Author's Note: The wait may be long, but the chapters are still coming, I promise! This was to date the most difficult chapter to write; I just can't get into Sherlock's head as well as I'd like. Ah, well.
Special thanks to Esther Kirkland for giving me the final motivational push to get this one up sooner rather than later. I needed that, Essie!
Part VIII: Sinking
His shoes slapped hard against the slick pavement, louder than he liked, but the time had passed in which silence was his most valuable ally.
Faster… faster… faster…
He sensed the corner before he came to it, rounded it tightly, and pushed off again from a slight ridge near the alley wall.
The mere thought sent a surge of adrenalin through his system; gritting his teeth, dashing rainwater from his eyes, he spurred forward, all his senses tingling with awareness and a need to anticipate. There was a pain in his chest he didn't remember, but he forced it to the edge of his consciousness, like the dismissed aggravation of a biting gnat.
He could not afford distractions. Not now. Not when he was so close.
Breathing raggedly, he veered to the other side of the alley, dashed around another corner, and found that he had very suddenly lost the lamplight. For a moment, his eyes were met with a wall of blackness, and he came to an unwilling halt.
His ears strained, and for a few half-panicked seconds he could hear nothing but the rain spitting gently on the pavement beneath his feet, and the distant whine of two—no, three—auto engines. His chest rose and fell, shaking with the knowledge that each precious second he spent standing here was another moment in which Moran could drop into darkness and disappear from view, indefinitely.
Somehow, he had got to thinking that this was it—his last chance to make things right, to cut off the final, most dangerous piece of Moriarty's old underworld regime. Then, and only then, would he be able to return to Baker Street, breathing easier, and attempt to fix what had all gone wrong with John. One thing at a time, he was forced to remind himself; for so adept was he at focussing all his attention on a single goal that when his priorities suddenly became divided neatly in two, he had floundered and hesitated and lost the drive that would have made rectifying either them possible.
And it had cost him. It had cost him the life he had wanted when he finally stepped from behind the veil of the grave, the life he had been looking forward to for three years because it was the only bit of light that had still reached him in his darkest, most desperate hours. Everything he had done, he had done so that he could return—only to find that, when he did, the things he had needed most had vanished. John's eyes were clouded, and the flat was silent.
John was gone.
It was fortunate that he did not have to dwell on this line of thought any longer; a muffled thud reached his ears, barely audible, and yet closer than he had really expected; and it was enough for him to break into run again—across an open stretch of pavement, around the dark, damp silhouette of an old warehouse, his eyes wide and straining in the blackness. Even as he sprinted, however, a grim sort of thrill shivered its way through his thin form. He knew this place—and it was a dead end.
The alley opened up very suddenly again, to what he knew was a broad, paved space encircled by old, industrial one- and two-story buildings, partially barricaded by cold metal railings. There was a security light at the far edge, though white and faint and flickering, as if it might go out any moment, and it did little more than rebound from the grey wall of the recess it had been set into.
It had gone quiet again. Sherlock drew in a slow, silent breath and carefully eased the gun from his pocket to the palm of his hand.
He threw his voice as far as he could away from his current position, but for added security slipped sideways into a deeper area of shadow.
He knew it was a risk, and half expected a shot to shatter the silence any second now; but he was not surprised, either, when none came. Moran was being careful now, too clever to take the off-chance of hitting his opponent when it would give away his own position in the process.
Sherlock shifted again, readjusting his grip on the handgun; it must be the chill that was causing that faint tremor through his wrist and fingers. "I don't have to kill you, colonel!" he called out.
But he was met still with silence. They both knew the words were a lie; Moran was far too dangerous to be kept alive at this point, and with his master long-dead, he would be of little use in custody anyway.
The shivering was growing stronger, fluttering through the muscles of his arms now, towards his shoulders. His chest felt suddenly hollow, and he drew in a sharp breath as though to fill the emptiness of his lungs. Angrily, he blinked rainwater again from his eyes and clenched his teeth together, mind and body defying the tremors, and only partially succeeding.
Silence stretched on. There was no flicker of movement across the way, no slightest scrape of a boot heel against the pavement. And the rain kept coming, too-gently, little more than a fine mist hanging in the air between Sherlock and his final opponent.
Even wrapped firmly around the gun, his hands were visibly shaking. He didn't know why.
Features pale and set, he started moving again, edging as quickly as he dared along the perimeter of the open area, flattening himself against the cold stone-and-mortar buildings whenever his eyes tricked him into discerning a breath of movement. Or had something shifted over there?
He stopped again, lifting his chin, readying himself and taking a firmer grip on the gun. He would get one chance and one chance only, and he needed to be absolutely certain that he would not need another one—
But this waiting had quite suddenly become agony. He needed to end this. Now.
He turned sharply, levelled the gun—and too late saw the split-second gleam of metal only feet from where he stood. His eyes widened, and it flashed through his mind in the bare moment following that Oh, God, he was going to die.
The shot was so close that his ears rang, and he felt its results almost immediately: white-hot pain burying itself deep in the flesh of his left side, just below the ribs. Gasping, he stumbled back, hit the wall with a painful thud, and collapsed to the damp pavement as his legs folded suddenly beneath him. He could feel water seeping through his shirt and trousers—but not nearly as rapidly as the blood was. The gun had clattered to the ground somewhere to his right.
Footsteps sounded abruptly nearby, making a quick and soon to be untraceable exit. Sherlock swore, but the sound didn't come.
Though he had no clue where he found the strength, he forced his head up, craning to see with slightly blurred vision into the darkness ahead of him. The night seemed faintly askew, tilting this way and that as he struggled to keep his gaze level. Moments later, his head sank forward heavily again, unable to go on—and yet he was almost entirely certain that in the wake of Moran's retreat, a second figure had slipped past, and followed.
Belatedly, Sherlock pressed both hands to his side, though they were shaking so badly that it did very little to staunch the bloodflow. His head lolled to the side of its own accord; it would not be long before he slipped into unconsciousness. Days, weeks, months of too much strain and too little concern for his own well-being were finally catching up to him.
It took much longer than it should have for him to realise, dimly, then with growing confusion, that he should have been dead by now.
In fact, he should have been dead almost the instant that the bullet entered his body, because it should not have hit him where it had in the first place. And because it was utterly inconceivable that Moran should have missed at that distance…
Sherlock doubled over, coughing, and with one unsteady hand fumbled for his mobile in his coat pocket. Miss or not, he would still die here if he didn't get assistance.
In between shallow, uneven breaths, he was able to give his location. And not for the first time, he had to give Mycroft credit for sounding perfectly calm during their short and, on Sherlock's end, ragged conversation.
Almost before the screen had gone dark again, the phone was on the ground; Sherlock's hand was once again pressed against his side, using a few thick folds of coat to catch the red still seeping through. Head still bowed, fighting for consciousness, he waited.