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Five Nightmares (Sherlock)

Title: Five Nightmares
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Sherlock
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: John Watson isn't the only person with nightmares.
Historian's Note: This takes place after (and refers to) the Sherlock episode "The Great Game."
Chinese Translation: available here and here by freya_fsc
Warnings (Highlight to Read): General violence/dark themes


He's a pallbearer. Again.

The coffin is heavy, far too heavy than any single body, any morgue full of bodies, should make it.

No, he's not a pallbearer: he's the pallbearer. Again.

He seeks vainly for any other soul on this bleak, blasted moor, but he is alone.

Hoisting the coffin awkwardly up to his shoulder, he stumbles forward before sinking to his knees.

Then, with a dream's utter disregard for logic or cause and effect, a coil of rope appears at his feet. Knotting it around the coffin's handles, he fashions a harness for himself. He will be an ox at the plough, a donkey at the cart. Looping the rope across his chest and shoulders, he yokes himself to his burden, and then begins his ascent of the rocky incline, step after dogged step.

The coffin drags at him. His muscles throb with the strain, they burn, but he continues to put one foot in front of the other and lean his weight against the rope.

Despite his stubbornness, he makes precious little headway in his struggle.

He never opens the coffin, never looks inside. It might hold the child from the crime scene last week. It might hold the old woman who was murdered last year. It might hold Jenny, as lovely as she was on their wedding day, as cold as she was on the day he buried her.

At last Gregory Lestrade opens his eyes and drinks in the darkness. His alarm clock will sound in less than half an hour. He turns it off, staggers from his bed, and heads to the shower.

As the hot spray of water beats on his back and neck, he rolls his shoulders and stretches his spine. It was just a dream, the usual one, but he aches from it all the same.


The sound is wicked and shocking and ceaseless, echoing down the halls of St Bart's. Molly Hooper follows it, dread coiling in her belly like a fevered serpent.

He's not a monster, not a criminal mastermind. He's just Jim from IT, smiling in boyish delight as he brings the riding crop down over and over and over again on the still form that rests on the gurney. The effort draws grunts and gasps from him. His pale forehead shines with perspiration.

The corpse he's flogging is slender and long-limbed and white as marble, its head crowned with a halo of black curls. Its face is turned away, hidden from its assailant.

The body should be beautiful to her eyes, she thinks, but instead it's pitiful, the skeleton too visible beneath the spare flesh, its nakedness too close to defenselessness, its display too much like violation. And although she knows it's dead, dead, dead as stone, it bleeds lines of crimson everywhere the crop strikes it.

Jim pauses and grins, gesturing at the body with his free hand. "Molly-dear, what a thoughtful gift you've given me," he says, panting slightly with exertion. He lowers his voice, more intimate now, and winks. "It's what I've always wanted, you know."

She wakes gagging and barely manages to stumble to the lavatory before she's violently sick. After she has retched and heaved until she's empty, she curls on the floor beside the toilet and weeps.


The phone rings and vibrates, trembling and wailing like a living thing.

The call might originate from down the street or across the globe. It might represent the culmination of the work of months or decades. It might decide the fate of a man or a nation. There is no question, however, that it is for him, and it is of the utmost importance.

But the phone lies beyond his outstretched fingers, just out of reach.

He frowns in his sleep.

This is not real. The words intrude on his dreamscape as if through a loudspeaker, imperious and uncompromising. Randomly firing synapses. Your subconscious mucking about with metaphors.

The ring grows shriller. If only he could inch forward just… a… hair…

Ignore it. He recognizes the voice as his own.

With a ruthless act of will, Mycroft Holmes strangles the sound. The scene goes dark and utterly silent.

He sinks into the pillow with a fierce sigh. To wake would be to show weakness.


She runs and runs and runs. One time she might run through fog and rain, another over ice and snow. It's always dark. It's always cold.

She's never quite fast enough.

By the time she reaches her destination, the victim is already lifeless.

Sometimes it's a baby boy, shaken far too hard and far too often by his mother's new boyfriend. Sometimes it's a young woman, raped and dumped like yesterday's trash by her pimp. Sometimes it's an elderly man, broken into pieces by the thugs who craved his wallet.

Sometimes it's Anderson, a knife buried to the hilt in his chest. Although she wasn't there when he groaned his last word, she knows it was his wife's name. She paces, she curses until she's hoarse, but she doesn’t cry.

Sometimes it's her boss, taken by a bullet in the throat. It seems death came far too quickly for surprise to register in his warm, dark eyes. She closes them with her chilled fingers and then lets her hand linger for several moments on his silver hair like a benediction.

Then she runs and runs and runs, through office hallways and along empty rooftops and around alley corners.

Sally Donovan never remembers her dreams.


When he closes his eyes, he relives the scene in every minute detail: the scent of chlorine, the dampness of the air, the echo of footsteps on tiles. The parka, the semtex vest, the red dot from the sniper's rifle hovering over a vulnerable chest.

He sees John. His John.

And he feels… well, he feels.

Sherlock Holmes has avoided emotions, avoided all entanglements that threatened to eclipse reason. As a self-proclaimed high-functioning sociopath, he could remain above the masses and their feelings and their lives of quiet desperation. He could hold himself apart, untouched.

But this vision, always waiting now behind his eyelids, stalking his most unguarded moments, proves that he does, in fact, possess a heart. It can be broken, and it can be burned.

Fortunately, he also possesses a violin and nicotine patches and, when he remembers to remind John to purchase some, tea and coffee and other welcome forms of caffeine. He has experiments to pursue, research to conduct, data to mine. He fills his nights with these things in a frantic kind of defiance.

After all, he can't have nightmares if he never sleeps.


Vital Stats: Originally written in January 2011.
Originally written for this prompt on sherlockbbc_fic.


( 76 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
I'm so thrilled that you liked it! Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm especially pleased that you liked Mycroft's. I figured if anyone would master lucid dreaming, it would be him.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow. The imagery in this is amazing. And so very true and right for each character. I loved it! Mycroft's was brilliant and oh my Molly. Oh, poor thing. *makes her a cup of tea*
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm thrilled that you liked the imagery. Mycroft's was a challenge, so I'm really pleased that you thought it worked. I figured that if anyone would master lucid dreaming and boss himself in his sleep, it would be him. His need for control would not stop at consciousness.

Augh, poor Molly. (Once again, she needs Lestrade! *wink* And tea, too, of course.)

Thanks again!
Jan. 22nd, 2011 06:26 pm (UTC)
Very convincing. I could see each of them having these nightmares.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you think so! Thanks for the lovely feedback.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, I loved Mycroft's. Even his subconscious is stubborn and commanding. XD
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Yay, I'm so glad you liked it! (Love your icon.) Yes, I figured if there was one voice Mycroft would obey, it would be his own. :)
Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! I'm so happy someone filled this prompt, and you were the right person to do it.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind feedback.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
Really interesting way to explore the different characters' personalities! I particularly liked Mycroft and Sherlock.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm particularly pleased you liked Mycroft's and Sherlock's. They were a bit of a challenge.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC)
Glad someone took this prompt, because I found it intriguing. You did a great job with it.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you think so.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
I surprised myself by really liking these! It's not the sort of thing I usually read, but I'm glad I did. Beautifully written, haunting, poignant.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
What a lovely thing to say! Thanks so much for your kind feedback. I'm so glad you liked these. I found the idea rather haunting, so your kind words have made my day.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
I really like what you did with the prompt. Each dream seems to fit the character well.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so pleased that you think so. I appreciate the feedback.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
This is totally lovely. I think Molly's might actually be my favorite. Shuddersome.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Molly's gave me the shudders a bit while I was writing it, I must admit. I'm so glad it worked for you. I appreciate your kind feedback.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
Actually, I liked Sally's the best. Mycroft's was a bit too close to home for me. When I have nightmares it's all lucid dreaming... Molly's was frightening! That would scare me quite a bit too.

I loved it! Nightmares are so hard to write, and they fit everyone so perfectly. I've read many a nightmare fic and this was the best so far!
Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:04 am (UTC)
Oh, I appreciate your lovely feedback so much! I'm so glad you liked Sally's. I think she's a great character, and I wanted to try to do justice to her.

I managed to creep myself out a bit with Molly's. Ha! I'm glad it seemed spooky enough.

I'm thrilled you think these fit the characters. Thank you for your kind comments!
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:06 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really pleased you think these fit the characters well. I'm especially glad you liked Lestrade's; it was the first one I came up with, and he's a special favorite of mine, so I wanted to try to do right by him. "Bittersweet" is just what I was shooting for, so your comments made my day. I appreciate your kind feedback.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
Loved this.

As to the last one; I so want to see John's reaction when Sherlock's going on a self induced insomnia bout again.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:08 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked this. Thanks so much for your kind feedback.

Poor John, I suspect he'll have his hands full! If anyone help Sherlock, though, I'm guessing it's him.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
I also liked them all, but thought Mycroft's was the one most excellently suited to character - I really liked that :). I was also taken with the sudden switch to an analytical, reflective viewpoint in the last one, so to find out that it was Sherlock and that he doesn't sleep was a lovely, sharp wrap to the five.

Do you see Lestrade as someone with such a biblical turn of phrase? His was the voice I was least sure of, though the experience itself was very fitting.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
I'm so thrilled you thought Mycroft's worked. I figured if anyone would insist on mastering lucid dreaming, it would be him. And, of course, I can see him responding to orders, if they come in his own voice!

I'm also really pleased that the shift in tone for Sherlock's seemed appropriate for the final segment. I had worries about that. His was the hardest for me to write.

For Lestrade, I'll admit to using poetic license; I was hoping to tap into that "collective unconscious" or some such for the dreamy language of the descriptions, because I think practical Lestrade himself would be terse to the point of near-silence: "I got it, I'm a workhorse. Pulling the coffin. Again. Still." After all, he's a man who can turn "I'd appreciate it if you would list the details of your profile for this particular suspect" into "Gimme." ;)

But I do see him as a very old personality type, a salt-of-the-earth, self-appointed "beast of burden," whose glory and curse is that he sacrifices all, including his own personal ego, to his greater goal. (The fact he endures such backtalk from Sherlock, in front of his own people, and just absorbs it in the interest of finding the culprit is rather remarkable, as is his ability to play the parent when, and only when, he sees Sherlock's childishness interfering with their common goal.) ACD calls him a bulldog, good because he's persistent, and I was trying to give a variation on that.

It's a long-winded way of saying that you're onto something. I do believe he'd willingly harness himself to the coffin in his dream and pull, pull, pull, but I don't think the segment above would necessarily be Lestrade's own choice of words to describe what was happening. I just couldn't help myself. ;) I appreciate your raising the point and making me think about it more critically.

Edited at 2011-01-23 06:29 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - stellary - Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morganstuart - Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stellary - Jan. 24th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morganstuart - Jan. 24th, 2011 10:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morganstuart - Jan. 24th, 2011 10:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 23rd, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Brilliant, beautiful and chilling. It's interesting how each person's dream is about loss, violence, death, duty, the things they rightly fear.

Except Sherlock. His is about love.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much!

His is about love.

I'm so glad that came through. :D

I really appreciate your reading and commenting.
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