She thought his eyes would be the last thing she saw in this life. It was unnerving, really – pools of grey, far too pale to be natural, and half-lidded as they were with delirium. How did I get here? she wondered as she stared down at Sherlock's pallid features. The building was coming down around them. The interrogator lay dead nearby. She didn't remember tackling him to the ground, scrambling away just in time as a rock smashed his head in. She didn't remember fighting the aftershock to get to Sherlock, didn't remember kneeling down beside him. Didn't remember clinging to the support beam as fires erupted along the chemical storage units. Barely remembered the colossal secondary explosion that had taken out her hearing.
But now here she was, staring down at Sherlock, he staring up at her, and she knew they were going to die here. Like this. Together.
Wait a fucking minute, said an indignant voice in Sally's head. This isn't it. This isn't how I'm going to die. And not with him. Of all people? I refuse. Move!
"Come on!" Sally shouted over the din, using her last reserves of energy to propel her legs. She wasn't sure if he heard her, and she didn't care. A burning crossbeam collapsed somewhere behind her and she flinched instinctively, but it gave her the boost of adrenaline that she needed. It also served to rouse Sherlock a little from his stupor, and his eyelids fluttered as he tried to regain control of his limbs.
Saint Catherine's was in a shambles. The structure was old and made of heavy stone. Nobody on the upper floors could have survived the collapse. The lower levels and the subterranean structures were crumbling slowly as rock shifted against rock. The newer wings of the building were all on fire. Glass burst outward from windows as pressure mounted in closed-off rooms. If they were to get out of here in one piece, they would have to move quickly.
Even then, the chances were slim. The building was not going to be standing much longer.
Sally couldn't hear her own voice for the damage her eardrums had taken, but she hoped Sherlock could. "Lean on me," she was telling him, or hoped she was. "We have to be quick. Let's move – now!"
Sherlock's eyes were wide, but not with wonder or amazement. He was taking in the scene, gauging their chances, crunching the numbers of survival probability even as he allowed one of his arms to be pulled across Sally's shoulders. Blood was soaking through his ill-gotten shirt as he struggled to keep up with Donovan's pace, but he didn't seem to notice. He didn't seem to notice much of anything anymore, except the rapidly collapsing building all around them.
"Not going to make it," he ground out. Sally did not hear him.
Painfully, she yanked him out of the way of falling rock. They scrambled over mountains of debris, Sally always stopping at the top to turn and pull Sherlock up. One time he waved at her to go, he'd catch up, but she swore and dragged him up with cruel efficiency. They kept their eyes open, focussed as much as possible on the environment, trying to warn one another of danger as they scrambled for the door.
Fire barred their path at the last.
They both cast about, searching for some way around, but there was none readily available and the structural integrity of the floor above them was dubious at best. Sally pushed Sherlock up against a fallen crossbeam and put all her weight behind a stone slab, pushing it over on top of the flames. The fire licked the edges and the middle of the slab was crumbling, but it would work well enough as a bridge. At her direction, the two of them climbed over it, Donovan pulling Sherlock the last foot or so.
"The door," she said, as he suddenly became heavy. She looked over, saw his head drooping at her shoulder. She shook him and received no response. His eyes had closed.
The main entrance was only feet away. With Sherlock unconscious or nearly, there was no way she would get him there in this awkward half-carry. She certainly couldn't lift him. She pulled her arm from around his waist and lowered him to the ground, shifting her grip so that her hands were under his arms. His head lolled back, exposing the long, white pillar of his throat. It would be slower dragging him backward this way, but she could think of no other option. They had to get through that doorway. They were so close. This would be the worst possible place to die.
It happened only once. As Sally threw herself to the ground beside Sherlock to avoid falling debris, the thought occurred to her. Just go. Leave him. He's dying anyway. It was the first time such an idea had crossed her mind since all of this began, but it gave her pause. She looked over at Sherlock. His face was relaxed and peaceful, as if in sleep. If he wasn't already halfway to dead, the smoke inhalation would probably kill him before he ever regained consciousness. It would be a painless death. And there were his injuries to account for, too. If they did make it out of here, would he even survive? Sally was no doctor, but she knew that Sherlock had lost a lot of blood. If she left him and saved herself, could she really be blamed? What about –
No, Sally thought forcefully. If it was Anderson, if it was Lestrade, if it was anybody else on her team she wouldn't even be considering it. So she shouldn't be considering it now, she decided. She pushed herself up and resumed her previous position, pulling him backward with her hands under his arms. The archway of the main entry was practically above them now. She inched backward, stepping carefully over unsteady rock and occasionally kneeling to wrap an arm around Sherlock's chest and half-lift him over some obstruction. Once she glanced over her shoulder and saw the English countryside stretching out beyond the gardens of the hospital. Just a little further and they would reach it. And then... And then... And then what?
Suddenly, there were hands on Sally's shoulders. Someone was prying her away from Sherlock, closing their fingers around her wrists and trying to guide her away and she was fighting, preparing her left arm to throw a punch when she turned and found herself staring up at Lestrade's chin, which was lifted as he gave orders to unseen officers. She couldn't hear any of it; her ears were filled with a dull roar.
Donovan slumped a little as Lestrade guided her away swiftly. He was leaning down toward her as they jogged away from the scene, asking her something, speaking, but it was unintelligible. She tapped her ear with one finger and shrugged: I can't hear you. Then they were stopping outside of a long black trailer and Lestrade had placed his hands on her shoulders, facing her, leaning down, his eyes questioning as his gaze swept her face. Sally nodded and gave the thumbs-up: I'm okay.
Lestrade's attention was drawn away by something over Sally's left shoulder and she turned to see what he was looking at. Sherlock was fighting the paramedics, weakly pushing away the hands trying to help him. His mouth was moving in a long string of what was probably muttered insults. Sally broke away from Lestrade and went over.
In the light from the command trailer, the wounds looked much worse than they had inside St. Catherine's. The shirt had been cut from Sherlock's body, and the wounds were clearly visible. Out of the corner of her eye, Sally saw Lestrade wince. He was leaning down on the other side of the stretcher, speaking to the wounded detective, but Sally poked him in the shoulder and tapped her ear again. He can't hear you either, dummy. He nodded in response and spoke over her, one hand directing the pair of paramedics working around them. Sally distinctly saw the word hospital framed by his thin lips.
Donovan shook her head before she realised Lestrade wasn't looking at her. She buried her finger in his shoulder again. "No," she said, her voice sounding muffled and deep in her own ears. "Baker Street. John," she added, for clarity. Lestrade looked puzzled.
Sherlock's fingers curled loosely around Donovan's wrist.
John was still in handcuffs when the call came in that the sergeant and Sherlock had been recovered, and that they were both alive. A uniformed officer holding a landline dictated to John the situation as Lestrade told it, and John shouted a string of nasty insults at him until the officer agreed to unlock his cuffs and hand him the damn phone.
Lestrade explained the extent of Sherlock's injuries over the wail of an ambulance siren. Explained that he'd been fighting paramedics, that he was asking to go home. To see John. That John was now the only word that anyone could get out of him. "I'll do whatever you tell me to do," Lestrade said.
I can treat the physical, John thought to himself. But the rest... He knew that Sherlock's behaviour – that his demands to see John and only John – were a result of the trauma he had endured. And as such, he was certain that being in hospital would only compound his emotional state. Sherlock was scared and panicky and disoriented. And John didn't want him to wake up in a place as cold and sterile as a hospital room. Honestly, John was scared too, and selfish, and he wanted to be the one to treat him. No one else could be trusted. Not this time. "Take him home," he said at last. "I need to stop by Bart's and then I'll meet you there."
Donovan, Lestrade, and Sherlock were standing on the doorstep of 221b. Although, to be clear, it was Donovan and Lestrade who were doing most of the standing. Sherlock was propped limply between them. He was awake, but only just. He smiled almost imperceptibly as John opened the door to admit them.
John made a point of not asking how Lestrade had convinced the paramedics to drop them here, and Lestrade made a point of not saying.
"Can't stay," the DI stated as he followed John's directions to the bedroom on the main level. He helped John get Sherlock situated on the bed and stepped back, watching as John sat and leaned over the stricken detective.
"I figured," John said quietly, but his eyes were on Sherlock. "Go, I've got him. Surprised you came this far," he added, glancing over for a half a second.
Lestrade shrugged, as if it were obvious that he had no choice. "Keep me updated," he said, patting his pocket where the bulge of a mobile phone was visible. Then he was turning away, pushing Sally out of the bedroom door. "You need to go to hospital." The door closed behind them, muffling their conversation and their footsteps until both had faded out of earshot entirely.
John's deft fingers explored the work that the paramedics had done at the scene. The wounds stretching diagonally over Sherlock's chest were packed and bandaged, but they would need to be stitched. The infection was bad, but John was hopeful. With a good dose of antibiotics and attentive care, Sherlock could make a full recovery. Use of the left side of his body might be rough for a while – the deepest part of the long, deliberate lacerations was over his left ribcage – but with time and patience, even that could be overcome. The rest of the injuries were minor and easily cared for. He was dehydrated and malnourished, too, but even that could be fixed with relative ease. John suspected the worst of the damage was psychological, emotional. Torture isn't a tool plied in order to break a person's body, not really.
"You," Sherlock croaked, and John startled slightly.
"Easy," John cautioned, but it wasn't necessary. Sherlock didn't look like he was going anywhere.
"Alright?" asked Sherlock.
John's lips thinned to a straight line and he shook his head. He pulled his gaze away from Sherlock's and went back to work, but he could feel his flatmate's eyes on him all the time. "You're an idiot," he said at last. "And when you're feeling better, I'm gonna kill you."
"Good." John worked in silence for a few minutes. He wanted to ask what happened, wanted to know so he would have an idea, at least, of where to direct the rage that threatened to boil over his forced pretense of calm, but he reined himself in and didn't mention it. Now wasn't the time. A lecture, however, did seem appropriate, and he made the attempt. "You can't do that again," he said, his voice shaking ever so slightly as he popped open a small plastic box and prepared to suture the wounds. "You don't get to send me off on a wild goose chase while you go putting yourself in a situation like that. It's not okay, Sherlock. It's not... I mean, I can't..." And just like that, John had run out of steam.
"Yes, John," said Sherlock weakly.
The detective exhaled shakily, and closed his eyes. His voice was weak and breathless. "I said yes. Yes, John. Okay..."
It was more than an hour before John emerged from Sherlock's bedroom. He had a bin bag clutched in one hand, full of biohazard that wanted proper disposal. In the other he clutched a damp flannel and a leather bag of supplies, and as he came out from the bedroom, he dropped the bags on the floor and wiped his hands on the flannel. The material reddened as he worked it between his hands. Then he gave a long sigh and slumped against the door for a minute. Now that he had Sherlock back – now that he had exercised all his God-given power in restoring him – his body was complaining loudly about the long-ignored physical demands of food-rest-shower. Seeming to decide something, he abandoned the towel on top of the bin bag and, collecting his supplies, headed for the sitting room.
John was extremely startled to see Sally Donovan occupying his armchair. She looked over when she heard him come in, straightening slightly out of her crumpled pose. For a few long, awkward moments, they just stared at each other. It was Sally who broke the silence.
"How's he doing?"
"Better," John said. "The infection and the dehydration combined made him very weak, but with time, he'll recover. Physical therapy is probably in his future, with the crush injury to his collarbone and the lacerations..." He trailed off as he remembered who he was speaking to. "I thought you'd left with Lestrade," he admitted, rounding the couch. He dropped his bag on the floor and sat on the coffee table so that they were eye-to-eye.
"That was Greg's plan," Sally agreed, allowing John to examine a cut above her right eyebrow. "I just... I dunno." She exhaled and shrugged.
They were quiet for a few moments as John cleaned and bandaged the wound on Sally's face. She was staring off into space as he tended the rest of her injuries, glancing up only briefly when he asked about the blood in her hair. She said something about hitting her head on the wall in a fight, and he slid his fingers up through the back of her hair to examine the wound by touch. It wasn't especially bad, but it had bled a lot.
"Might have a concussion," John murmured when he'd finished, peering into her eyes as his hands fell to his lap. "Probably should go to A&E after all."
Finally, their eyes met, and John asked the question they had both been waiting for him to ask. "What happened in there?"
Donovan's face fell a little. "I don't know," she said, sitting back. "By the time I got there, he was already..." She flapped a hand. "From what I understand, the Wakefield group are a bunch of idiots. His words." Sally shook her head, rolling her eyes at the absurdity of it all. "If that weren't the case, I don't know if we would have made it out."
Her words hung frozen in the air for a few minutes. John realised he was holding his breath.
"He went there so Lestrade wouldn't," Sally continued shortly. Her expression was puzzled, questioning – she was asking John why. Why would he do something like that? This wasn't the Sherlock Holmes she knew.
"And if they hadn't abducted you, he never would have gotten out of there," John finished for her. Lestrade had not given him all the details, but he knew for a fact that Sally's being there was the one reason Sherlock had not perished in the explosion.
They stared at one another.
"Thank you," John added.
Sally nodded again. "It wasn't like that, though," she said. "If it had been – "
"I know," interrupted John. "But it doesn't matter."
And Donovan didn't argue, because she realised he was right. She chewed her lip for a moment, then stood. John did the same, and she stuck her hands in her pockets. "I should get going," she said. "Lestrade won't clear me for duty until I've been to A&E, so..."
John frowned. "You're welcome to stay," he said awkwardly. "I'm sure you're tired and hungry – "
"I'm okay," Sally said, waving him off. Then it seemed that something occurred to her, and she blinked over at John in a worried away. "I need to feed my cat."
"I... guess that settles it?"
They walked to the door together, and John stepped out with Sally onto the chilly street. He hugged his jumper closer around himself, and she did the same with the jacket Lestrade had deposited on her shoulders some hours ago. "You know," she said thoughtfully as she hailed a cab, "maybe he's not so..."
There were a hundred ways that sentence could have ended. Not so inhuman. Not so awful. Not so robotic. Not so bad after all. Not so psychotic. Not so repulsive.
Sally chose not to finish it at all, and their eyes met as John's mouth quirked up at the corner just a tiny bit.
"He's still a freak," Donovan declared, glowering at John as the taxi approached the kerb.
Shrugging helplessly, John leaned against the threshold of 221 Baker Street as Sally got into her cab. "Goodnight, Sergeant," he said as she reached for the door.
"Night," she replied. The door closed, and John could see her give directions to the driver before the vehicle puttered into the road and fell in with the rest of the traffic.
Shutting the door on the cold, John climbed the stairs back to the flat he shared with his best friend, and had a new question to ponder: How would Sherlock deal with the knowledge that he owed his life to Sally Donovan? One thing at a time, John thought grimly. One thing at a time.