyone's heads, it was hard to not enjoy her company. Desperately she didn't want to see someone like her go down this dark and ghastly path. "Please excuse my inappropriate behaviour, but my lady, you aren't thinking clearly."
Viola lifted her head with a sneer, "Aren't I? For once I can see things for what they are. I was stupid before, Penelope, but not anymore." The maid shook her head, kneeling before the chair to clutch at her employer's shaking hands.
"But what of your child? If you were to..." Penelope cleared her throat, eyes glancing at the door frame before continuing on in a quieter tone "To kill your husband, what do you think will happen to your baby? And that's to imagine you succeed, I'm sure Sir Edmund plans for you to do so. I wish you'd reconsider, if not only for your maternal duty." The idea of living with the murderer of her beloved was a disgusting thought, but... Viola closed her eyes, head dropping to the headrest of the chair, while a hand rose to be placed on her belly.
Should she not live, if only for Hugh's child? Would that be enough? She held the letters tight to her chest, knowing fully well that she wouldn't be leaving without them.
A happening in London
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a gothic novella that was regarded rather innocently despite its contents. Previously it had been only mere fiction, not much beyond causing a reader to jump at shadowy corners, but with these deaths things had started to change. After the penny dreadful, Dr. Watson barely slept a wink. It wasn't as if the play had scared him, he'd seen such awful things in the past that to be afraid of a theatre showing was impossible. No, he couldn't sleep because his mind was a buzz. There was something he was missing, it plagued him. Sherlock often spoke of the importance of an opened mind, an eye that noted details that might have been overlooked. At this point John couldn't help but feel as if he was failing the detective, and that had a pit in the bottom of his stomach.
Sighing loudly he turned in his bed, restless.
"Quiet, darling" came the murmur from his wife, "and please stop fidgeting." He flipped once more in the dark, squinting through the darkness at his wife - though he certainly couldn't see her face, he knew she was frowning.
"Sorry," he whispered, the words sounding wrong in the stillness of their home. "I just can't stop thinking." Mary made a noncommittal hum, more than a tad annoyed.
"That's nice, dear. Do the thinking in your dreams."
"But, Mary," he said with an off-put sigh, "This case has been vexing. I shan't be getting it from my head anytime soon."
"Then," his wife drew out "shouldn't you ponder it further elsewhere? This room is meant for sleeping, John. Let your poor pregnant wife do that, and do your thinking in the study."
John sat up, frowning. "You don't want to help me and discuss it?"
Grumbling, he pulled the covers back, stumbling in the limited light from the fireplace and stubbing his toes only thrice on the chest by the foot of their bed. Cursing under his breath, finally John exited the room, closing the door gently behind him. He crossed his arms over his torso, limping down the hallway and to his place of solitude. Pushing the heavy wooden door open, he cautiously walked in, careful to not hit any more furniture. Igniting the gas lanterns, soon his study was as bright as if it were daytime. Blinking at the change, John strolled over to the door and closed it, returning to sit behind his desk.
Taking a new piece of paper from the main compartment of his desk, he took his pen and scrawled a series of notes, firstly noting the main concepts of the play. After witnessing the shocking display, John had forthwith read the original novel. Both had dealt with the duality of human nature, a inner struggle between a gentleman and his beastly side.
On the topic of beasts, what had been the note left on that corpse? Ah yes, it had been 'If he be Mr. Hyde.' If he had remembered it correctly, the line was incomplete. It ought to have been: "If he be Mr. Hyde", he had thought, "I shall be Mr. Seek." He took to the sentence well, having thought it was a clever use of a phrase. Writing it down, he underlined it thoroughly. And yet, why was the note not finished? It didn't hold as much weight without the other portion. Did that mean there was another piece, another corpse that they were not aware of? If so, who was in possession of it?
John's brows furrowed. Did Sherlock know already?
The phrase had been said when Mr. Utterson - Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, had begun to make connections between respectable Jekyll, and the contrariwise Mr. Hyde. How alarming it was that his client knew of such an improper and violent man, as well as his desire to be Jekyll's sole beneficiary.
Mind elsewhere because of his inquiries, John stroked his moustache, lips stuck out in a pout. When Mr. Utterson had thought that, it had shown a willingness to know the truth, to discover the secret relationship between two polar opposites. Is that what they meant? Did the killer want to, or wanted someone to reveal a liaison?
John dropped his hand to drum his fingers on the desk. Or... Was the intent not so much the phrase, they were simply words after all, but the characters themselves? Dr. Jekyll was an intelligent man, respected by his peers for his ability in medicine. Mr. Hyde while also intelligent, was mysterious and violent - not above running a child over for bumping into him. And although the pair seemed vastly different, they were the same. Precisely one person...
"Christ" John muttered, letting his pen fall in his frustration. This was all so complex, it could be spun a million different ways. No matter where he looked at it, it seemed a need for attention, that this was a direct message to someone in particular. If they knew who that person was, it would make finding the identity of this killer all the more easier. John yawned, resting his head on his knuckles. Perhaps after a quick nap, he should bring this to Sherlock, he'd know what to think of it. He always does...
June 28th, 1858
She had sent for the last of his things, and in secret they would be delivered to a private location. Some of Hugh's possessions had to be auctioned off, she couldn't avoid it - none of her current money could be put towards preserving everything. Although she now had coin to spare, if she used any of it Sir Edmund would be made aware of it. She couldn't bear that, the less contact the better.
Viola's glare worsened, staring gloomily through the carriage window as they rode up the driveway. As imposing as ever, the manor rose up to greet them, grey stormy clouds overhead and cast in shadows despite it being daytime. She shivered, drawing her shawl further over her shoulders.
They came to a rocky halt, and she waited for a servant to open the door. With the helping hand of another faceless person, she went down the steps. Deeply exhaling, she strolled across the stones and up the stairs, chin raised high and back straight. Viola bit hard on the inside of her cheek, having to remind herself to calm the hatred inside of her, she needed to think of the welfare of two now.
Sir Edmund didn't greet her in the hallway, not even to snarl or spit his venom. No, he was above that. She found him in the dining room, eating his breakfast as if he didn't have a care, didn't have a conscience about the man he'd just killed. Viola paused in the door frame, trembling. Most certainly she was afraid, she wanted nothing more than to flee this terrible place, but her rancor outweighed any pitiful emotions.
That loathing of hers burned red hot, chasing away the chill of the atmosphere. She brushed her fingers on her gown, straightening them out. They kept curling, naturally they wanted to be wrapped around his neck, squeezing until the life left his eyes and they popped.
Not bothering to look up from his meal and paper, Sir Edmund casually called out "How was your trip, Lady Viola?"
It took a few moments to compose herself enough to respond, "It was lovely, Sir Edmund. May I join you?"
He nodded, not commenting on the coldness to her tone. A servant pulled out the seat across from him, which Viola wordlessly took. A little time after a plate was set down, heaping with food. Although her stomach was knotted from hunger, Viola waved it away. This man was so filled with poison, she wouldn't be surprised if he laced it in the food. It was this to which Sir Edmund addressed, almost chastising as he said "Dear, really, you have nothing to fear from me." His eyes finally looked up, nailing Viola to her seat. "You're a Moriarty for life, no harm shall come to you here. At least by my hand."
"My," she hissed, "you are so generous." From the corner of her eye she caught sight of Mr. Lancret, staying close to the darkness of the room, he was not able to hide the obvious injury to his person - the bruises to his face.
"I can imagine," Sir Edmund drawled out "despite our differences, we shall be sharing the rest of our lives together." Viola never knew it was possible to hate another human being so much, but here she was, dislike mounting with every word he said - no, with every heartbeat. He seemed to read her mind, and ever so slightly, he smiled at her.
Nothing encourages one's ambitions as does hate, it drives humanity to incredible lengths. Jim Moriarty, even as a child, soon grew to recognize its presence. The days of his youth were long and lonely, brightened only by his adventures in the forest surrounding the property - there he could easily avoid the staff and stay out as long as he wanted. In that maze of foliage he wasn't restricted by rules, or observed by a fearful nanny. Quite simply put he was free. Free to experiment with the concept of cruelty, the very same topic his father used with relish. It didn't matter if you were a servant or a member of his own family, Sir Edmund wasn't above violence to stress his authority. He often directed his attention to Jim and his brother, strict in which the conduct they presented themselves and to his circle of colleagues.
Perhaps the greatest lesson he taught to Jim was how to be cruel, how to hurt others to get what you want. In that forest and at school, Jim honed his craft - catching birds and tying rocks to their legs with thick string, curious how long they could live for after being dropped into a nearby river. By the age of thirteen he had sought bigger subjects, and tried the alike exercise on an insufferable schoolmate. And while his father taught him a great many things, his mother did the same.
For all the despicable moments in his childhood, sweet but sad Viola tried to show whom she referred to as James - as if a different name made any change in character or soul, how to be patient and generous. Of course Jim considers himself generous, at a price... But looking back, truly the mission of his late mother was admirably noble, even if it was a bit naive.
He was never quite sure what she intended with all of those mornings wasted at church, forcing him to attend and kneel before God, pleading for forgiveness. After all of those virtues were drilled into his head, perchance she thought that he would follow through with them into adulthood.
Jim yawned, listening as this worm writhed by his shoes. He lifted a brow at the stream of words coming from this man's mouth, his clear want to become a client, to be protected. Jim didn't have time for this, it was so boring, he could be with his dear doctor right now - particularly watching her squirm instead. At the thought of the masquerading woman his mouth quirked, the foolish man by his feet mistook it as Jim being in a good mood. His hopefulness disappeared when Jim gave a lazy gesture, indifferent to his sounds of shock as he was dragged away. Jim gave another yawn. His poor mother, if only she knew that with her death, there was another body being buried. Her dear 'James' had wilted with her, tossed away in a pauper's grave.
"Right," he said with a sudden clap of his hands, having the staff flinching. "I'm feeling rather famished." A swift set of hands was on his chair, pulling it back for him. He wondered what Molly was doing right about now.
Respectively in London
Fingers steepled and smoke billowing from his mouth, Sherlock absently puffed on his pipe. He didn't slip out of his daze until a hand snapped its fingers before his face, blinking for a second, he glared up at its owner. "You've been busy, haven't you?"
John shifted his weight to the back of his heels, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets. "What tells you that?" With one last drag, Sherlock removed the pipe from his mouth, tilting his head to the side and lips pouting to exhale a stream of smoke. He gestured casually at his friend's appearance.
"For one your clothes, they're creased as if done in haste. There's bags under your eyes, worse than usual. You haven't been sleeping well, and..." The corner of Sherlock's lip curled up with a smirk. John bristled, self conscious as he brushed his sleeves off. "And," he started again "you have ink all over your right cheek. The wording is actually quite visible." He leaned forward, raising a brow when his eyes finished quickly reading a line. "You've been researching that novella."
John took a handkerchief from his pocket and harshly wiped at his cheek, taking his usual seat. After a few moments, he deemed it a lost cause and tossed the cloth onto the nearest table with a muttered curse. He blamed that blasted maid for not saying anything, when he returned home he made up his mind to speak with his wife. That girl was surely in for it now, Mary would have a great many things to say. "That's precisely why I came to speak to you, Sherlock. I think I've made a great deal of progress with the case."
"Have you now?" Sherlock dragged his gaze away to the roaring fireplace, clearly skeptical and unimpressed.
Offended, John pointedly said "Yes, I have. Just the other day I was contemplating the quote found on the body."
"And..." He waited until Sherlock at least pretended to be interested before he went on to say, "I believe we're missing a body."
Sherlock lifted his head, "I figured as much, Dr. Watson, although I'm surprised you've come to such a conclusion." A tad pleased, Sherlock clasped his friend on the shoulder. "Well done. Now tell me, have you had any more revelations?"
Meanwhile, still basking in the glow of the rare but welcomed gesture of affection, John leaned back in his seat with a smug "I might." He was increasingly surprised when Mr. Holmes encouraged him further.
"By all means, Dr. Watson. Show your findings."
"Well..." John coughed into his sleeve, "I just thought that all of these messages must be directed to one person in particular. To find our killer we need to only discover the location of this recipient."
"You've improved vastly in deductions." His moustached friend had begun to get a little red around the ears. "Soon you won't be a complete hindrance anymore." Sherlock leapt to his feet, excitement palpable. Energy substantially less energetic, John remained in place, confused whether he should take the detective's comment as an insult or not.
"You're welcome. I'm looking forward to you not lagging behind me, and mucking everything up." Sherlock set his pipe down and crossed the room, fetching a coat from a hook.
"I..." Now noting his companion's actions, John hastily climbed to his feet. "And where are you bloody running off to now!?"
Coat now donned, Sherlock snatched his pipe up once more. "Why John, to pay my brother a visit."
"Your brother?" John's brows furrowed, "Is he involved somehow?" Sherlock spared him a look over his shoulder.
"The better question, Dr. Watson, is when isn't he involved?" With a sharp turn on his heel, Sherlock quickly exited his abode.
"Wait!" John called out, scanning the room in a hurry for his gloves. He found them on a table, half covered by a chicken's grisly foot. "Christ," he muttered under his breath, "I hope we don't go to that club again. I can't understand anything with that hand flapping." Shaking his head, he took chase, in hot pursuit of the detective.
Across the city
When first approached with the idea of pregnancy, Mary was told by the lot of nurses that she would enjoy that time in much needed silence. She'd be relaxing, not a care in the world besides that of her health and the baby. All a complete load of bollocks. Even with a rounded belly, Mary found herself working. At least the conversation was enjoyable.
"How dreadful." She took another sip of her tea. After swallowing the hot liquid down, she met her companion's gaze over the rim of her cup. "And you're sure he doesn't suspect anything?"
The person across from her laughed, "It's Sherlock. What doesn't he suspect?" That was true.
Mary shrugged, "I hope not this. I love my dear husband to pieces, but even as oblivious as he is, he still surmised it."
"You've trained him well, he knows when to hold his tongue."
She set her cup down gently, fighting a smile as she whispered "You'd be surprised." Her smile dissipated when she noted the anxious drumming of the other's hand on the table. It only stopped when she nodded at it, the guest's reaction flustered.
"I apologize, it isn't proper manners to-"
"It's certainly all right. Although I'm curious whether it's a recent trait or not. If so, I can only imagine the cause."
Meena sighed, "It is recent. I'm sure you don't need me to state why."
Mary hummed, "Awfully lonely, isn't it?"
"The worse." She lowered her head, wrapping her hands around the fragile cup, wanting to rid herself of the chill. Voice lowered, she admitted softly "I keep worrying about her. I know she needed some time alone to work on her papers, but I keep thinking of what she's doing and whether she's safe. It isn't as if she's away at the continent, but I miss her as if she was." She straightened up, "Do..." Meena wet her lips, "I don't want to ask a rude question."
It was several minutes before Meena built up the courage to do just that. "Do you ever get lonely?" She didn't expect the humourless laugh, retracting her hands so they fell into her lap.
Mary rested her head on her palm. "Always. Secrets... They do that to you, especially if you tell no one of their existence. I take it very few know of our doctor's true identity?" Meena nodded. "That makes it far worse, as Dr. Hooper was the only other person who was close enough to share its weight. In times like these..." She reached out, pleased when the other nurse took her hand "our kind must stick together, and raise each other up."
"You speak of the truth, Mrs. Watson. But I can't help but worry for her." She gave Meena a comforting pat on the hand.
"Molly is an intelligent woman, I'm sure she can make do with whatever resources she has. Meena, I'm not discrediting your concern, you have all the right to it. This is a terrifying place for those without power, we must survive by any possible means."
Meena pulled away, attempting to be positive. Mary had the best intentions, but still there was a knot in her belly. Her intuition was in a frenzy, everything may be calm now, but she sensed disaster was on the horizon, and her gut has never been wrong before.
Lady Viola Moriarty, that was his mother's official name, although not the one he called her by. For he and his brother, she was simply "Mother", but to his father... Well, she was that bitch. Of course, a man of class such as Sir Edmund never said that near his wife, but whenever she was out of earshot he would hiss it under his breath. If Viola knew of the horrid names she was deemed behind her back, she didn't make her knowledge obvious.
Bitch... What an awful word. Jim never liked it, didn't enjoy the context when it had been said. He thought it should only be uttered when used properly, but perhaps Sir Edmund was right, and he was a mummy's boy. It was hard not to be, Viola had an air to her that naturally drew in people of all walks of life. She had a confidence to her, a comforting presence that soothed even the most anxious hearts - Jim's included. With a gentle brush of her hand, or a soft word all of that boiling hatred, always on the cusp of erupting like a volcano would become dormant once more. The staff were highly thankful of that, the brothers had always been handfuls, especially Jim with his aptitude for tricks.
Unsuspecting maids would climb into their beds for the night, only to find something wet and cold slithering between the sheets. He'd often venture down to the river during the spring and summertime for frogs, worms, or leeches. Truly anything he could get his hands on would do. After the manor would be filled with sudden screams, Lady Viola would hurry down the halls in her nightgown and holding a candlestick, apologizing profusely despite her title.
He'd get an exasperated word from her, and a punishment in the form of his toys being taken away. Jim would pretend to reflect on his actions and act saintly for a few days, the perfect example of a studious boy. After he'd get his possessions returned, he'd start the pranks all over again. It was an amusing routine, he did it more for his mother's reaction than the maid's screaming - at one point that had gotten rather dull.
Jim didn't think his mother minded too much, they both took a bit of enjoyment from it. A complete contrast to Sir Edmund's opinion of it, but the only pleasure he took was tormenting Lady Viola with his very existence. If Jim would recall the image of his father from his memory, he was never far from his darkened study, face only illuminated by a melting candle as he bent over his writing desk. His visage was always twisted by the shadows, undeniably ghoulish as he haunted the family - particularly Viola. With time's passage, Viola spirit lessened as the years stretched on, husband draining her energy until she was but an empty shell.
Although he never physically hit her, there was no doubt in Jim's mind that Sir Edmund killed his wife.
Molly twirled the fork around in her hand, absently staring at the plate before her. After her meeting with Samantha, she wasn't sure how to feel about Sir Moriarty. His murdering of Sir Edmund plagued her, although with the dreams... Memories she could sympathize why. But yet her conscience was still bothered by it, he still killed another human being. Sighing loudly, she popped a piece of egg into her mouth, chewing slowly.
Should she feel this... Disappointment with the revelation? Did she have a right to it? Most definitely not, but it's difficult not considering how this has changed everything. It very much added onto the inquiries she needed answered, the weight of it was gradually crushing her.
"Dr. Hooper?" She looked up. Mr. Lancret gaze was unreadable as he pressed on with a "Is your meal suitable? If not, I could have the chef make something that will suit your fancy?"
Mark shook his head, lowering his attention to the food once more. "This will do plenty good, Mr. Lancret. There's no need to be bothered by it." The elderly butler didn't appear to be persuaded with his reassurance.
"The task is of little effort, Dr. Hooper. You only need to say a word."
Sensation of a headache emerging, Mark placed his fork down to instead pinch the bridge of his nose. "I have no need for you take action, Mr. Lancret. The only thing I wish of you is your absence, I will appreciate my lunch in my own time." After the words left his mouth, he felt a tad guilty about the shortness of his tone. His company may be stiff and unpleasant to be around, but that was his nature, Mark had no right to be cross over it.
"Very well, sir." With a curt bow, the butler took his leave. The maid who had stood in the corner of the dinning room, followed after him, gaze cast downwards. Door closed and alone, Molly felt awful. She may be distraught over Sir Moriarty, but she ought to act with dignity, not to allow her emotions to affect her manners. What would Meena say if she witnessed her rudeness? Surely she would have been chastised, and rightfully so.
After finishing her meal, Molly left the remains to be cleaned up and retreated to her laboratory. The staff had precise instructions to not disturb the pathologist whilst residing inside, and to keep their duties to a polite hush. She'd come here to work on her papers, and with the excitement of the manor and its secrets, it was shameful to admit that her research had been neglected. Honestly, who could toil away at stacks of books with such curiosities around?
A clock in the corner counted the minutes, and with the striking of the third hour there was a disturbance throughout the manor. Pen stilled, Molly leaned back in her seat, confused by the commotion now slicing through the atmosphere. It was several minutes until she heard a scurrying sound near her door, and in an instant it was thrown open. A maid she hadn't heard the name to stared at her for a few seconds, as if the sight of the moustached man made her purpose lost.
"Yes?" Mark drew out, hoping the single word would be helpful. It was, with a great big breath, the help forced out her message.
Everything became silent asides for the ringing in Mark's ears. Not fully believing he pushed the chair back, not aware of the loud noise it gave. Pen slipping from his grasp, he walked from his desk and nudged past her.
Found in the main entrance with the cold from winter brought within the manor, Sir Moriarty stood conversing with the servants. The shock of it brought Mark short to a door frame, standing in a strange trance. He was a specter, wasn't he? Surely that was the reason for his sudden appearance. After all, what could justify the return of this man to a place where so much torment had been birthed? On Mark's first day of arrival, even Mr. Lancret had stated this event was unlikely, if not impossible.
What had happened? What was wrong?
Sensing another's attention, Jim turned to find the owner of the intently staring eyes. His lips were peeled back in a smirk, the meaning behind it blurred. Whether it was a form of greeting or threat, all the same it had a shiver running along Mark's spine.
"Hullo?" Jim called out "Hasn't anyone taken the time to tell you how improper staring is?" He chuckled under his breath when Mark immediately looked away. How refreshingly awkward... He might have to keep this one. "Come now, Dr. Hooper. Is that any way to address the master of the house?" He beckoned the nervous moustached man over with an inclination of his finger. Tugged forward as if entangled with string, Mark stumbled to him, ears burning with the presence of the others.
"What..." Mark started hoarsely, having to clear his throat before he could continue on with, "What are you doing here?"
"Here?" Jim gave his surroundings a look over, as if the imposing darkness and expensive furniture startled him. "I'm not sure if you have been made aware, Dr. Hooper. But I own this estate."
"I..." What? "Y-yes I know, but I-"
"Relax, dear. I'm only jesting."
Mark bit his bottom lip. "Of course."
Still smirking, Jim began to unbutton his heavy jacket, passing it to a maid once shrugged off. He gave his shoulders a roll, "To answer your question, I'm here for one thing."
Me? It was as if Sir Moriarty could read Mark's mind, grin having Mark regretting the thought. "Tea."
"Re- Sorry, what?"
"This weather brings such dryness. With a sore parched throat, I naturally had to stop by for a cup of tea."
"You came for a drink?"
Jim rose a brow, "You don't have to keep me company, feel free to do whatever it was you were doing before."
Mark sucked in his breath, caught between laughing and screaming. This man was so... Infuriating! "No I... I will accompany you."
"How generous you are," Jim purred. It was maddening that Mark couldn't fully tell whether or not he was mocking him.
"I miss her, are you the same?" Meena nodded at the silence, peering down as her companion continued his grooming. He didn't respond, but the lack of conversation didn't bother her. "The answer is plain, we are but of an akin soul." She ran her fingers lightly through Tobias' fur, flicking the shed hair away. She momentarily watched as the tufts drifted from the sofa and down to the floor. Meena's eyes squeezed shut as she promptly sneezed, the loudness of it having Tobias jumping up into the air before he bolted from the room to hide.
Sighing, her hand fell down onto her lap. She had taken on more work to forget the feeling of loneliness, but that could achieve only so much. She had wanted the days to pass by easily with the long shifts, but it had the opposite effect, she felt them all the more. Finally the stress was catching up to her. Groaning, she pulled herself up, sitting for a moment before she climbed to her feet. Perhaps a quick letter would make her emotions sated, to relieve the thoughts on her mind.
In a small, rather reserved room, Molly Hooper sat across from a mysterious and dangerous man. The teacup set was delicate and quaint, the expense of such dishes made Molly anxious, worried that she'd break them. Jim was the opposite, he didn't care if they clattered or not. Breath hot with an exhale, he put his cup on the floral saucer, head tipped back. For a second Molly couldn't do much beyond staring at his pale throat, specifically his Adam's apple.
She swallowed, lips still pressed into the rim of the porcelain.
"We might have to" Jim started softly, voice barely being heard at all, "take you out to the garden."
"The garden?" Molly mumbled around the glass, coming to her senses enough to lower it.
"You keep freezing up, people might start to think you're a statue." He brought his head down, eyes shredding her heart to pieces. She didn't mind, not if he kept looking at her like that.
"Is that a bad thing?"
He raised a brow, "Being in my garden or being an immobile hunk of stone?"
She wet her lips, "Both."
Jim shrugged, "I could give you an answer, but it won't be the answer you want. You're after something else entirely, aren't you?"
Heaven forgive her, but it was true. She had so many things to ask of him, but the real question was how he would react to them. "I do," she whispered, blaming the sweat on her palms on the heated glass.
"But," she mumbled back, "I'm not sure what you'll think of me after I say it."
He snorted, more annoyed than amused. It was as if her doubts disappointed him, that he expected more from her. "And that's it? What has happened Dr. Hooper? I thought your spine had finally formed, clearly I was wrong."
"I'm not..." She wanted to recover from this, for Jim to forget about her mistake but how? Would she be willing to reveal her knowledge over his thoughts on her? The answer came promptly. Truthfully, she would. She didn't know when she started to care so much for him, maybe it had begun when he joined her in bed - and perhaps she was a fool. No, she was certain she was, but she wanted to know how much of this man was a lie, whether it was all an act to entice her.
"I want to know..." Jim leaned forward, interest obviously renewed. "How did you kill your father?"
"Oh my," Jim leaned back, expression deceptively at ease. "Not only have you collected my dirty clothes, but you're attempting to laundry it." A smile spread slowly across his face, sending that slight tremble on Molly's skin into full quakes of fear. She was never more certain of her demise.
Quickly this situation had to be rectified. "Never, sir. I wouldn't dar-"
"You're quite right, how foolish I was to even presume such things." Molly withdrew further into herself as Jim rolled his eyes. The atmosphere between them was thick and heavy, still dripping with Jim's sarcasm.
Molly's gaze snapped downwards, startled by a wetness on her inner right thigh. She hadn't even realized that the teacup was balanced on an angle, leaving the milky liquid to freely drip from the rim and onto her person. Hurriedly she straightened it, face burning as she hoped her companion didn't notice. When she hesitantly raised her gaze, she knew he did. The sharpness of his eyes had her own drifting away, sweating profusely from the intensity.
The soft exhale had her jumping a foot off of her seat, splashed tea messing her outfit up further. "I suppose" Jim started gently, "a question is in fact a question, despite how scandalous it might be. Do you still wish a response?" He paused for a mere moment, then swiftly continued on with "Of course you do."
"Er-" The simple raising of his brow silenced Molly.
"You're lucky to have caught me in such a cheerful mood." He made a show of settling into his chair, stretching his legs out. "Now be good and listen up." Molly nodded, shaking hands setting the teacup on the low table before her. She made a show of listening intently, hands folded over her lap.
Jim rose his cup to his lips, taking a lengthy sip. Exhaling, he brought it down again, clearing his throat for an added effect. "Listen up, because daddy is going to tell you a story."
The wind was cold on his back, slicing through the material of his coat. Vaguely Jim felt a hand on his shoulder, the hushed whisper of a relative's comforting words. After a few minutes that hand left, finally noticing they wouldn't be getting a reply. Jim continued to stare at the fresh pile of upturned dirt. Amongst the scattered flower petals from the bouquets, he watched as a worm writhed, trying to bury itself once more.
Slowly lifting his head to look over his shoulder, he craned his neck backwards to stare at the looming manor. Past the curtain of swaying treetops, he could see the dark spires, encircled by cawing birds. Deep within that building he knew his father toiled away at his desk, always working, even as his wife was buried within the ground. Jim dropped his gaze, glimpsing the faint backs of the congregation retreating. Like the animals they were, they would fill their stomachs with food, taking as they pleased.
The similarity between his family members and the maggots feast below had a humourless smile on Jim's face. He turned back, tracing the letters on the stone with his eyes again and again. An hour later he would depart, mumble a polite goodbye before he headed back.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets, minding the numbness as he rubbed his fingers together. The cold didn't bother him too much, it went well with the hollowness in his chest. Jim knew he was supposed to be feeling sad, that's what children do after they lose their parents. Don't they? And when she first died, he did - he felt this... this terrible feeling of loss, as if someone stole something from him.
Never one for his things being shared, he settled to make things right. To correct this wrong, and to take it back.
The journey to the manor was quiet, the only sounds were the howling wind rushing through the barrier of foliage and the birds overhead. Stepping over twisting roots and jagged stones, Jim sniffed as he walked along the path. Even when he finally jogged up the stone steps and entered his family home there was an unnatural quietness, it followed him to his bedroom. He would wait there, peering out of his window and onto the gardens.
Hours gradually passed by, the night sky, rolling over the clouds and hastening forward like torrid waves. With what seemed a final collapse, it lunged downwards onto the manor; as the wind settled, he couldn't help but feel as if he were underwater, staring up through a layer of liquid at the blurred sun. Perhaps because it was of the death, but he felt utterly isolated, like the world had forgotten him.
Jim bent down, undoing the laces of his shoes. The floorboards often creaked, and although most nights he didn't mind it, this time was different. They were slid to the side and he stood up, clothed feet, muted as left his desk and strolled across the room to the door. He knew the servants' routine, they bustled around these halls like clockwork. Patiently he waited until that maid with a bad eye walked past, slow to make her rounds. When the light of her candle was gone, he gingerly opened the door and slipped out.
Pace carefully measured, he strolled down the corridor, sticking close to the walls as he headed to the other side of the manor. As he passed by the portraits hanging, he could feel the eyes of his departed ancestors on his person. They knew murder was on his mind, ghostly fingers pulling on his sleeves as he came to a halt before his father's study. Grabbing the doorknob, he paused, thinking of how his future actions would change everything.
There was still a question that haunted him, one he needed an answer to. Perhaps tonight he would get it. Without further ado, he rapped his knuckles on the wood, waiting for a muffled "Come in" before he entered.
As he wholly predicted, Sir Edmund was seated at his desk, spectacles hanging from his nose as he wrote on a piece of paper. Gently, Jim closed the door, then holding his hands behind him as he strolled forward.
Sir Edmund peered upwards only for a second before he continued signing a document. "What is it, boy? Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I do," Jim said softly, falling a foot away from the desk. "I had an inquiry I wished to put forth." His father sighed, realizing he had to satisfy his son's interest before he could properly focus. Letting his pen drop, Sir Edmund pushed his seat back, gesturing for Jim to take the chair across from him. The young man did just that, smile widening as he plopped down.
They stared at one another, the sound of the crackling fireplace and the grand clock ticking between them. Although Sir Edmund had no tolerance for being interrupted, he made an exception for his youngest. The promise of his child was always pronounced, no one could deny his intelligence. His mother may have allowed him to gallivant around, but with her death, Sir Edmund fully intended to whip him into a man deserving of his status.
The time for merriment and his silly games was officially over. "And what precisely is this inquest?"
Jim crossed his leg over his other, the bouncing of his limbs the only sign of his anxiety - his excitement. He inspected his fingernails, keeping his tone airy as he asked "Do you know much of my mother's life before you became betrothed?"
Any chance of amiability was swiftly wiped clean from Sir Edmund's visage, his tone was clear to express his annoyance. "It has never interested me much, but I was not blind that she had a past before her life here."
"It's understandable, you not caring to know. You're a man who looks only to the future, aren't you?"
Sir Edmund's face scrunched up with a glare, "What are you getting at?"
Jim flashed his father a grin, showing his teeth. "I'm trying to empathize with you, father. It's quite pleasant, you should do it sometime." He knew he was testing his luck now, the mood clouding over as Sir Edmund squinted at Jim. It was an odd situation for his father, the confidence that had built up. Despite his proclaimed focus on the distant tomorrow, Sir Edmund was very much a man of the past. He had made the mistake of thinking Jim still feared him as he did as a child, and to an extent that was true. The scars of violence on Jim's body matched his soul, but those wounds had long since festered. It was raw and aching, needing to exact that same pain on another.
That turbulent anger overwhelmed any terror he felt. He wasn't a child anymore, he had become stronger - and now without his mother to tether him to that sense of morality, he was free to do as he wished.
Jim hopped up from his chair, walking around the desk to his father's before any protest could be heard. He placed his hands on Sir Edmund's shoulders, squeezing and rubbing in a mock show of affection. "My mother was an intriguing individual, wasn't she?"
Sir Edmund grunted, tense as he felt a pair of knuckles knead his flesh. Uncaring whether he commented or not, his son continued on.
"Incredibly secretive, her only fault was doubting me. You know how I love secrets, I just delight being a part of the fun. And without my mother to complain or misdirect my attention, I found myself learning a great many mysteries."
"Mysteries?" Sir Edmund drew out, wincing at his son's grip. He reached back to shove those hands off of him, but Jim held steady. "For God's sake! I've had my fill of this nonsense, say your question and then leave me be!"
"Of course, father. My question is simple. Did you know the name of the man my mother loved, or did you not bother to be aware of it?" One of Jim's hands fell away, sliding down to his trouser's pockets as he felt Sir Edmund stiffen.
"How did y-" Edmund released a lengthy sigh, slow to admit it, but eventually he said "I regarded him as a fickle fly spoiling what I owned, nothing more. He hadn't the right to be remembered." Jim heard enough, dragging the cool object out from its confines. Truly, Sir Edmund revealed his character, to the point of still referring to his late wife as a form of property to be controlled.
The hand on his shoulder rose to the back of his head, gripping the thinning hair tight and yanking him backwards. Jim stared at his reflection in the whites of his father's eyes, watching as he took the silver hunting dagger Sir Edmund had gifted him on his sixteenth birthday, and slicing along the other's throat.
Sir Edmund's head immediately sunk back, mouth gaping as blood spouting forward like a magnificent waterfall. It sprayed the sheets of paper, soaking everything it came in contact with. Sliding down into his chair, he rose a frantic hand up to the wound, trying to stifle the blood. It was a lost cause, steadily it cascaded through his fingers and staining his suit. Jim stepped back, releasing his hold.
Around this moment there was a knocking at the door, snapped out of his trance, Jim smiled at the form standing in the door frame. The ever stoic Mr. Lancret looked completely flabbergasted, his expression of that of horror. "Sir James," he whispered, taking one last look at the scene before he fully entered the room. The door was closed and locked, holding the rest of the manor at bay as he approached. "Are you all right, sir?"
Jim laughed mirthlessly, "There's a dead man, and you asked if I was well? You're an odd one, Mr. Lancret."
"Sir Ja-" the butler fell short when the other man waved his hand.
"Please, Lancret. I've set my mind on being called Jim, and nothing less from this point on." He purposely wiped his knife clean on an untainted portion of Sir Edmund's suit, pocketing it in his trouser. "Now, be a dear and clean this mess up."
"I..." Mr. Lancret sputtered, blinking as his master left the room, whistling a cheerful tune and a skip to his step. Glancing down to the carpet, Lancret took a few steps back, mindful of the blood pooling around. He sighed, "What a waste, it'll all have to be replaced..."
Jim set his teacup down onto the table, "It's a bit odd."
Molly abruptly stammered when she realized he had finished his story and was addressing her. "Er- Par... Pardon?"
"Your reaction." Ever so casually he rest his head on his knuckles, "I thought you'd have more of one to my mentioning my mother's lover."
"Sir," Molly shakily breathed out, trying to calm the beat of her heart. "Your telling of your father's... Demise greatly overshadowed any discussion of Hugh."
Jim lifted his head, the sharpness of his gaze had her flinching. "You've let your tongue run wild, haven't you?"
"I didn't say any name." Shit!
"No...?" Molly looked away, desperately trying to salvage this situation. "I swore you did."
"No," Jim stressed, "I didn't."
Before their conversation could develop further, it was interrupted by a familiar and wary voice. Hovering in the door frame, Mr. Lancret said "I'm sorry for intruding, sir. But there is an urgent letter for Dr. Hooper."
Nod confirming his assent, Jim watched as the butler hurried to Mark's side, passing him a sealed envelope. Confused Mark took it, swiftly recognizing the hand in which it was written. Ripping it free Mark rose the paper to his face, frantically scanning the lines. With every sentence his heart became burdensome; with one last look at the message, one simple thought rose to the forefront of his mind.
I have to return home...
Standing in the entrance way, Mark fumbled with his coat as the servants bustled past him, readying a carriage for his lengthy journey. After the letter he had received, his mind was made up. At once he would make haste for London, only stopping when necessary. The contents of that message greatly disturbed him, and he was unable to think of little but else.
There was a painful knot in the bottom of his belly, caused by the thought that this was all somehow his fault. His dearest friend was put at risk because of his own foolishness.
A pair of warm hands grabbed his own, squeezing slightly before brushing them away from his buttons. Flabbergasted Mark peered upwards, chest aching as he stared at Sir Moriarty. Jim didn't seem to give him much regard, expression blank as he did the latches up - afterwards he put his hands on Mark's shoulders, smoothing the fabric down. Mark swiftly missed the other's touch when he eventually took a step away, but still averted his gaze when Jim rose his eyes to study his expression.
The lilt of Jim's voice was a welcomed comfort, a gentle hush as he said "You're truly out of sorts, aren't you?"
Not willing to speak in fear of his voice cracking, Mark nodded. He may fear this man for his past self's actions, but he couldn't help but long to stay in his presence. He bit his bottom lip, the onslaught of these emotions confusing. "S-sir," he whispered, trying to convey this longing he felt. Perhaps if he spoke of it, Sir Moriarty would have a solution, to either encourage or erase this strange relationship they had.
Mark knew, deep in his bones, that they couldn't stay stagnant in this place. Whether for better or worse, there was going to be a shift in their connection. There had to be...
Before he could voice any of this, Mr. Lancret approached them. "Dr. Hooper, everything has been prepared. We are awaiting only on you."
"I..." Mark nervously shifted his gaze to Jim's face, studying his reaction. He found himself hoping to see some form of sadness, for Jim to suddenly hold him close and tell him not to leave. However, this wasn't one of Molly's romantic novels. And even if they were characters in such a work of fiction, neither would act in that way. The reaction Sir Moriarty displayed, was one of silent watching, a stillness that was deceptive in its nature. Breaking the silence, Mark finally admitted "I'm not sure whether I will return."
Jim snorted, tucking his hands into his trouser's pockets. "You will. The manor won't release you that easily."
"No..." Mark mumbled, turning to stare down the long corridor, "I suppose you're right." From the darkened, empty hallway, he could feel them, the eyes of the dead glaring at his person. After he had stepped through that door, he figured they had claimed him. Their phantom fingers were forever hooked into his soul, tainting everything they could reach with their torment - to share the suffering. With one last look, Mark said his thanks for the lodgings and left.
Breathing in the cold air, Jim watched from the door frame as Mark clambered inside. While the carriage rolled away, crunching snow under its wheels as it left, Jim chewed on a spot in the inside of his cheek. He knew she'd return, there was no doubt about it. How could she not? To him, there was clearly a string of fate tethering them together. Withdrawing one of his hands, he dropped his gaze to it. If he squinted hard enough, he could imagine a red string wrapped around one of his fingers. The corners of his lips tugged upwards in a smirk.
Long days had turned into restless nights, but eventually Mark arrived back in his city. What discomfort he had felt from the tedious trip was quickly overcome by his excitement, his desire to be within his home once more and reunite with his dearest of friends. The letter plaguing his thoughts once more, he was shaking with anxiety when the carriage finally came to a halt before his apartment. Barely waiting for it to stop, he yanked the door open and sprinted down the steps.
While the servants unloaded his things, Mark ran up the path and fished his key from his pockets. Nearly dropping it, it took Mark several minutes before he could properly unlock it and head inside. "Meena?!" He called out, walking forward with purpose. A feeling of dread arose when he peered into every room, not finding his nurse in any of them.
Only the letter discovered on his bed spoke of her whereabouts. Trembling, he broke the seal and hastily read the contents. The pit in his stomach worsened. Stuffing it into his jacket, he hurried to leave the flat.
Thankfully the carriage hadn't left yet. Locking the door behind him, he ran from the steps and to the cab driver. "Sir," he called out, "Could you drive me to St. Barts'?"
The driver fixed him with a glare, wanting to finish his task and venture to the nearest tavern. "I haven't..." He paused, wetting his cracked lips when Mark withdrew his coin purse. Eagerly holding his hand out, he was pleased by the coins placed on his palm. Nodding, he gestured for Mark to get into the back.
"Thank you," Mark mumbled, "but please do hurry."
The driver did just that, imagining all of the drinks he could purchase while he tugged on the reigns.
What quiet there had been in the atmosphere was disrupted by the loud sound of shoes clacking against the floorboards. Meena barely raised her head when the door was thrown open, its contact with the wall had her wincing. "Quiet now," she said softly, smiling at her friend's panting figure.
An utter contrast to before, Mark gently closed the door before he crossed the room. Dropping to his knees before the bed, Mark's hand reached for her's.
"My," Meena breathed, reaching a free hand to straighten Mark's moustache. "How silly you look. What if someone saw you?"
"Then they saw," Molly croaked, grabbing the hand touching her upper lip. She held it close, kissing it lightly.
"Molly," Meena sighed, "That isn't like you."
The distressed pathologist shook her head, "Who cares about me. You're the one who is ill."
"I do," Meena stressed, "You care far too little of your well being."
"How can I? You're in such a poor state that-"
"Molly," Meena exhaled exasperatedly. "I'm fine. It's only a minor case of the common cold."
"But what if it worsens? You could have pneumonia. You know just as I do how many lives it has claimed. H-"
"What foolishness were you up to? Running around in the dead of winter without your coat?"
Meena snatched her hands away, fixing her friend with a glare. "Perhaps we should fetch a mirror." Mirror? "You are after all, the reason behind my current condition."
The woman across from her sat back on her legs, brows knitted together in confusion. "I'm... How so?" The worry affecting her countenance increased with the uneasy shift of Meena's hands, fumbling with the blanket laying across her torso.
Voice a mere whisper, Meena said "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made such an accusation. You went to incredible lengths to be by my side, I..."
Molly reached for her hand again. "It's quite all right, you must have been lonely with my absence." The smile that broke across her face was filled with regret at her friend's nod. "Oh dear," she hummed, tone shaky as she bent over to bring her friend into an embrace. The seconds ticked by, neither wanting to release the other. When they eventually did, Molly's chest squeezed when Menna brushed her fingers along her forehead, fixing the wig. "You treat me so well." She missed the touch when it fell away.
"Now," Meena started, pushing herself back up. "Fetch a chair and tell me about that manor."
In some distant past
"This is it." Jim said with a sniff, head tipped back as he studied the building. It wasn't much, it had none of the grandeur he was used to. One of his nanny's used to say buildings had their own personalities, they were each their own person. Eyes squinting, he figured that this one was a welcoming poor man - even with a gnawing hunger to his belly, he was willing to share what little food he had.
It was perfect. He turned to face the man beside him, "Come now, Mr. Lancret." Clasping the aging butler on his shoulder, Jim strolled forward. Entering the apartment, he went up the creaking staircase and to one of the top floors. Even if it was his first official time in this place, he had long since studied the blue prints. If blinded, he could walk about here with ease.
Clutching the rusty key in his hand, he could barely contain his excitement as he unlocked the door and headed in. None of his items would be in here, what Viola couldn't save was sold, or stolen. Either way, there was a high to standing in that flat, walking around where Hugh had once been.
Standing there, the line between the past and future was blurred. Here the aspiring writer ate his meals and slept, thinking of his novels and of his lost love. Not having the faintest idea that in the future his own flesh and blood would stare out the same window, looking at the things he did. Lingering by the windowsill, Jim dragged his fingers along the chipped paint.
This was as close as he would get to touching the other man, to hugging him... Jim pulled his hand away, staring at the dust. What would he be like? Would they be able to converse easily? To talk of stories and enjoy each other's company? Would... would he like Jim?
Could he recognize his son? To see his own self, own eyes in him?
"Mr. Lancret," Jim said softly. From behind him the butler answered.
"I'm ready to leave."
"Are you sure, sir?" When his master turned around, hastily he corrected himself. "Of course, sir." They returned back to the carriage in absolute silence, only broken when they started off again. "Sir," Mr. Lancret begun, swiftly having to clear his throat before continuing on. "If this experience is too much for your nerves, we can save our next destination for another day."
Staring out the window, Jim gave a mirthless laugh. "Too much? Dear Mr. Lancret, I've been awaiting this moment for my whole life. Why would I stop when so many answers have revealed themselves to me?"
"I..." Mr. Lancret coughed into his sleeve. His master didn't have the most stable state of mind on a calm day, and today was far from being boring. Mr. Lancret was worried that this sightseeing would upset his young master. That it would hinder his bright future, and that these days would reveal whether he would follow Lady Viola or Sir Edmund's footsteps. Although Jim was stiff in his belief that he was his own person, and that neither affected him, Mr. Lancret wasn't so sure.
His master had so much potential to do great things, to help others - but he could equally do the wicked things his 'father' accomplished. It was clear to Mr. Lancret that eventually Jim would have to decide which one he would rather do, as the aging butler could hardly imagine combining both.
Smoothing the fabric of his sleeve, Mr. Lancret's gaze left his brooding master's visage. Hopefully this eventful trip through bitter memories would make up Jim's mind, to inspire the man that would carry the Moriarty name.
He had little way of knowing what the future would hold, how his master would build upon his misery to form an empire from the ruins. The power he would have, far greater than anything Sir Edmund hoped to possess. In the years to come, it would terrify him. A quick learner, despite his age, he would handle that terror with ease - lest it interfere with Sir Moriarty's work. However, as it stood, his emotions were the farthest from his concern. No, now he needed to deal with the intrusion of a surprisingly courageous pathologist. With one slipped word from his mouth, Mr. Lancret feared that he would tarnish the time and effort Sir Moriarty had spent on his business, and that was not allowed to happen...
Now seated by her friend's side, and comforted by the serenity that came to their room, Molly began to relate the fantastical story of her stay at the Rose Point manor. The journey to its completion seemed long, with frequent breaks to gather her thoughts, but Meena took this all in with the grace and patience one has as an audience.
However, she was quite vocal when it came to the conditions her friend had been living in. "Did they have no one else to receive you? Not even a maid or two to tidy the rooms?"
Molly shook her head. She wasn't sure why, but she found herself becoming defensive of the manor. She didn't hold a particular fondness for the building, but her opposing stance may be because she didn't want it reflecting poorly on its owner. "Mr. Lancret was there to keep me company, but-" She held a hand up, silencing Meena. After a few moments wait, she continued on. "I didn't mind that too much, I was after all, there to work - and you know I've never been indulgent in gatherings. Although I..." Swiftly she bit into her tongue, inwardly cursing her foolish blunder. Desperately she hoped it went unnoticed.
Ever clever, of course Meena quickly seized this slip-up with a critical gaze. "Although you, what?" Her stare turned into a frown when Molly was unable to look in her general direction. "Molly" she stressed, letting the weight behind her tone, press her moustached companion into a mumbling fit. Leaning to the side, she called out "Pardon?"
Molly sighed, annoyed with herself for being in this predicament. "On the behalf of Mr. Lancret, I had become acquainted with his master."
"Master?" Meena sat back. "As in the man who leased the manor to you?" There was a stretch of silence, on the border of becoming uncomfortable. "And you willingly met him?" The woman across from her had a disgruntled expression, which only seemed to worsen when Meena asked "What?"
"Well..." Molly began to bounce one of her legs. "You don't have to act so completely surprised by the notion."
"Oh love," Meena shook her head. "I mean nothing ill by it, I'm just..." She paused to settle on a proper word. "Taken aback. You've definitely changed, the Hooper I remembered abstained from all things social."
"That isn't a definite truth, I've partaken in a number of meetings before..." Molly gestured to herself.
"Yes, but have you done so after your transformation?" Molly could not find it in herself to respond. "And that is precisely my point. Now, this gentleman you spoke of. How was his character?"
"Character?" Molly mumbled.
"Yes, character. He must be a very interesting individual, as he is after all, a man in possession of such a lonely and curious estate."
"Oh," Molly started off slowly, shifting her gaze to enjoy the lovely quilt on the bed. "He's..." Like a bolt of lightning, she was struck with the memory of their time spent together, every word they shared and what had been left unsaid. Even now she felt his hands on her, the effect to which had her hastily coughing into her sleeve, face ablaze.
Meena simply rose a brow, voice dripping with curiosity as she said, "My, you surely have found some enjoyment with his presence. Poor Sherlock, he'll have to find a silent admirer elsewhere."
Molly's head shot up, "W-what?" She wildly waved her hands, as if trying to do away with the speech hanging in the air. "It isn't like that, Jim-"
"Ah, so he has a name now?" The corner's of her lips lifting, Meena settled back against her pillows, watching in amusement as her friend tried to escape from this one.
After a lengthy sigh to compose herself, Molly corrected herself. "Sir Moriarty was nothing but an excellent host."
"I'm sure," came the teasing reply. "He did nothing if not tend to your needs."
Scandalized, Molly croaked out a strangled "Meena!?"
Their conversation dissolved further as time went on, as Molly tried her hardest to refute Meena's claims, but she only seemed to do the opposite. An hour or so later, a nurse came in to check on her patient, and announced that visiting times were over. Chest squeezing as she said goodbye, she promised to see her friend again as soon as it was possible before she took her leave.
Mark Hooper once more, he sighed as he stood in the hallway, closing the door gently behind him. His brooding thoughts were interrupted, however, by the jarring sound of his name being called. Head lifting, he turned to see a familiar figure standing in the corridor.
Any thought in his mind was gone as he stared at Sherlock, the familiar ache in his heart leaving a bittersweet taste on his tongue. "H-hello, Mr. Holmes." He glanced behind the tall detective, allowing bewilderment to colour his expression, "I see you're without Dr. Watson today."
"Yes," Sherlock stuffed his hands into his pockets, "and you've returned to us from wherever you were hiding." His gaze shifted to the room where Mark had just exited from. When his attention was on him once more, Mark knew immediately that Sherlock had begun his deductions. "I take it the patient is well?"
"Far better than before."
Sherlock gave a nod. He had never been good with this, the idle discussion between two people who didn't know how to act around each other. From some accursed corner of his mind, that vision of Mark hunched over a cadaver rose to the forefront. The image of his brows drawn together in determination and intrigue, the fragile slenderness of his form, the unexpected emotions he brought forward with his presence.
Worse yet, that vile nurse's words came back to taunt him.
....Hopelessly in love with my Hooper. He cleared this throat, "If you were to be kind, would you lend me your advice? That is, in an appraisal over a body?"
"Appraisal?" Mark mumbled, caught off guard. The detective never asked for his opinion, only demanded it when it came to a case. To bring up the subject with such delicacy was baffling, if not totally out of his knowledge of Sherlock's character. Realizing the other man was still waiting for his response, Mark finally said "Uh, yes of course. I would be delighted, Mr. Holmes."
With a pleased nod, Sherlock strolled down the corridor, gaze fixed straight ahead as his companion struggled to match his stride. However, as they ventured down a flight of stairs to the morgue, he permitted a glance or two. Although he would never admit it, he was... Appeased that the pathologist was within these halls again.
Watching as the sky above darkened with the approach of night, Jim sighed into the icy air. The years he had spent searching, not to mention the money and effort put towards owning what was rightfully his. His hands began to tremble, not from any fear or the cold, but because of the excitement of it all. He could practically feel his prize, fingertips tracing it in his mind's eye.
"Soon," he breathed, eyes falling to a close. "You'll be mine." His hands curled up into fists. It was all waiting on his response, whether he would submit or continue playing their game. The entertainment aspect was always a joy, but Jim's hunger had become ravenous since they started, and he was eagerly awaiting it to be sated.
Everything was in place, he just needed to act.
They descended into the morgue, a true statement - as Sherlock saw it, that things were brightening up. Dr. Holcomb was no where in sight, they were utterly alone as they fetched the most recent corpse and rolled it out for a viewing.
Coat hung up on the rack by the door, Mark rolled up his sleeves to his shirt before he fetched an apron. While he donned it, he was unaware of the eyes on his person. Preoccupied with tying the knot, he was wholeheartedly ignorant as Sherlock appreciated the cut of his figure. Or as the detective rationalized to himself, the scholarly air he held.
Everything now in place, Mark strolled to the slab and peeled the sheet back. "I take it, my substitute had already made his findings?"
"He had," Sherlock admitted, watching the flicker of emotions that passed over Dr. Hooper's face.
"But you still find this necessary?" He asked gently, wondering how much use he could be. With that question, the detective longed for his pipe and its soothing effect on his nerves.
"I trust your eyes and wit more so than that doctor."
Mark's head snapped up, mouth agape as he stared at his companion. "Are... Are you quite all right, Mr. Holmes? Do you need me to fetch someone?" The other's compliment was still ringing in his ears, it was absolutely baffling. He never heard Sherlock praise someone before, much less have it directed at him.
Sherlock rolled his eyes heavenward, "Don't be preposterous, Hooper. It is most unbecoming."
"I..." Slowly he lowered his head, "I apologize if my inquiry offended you."
"Your appeasement is hardly needed, it'll take far more to do me harm, if that was after all your intention." He sighed when Mark opened his mouth again, "I was merely jesting, Hooper."
"Oh... Of course."
That peculiar silence rose up again, with the hushed sound of their breathing and the rustle of clothes to fill the space. When the autopsy was finally completed, there was a restless and strange tinge to the atmosphere. As neither knew the best way to approach a conversation, much less with the current state of their relationship, or lack of.
It was an equal shock when Mark was the first to begin speaking, "I'm not certain of my use, the death of this gentleman and its reason seems plain."
"All the same, I can't see any fault in voicing your opinion. Or...?" He tilted his head to the side, "Have I been taking away from your time?"
"Did you not return rather recently from your holiday? I take it it was on short notice as well?" Mark didn't need to respond, the answer was clear to the both of him.
Looking away from the features he'd fantasied over so long, Mark mumbled, "Death by poison." Standing across from one another, there was a double meaning to Mark's words. It would be no fault to reason he had been speaking of the corpse, as wasn't that his purpose in being in the mortuary? Nonetheless there was a bitterness that lingered between them. Maybe the cause had been because of Sherlock's short temper and scathing remarks, the venom that came from his tongue - as it were. Although both in a way were at fault, while Sherlock had his cold disposition, Mark had his envy and inaction. Perhaps in this life they were never meant to be friends, at least during this given time.
Mark cleared his throat, shifting the weight on his legs. "If that is all, Mr. Holmes. I'll be taking my leave." He felt the other's gaze on him as he put the corpse and everything in its rightful place, shrugging into his jacket. Just before he made his exit, he heard the detective gently call out.
Coming to a halt, Mark paused on the stairs, staring at the steps before him.
"In that time you've been away, you've changed, Hooper."
Mark bit his bottom lip, forcing himself to continue onward. Behind him, Sherlock stood partially illuminated by the hanging lanterns.
The breath she'd been holding in came out in a deep exhale. Words seemed to fail her whenever she was around Sherlock, but honestly, was there any point in trying anymore? Most likely not, they were far too different to hope for a amicable companionship. She would never go on cases with him, never attempt to solve murders like Dr. Watson did.
She pressed a hand to her chest. This was the best she could do, for the both of them. Not sparing a glance behind her, Molly moved away from the door and walked along the corridor. The only thing that kept her company was her shadow and her troubled thoughts.
There was an undeniable chill in the house when Molly entered, the fireplaces had long since been empty and depleted from heat. Shivering from the harshness of it all, Molly crossed her arms over her chest and quickly made her way through the flat, lighting the lanterns.
Everything now doused in light, she then focused on the fireplace in the parlour. When the flame was blazing hotly, Molly put the box of matches away and fetched Tobias from her bedroom and an armful of blankets.
Curled up on the sofa, she buried her chin into the covers and absently threaded her fingers through Tobias' fur. At that moment, the weight of the day slammed into her. Mumbling to herself, Molly closed her eyes as she thought of the events that had transpired, none the wiser to the front door to her home being unlocked.
While sleep seized her in its clutches, the door slowly opened.
The fingers that threaded through her hair gently plucked her from the realm of sleep, sensation still spreading across her scalp when her eyes struggled to open. Squinting into the dim light, wordlessly she wondered what the time was while she lifted a hand to rub the gound from her eyes.
When her hand fell back down to her side, her mind started to realize the wrongness of this situation. Immediately her body jolted, trying to sit upwards. Before she could do this, there was a hand placed on her chest and a soft deep voice whispered into her ear. "There, there. You're fine where you are."
Cautiously her head turned to the side, glimpsing a face in her peripheral. "Wha..." She wet her cracked lips, "What are you doing here?" A part of her still didn't believe that this was happening, that he was here.
The dying flames from the fireplace lit up the grin he gave her, "I came to visit you, my dear Hooper. Would you rather I didn't?"
"No, but I..." Her breath escaped her lips in a shaky exhale. It took a few moments for her to gather her thoughts, to close her eyes and will herself not to descend into madness. Her eyes opened, and with a trembling hand she reached out to him. "Are you even here with me now?" Her fingertips dragged across his chin, feeling the prickly stubble, the warmth from his skin as she caressed him tentatively. He laughed at that, taking that hand and pressing a light kiss to her knuckles before he brought it down.
"Trust me, I'm here with you now."
The pair were lulled into silence, a hush that nearly sent her in for another spell of sleep. She glanced down between them, bodies so very close in the small space the sofa offered. She wasn't even sure how he managed to be lying next to her. She peered behind his form, and came to the conclusion that he was hanging on the edge. If that bothered him, he made no move to show it, much less to voice any complaints. "Sir, how did you even get in?"
The corners of Jim's lips stretched his grin further as he stared down at her, mischievous as he gave a cheeky wink. "I have my ways."
Molly sighed, fondness outweighing any fear or exasperation, she might have felt. "I have no doubt about it, but that still doesn't make it acceptable to be gallivanting around a young lady's abode."
"I know it wasn't proper of me, Hooper. But I will point out, you weren't a young lady when we met."
She chewed on her bottom lip, he had a point. "That may be the case, but, um..." She fell short when he leaned down, kiss taking down all of her defenses and leaving her in a stupor. Goosebumps raced across her skin, leaving her shivering. When he pulled away, she knew he owned another part of her heart, if not all of it. She couldn't stop it, the plunging, but did she really want it to?
When her eyes fluttered open, she knew no, she didn't. "I don't trust myself enough." He quizzically looked at her, and before he could make a comment, she rushed to finish. "I'm not certain whether I'm dreaming or not."
Sir Moriarty made a soft sound of understanding, pulling himself up so he could rest his head on the palm of his hand. "A figment of your imagination or not, I consider it an honour to be the first you conjured up." Molly's face warmed at the teasing, fumbling to pull the blanket further up her body, just to do something with her hands.
"Did you mean what you said, sir?" Moriarty rose a brow. "You came all this way to pay me a visit?"
"Ah, well..." He reached between them, giving sleeping Tobias a few pets. His lips quirked when he received a pleased purr from the touch. "It is a half truth."
"A... a half truth?"
Jim hummed, "Yes, I had business in town, so I saw no harm in stopping by."
Molly's gaze shifted away from him, helpless to hide her disappointment when she said, "Of course..." She had been silly, to think he arrived to whisk her away to some journey filled with mystery and their mutual love for one another. A finger pressed onto her brow, forcing her to relax her frown.
"Now, dear, what is that expression for? Are you unhappy?"
"No," she mumbled, lie plain to the both of them. Jim gave a disapproving tsk, smoothing her brows before he dropped his caress to the side of her face.
"My dear Hooper, even a blind man could see that isn't the case."
"I may be a little discouraged, that you had other matters to attend to, but..." She chewed on her bottom lip, face flushing once more. "I'm still content you made the journey all the same."
"Is that so?" Lazily he drew himself up, managing to sit before he leaned over her. Molly's breath was caged within her chest, waiting until he moved the smallest of amounts and brushed their lips together. Before she could move forward, grab what she could, he was gone. Dazed even from that tiny peck, Molly watched as he climbed to his feet, brushing his trousers off.
Thinking their time together was already over, she hastily reached out to his arm, trying to catch his sleeve. She received an amused smile in response, fingers barely grazing one another before he left her side and crossed the room to the door. Instead of taking the turn to head to the front, he surprised her by walking right.
Head falling back onto her cushions, she listened to the floorboards creaking as he strolled around, studying the rooms. She had no doubt in her mind that he had done so earlier. The only difference was that he was now making her aware of it, it was after all his duty, as a gentleman.
"I wonder," she whispered softly, "what he would say if I called him that?" Most certainly he'd laugh, or something of the sort. Lips tugging into a smile, Molly bemoaned as she forced herself out of her lounging position and up to her feet.
She found him in her bedroom, perusing her bookcase without a care about one's right to privacy. Hovering in the door frame, she watched as he ran his fingertips along the books' spines, mouthing the titles to himself.
"You know," she started quietly, not wanting to give him a scare, "you can take a few."
He paused on one book in particular, not moving as he said, "You would do that for me? Aren't you worried I'd sully your little treasures? I know you don't have a lot of an allowance to be spending on repairs or on new novels."
"No," she admitted, "but you seem a person who enjoys a good story. I'm sure you'll keep them in excellent condition, or..." She dragged her gaze over his body, "I'd at least hope you would."
"It appears that you have more concern over your books than yourself, Hooper." He straightened himself, finally turning to give her a slight smile. There was a pleasantness to his expression, but there was also a sharpness to it as well. "I appreciate the offer, but I won't be ransacking your personal collection tonight."
"Are you sure...? I can more than-" He crossed the short distance to stand in front of her, gently tipping her chin back with his thumb. Molly's eyes widened, swept up in a trance as she stared into his eyes. Absently, she buried her trembling fingers into the hem of her shirt, wrinkling the fabric.
Sir Moriarty smiled. "I'm positive."
Just when she thought he was going to kiss her again, he pulled away. Sighing her disgruntlement, Molly stared after him with narrowed eyes as he left the bedroom and headed towards the kitchen. From the hallway she could hear him snickering.
The fool that she is, she trailed after him, needing to keep an eye on him at all times to verify that he wasn't going to disappear. After all, he had a habit of doing precisely that. Back to her, Jim was currently rooting through her pantry, offering an occasional click of his tongue. He was obviously not impressed with whatever he found stacked on the shelves, but Molly doubted she could afford anything that would satisfy him.
From the quality of the suit he wore and the general regard he had for things, it was apparent that Sir Moriarty was a man of expensive tastes. While he stood in her comfortable, but dingy flat, Molly wondered what he was doing here. What benefit there was to courting her, a ridiculous pathologist with virtually no friends and with too much time on her hands. Out of everyone, he should be the most wary of her company - had she not been disrupting his late relatives' graves and their secrets?
Truly there must be something wrong with him, to still seek her company after all of these grievances. Admittedly Molly knew very little of courtship, but she couldn't imagine all men were like this. Her eyes lingered on his shoulders, listening to the cheerful tune he whistled. No, Sir Moriarty was indeed an unusual sort.
He was a puzzle she couldn't help but want to solve, no matter how unlikely success was. "Sir?" She paused, just long to make sure he was in fact listening. "I had a question I wanted to put forth."
"Only one?" Jim shut the pantry door and turned around, expression of mock shock. "Of all people I would have thought you'd have more."
"Well..." Molly lightly coughed, "it is true, I have more than a couple, but I didn't want to be impolite."
"Hooper," Jim sighed, "what have we said about spines?"
"I... Pardon, sir?"
Sir Moriarty shook his head, striding forward to stand before her. "You have one, so use it."
"Right, um..." Despite his reassurance, she dropped her gaze to her clothed feet. They were growing cold so far away from the warmth of the fire. "I had been meaning to ask you." She forced herself to then look upwards, "What exactly is your business?"
All pretense of playful badgering was wiped clear from his expression. "Business?" He repeated softly, as if he was testing the word.
"Yes, I know your practices might be..." She broke off, thinking of the corpse he asked her to dissect.
"They might be what?"
"Uncivil." Realizing her mistake, Molly held her hands in front of her. " A-at least to others."
Visage pointedly aloof, Sir Moriarty stuffed his hands into his pockets. The tone in which he used was nothing if not kind, but Molly would be a person of a simple mind to not notice the sudden tension in the air. "And does that bother you in any way?"
"N-no, but um... Sir, I didn't intent to be rude, but you know how that saying goes. Curiosity killed the cat."
The laugh Jim gave this time didn't reach his eyes. "Oh but, dear, you're missing the best part... Satisfaction brought it back." Silence crept upon them, it caused the shadows in the corners to stretch out even further, despite the daylight outside of this home. Sir Moriarty glanced away from her nervous countenance, permitting a lengthy sigh. Almost to himself, he talked in a hushed voice. "I suppose it's natural that you'd ask such things, I've done nothing but present you mystery after mystery." Lifting a hand to his head, he dragged his fingers through his hair. "Perhaps an act of mercy is in order, hmm?"
An act of mercy? Desperately Molly wanted to ask what he meant, but she couldn't will her mouth to do so. Ignorant of her plight, noisily Jim clasped his hands together. It made enough of a sound that she flinched. "Right! Then it's settled, we'll do exactly that."
Molly opened her mouth, ready to ask when she was cut off by a knocking. Both of their heads snapped to the side, startled by the sound filling the house. Molly took one look at Jim, before she uttered an apology and hurried to the front door. "One moment!" She called out.
She had just about grabbed onto the knob, when she glimpsed her reflection in the entryway mirror. Cursing lightly, she took a few steps back and removed her moustache, hissing when the spirit gum pulled on her flesh. She'd been a fool to leave it on. Rubbing the tender spot above her upper lip, she hoped there wasn't a streak when she opened the door.
The sunlight that spilled in was blinding, making the figure nearly impossible to see. Only letting her head stick out around the door frame, she had, after all, slept in her counterpart's attire, she squinted at her visitor.
"Ms. Hooper, is that you? This is a surprise, I hadn't thought you'd be here."
"Oh, Mrs. Petti. It's been a while, hasn't it?" They saw each other occasionally, when Molly stopped by the corner store for a bag of flour and yeast, but she never thought she'd see the old widow on her doorstep.
"Yes it has, I had been meaning to leave a loaf for Meena, for when she's released from the hospital."
"That's mighty kind of you," Molly glanced behind her, when she turned back she smiled sheepishly. "I would offer you cup of tea, but..."
Mrs. Petti waved the gesture off, "Don't be ridiculous. Meena tells me how busy you are, and that poor brother of your's. You're twins of body and soul, aren't you?" Molly simply nodded. "He's still on holiday, isn't he?"
"Yes, yes he is." Molly looked behind her once more. She didn't want to be rude, but she was eager to cease this pointless chat and to close the damned door.
"Pity, that. You'll be sure to mention how much we await his return in your next letter, won't you?"
"Yes, madam." Molly smiled, hoping the silence that followed would help the elderly woman realize Molly's want to return to her home. It didn't.
"I know he's a shy fellow, but do tell him I have a young lady that would adore to make his acquaintance."
Molly barely withheld from wincing. Did the married women of London have nothing better to do than make sure his facade was settled down? As of late, he thought no, no they didn't. They wouldn't be happy until he was wed. "I'll... I'll be sure to let him know. If that was everything...?"
Task complete, Mrs. Petti nodded. "I won't be keeping you busy any longer, dear." She passed over the wicker basket that had been hanging from her arm. "Do pass over my prayers to your friend."
"Thank you, madam." Molly smiled politely, watching as the elderly woman walks down the steps before she retreated. The door now closed securely, she waited a few moments to be sure Mrs. Petti wasn't in earshot before she called out.
"Sir Moriarty?! You can come out now, she's gone." She frowned when she didn't get a response. Pace quick, she hurried to where she left him. Only he wasn't there. "Jim?!" She yelled, and even then she knew - he had left.
"This is a surprise, I didn't think I'd get a visit so soon." Despite her teasing, there was a broad smile on her face, only getting wider as her dear friend pulled up a chair to her side. "What is it that you have?"
Startled by the question, Molly glanced down to her hand. "Ah, a gift from Mrs. Petti. She sends her regards." She passed the basket over, taking the time to smooth the fabric of her gown as Meena appreciated her present.
"How sweet, I'll have to knit her something when I'm feeling better." Passing the basket over so it could be placed on the small table in the corner, Meena begun her line of questioning, knowing fully well that Molly wouldn't willingly talk about herself. "Are we going to discuss it?"
"Discuss what?" Molly replied when she sat down again.
"You know I love you in anything, but my dear, it's strange to see you in a dress. I know you don't agree with our genders' fashion."
"Yes," Molly let out a sigh, shifting her weight in the chair for what seemed the millionth time. After learning of how freeing it was to wear trousers, it was impossible to return to the socially acceptable corsets and gowns. She was forever trying to get comfort where comfort wasn't had - it was highly vexing. "I don't like it, but it was the right course of action. Mark can hardly visit you every day, people would talk."
"Don't they already?" Meena rose a brow, "Sherlock seems to think we're in some form of relationship." At the detective's name, her friend groaned. "Sorry, you don't care for him too much now, do you? You've moved on to the dashing Sir Moriarty."
Scandalized, Molly quickly reached over to stifle her friend's words with her hand. Of course her attempt was foiled with her hand being lightly swatted away. "Meena!"
"You're doing nothing if not proving my point, dear."
Molly huffed as she leaned back, annoyed with how hot her face felt. "I'm not sure if dashing is the proper word to use..."
"Well then, how would you describe him?"
She chewed on her bottom lip, mulling it over. "I don't know, he's... Indescribable, a man that isn't common in society." Molly didn't need to look up to know her friend was frowning, the apprehension in her tone told as much.
"And is that a good thing?"
Rightfully, she didn't know. "I guess it depends on who you ask."
"If you're fine with discussing it, there's been something that has been troubling me." That had her attention; Molly peered upwards. Knowing she had the other's full focus, Meena sighed before she continued on. "I find it very grand that you've taken a liking to this gentleman. Having not met him, I can't make any judgement on his character, but you clearly hold him in high regard."
"Dear, are you... Are you sure he isn't like Mr. Holmes?" Before Molly could say anything, Meena was pulling herself into a sitting position, frantic to explain herself. "I only mean that you've pined after Sherlock for years, even with all of his... Peculiarities. And now you've moved onto this man of mystery - there's nothing wrong with that, but I can't help but be curious. And well... I don't want him to be like the last one, I want a partner for you that can actually see you, can understand you like I can."
"Meena..." Molly began, so utterly at a loss for words.
"Not to mention your... Struggle. Is he as oblivious as Mr. Holmes was to..." She broke off, brows drawing together in a frown. "Dear...?" By whatever it was that she saw in her friend's expression and lack of speaking, Meena gasped "He knows?!" In a much quieter voice, she shot forward, nearly falling off of the bed as she hissed. "How?!"
Molly wet her dry lips, "About that..."
It was a bit of an effort, to remain pleasant, even with his late breakfast interrupted. More and more it seemed he was dining in his study. "Come in," he hollered, wanting nothing more than to finish this meeting. Already he felt a headache coming on as the door opened. Around the frame, his physical embodiment of a migraine gave him an impish grin.
"Hello Mycroft dear, did you miss me?"
Mycroft rolled his eyes at the crooning, "Hardly. Now come in, and close the door behind you."
Moriarty's smile dropped in an exaggerated pout, "Has someone opened a window? Or am I imagining the chill to the air?" Giggling to himself, Jim stepped inside and closed the aforementioned door, as he was nothing if not a person whom respected others privacy. He grinned at the thought, helping himself to the chair across from Mycroft's desk, and stretching his legs out in front of him. When he looked up, he held his hands out. "Don't look at me like that, Mr. Holmes. I'll behave."
"It'd be best for the both of us if you did, now... Did you have a particular reason why you arrived on my doorstep? Or was it to simply annoy me?"
"Can't I visit one of my sweetest friends?"
Mycroft's eyes narrowed, "You don't have friends. Neither of us do, they're too... Messy."
"If you're intending to wound me by your words, by all accounts you're doing an excellent job."
With a large sigh, Mycroft leaned back in his chair, mindful of the groan it gave. "I have to say, since the last time we've met, you're... Different."
Marginally Jim's grin lowered, head tilted to the side, he repeated "Different?"
"Calmer." Mycroft elaborated. "As if there's something.... No, someone you're protecting." Mycroft didn't see any worry flicker over Moriarty's face, and nor did he expect to. Despite all of his antics, Jim had excellent control over his emotions - at least when he needed to.
His guest gave a lazy roll of his shoulders, "What can I say? Love does miraculous things to a person. You should try it sometime."
"Love?" Mycroft snorted, "I pity the poor soul you love. Now, enough of this nonsense. We've already spent too much of my valuable time on these ludicrous topics. Why are you here, and what business it is of mine?"
"Fine. You're a man of business as always, Mr. Holmes. I'm here to collect what is mine."
"Yours?" The confusion was only momentarily written over Mycroft's face, a second later it was overcome with realization and then annoyance. "This again? This is why you've disrupted my schedule for... That?"
"You know what a spiteful person I can be, Mycroft. Or have you forgotten?"
"Clearly I was foolish to think more of you, than these..." Mycroft gave an exasperated wave of his hand. "Childish pranks."
Jim rolled his eyes, "It was only a few murders, here and there. I thought you could do with some excitement, running a government takes away from the fun of everything."
"You do realize how ridiculous you have been, don't you? Hindering my work all for a... A book."
"Or," Jim stressed, letting a bit of his anger slip past his mask, "how you could have avoided this if you just gave it to me in the first place. But no, you couldn't let disharmony come to your collection."
Around this time, Mycroft knew it was pointless. He wouldn't win this battle, and even if he did, he wouldn't take any enjoyment from it. "Fine," he ground out, moving forward to snatch the bell from his desk; with the delicate sound, a servant opened the door. "Sir?"
"Take him to the library, and show him out after he's fetched his novel."
Jim uncrossed his legs, brushing his suit free from invisible dirt. Before he left the study, he shot Mycroft a look as if to say: see? Wasn't that easy? Just as he was about to cross the door frame, the eldest Holmes called out to him. "You may have your prize, but trust me, there will be repercussions for your behaviour."
From over his shoulder, Jim replied "I'm counting on it. Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Holmes." The door closed with a loud thud.
"Meena, please. Gather yourself, it isn't as bad as it seems."
"Not as-" Meena choked on a cough, clamping a hand over her mouth in an attempt to stifle it. When she emerged from her fit, her eyes were bloodshot and watery. She glared at her friend through her tears, "Molly. You just confessed to me your... Relations, to this gentleman - a man you've only been recently acquainted to."
"That may be true, but..." Molly's brows furrowed, cheeks warming as she said "That is still a decision that was my own to make." Her friend shook her head, expression so very flabbergasted.
"Of course, you may do whatever you'd like with your body. That's not the concern here. The issue is that... Molly, you barely know this man, and yet he knows of your..." She couldn't help but glance towards the door, "situation... Do you truly think that is wise?"
"I admit this was all on short notice, but..." Molly broke off, thinking of their first meeting. Ever since she entered that study, she's found herself captivated by him. It was a fact that she could no longer deny, even with all of the dangers attached. "He's... He understands me, something Sherlock has never done."
The look of incredulity her friend was giving her was sharp to Molly's senses, and naturally she felt herself bristling with the need to explain herself. Tone defensive, she spoke softly. "If you met him you'd know, at first he's filled with such confidence, but the longer I knew him... I noticed this loneliness." Her gaze dropped down to her hands, staring as they clenched in her lap. "I... I often see that in myself, and for once I wasn't alone. The world may be moving, but he was there with me, stagnant." She squeezed her hands tight, grip reflecting the state of her chest. "Is it... Is it wrong to be feeling this way?"
She winced at the quietness of the room, the tender way in which her friend spoke. "Molly." She didn't look up, not even when a hand was placed on her own. There was a heat to it, a fever that Meena hadn't broken yet. It crushed Molly's heart, that her friend was caring for her, even when she needed it more. How much pain she was putting her through? With the mismanagement of her life, of her recklessness. "I'm... I'm sorry you've been feeling this way, that you've been suffering with this by yourself." A thumb was brushing along her cheek, getting rid of the tears she hadn't even realized had fallen.
There was a lump in her throat, it stayed as her friend pulled her by her arm, and swept her up in an embrace. Nose buried into a shoulder, Molly's hands lay on the bed for a few minutes, before they slowly wrapped around Meena. She felt ridiculous crying. It was a luxury she never granted herself, never let the emotions wash over her despite the constant onslaught she felt. Before it had always been pushed down, shoved into the angry knot in her belly whenever Mr. Holmes ignored her or said scathing remarks. When the society around her did the same. It had all been negativity she desperately tried to forget, to rise above.
Instead of soaring above it, that knot was weighing her down, dragging her into a darkness she couldn't escape. For the longest time she thought she could, she'd been a fool then, and she still was.
Several excruciating minutes passed, until Molly pulled away. Her face felt hot and swollen; embarrassed she scrubbed at it with her hands, needing at least some semblance of composure before she was able to speak again. "I'm sorry, for that. You have enough problems without my adding onto it." Swiftly Meena leaned forward, and flicked her forehead. Molly jerked away with a yelp, tentatively touching the sore spot. "What on earth was that for?!"
"For someone as smart as you are, Margaret Hooper you are an idiot." She silenced her friend with a glare. "Am I not your closest companion?" Meena's frown dissolved with Molly's slow nod. "Good. It's only natural that I worry after you, you do that when you love someone. Don't apologize for that, never that. Or would you not do the same for me?"
"Of course I-"
"Precisely. Now, about your Mr. Moriarty. I may have my reservations, but I'll support whatever your decisions may be. When I meet him, and trust me I shall, I'll be sure to tell him the harm that will befall his person if he dares to even rustle a strand of hair on your pretty head."
"Meena, please." A smile begun to worm its way onto Molly's lips.
"Do you doubt my abilities, dear? He won't, not after we've had a chat."
Door shut gently, Molly left with a smile on her face. After her visit, she felt as if a massive weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Things seemed to be looking up for the better, to the point where Molly felt surprisingly optimistic for what the future would hold. Even though she didn't need it to continue pursuing a relationship with Jim, it was nice to have Meena's blessing.
Feeling as light as a feather, Molly attempted a sweet tune as she walked down St. Barts' corridors. The notes were shakily sung, but she didn't care, there wasn't a lot of people in these rooms anyways. She cast a glance into a room as she passed by, mood sobering at the emptiness of it. Often the severely ill were ushered into these rooms, when the presence of death was inescapable.
There was a melancholy to this place, one she had also noticed elsewhere. The manor on her mind, she was completely caught off guard at the sudden hand gripping her arm. Thinking that the spectres had come for her at last, a scream was building up in her throat. Before she could release it, a hand was silencing the sound, and swiftly she was dragged backwards into a room.
Molly was by no means a fighter, in fact, she had never been in a brawl, neither as herself nor Mark. However, while she was being dragged inside a room, all of the corpses she'd seen on her slab flashed before her eyes. Every way humans have mutilated one another, the violence behind it. Although those sights were horrid, they had also given her knowledge - how to give pain. She writhed in the stranger's grip, cold sweat running down her spine as she fought to break free.
Desperation mounting, she bit hard into the hand, not relenting even when she tasted blood. The person wrapped around her, hissed into her ear. Surprise giving her enough of an advantage that she could elbow him into the side, exhale rushing past her ear, she tore herself away and spun around. Heart pounding, Molly brought her hand down on her assailant, striking his-
Her fist came to halt, iron clad grip preventing it from moving any further. "Impressive." She stared at herself, shocked expression reflected in his eyes.
"You." All of the fear left her in a massive gush, body shuddering with the remains of her adrenaline. "Why would you..." She broke off, clenched fist uncurling as he gave a mirthless chuckle.
"I wanted to visit you, dear. How was I to expect you'd attack me?" Jim grinned, finally let her arm go. His gaze shifted, inspecting the wound on his hand. "My," he hummed, smiling as he studied it in the light. "You've done a number on me, haven't you?"
Despite her rising anger, Molly felt awful about inflicting pain on him, choking out a "I'm terribly sorry."
Jim didn't look at her, "Don't be," he chastised, lowering his head. Molly was transfixed as she watched him drag his tongue over the wound, licking away the welling blood from the bite. She audibly swallowed. When Jim straightened, he made a point of licking his lips when he made eye contact.
She thought of her dream then, of Jim being a devil, a creature that fed on the innocent. If she was lucky, she hoped he'd devour her as well. As she broke his stare, she knew that he would. "I..." Molly took a second to collect herself. "What are you doing here?"
When she turned back to face him, she frowned when he shrugged. "Can I not visit you?"
"No, I mean- of course you can, but I'm..." She shook her head, hoping that it would rid her of this daze she seemed to be under. "How did you even know where I was?"
If he was worried about her inquiry, Jim didn't show it, smile as carefree as ever. "I have my ways." He reached out to touch her, but Molly stepped back. She was unsure whether she offended him or not, having to rely on the simple raising of his brow.
"Have you been following me?"
There was a nervousness prickling at her senses, rising when he dropped his head down and loudly sighed, like this conversation was irking.
"No," he drew out, "Why would I?" With Molly's silence, he elaborated with a put off air. "Dear, it was plain as the adorable nose on your face where you were."
"You stayed at my manor, didn't you? Did you think I'd willingly lease my estate to someone without being informed of their character? To gain such knowledge isn't hard, and the fact is, if anyone were to be blamed for providing me with your information it would be you."
Me? Molly's brows knitted together. Her reaction was clearly the wrong one, her companion rolled his eyes.
"Come now, Hooper. Don't be so obtuse, it isn't flattering." One of his shoes began to impatiently tap away at the floorboards, it was hard for Molly to not be distracted by it. "You ran off in such a hurry, it was apparent the letter you had received troubled you. You have spoken little of your family, and it would be quite a risk to live by yourself. Not only as an unmarried woman, but as someone in your unique circumstance. Your want of a romantic connection spoke of you conspicuous lack of man in your life, meaning it was a womanly acquaintance that awaited you back in London. Again the letter disturbed you, hinting that this friend of yours was distressed, to the point where you would leave everything behind in a haste. Are you satisfied, or should I ramble on further?"
"No," Molly cleared her throat, "you've made your point across."
"Lovely. Now that was ov-" Jim's brows drew together, eyes narrowing as he stepped forward.
Startled by the sudden closeness, Molly made a choking sound as she moved away. Jim wouldn't permit her to do so, he followed after her until Molly bumped into a wall. Looking everywhere but at him, Molly's hands were squished between them as he leaned in. "S-sir, if you don't mind. I would appreciate it if you were, to step back?"
"You." She shifted her gaze to him, peering at him out of the corner of her eye. "You've been crying."
"Oh, I..." It was a shock he'd even noticed; she rose a shaking hand to her face, barely feeling the heat of her cheeks before he forcibly moved her hand back down. The hold on her hand wasn't painful, but it was tight to the extent of being distressing. "Sir?" She whispered, bewildered to the stiffness to his visage, the carefully crafted stoic facade as he gripped her chin and tilted her head this way and that. It was as if he was searing every angle into his mind, trying to commit it to memory as he checked the lighting.
"You've been crying," he repeated softly, "Why?"
Eyes wide, the truth came unbidden from her lips, spilling like the honesty wasn't her's to begin with - like he'd drawn it from her. "M-my friend, Meena. She... we spoke of things that were upsetting to me."
"A friend?" His eyes narrowed into slits. "From what I've heard, friends don't do that. Are you sure she's one?"
The idea of Meena being anything but was baffling, and even with his steady hold on her chin, Molly shook her head. "Of course, it wasn't intentional."
"Sometimes..." Jim let the words halter for a moment, and in a quieter voice he said, "the unintentional hurts the most." Confusion and tension hanging above them, Molly begun to think that this was no longer over her friendship with Meena. No, this was something different. She watched as his gaze dropped to her lips, pausing like he was weighing his decisions. There were a million questions running around in her head, but when Jim finally brought their lips together all of them went unanswered.
The hands that had been curled into fists between them, grabbed - with what little space there was, and held onto Jim's suit. Molly's eyes fluttered, managing to see Jim staring at her even while they kissed, before they closed.
Kissing him was like being plunged into a fathomless depth of water, fingers stretched out for the sky above as you sunk helplessly lower. Only to discover while facing certain death that you had a hidden lung, a momentary aid, it gave a glimpse of hope but still didn't get rid of the demise lurking below. It was a double edged sword, dangerous as it was addicting. Molly never wanted to stop, even if all of the oxygen left her body.
What breath she gained when he pulled away, was swiftly gone when he trailed to the side, placing searing kisses to her jaw and then neck. Gasping, Molly squeezed her eyes shut, trying her hardest to think properly. An impossible feat, especially with Jim pulling the side of her collar to the side. Her eyes shot open at his curse, moving her hands to grip his shoulders while his hot breath brushed against her ear. "I liked it better when you dressed like a man, it'd make this easier."
Molly bit her bottom lip, smiling at the annoyance dripping from his voice. "I... I agree." Jim merely grunted, eager to dive in. Molly immediately hissed through her teeth, wincing as she felt Jim's teeth skate along her neck. Bite soon soothed with a kiss, his smirking was undeniable.
"Ass," she mumbled, lacking all of the anger she ought to have.
"How rude," Jim chuckled, not offended in the least. Why should he be? There was such distractions surroundings him. The hand that wasn't gripping the side of Molly's face, moved from his pathologist's hip and lowered downward. He only allowed himself to momentarily move away, hunching down to grab a hold of Molly's gown hem and pull it up.
Sudden air skating along her legs, Molly glanced downwards, embarrassment flashing over her. What would her estranged mother say, if she saw her daughter like this? Stockings bared for this gentleman, ready and eager for the taking.
Could she hate her more than she already did? At the thought of her mother, her head tilted back with a thud, uncaring of the soreness it caused. At the sound, Jim looked upwards, frowning at the image. "What is this now? Is this tiresome for you?"
Molly's eyes widened at the question, hastily looking down. "What? No, it's-"
"If this is boring you," Jim dropped her hem and straightened, "Hooper, you only need to say a word." He rose a brow at Molly's frantic head shaking, "If not, then what is troubling you?"
"It's just..." Molly bit onto her bottom lip; Jim's eyes flicked downwards to catch the movement. "I was thinking of..." She winced at the thunderstorm of emotions that rolled over Jim's expression, at a loss for words at the sight.
"You're thinking of who, dear?" The tempo he was drumming away on her thighs was absolutely occupying her focus. It was already difficult breathing with a corset on, and he wasn't making it any easier for her. "What's wrong, dear?" He hissed, "Lost your tongue?" The pause he granted her lasted only a few seconds, but with her bewilderment it seemed longer. "If that's the case," he drawled, "perhaps I should put mine to good use." Good use?!
He pushed away from her, not giving her a moment to assess her situation before he was dragging her to the bed in the corner. Spinning her around him, he gave her a shove, watching as she fell back onto the mattress with a yelp. The term mattress should be used lightly, it wasn't much to begin with, and certainly nothing that would take the brunt of the fall. It would have been gentler on her spine if Molly only landed onto the metal frame.
And while Molly was quite a slender young lady, the bed was still a narrow fit. Certainly nothing that two people could lay on. Lifting herself to brace her weight on her elbows, she began to inform Sir Moriarty of this, but of course he had other plans.
He tore the beginning to a shocked shout from her lips when he suddenly dragged her ankles, and pulled her closer to the edge. Quickly she clamped her hands over her mouth, praying that no one had heard as he knelt down. Ears straining, Molly only lifted her hands when she heard no noise from the hallway.
"Jim," she rasped, "what if someone sees us?"
Grabbing fistfuls of her gown, he tossed it upwards, peering at her from between her thighs. "And?" He rose a brow, as if the question was an odd one. "Then they see."
"But," Molly chewed on a spot on the inside of her cheek, "I don't want anyone walking in, and seeing you..."
"Seeing me, what?"
Even with Jim's encouragement, she couldn't bring herself to finish that sentence, her delicate sensibilities wouldn't allow it. She wasn't sure how she looked right now, but from Jim's sudden and high pitched laugh it was amusing. The sound filled her with a light, fond as she watched him give himself up freely, acting with no restraint. It may be joy on her expense, but the carefree chuckle made her forget that entirely. She wanted to watch him like that forever, the corners of his eyes creased with laugh lines instead of from frowning.
"Dear..." Jim started, words broken by his laughter. He turned the warmth in her heart into a blazing fire when he finished, "if you're determined to remain silent. I'll have to think of other ways to get you to make some noise." Voiceless or not, at that given time, Molly didn't think she'd be able to give a proper opinion on the matter, not when he was disposing of her societal morals.
As Moriarty moved the voluminous skirts away, he reflected on his childhood. The time spent in church as he grinned, thanking the God he knew wasn't fond of him for the invention that was split drawers. They certainly made everything easier. He made sure he held Molly's gaze when he pointedly wet his lips, grin feral as he finally leaned down.
Molly choked on a moan, trying to hold it at bay while she pressed her face against the bed's blankets. She was never more certain of one thing, she was going to hell - and Jim the devil that he was, was responsible for it. "Fuck!" She gasped, shuddering at a particular drag of his tongue. From below, muffled by the fabric she heard him mumble a response. But before she could even will herself to care, her head snapped up, oxygen gone when the door across from them was knocked on.
Sputtering, Molly was trying to pull herself up, but Jim had a hand placed on her belly, holding her heaving torso down. "Moriarty" she spat out, panic chilling her right down to her bones. They needed to hide this, needed the room to take them somewhere else other than this.
The door opened in what seemed to be slow motion to Molly, and she was filled with such emotion that greatly she wanted to throw herself out of the nearest window. Meanwhile, Jim didn't care, he had a feast to enjoy.
Never before, had Molly been compelled by the overwhelming urge to end her own life. But even with Jim's tongue making her toes curl, she couldn't find any distraction in it, not when Meena was standing in the door frame.
From the strangled noise that left her throat, finally Jim lifted his head from under her skirts. He rose a brow, clearly confused why he wasn't the cause of the sound, before he tossed a glance over his shoulder. "Ah..." He said softly, eyebrows shooting up. "And who might you be?"
For a second Meena didn't say anything, only stretched out the silence further. When she did note Jim, really looked at him, a decidedly exasperated sigh left her lips. Staggering, she stepped fully into the room, making sure to close and lock the door. She paused, back to them, as she said "I thought I heard you, Molly. I wasn't sure whether you ran into some trouble, if Sherlock..."
Molly's staring momentarily dropped, attention clouded by confusion at Jim's tensing. For the smallest of seconds, she wondered whether he knew the detective. If not by the papers, then as an acquaintance. Before she could dwell on that thought, Meena turned around.
"I didn't expect I'd..." Meena shook her head, leaning on the frame and pinching the bridge of her nose. Molly opened her mouth, then swiftly closed it. What could she say? She couldn't rationalize this to herself, much less to another. Before she could force herself out of her mortified trance, Jim was finally pulling away from her, smoothing down the fabric of her skirt, making her decent once more. Grunting, he climbed up to his feet, running a hand through his hair. "This isn't how I planned for today to go," he shrugged, "although I can't complain." He then crossed the room, offering an outstretched hand. Warily Meena stared at it, reluctant to accept the gesture. However, when she did, Jim's face broke out into a toothy grin. "I believe an introduction is in order, my name is Sir Jim Moriarty."
"I know," she grumbled, cautiously shaking his hand. After a few seconds, she frowned at it, wondering when he'd let go. Of course, Jim didn't take notice of this - or he just didn't care, still shaking their joined appendages.
"You know?" His voice rose up, along with a brow. "My, I feel thoroughly out of the loop, Ms...?"
He mumbled her name back, grin widening, "What a lovely name that is." Amusement flashed over his face when she yanked her hand away, pleased with the glare she sent him. "And what manners you have."
Taking this all in nervously, Molly slowly sat up, worried as she clambered to her feet. Gingerly she called out, "I'm... I'm sorry you had to witness this." Their attention swung over to her, expressions mixed.
Clearly her friend was still disturbed from the scene she'd witnessed, but nevertheless, she put it all behind her and walked over. "Oh dear, did you forget what I said so soon?"
Molly frowned, "I-" A finger was held against her lips, shushing her. Her friend was peering into her eyes, smile calming the frantic beat of her heart. Meena dropped her hand, in favour using it to hold Molly's, thumb rubbing the other's knuckles.
"You know how much I care for you, right?" Haltingly Molly nodded. "Good, and my comment still holds from before. You may do whatever you wish with your body, it isn't in my place to judge. Although..." She broke off with a wince. "I wish I didn't have to witness it - either way, you more than have my acceptance."
Touched, Molly's face broke out in a fragile smile. "Meena," she breathed, hating how shaky her voice was. Nothing was more important to her than that, being welcomed for who she was. "Thank you..." Her friend shook her head.
"That isn't necessary."
"Oh," Molly exhaled, "but it is." She leaned forward, pressing a kiss to her friend's cheek. When she pulled back, both were smiling. Jim, however, wasn't. From across the room, he watched all of this happen, arms crossed over his chest as he regarded their lingering touch. All pretense of happiness was gone from his disposition, his expression now clouded over.
"Lovely," he drew out - not particularly enjoying the annoying feeling his belly had. It was burdensome, the heavy weight it had. All he could think of, was why hadn't she looked at him like that? With such unconditional tenderness... Their staring reminded him of his mother, how she would look at him, even if he did such awful things. As a child, he knew, that she belonged to him, and he to her. There was no other reason to it, that is simply how things were.
But now, he was troubled by his yearning - that he missed that... that... He winced, fingers carefully touching the item bulging his coat's pocket, the book. It was the only thing published to his biological father's name, a story of lost love. It paralleled Hugh's own life, taking inspiration from it to speak of the anguish it caused. At first, Jim thought it to be amusing, as he'd never experienced it first hand. Of course, he'd played the part, took enjoyment in the idea of it. But only now, did he taste the bitterness. It stung his tongue and throat, the realization that he wouldn't have that. Not what they had, not without a price.
He sniffed, tearing his gaze away. Truly, he was his father's son, following his footsteps so devotedly. Jim cleared his throat, finally taking away their focus. "It has been a pleasure, Miss Meena, but I'll see myself out." He gave a slight bow, and turned on his heel. Molly's eyes, he could feel them on him, making his pace quicken as he left.
Flabbergasted, Molly turned back to her friend. "What on earth was that about?"
Meena gave a lazy shrug of her shoulders, "Do we even need to care?" She rolled her eyes at the scolding look her friend gave. "He is your lover, is he not? What could make him leave in such a peculiar way?"
Ignoring the sudden heat to her face, Molly shook her head. "I'm... I'm not sure." Even with her knowledge of his family, Molly realized with a start, that she hardly knew Sir Moriarty. She was familiar with the way he acted around her, the sensual confidence that wafted off of him, as well as the terrifying persona he could adopt. But truly, did she know him? There were several layers to his personality that were a mystery to her, all seemingly tinged with a hurt she recognized in herself. A loneliness that had become a companion, a friend...
She chewed on her bottom, "Perhaps," she said softly, "I should go to him."
"Yes, I think you should." Quickly they hugged, and Molly hurriedly pulled away.
Hitching her gown up, she ran as fast as she could, for once not caring about the stares she received as she raced down the corridor. The faces leering at her, all went by in a blur, features a smear in the halls. By the time she was on the main floor, Molly was out of breath, but still she pressed on. Frantically her eyes scanned everything and everyone, trying to catch sight of him. When she finally made it outside, she knew, he was gone.
Panting, she overlooked the noisy street, hair in her eyes as the wind howled. An uneasiness rose up, a concern over the expression he had on his face. The melancholy that made him invisible to everyone else aside for her. It hurt to think he felt that way, that he was dealing with it by himself, instead of sharing that burden.
"Jim," she whispered, sound snatched up by the commotion of London. "What aren't you telling me?"
She had returned to her flat, clothes changed, and sitting at her vanity. Absently, she combed through her hair, giving an occasional wince when the bristles were snagged on a knot. Sighing, she freed the comb and set it on the table, staring at her expression. Watching her reflection, she rose a hand to her face, lightly touching the skin underneath her eye. It was tinged darkly from the lack of sleep.
When she got back, she thought she'd manage to become rested, with the ghosts no longer hovering over her. However, it has been just as bad, if not more so. Jim's words came back to haunt her, voice coldly murmuring into her thoughts: you see, Dr. Hooper, things that enter Rose Point have a habit of coming back. She reached for a ribbon, trying to ignore it as she put her hair in a braid. He laughed, the sound twisting her gut into a painful knot.
She couldn't help but admit, but there was some truth to those words. Even after everything, she felt this... Itch. This clawing to her skin, pulling her to return, to discover all of the secrets the manor had to offer. To make them her own. She hated it, but at the same time, it was a hate that was addictive.
Groaning, she took the candle holder from the table, and carried it over to the nightstand. Sitting on the bed, she tucked herself in. Afterwards, she leaned over the side, and blew the candle out. Before the darkness didn't bother her, she never feared fantastical monsters. No, she had feared the common man, and his violence. But now... Now there was so much to be wary of. She yanked the covers over her head, curling up as she felt her own breath bounce off of the blanket. In the depths of the darkness, she heard a chirp for greeting. Only the smallest amount(s) her body relaxed, listening to Tobias padding his way over to her side, and plopping his fluffy body down. With his watchful gaze present, she allowed sleep to claim her.
Tonight's dreams weren't like the previous ones. It wasn't lucid. In fact, she wasn't sure what it was. The only thing she'd recall when she awoke, were fragments, quick bursts of images. Wild flowers blowing in the wind, the colour of the petals and grass saturated to the point where it was blinding to look at. A second later, the scene changed. A beautifully decorated present, slid over a table towards her. That too, was switched to the sight of large snowflakes lazily drifting down from a stormy sky.
What seemed a hundred of these moments flashed before her, giving a calming, but a decidedly dizzying impression. That peace, however, all came crashing down - quite literally.
At that precise instant, it happened, the most coherent event. Jim stood before her, lacking emotion as he watched her slowly fall down. Caught in a web of weightlessness, Molly could only hold out a hand to him, imploring him to help. There was that frozen hill behind him, the house, peering over like a busybody. But instead of landing on the beach, something was different.
A cracking sound filling her ears, Molly found herself being plunged into water. Bubbles of air raced past her, streams dancing before her eyes. It was only in that moment she could look up, staring at the jagged hole she'd cut through the ice. Everything else was so black, so cold, but up above... There she could see the stars, observant of her plight as they sorrowfully twinkled.
She went to say something, but no words would come out, only this big bubble. The fear that had been overshadowed by her confusion, rose up to the surface along with her oxygen. Desperately Molly tried to move her arms, to force her body to swim. But she couldn't, something was holding her back. Frantically kicking her feet, Molly's head snapped down, reaching to claw off whatever she was tethered to.
A pale hand, only illuminated by the moonlight, was stretched out from the endless abyss. It was keeping her here, it was killing her. She was dying. She was dy-
Molly shot up, sudden movement tossing Tobias from the bed. She yanked the blankets back, stumbling into the dark. She didn't get much further than a handful of steps, before she sank to the ground, hunched over as she retched. By the time her stomach was empty, Molly was shaking, gasping for air as she clutched her hands into fists.
"Fuck," she spat out. Fuck.
Molly forced her eyes to stay open, to watch as the frozen landscape passed by the carriage window. After last night, she had made up her mind. And she might be a fool, falling into the hands of whatever dark beings that were tormenting her, but Molly was never one to be pushed around. Whatever it was, if it wanted a fight, then she would return that violence.
Despite her fear of sleeping - of that dream happening, her eyes fluttered. Stifling a yawn behind her hand, Molly lazily rested her head against the seat. She was only going to rest her eyes for a while, only that. She wasn't goin-
She was standing in a hallway, a heavy mahogany door before her. Brows furrowing, she turned around. There wasn't anything behind her - she reasoned it was a hallway, but she couldn't tell with the lack of light. A shiver raced up her spine. Deep in the core of her soul, she knew something was watching her. Cautiously, she faced the other way again, trying her best to ignore the stares on her person.
In the middle of the door, there was a brass disembodied hand hanging. In front of her, it dangled a ring. Molly paused before she reached out, lifting the knocker, and swiftly bringing it down. While the sudden sound was terrifying, the silence that followed was far worse. An oddly familiar voice called out, erasing the fear that she was stuck here. "Come in!"
Molly didn't need to hear twice. She twisted the knob, and quickly entered.
As soon as she stepped inside, Molly studied her surroundings. Her footsteps were muffled, the thick rugs on top of the floorboards made sure of that. There was a darkness to here, that reminded her of the place on the other side of the wall. It was as if those shadows had seeped in, turning everything into a deeper colour. To the red, almost borderline black walls, to the elegantly carved, rosewood furniture. The only thing that kept the gloom at bay, was the fireplace crackling in the corner, and the chandelier hanging above the rounded table set in the middle of the room. Molly blinked, tracing the delicate crystal up to a thick cord to... It wasn't fixed on the ceiling, there wasn't one to begin with. It was as if a giant had ripped the roof off, leaving the room to be exposed to the elements, and the brilliant stars above.
"Hello." Her head snapped down. "Do you care to join us?"
"I..." Molly's face burned in embarrassment, "My apologies. I didn't mean to intrude..."
One of the members of the group, a middle aged lady, laughed lightly. "Don't be ridiculous, you did no such thing. Please," she waved to the vacant seat across from her, "Why don't you sit down?"
A tad hesitant, Molly crossed the room to the table, and sat down in the empty chair. Finally, under the chandelier's light, she was able to see them more clearly. Her blood froze in her veins. She knew these people, although they've never met before.
The woman she had spoken to was Lady Viola, currently she was preoccupied with the cards in her hands. Seemingly unconcerned that the white gown she wore, was meant for burial. In fact, the entirety of her attire was made up for the occasion. There were flowers, long dead, that were pinned to her lace cap, and beside her sherry glass there was a rosary. But what caught Molly's attention the most, was the paleness to Lady Viola's skin, accented by the maggots that writhed from her flesh.
Noisily Molly swallowed down the bile in her throat, sliding her gaze to the next member of their group. She knew she shouldn't have been surprised, even in death, Hugh hadn't wanted to be far from his love's side.
His simple crumpled suit, spoke of the many years it had been since he was alive. Underneath his grisly appearance, most certainly because of his violent death, he was a handsome man. Molly's heart squeezed, unable to help but notice the features he shared with Jim. Noticing her staring, Hugh lifted his head with a gentle smile, "Where are my manners, would you like a glass?"
"Um..." He reached for a cup, twisted form making the action difficult. "No, no. It's quite all right!"
"Are you sure?" Hurriedly she nodded, smile forced. With a shrug, he settled back, taking to whispering into Viola's ear instead. She looked away from the giggling couple, and took in the remainder of her company.
What did take her aback, was that Sir Edmund was joining them. He hadn't said anything, nor bothered to raise his head to greet her. No, he was far too fixated on his own cards, guarding them from everyone else. Although that task proved to be troubling, as his wound constantly spilled blood onto his hands. Ever so often she would hear him mumble a curse, and wipe them off, only for it to be swiftly covered. It was a cycle he couldn't be freed from.
"Lovely, isn't it?" She quickly looked beside her, heart pounding.
"Jim?" She whispered, "What are you doing here?"
He chuckled, raising his hand to show the cards he held. "I couldn't keep away, not with merriment nearby." He momentarily placed his set on the table, picking his chair up and scooting it so it was closer to her's, like they were a pair of conspirators.
"But... But you aren't dead?"
Jim picked them up. When he turned to face her again, he had raised a brow. "Aren't I? Not even in my heart?" Molly's brows furrowed, glancing down to stare at his chest. She flinched when he suddenly reached out, taking her hand in his, and resting it gently on the top of his suit vest.
Everything fell away as she focused, willing it to pound under her fingertips. A second later, he lifted her hand up to his mouth, slightly leaning down so he could press a kiss along her wrist, right above her pulse.
"Are you two quite done?" Viola called out, tone lacking any annoyance as she regarded them. "We're about to start."
Molly pulled herself from Jim's grip, tossing him an apologetic glance before she gingerly picked up the cards before her. Perhaps after this session, she would be free to return to the world of the living. As she rose them up, she frowned in confusion. "What... what am I supposed to do with these?"
Lady Viola gestured for her to hand them over, and carefully Molly did just that. She was filled with dread at the hum Viola gave, before she tossed them to the table, showing everyone.
Four Tarot cards: Eight of Swords, Lovers, Death, and the Tower. All of them were upright.
"What... What does that mean?"
Viola frowned, "Well... Let's see..." She tapped the card on the far left, the Eight of Swords. "This tells me, you don't trust yourself. That you want someone to save you." The air prickled with tension, as Viola moved onto the next one. "There are choices you need to make, that will help you to become whole."
"Decisions?" Molly mumbled, "What decisions?" The woman across from her shrugged.
"It may be your self-doubt, in yourself and your soulmate."
"Soul-" Molly covered her arm over her mouth, coughing loudly. When she was finally regaining her breath, she felt Jim's eyes burning into her. Thankfully, Viola moved on to the last two cards.
"Death tells us of endings, and new beginnings. That things will not be the same again."
"It... Can it be either one?"
Viola nodded, "Or both." Her finger slid over to the last card, the Tower. Silently, Molly looked at the image of the building, fire erupting from the windows. There was a special care in which Viola spoke of this card, voice gentle as she said, "Often the Tower deals with destruction. A sudden change that is caused by disruption and revelations. All of which is in your near future."
Molly slowly lifted her head. Unaffected, Viola continued on. "Your survival instincts shall be put to use, as you face conflict."
"Does..." Molly wet her lips, "Can you tell me what conflict there will be?" Lady Viola sat back, tilting her head. "It isn't my place to say, and even if I did, it wouldn't be of any use."
Anger flaring, Molly twisted in her seat. "Jim, what should I do?" He drained his cup, releasing an exhale when finished. When he dropped his gaze to her, he was grinning.
"I think you should wake up." Wake up...?
"What does that mean?! Jim, I do-"
"Mark, please wake up." Molly jostled, suddenly sitting up. Lollie gave a sigh of relief, and moved back. "I'm sorry for waking you so rudely. But what exactly are you doing here?"
Chapter 29: The Tower
Chapter by BookishTea
Hello, dear lovely readers! It's official, there's one more chapter left until this fic is put to rest. Are you lot excited? I'm most certainly am! It's been a long time coming, but I'm happy that it's finally here.
Now buckle on in, because the next one is going to be interesting. ;-)
"I'm sorry for waking you so rudely. But what exactly are you doing here?"
Slowly Mark blinked into focus, clearing his throat so Lollie would move back. Thankfully, she did just that, and he was able to climb out of the carriage. He stretched, grunting at the stiffness to his limbs - the strange heaviness of his body. He breathed out, plumes of steam in the cold air. "Well, I was wanting to visit that priest."
Lollie rose a brow, "Father Peter?"
"Yes, that's the one."
His companion shook her head, taking a step forward. "I apologize for my frankness, but what is wrong with you? You look..." Her brows furrowed, and in a quieter voice she said, "You look awful."
Mark sighed, dragging his knuckles on his forehead. "Your delicacy is much appreciated, Ms. Charlotte."
"I didn't - forgive me, my intention wasn't to offend you, Dr. Hooper." Lollie glanced away, a curious flush rising to her face. "I'm sorry, I was simply surprised to see you swiftly return. When I went to the manor, and discovered you had left, I..." She chewed on her bottom lip, returning her gaze to him. "I was overjoyed to make your acquaintance again."
Mark shifted his weight, turning back to the carriage to fetch what few things he'd brought. He mumbled his thanks to the carriage driver, and watched as it drove off. He tried his best to ignore the feelings directed at him, but when he faced her again, he knew that was an impossible feat.
She was peering at him, with such care. It made his chest hurt, to cause some form of discomfort to anyone - even if her goal was pointless, if not foolish. "I'm sorry," he drew out on a pained tone, "that my disappearance was sudden and shocking. There were things of a personal importance that I needed to tend to in London."
"In London?" Lollie trailed after him as he walked up the hill to the church. "I hope everything was resolved?"
Mark frowned, mood souring as he thought of Meena, still trapped within those hospital walls. He knew she wasn't in immediate danger, that he shouldn't fret so. But he couldn't help it, she was, after all, his dearest friend. "To some degree it was." When he finally reached the heavy doors to the church, Lollie called out. The edge to her voice made Mark spin around, staring at the curious expression she wore.
"Dr. Hooper, maybe I've... presumed a connection between us, but I..."
"Miss Charlotte," Mark warned, feeling suddenly tired. There were too many things happening in his life, too much to keep track of. Unconcerned with his obvious disinterest, the doctor's daughter pressed on.
"I know you feel it too, this mutual companionship. But after you had left, I had made up my mind to make my intentions plain."
Mark squinted at her, fighting the urge to sigh. He didn't have time for this, whatever it was. And even if he wasn't being quite literally haunted, he couldn't reciprocate what she wanted. He didn't have the means, and he didn't have the interest.
"Dr. Hooper," Lollie called out, taking the few steps to cross the distance between them. "I wanted to tell you, the truth." With a stern look of determination, Lollie admitted, "My fondness for you has outgrown a platonic sense, and in these past days I've realized how much I've come to love you."
"You-" Mark sputtered, stumbling back into the door as she kissed him. Already her hands were on his person, exploring him like he was land rather than a human being. Curse muffled, Mark shoved the other woman hard. Panting, he glared at her. "What," he hissed, "do you bloody think you're doing?!"
"I..." Lollie glanced away, smoothing the fabric of her dress awkwardly. "I thought y-"
"You thought, what?" Mark snapped. "You hardly know me! You don't know who I am, and not nearly enough to force yourself onto me!"
"That's not true!" Lollie flinched at the harshness of Mark's gaze, and in a quieter voice she said, "I know you well enough. I can understand your character better than anyone back in London."
Mark burst into laughter, humourless to the both of their ears. "My character? What can you possibly know?!"
There was a prideful look that overcame Lollie's features, that she was going to make sure that she was heard. "I know," she said in a whisper, "a lot more than you think I do."
Both of Mark's eyebrows shot up, contemplating the implication behind the other's words. Pleased with this reaction, Lollie took another step forward. Warily Mark watched her, ready to move the young lady back if she felt the need to be frisky again. "Do you remember when we first met?" It was several seconds before Mark nodded. "You were in a sorry state, it was hard not to want to coddle you."
He frowned, heartbeat hammering in his ears. "You..." He tilted his head, "You know that I'm..."
"Not a natural man?" Lollie finished. The grin that stretched across her face was mocking, "Yes, I do."
Mark noisily swallowed the lump in his throat. Mouth feeling dry with cotton, he ground out, "How long?" Lollie shrugged. He asked again, tone colder this time. "How long?"
"From the first meeting. The snow hadn't been kind to your disguise."
"But you... You still desire a relationship between us?"
"Yes, Dr. Hooper. Because I, too, understand what it's like to not be accepted. Being forced into pretending to be someone I'm not."
Molly sucked in a breath through her teeth. She may be a fool not to admit that she was terrified. This young lady knew her dark secret, and she'd been rejected. But still, even with the trembling of her fingers, her anger dwarfed all other emotions. What friendliness between them was soured, tainted with Lollie's lack of regard for Molly's consent. It had only been a kiss, but it wasn't for the taking - most certainly not by her.
"Charlotte," Molly said softly, relaxing to speak naturally. "Even if our circumstances are similar, it still doesn't mean that I want to pursue a relationship with you. May I be honest?" Lollie hesitantly nodded. "I can't imagine that ever happening."
It was several minutes before the other woman could speak. "Does... does this have to do with whatever is waiting for you in London?"
"Not particularly in London, but there is a person I'm interested in."
"I... I see."
Silently Molly watched as her company withdrew from her presence. Lollie turned back only once, saying softly, "I hope everything goes well for you, Dr. Hooper." And with that, she left, form hunched as she walked down the hill to a path. Molly pressed her hands into her face. She didn't completely understand why, but she felt guilty. It was confusing who that feeling was directed at, whether it was Lollie, herself, or even... Jim.
The meeting with the priest was most certainly, less eventful. After she gathered a few tokens, she had left with a polite word of thanks. The true issue came when she stepped back outside, overlooking the frozen landscape with an air of hesitance.
In her haste, she hadn't prepared as well as she ought to have. The main concern was her need for transportation and a place to stay. She might have stayed at the Welters' home for a night, but that was before she jilted the eldest daughter. And truthfully, Molly had no desire to crawl back to Lollie, even if it meant sleeping in a warm bed.
No, she and the coin she brought with her, would have to look elsewhere. Sighing, Molly adjusted her things and began the long walk to the main road.
By the time she reached her destination, the sky was darkened, night fast approaching. Cold to the bone, and teeth chattering, Molly rapped her knuckles on the front door. "Please," she called out, "please be home." There were a few lights on, but she wasn't sure if the ghosts were playing another trick on her.
Molly was just about to break out into tears, forced by the reality that she was going to freeze to death, when the front door opened. The warmth from inside swept at her, tousling her hair. Reminded of the temperature difference, Molly shuddered.
That maid from before, Samantha, gasped before she yanked the chilled pathologist in. He must have been in a pitiful state, at least if he went off by her reaction. "Sir," she whispered, pushing him towards the nearest fireplace. "What on earth are you doing here?"
Plopping down onto a chair, Mark leaned forward, his hands outstretched. "I could ask you the same thing, I thought everyone would have left by now."
"Not so close, sir, you'll damage your nerves." She pushed him back, and before Mark could complain, she was scurrying from the room. He had barely questioned why, when she returned, swaddling him with a blanket until only his eyes peered out. "We had to pack everything up again, sir, before we left. It's a good thing you showed up when you did, we intend to leave tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" He mumbled, distracted by the pins and needles to his skin. He was lucky he didn't have frostbite. The lack of limbs would certainly hamper his work. "Everything considered, I guess I am lucky. And how many staff remain? Is Mr. Lancret still with us?"
Samantha shook her head, crossing the room to add wood to the fire. "No, sir. He was one of the first to leave, to assist my master in his... his affairs."
"You're thinking about her again, aren't you?"
Jim stiffened, offended as he whirled around to glare at his second-in-command. "I. Am. Not." With every word, he pointedly yanked hard on the thread attached to his needle.
Ignoring the obvious threat, Sebastian snorted, crossing his arms. "Right, and that's why you're making her a gift?"
Unwillingly, Jim dropped his gaze down to the taxidermy barn owl he was sewing up. He had happened to come across it, and thought even in death, it was a beautiful specimen. At once, he knew he had to give it to Molly. "I figured," he purred, absently stroking the white speckled feathers of its belly, "that she above all else, would appreciate a fine example of a nocturnal predator."
"And you're certain she hasn't plagued your thoughts?"
Jim slowly lifted his head, "Careful, my dear Sebastian. Unless you want your tongue taken from you?" The closest thing he'd consider a friend, rolled his eyes.
"And here I thought you kept me around for my wit." His employer turned back to his task.
"Most certainly not for your aim." Jim grinned, feeling the other's glare burn into him. "It's your just desserts, dear."
"I think," Sebastian mumbled under his breath, "I prefer you before you were lovesick."
Meanwhile, in hell
Molly wiggled her toes, staring at them through her curtain of hair. After she'd gotten rid of the chill of winter, Molly had been pleasantly surprised by the warm bath waiting for her. She sunk lower, hair floating around her as she submerged until she could only breathe through her nose.
The air was thick with dampness and fragrant with scented oils, which borderline suffocated her. Inhaling deeply, as if to hold that warmth in her chest, Molly reached for a bar of soap and lathered it onto her hands. She had just rubbed it onto her scalp, moaning softly at the sensation, when she froze.
Across the room, on the other side of the door, she heard a sound. Holding her hair back, Molly sat up, and scooted over so her breasts would press into the tub. Her rather silly attempt at saving her decency. Her ears strained as she listened, hoping that Samantha or some other servant wouldn't offer any assistance. She had already made it clear that she was fine, that she was to be left alone.
And yet, there was a shuffling in the next room, a whispering of sorts. Despite the heat of her surroundings, Molly was covered in goosebumps.
Whatever ghastly creature it was, it neared the door, scratching at the wood for several seconds. Then it suddenly stopped. She wanted to believe that it was gone, that it lumbered off to scare someone else, but then the brass doorknob slowly turned.
Molly swallowed, slowly reaching for the closest weapon to her. A long handle bathing brush. She wielded it as she forced her shaking legs to stand up, and to climb out. Water was dripping from her, making a small pool on the tiles as she waited. There were soap suds making their way down to her eyes, but she couldn't bother to wipe them away right now. At this point, she knew her unwanted visitor wasn't human.
The door was supposed to be locked - no, she knew it was locked, but all the same she heard the gears click sharply. And the hinges creaked in protest, almost as if to say that this wasn't its fault. The door opened. Molly couldn't hear anything beyond the drumming in her ears, the frantic beat that was driving her mad.
There was darkness waiting for her, and something else. She couldn't see anything, or anyone, but she knew it was watching her. Molly swallowed her fear, and called out, "W-whoever you are, leave me alone!" Her knuckles became bone white. "I mean it! I don't care what your purpose is, but I'm not afraid of you!" She re-adjusted her grip, sweat clinging to her. God, they both knew she was lying, but she didn't care. She had neither the time, nor patience for a bully. "Leave!" She ground out, squinting against the soap in her eyes. "I'm not telling you again!"
It was silent then, as if it were regarding her carefully. Whatever its opinion on her, it slammed the door closed. Molly flinched, slipping on the wet floor. Balance lost, she thankfully grabbed onto the side of the tub before she could crack her skull on the tiles. Brush clattering to the floor, everything became quiet again. And just like that, all of Molly's strength was gone. She grunted as she tumbled to the ground, knees stinging where she scraped them.
Slowly she tucked her legs into her chest, hugging them as she stared at the closed door. "I'm okay," she whispered, "I'm not afraid."
It perhaps shouldn't have come to as much of a surprise as it did, but in all fairness, Molly wasn't in the greatest state to expect getting sick. The cause was just as lost on her, although there was plenty of ways it could have come about. For instance, tending to Meena might have been the cause for her catching the common cold, or walking a great distance when it was winter. Or, huddling on the cold floor after being drenched with water. Either one of those instances could be blamed.
But truthfully, none of that matters. It didn't affect the goal in sight, to sever this relationship she had with a parasitic apparition... apparitions? Whatever was haunting her, was it even a ghost? Or perhaps, churned from darkness and despair, it was something unnatural and not human. Either way, she had made up her mind to be rid of it. A runny nose and a headache weren't going to stop her from doing so.
Coughing into her closed fist, Molly sniffed loudly before she continued down the stairs. She was already behind schedule, she had slept the better part of the day. The clocks were already announcing that it was late noon by the time she made it to the dining room.
Patting his disguise over, Mark shuffled inside, giving a tired but thankful smile to Samantha. She bent up from setting a teacup on the table, moving quickly to pull a chair out for him to sit down on. As soon as he plopped down with an appreciative sigh, she smoothed the fabric of her apron, expression apologetic. "I'm sorry, we don't have much for the means of a meal."
He waved off the apology, "Don't be absurd, this is plenty. I'm thankful to be even getting a slice of bread to eat, much less a bowl of soup."
"Well, we could hardly allow you to starve. We know..." Samantha broke off, as if realizing her mistake. Curious about her sudden silence, Mark rose a brow, hoping it would make the maid finish her thought. Reluctantly, she did just that, "We know how fond he is of you, sir."
There was no need for her to state who the 'he' was, Mark flushed just the same. Clearing his throat, he made himself busy with picking his spoon up, "Is he now?" He paused after watching Samantha excitedly nod her head. There was a question he wanted to put forth, but he wasn't sure whether that inquiry would make it back to a certain pair of ears. All the same, he mumbled absently, "Does he talk of me at all?" His companion was quiet for a moment, weighing what the most favourable action might be.
"Not in so many words, sir. It's more of his change in disposition."
"I don't want to talk ill of my master, sir."
Mark set the spoon down, raising his head to frown. "I'm not asking you to. I only want to know the truth, and nothing more."
After a careful moment, Samantha spoke in a soft voice. "He's still prone to his mood swings, but he's calmer than he was before. More grounded."
"Grounded?" Mark tilted his head. "What do you mean by that?" His companion sighed, glancing back to the door. Her want to leave was obvious, but Mark was persistent in wanting to know more about Sir Moriarty. In any other situation he might pity her, but today was an exception. He gave a slight nod, wordlessly encouraging her.
"Well... He's more cautious, now that he has someone to lose."
It took several breaths until Mark was able to properly compose himself. "Why don't you join me for a bit, Samantha?"
"Er- I should really start on my tasks, sir. We intended to leave today."
"Yes, but that was before I was on your doorstep, wasn't it?"
"I don't quite understand what you mean..." Hesitating, she took a corner seat, enough so that the distance between them was proper. And yet, she was constantly on edge. It was highly inappropriate for them to be seated at the same table, there was too much of a difference in their social standings. It was odd, but the strange doctor didn't seem to mind. She had heard rumours about him, about why her employer took special care of him, but for now she put those thoughts from her mind. He wasn't like the others she'd served, he didn't look at her like she was the dirt underneath his feet. So for now, she paid back his kindness to her with some of his own.
"I don't mean to be a burden, but I would appreciate if you postpone the boarding of the manor up. At least for another night. I fear the cold has done me harm, and I'll need another night to rest before I can venture into town and make proper arrangements to return to London."
Samantha chewed on the inside of her cheek. She wasn't the member of staff with the most seniority, so she didn't have much of a say in things. And this was one of Master's estates... but this was Dr. Hooper making a request, and she knew Sir Moriarty wouldn't be pleased if they didn't fulfil the doctor's desires. She peered at Mark, looking over his appearance. The paleness of his skin, and the pronounced dark circles under his eyes made her decision apparent. "I'll speak to the others about waiting another day, sir."
The little bit of apprehension left in her bosom, was quickly melted away when Mark smiled at her. "A million thanks, I'll remember this act of kindness." His smile brightened when he watched Samantha's own crawl across her face.
"Do you need me any further, sir?"
"No, you're free to leave." He moved his focus to his meal, spooning broth into his mouth as he listened to her climb to her feet and cross the room. The sound of the doorknob twisting, Mark called out, "Samantha?" After he heard her pause, and felt her eyes on him, he said "Thank you."
Ever so quietly she said, "You're quite welcome, sir."
As soon as he stepped out of the carriage, Jim brushed his suit free from invisible dirt. Moving to straightening his tie, he held out a hand when he was satisfied with his appearance. Sebastian clambered out behind him, grunting as he handed over the bulky object. The corner of Jim's lips tugged upwards, studying the stuffed owl for a moment before he tucked it under his arm. Strolling forward, he was more than ready to be showered with praise.
Whistling, he opened the metal gate and jogged up the steps to the building. Heart beating a little faster than it ought to be, he rapped his knuckles on the door and waited. He expected to hear things crashing about as Molly stumbled to the front, but there was nothing. He frowned. "Are we certain she isn't at that hospital?"
Having noted the sudden tension in his boss' shoulders, Sebastian had entered the yard, though he kept several paces back. "St. Barts? She hadn't checked in." This was obviously not what Jim wanted to hear.
Sighing loudly, he adjusted his grip on the owl, and dug into his jacket pocket for the copy he made of Molly's key. The door now unlocked, he hurried to step inside. Although he lingered by the entryway, tilting his head at the darkness waiting for him. He pondered the meaning of it for a moment, before he heard a chirp from within the quiet apartment. Padding softly, a cat greeted him.
Jim dropped to his knees, holding a hand out. He was pleased when Tobias sniffed his fingers, then rubbed his head against him. Humming lightly, Jim asked, "Where's your mistress?" After a few pets, his companion seemed willing to answer his question. He was led down the hallway, shown the empty rooms with the polite grace of any proper host. And with the tour now complete, Jim had come to his conclusion.
For whatever her rationale was at the time, Molly had left her safe abode on a spontaneous trip. And while most days the unexpected would delight him, today was different. He hardly wanted his pathologist to go missing, and nor did he want to lug a dead owl everywhere. Before he could fix these problems, there was something of importance that needed to be addressed. There was no doubt in his mind that Tobias could take care himself, and could survive a few days by his lonesome. Not to mention his owner had already prepared the essential food and water for him to survive on, but still, it wasn't enough - at least in Jim's opinion.
"It seems," he started, immensely sympathizing, "she's abandoned us both. What should we do about that, hm?"
In response, Tobias stretched a leg out, and began to bathe himself.
"My thoughts exactly."
Sebastian sighed, fighting the need to roll his eyes. He'd spent many years employed by Sir Moriarty, but still the man across from him found ways to still surprise him. It was a bit annoying being stuck with holding onto a taxidermy piece, but Jim didn't seem to care about his wants. And at this point, he gathered the other man wouldn't consider him even if he complained. No, he was far too obsessed with his brooding.
Gazing out of the carriage window, Moriarty ran his fingers through the fur of the newest addition to their party. Out of everyone, Sebastian noted that the cat was the happiest. He purred as he sprawled across the criminal mastermind's lap, warmed by the other's body heat and blanket that had been draped over him. Ever so often his eyes would slide open, regarding Sebastian. To the sniper, this was highly unnerving. Something he'd, of course, never admit.
Several hours later
It seems that our dear Molly is locked in a battle of wills, one that she was sadly losing. And for once, she wasn't fighting the ghosts lurking in shadowy corners. No, she was battling herself. Specifically the body that had failed to defend itself, and succumbed to illness. Any attempts at forcing the spirits out of hiding had failed, and she had to submit to a warm bed, and a wet cloth draped over her forehead.
"Thank you," Mark grumbled, willing his eyes to stay open a minute longer. Samantha shushed him, still perched on the side of the bed as she held a cup to his mouth. He drank a lengthy sip from it, breath hot with the boiled water, and sweetened by the generous dollop of honey inside.
Not wanting to stress his senses, Samantha gently inquired, "Should I fetch a physician?"
"No," he pressed the cup away, belly full. "It's far too dark to make the journey, and I should feel much better in the morning." He smiled soothingly, watching as she climbed to her feet.
"I'll be leaving you now, sir. I'll leave the door open a crack if you need to call on us." She curtsied at his nod, and took her leave.
Molly lay down again, sighing at the feeling of the pillows under her head. "Just tonight," she whispered, "I just have to survive tonight." Exhausted by today's events, it wasn't long before she fell into a fitful slumber.
At first she didn't know what awoke her, dizzy as she suddenly sat up. What she did know, was that she was damp with sweat, which made the hair to her wig cling to the back of her neck. Molly pushed the strands away from her eyes, needing a few seconds to collect herself, to figure out what was happening. That is precisely when she heard it, a muffled conversation.
Across the room, in the hallway, she could hear someone giggling. At first she thought it was the staff, maids who were staying up late and gossiping. Quickly, she realized that wasn't the case. Even in the glow of the dying fireplace, she could make out a pair of eyes peering in. They stared at each other for a second, then her intruder fled. Molly peeled the blankets away, climbing down as she listened to footsteps scurrying down the hall.
Grinding her teeth, she stumbled after it. Whoever it was, she was going to have a word with them. She shoved the door open, bare feet stomping as she chased after them. The moonlight had transformed the manor, spun the maze of corridors into a twisted version of themselves. The portraits seemed to wear colder expressions, glaring after her as she hurried. But she didn't care what they thought of her, not anymore.
When the figure made a sudden turn around a bend, Molly's feet slid on the wood of the floorboards, confusing her for a moment. She bumped into a corner table, losing her breath as her hip made harsh contact with it. The jostling upset the lit lamp that was resting on it, leaving the glass fixture to fall to the ground. Hissing with pain, Molly ignored the bruise and the crushed glass under her feet, and continued her hunt. Unaware, or uncaring as she did so, that the expensive rug underneath the table had begun to catch fire.
"Wait!" She yelled. "Who are you?!"
Whoever they were, they didn't care for her inquiries, and ran down the flight of stairs to the main floor. Seemingly they almost remained just in sight, the back of their clothes barely visible. The light filtering in through the many windows adorning the manor, made everything pale, the outfit they wore included. However, it was dim enough that Molly couldn't get a full grasp of the details. Her splitting headache, was most definitely not helping as well.
Still, despite all of these factors not being in her favour, she wouldn't give up. She was sick and tired of secrets, tonight she would ask - no, she would demand to be answered.
She followed the spectre to the main entrance. She came to a stop, out of breath as she stared at the opened door. The wind was howling from beyond the threshold, snowflakes drifting in. Molly was at a crossroads, should she venture forward, or should she stay here? Her anger had definitely forced her into action, but now that she paused, fear made its presence known. As she was precisely that, terrified.
Molly's hands curled up into fists. She knew what she had to do. From the closet, she took a pair of boots and a thick coat to cover herself up with, and a lantern hanging on the wall. Steam coming from her mouth in shaky plumes, she stepped through the door frame and onto the porch. And at once the door was slammed behind her, sending the last bit of the warmth on her back, but she didn't care. The manor may be taunting her, but she would have the last laugh.
She ripped her wig from her head with a free hand, wincing at the spirit gum pulling at her flesh. It was dropped to the snowy ground, along with her moustache. Rolling her shoulders, Molly walked forward into the abyss.
From the yard, she travelled into the forest, following the footsteps pressed into the snow. It led her on a disorienting journey, making her cautiously step over roots and logs. During the night the trees seemed to be irked beings, their warnings obvious. As the wind whistled through their branches, they hissed complaints, that she didn't belong here. It was the truth, and she knew that, but she didn't care for their opinions.
She shrugged off their attempts at stopping her, their sharp twigs catching on her clothing. Perhaps it was because she was used to dealing with the manor, and its contempt, but at the time she didn't recognize the concern the forest seemed to have for her. No, she ignored the prudence tugging at the corners of her mind. Her attention solely on the spirit always just barely out of sight.
There was no telling how long she walked for, but quickly she felt the cold of the night. Her chest burned with every inhale of the chilled air, cheeks stinging with the nipping touch of the breeze. But still, even when her hands and feet went numb, she walked on.
Gradually the trees thinned out, revealing a clearing. As she broke through, finally Molly caught sight of her tormentor. Slowly she approached her, trembling as she studied the ghost's appearance. Translucent and unaffected by the wind, the figure was of a beauty, that Molly couldn't willingly look away from.
"W-what..." Molly wet her cracked lips, "What do you want?" It didn't say anything, just sadly watched as she came near. Molly huffed, frustration rising. "Whatever it is, I've come to tell you I won't permit your interference, any longer."
On the wind, she heard it call her name. "Stop it!" She snapped, lifting her lantern up. "I don't care who you were before, you can't do what you wish!" It said her name louder - a fervent chanting. "I said, stop!" She took another step, and immediately understood her mistake.
The chanting of her name, which she took as the spirit tormenting her, rung clearer this time. The concern took her aback. Molly threw an anxious glance over her shoulder, and her breath was caught in her throat.
There was a light bobbing. She would have thought it was a firefly if it weren't for the season. Cutting through the edge of the clearing was Jim, appearance dishevelled as he came to a brief stop. After he caught sight of her, he ran forward, movements frantic.
For a minute she stood there, purpose lost as he yelled her name again, "Molly?!" Something was wrong, Jim... Her Jim didn't act like this. Molly opened her mouth, about to ask what was wrong, when she heard it.
The ice underneath her was cracking.
She didn't feel much as she was plunged into the dark depths of the water. Everything was quiet, almost peaceful in that realm of nothingness. She floated for a second, not moving her limbs as oxygen drifted from her lungs. Honestly, it was the complete and utter shock of everything that left her in a stupor. During this time, as her chest burned, she understood that this was the moment those dreams tried to tell her about.
Bubbles left her mouth, climbing upwards. She wished she could join them, but already her body refused to cooperate. The coldness had seeped into her bones, numbing everything. I'm going to die.
Just as the thought entered her mind, something disrupted the water above her. Lazily, with the last bit of strength she possessed, she tilted her head back and watched as a hand dove in and swam about. It searched blindly for her arm, and when it did find it, that hand gripped hard and pulled.
Her head breached the water, and her mouth gaping, gulped down what she could. Molly's senses were immediately flooded, she could hear that Jim was yelling. After a moment, when her brain could process what was happening, she realized it was directed at her.
He was laying on his stomach, one of his arms completely wet as he pulled her from the water. The jagged ice hurt her belly as she was slid up it, but even when she cried out, Jim didn't care. No, he was far too busy berating her.
"You, complete and utter moron!" He didn't release her anytime soon, dragging her from the hole and across the ice to the clearing, to safety. "I have never in my fucking life, met someone who lacked the intelligence to realize that they shouldn't run across a frozen fucking lake!"
Molly was dropped to the ground, body shaking as he tore her clothes off. Buttons were flying everywhere. "Do you want to die?!"
"I..." She closed her eyes, but at once opened them. "Shit!" She hissed, cheek stinging where he slapped her.
Jim was glaring at her, "Don't you dare," he hissed, "fall asleep. I didn't risk my own life for you to slip away like that."
"I..." Molly rose a burning hand to the one gripping her shirt, placing it on top. "I'm sorry," she whispered. He paused. At that moment, she realized she wasn't the only one shaking.
He sighed, and then finished undressing her. Once she was free from her sopping wet clothes, Molly wordlessly donned the thick wool jacket he'd thrown off before saving her. "C'mon," he grunted, bending down so she could climb onto his back. He hoisted her up, and they made the silent trek back.
Molly's arms tightened around Jim's neck, burying her cold face into his shoulder. Even with their lanterns put out, Jim didn't appear to have any problem with going back. Even in the darkness, he knew these grounds like the back of his hand. "Jim," Molly mumbled, sound partially muffled. "Do you smell that?"
The air was thick with the scent of smoke, like something was burning. Moriarty simply sighed, "That would be your handiwork."
She rose her head, "My... What?"
It took a couple of minutes, but she came to understand what he meant. The early morning sky that was peeking in through, the pleasant yellow of it, was blotted with dark grey clouds. No, not clouds. The manor was burning, the flames high and vicious. It was blinding to look at, and even here, Molly's eyes stung from the intensity.
Her head snapped down at Jim's soft voice, "Next time you want a fire, please ask."
"I... D-did everyone get out- is-"
She broke off, dumbfounded by Jim's laughter. It took a few moments, for the quakes shaking his body to temper down. "Dear," he said around a few stray giggles, "you nearly died and you're still wondering if everyone is safe?" He shook his head in disbelief, "I don't think I'll ever understand you."
"Jim," her grip tightened, "this isn't a joke, I-" He cut her off with an amused snort.
"Everyone is fine, dear. No thanks to your little experiment with arson." There was a finality to his words, as if he addressed all of the problems she had. Of course, this wasn't the case.
"But, what about the manor?! Jim, aren't you upse-"
"No, I'm not." A little bit of that anger from before, slipped into his voice. "I would be far more worried if you suddenly died, and I wasn't the cause." She didn't know how to respond to that. Should she be relieved? He didn't give her much thought to think on it, crunching snow under his boots as he crossed the yard to join the little group of servants watching the fire.
Everyone had jackets thrown over their nightclothes, huddled together for warmth. Molly's chest squeezed at the sight. A man calling out to her, thankfully, distracted her from her guilt. "So, you didn't die after all." She knew his name, but after everything, she couldn't recall it.
"No," she mumbled, "I didn't."
Sebastian grunted, glancing at the expression of his boss before he led them towards the carriage. He held the door open, so Jim could carry Molly inside. None too gently, he dropped her to a seat, moving away so he could gather the blankets laying beside her and cover her up.
"Thanks," she mumbled. Jim didn't look at her. He was about to climb out again, when he paused on the steps. He glanced back at her, noting the tears that Molly couldn't pretend were still from the fire.
He groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. Jim stepped back inside, and firmly shut the carriage door. Now alone, he moved to sit beside her, running his fingers through his hair.
Not willing to stand the silence, Molly mumbled, "I'm terribly sorry about everything. I hope you know that it wasn't my intention to do this." In response, Jim crossed an ankle over his leg, and bounced it.
When he spoke, it was quiet, tone comforting. "You know, Dr. Hooper, problems have a habit of emerging when you're around." He watched as she folded her hands together, sagging into the cushions like she wanted to be smaller. Like she wanted to disappear. "It's a good thing," he said softly, "that I'm in the business of problems." He rose a hand, using a finger to tilt her jaw so she'd meet his stare. Carefully, he stared at her, as if he was considering something, and ever so slowly a smile spread across his face.
It wasn't like the previous ones, no, this one was like he opened his heart up so she could peer inside. The tenderness behind it, drove away all of the dark emotions that had been clinging to her. Molly gulped. Finally she knew what he had been hiding from her.
Molly yawned, struggling to keep her eyes open. From the carriage window, she watched the landscape. It seemed after the spirits from the manor had escaped into the atmosphere, some curse had been lifted. Ever so often, she'd spot tufts of green grass protruding from the snow. Molly sighed, listening as another snore filled the space. She lowered her gaze, smiling at Jim's sleeping face.
After they set off, he immediately folded himself up on the bench, and placed his head in her lap. One arm was clinging to her torso, not willing to let go. Her smile deepened as she turned back to the window. She was a tad uncertain about the future, of knowing that she had a piece of the devil's heart in her possession. But there was a lot to look forward to. Spring was here, and with its presence, it brought life and change.
Some of which, she knew was for the better.
Hello, my sweet and patient readers!
Wow, RPM is finally finished - God, it took forever, didn't it? Anyways, I wanted to thank everyone that stuck around until this fic was completed, the new and old(readers). I hope you guys enjoyed the ending.
I love feedback, so feel free to tell me what parts of the story you loved and hated. I adore you all!