Screams echo down the street, my path before me is thrown into shocking brilliance by the blistering flames at my back. They've called the fire wagon, I know they've gone for it…and there's nothing more I can do, Lord no. I've done enough…Lord, I've done enough. I totter down the street, forcing myself on, though I must lean my weight against a wall as I go, and I feel my fingertips scraped and ground down by the brick.
When it comes down to it—and mark me, it will—no one has your back. No one can save you, there's no protection…certainly no one has my back, except myself, and I'd rather keep it than give it away. I think…yes, I think I'm going insane. It's quite possible. I won't rule it out, any road. If I could light a cigarette, if I could just light one bloody cigarette—but I have no matches, and I don't think I have any cigarettes, either...I lean against a wall, sliding down until I'm sitting in gloomy thought.
The smoke before me—across the street, writhing and forcing itself through the misty, mocking rain—I cannot know its meaning. I only see its birth through the burnt room, its developing form and dissipating death, and I hear cracklings—yes, screamings too. The fire might spread, might burn me alive—but God, I can't move. I've nothing left. And somehow it's all so darkly comical, though there's no comedy yet I must laugh at it! I must! Soft and manic, frightening in its quietness, the laughter shakes my frame, it all seems so amusing. I cover my eyes as I laugh, my thin fingers sliding up to run through my ash-coated hair.
A snaking lash of pain breaks through the numbness and I finally think to feel at the nape of my neck—my hand comes away sticky in blood and smudged with burnt skin. An ember must of…got me on the way out, in addition to the other burns. Guess I was the lucky one. I mean—it's not as if I could have done anything, the man never had a chance. Maybe it was fate or summat. I don't know what else to think, the flaming beam came down right on him—God, he went up like a paper spill. Smelled terrible and his screams were worse. I did try—gave one try—to drag the beam off. Wasn't thinking, and I suppose I'm lucky I still have my hands.
But he screamed at me to get out—what a voice! The voice of death, for he had one foot in the grave already. The very last thing he used his lungs for, before they were burnt to a crisp. He screamed for me to go, to save myself—and I did, I had to. My feet were running, I was ducking through the flame-streamered doorway, curled into myself…people were…they'd probably called the fire wagon before…most likely. I mean…the fire had been going a couple minutes when we walked by. We were off duty, but a Yarder is a Yarder, on the clock or no, and when we saw the man, coughing on smoke, desperately pointing to the door and talking about his children--we just, you know…
And we didn't have time to wonder why people were milling about and looking disgusted, we—well, I—only saw it all later…when they begged us not to go in, we shut our ears, didn't hear—thought they were simply cowards…should have known…should have remembered how crazy, how cruel, how insane a man can be…Peter and I, we didn't think he might have set it ablaze himself. We didn't consider he might be trying to get insurance, or anything…who knows why he did it…but I know he did it.
I know because he laughed when he saw me run out, and he sneered and asked if I liked his little blaze, then he made his face serious again and turned to the passers-by and gawkers. Who knows what other crazy things the man has done…and why didn't I arrest him…I only know I found myself staring at him, and then leaping down the rickety stairs as the building fell in behind me, I think—yes, that was when the ember hit my neck.
My hands…the pain is setting in now. The screams seem more distant; perhaps the crowd has tired of the sensational show and has gone home. Or to the theater. Maybe to the theater and then home. I wish I had a cigarette… "I hope you wanted to be cremated, Peter my lad," I mumble, closing my eyes and sighing in pain. I didn't know the fellow long enough to get into discussions like that: he'd just joined the Yard last week. I wonder if we ever would have talked about things like that.
I think I should have tried a second time—yes, certainly I should have given another good pull at that beam, who knows, maybe I would have pulled him free. Oh, Lord, the pain's going up my back now. No good deed goes unpunished, eh? I wonder if anyone knows where I am. A man can get lost in all this confusion, especially a small and very unnoticeable man. Funny, I suppose, that for all my good intentions I still…
Maybe if I pull both my shoulders back it will stop the fire in my back and up my neck—I don't know if I want to take a closer look at my hands. They must be burned to some degree…I'm so tired. I can't think anymore. I wish I could just sleep. The pain is wearing me down so terribly, I have to lie down. I wiggle a bit, so I'm against the wall—less frightening…that way. At least something's against my back now…
A crunch of footsteps…I'm too tired. And I hurt all over…
A-ah! Something's touching me—pain…bony fingers are running over me carefully, pausing when I cry out. A voice hushes me—an awkward voice, a kind voice…speaking, but I can't understand…perhaps if I…try with all my might, it's Peter, he escaped, his young life wasn't crushed by stupidity…perhaps… "Oh Lord, please!" The cry is torn from me; the ice in my heart and mind melts at once and escapes down my cheeks, stinging my skin.
Long arms pick me up—carefully, but it still hurts terribly. The pain settles down eventually to a dull throb.
"I don't know if—if Watson specializes in burns, but I'm sure he can help. Shall I take you to Baker Street, Lestrade?"
I can no longer pretend it's Peter, the voice is too ringing, strident…oddly hesitant, though. But I'll—I'll make myself believe it's all a nightmare, I'll get through it somehow, I'll change the world…somehow.
"I don't know—I don't know anything anymore! Please help me."
I cannot grab onto anything—the mounting pain is too much—I—I have to, I need to be close to someone…I'm just…I'm so afraid, I'm so scared…I don't even know what to think. I force my heavy eyes open—it's a little blurry, but I know this face…I know this face. It's a kind face. It's Holmes…he has me. I'm safe.
"Save your strength," he tells me gently, adjusting me carefully in his arms. "We have a bit of a walk. I—I'm sorry I came too late. I had my eye on this man for a while, but I misjudged his timing. I know you're in pain; I'll walk as fast as I can without jostling you." He pauses. "You tried, Lestrade. You did your best. Don't worry about...well, just don't. You know what I mean?"
"Yes," I whisper. I could not hold up against mockery or remonstrances at this moment, and his kind words, though brief, mean everything. I lean my head against his chest, hoping he won't be annoyed at the tears and soot I'm no doubt smudging on his waistcoat. I'm still trembling in every limb, but I can bear it now; the world may be ending around me, but it must be all right …because Sherlock Holmes is here.