Head lolling at an angle, Sherlock observed her with an over-bright gaze. "You're not…" His voice was breathy and far too high-pitched. "Enjoying… this…"
He sounded surprised.
Donovan stared at him. What the hell was she meant to enjoy? Kneeling in the damp in the middle of the night? Finding her boss face-down on the concrete? Minding the Freak whilst his flatmate gave emergency aid to Lestrade?
Sherlock glanced down at her hand where it held his sodden scarf to his shoulder, and then she understood.
For a genius, he could be astoundingly thick.
"No, 'course I'm not," she answered.
She leaned even closer to him, until she could feel the moist warmth of his shallow panting against her cheek. He couldn't twirl and stride off on those long legs this time. There were certain things he needed to understand.
"Listen: I've wanted to slap that smug grin off your face every time you've acted like someone's violent death was a gift-wrapped present meant for you. I've wanted to shut that clever mouth of yours every time you've insulted a victim, a victim's family or friends, members of my team, or me."
She took a measured breath, proud of the evenness of her voice. There was a reason Lestrade looked to her when it was time for a press conference.
"Most of all, I've wanted to force your words back down your throat every time you've belittled one of the best men I know and then made him thank you for it." She nodded in the direction of the fallen detective inspector. "You play with his career and his reputation and his life like they're your toys, and he lets you, because he cares more about stopping killers than protecting himself. If it were up to me, you'd never be allowed anywhere near him or a crime scene again."
Propped against the brick wall, Sherlock continued to study her with those alien, unsettling eyes.
"But not once," she continued, "have I wanted to see you stabbed and bleeding and left in a back alley. I wouldn't want that for anyone. That's why I'm a cop. You're the one who doesn't feel empathy, not me."
He made no reply.
His eyelashes were still wet from the involuntary tears inspired by his wound, and this made him seem fragile and young and, for once, absurdly human. So, too, did the darkening bruise on his cheek.
God, how much blood did that skinny body hold? The scarf at his shoulder was drenched and dripping, slippery and unwieldy now under her fingers. Ignoring the nauseating stench of gore, she reached for her own scarf and unwound it from her neck. As quickly as possible, she exchanged the two, putting more muscle behind the pressure in the effort to staunch the flow.
Sherlock thrashed once, a harsh jerk that rippled out the full length of his limbs; the grunt he made ended as a whine.
Automatically she opened her mouth to apologise for the added pain she'd caused, but she caught herself in time. "Go on then," she offered instead. "Say something. Anything. You need to stay conscious."
"Lestrade?" A whisper.
She risked a glance over her shoulder.
When Watson had intercepted her in the alley, drawing her down beside Sherlock before she could get to Lestrade, she'd nearly turned on him with the full force of her adrenaline-fuelled anger and fear. But of course, he'd been right: Lestrade needed his skill, not hers, and Sherlock required assistance, as well.
To be fair, she reckoned she had more reason to trust Lestrade to Watson than she'd given the doctor to trust Sherlock to her.
It appeared that her confidence in the man wasn't misplaced. Despite the cold bite of the night air, Watson had stripped to his vest. His jumper pillowed Lestrade's head; his jacket covered Lestrade's lower body. His shirt was turning a bright crimson as he pressed it with visible force against Lestrade's abdomen.
She could just make out the calm, steady rhythm of Watson's speech, punctuated now and then by the brief, ragged hoarseness of Lestrade's responses.
She sagged a bit in relief, and Sherlock shuddered beneath the scarf. Her coat slipped further down his torso, and with her free hand she drew it up and tucked it more closely around his sides.
"He's bleeding, but he's conscious," she said.
Some of the tension in Sherlock's sharp-angled frame eased at this news; she felt it through her fingers.
"Keep talking," she urged.
He inhaled as if to respond, but only a gusty sigh followed. His eyes fluttered shut.
"Sherlock. Freak. Talk."
His lips twitched. "Not... just now."
She cursed silently to herself before trying another approach. "All right. Make me do all the work, then. What's today's date?"
"Boring." Alarmingly faint.
He began to list to one side. As she struggled to resettle him in a more upright position, he sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth and held it, trembling. Then he was watching her again from beneath damp lashes, pale eyes glittering with shock, boneless as a rag doll.
"Tell me about the case," she said. "What’s your theory?" She waited a beat. "Come on, genius. Impress me."
"Not theory." His long throat worked as he swallowed. "Solution."
"Right. I'll believe it when I hear it." Deliberately provocative.
"Maillard did it? He wasn't even on our suspect list. What did you find out? How could you possibly know that?"
His brow furrowed in a pained frown, and once more his eyes fell shut. "Astigmatism," he murmured. "Steel-cut oats. Swine flu. Peter Tork." Then, emphatically, "Oysters."
Bloody hell. Was he was explaining his deductive reasoning or ranting in delirium? As likely one as the other, for all that she understood any of it. She couldn't begin to imagine how those seemingly random things related to one another or the alleged perpetrator.
At least Sherlock was still conscious, still talking. For that matter, her scarf was only partially stained; the blood came more sluggishly now. She reminded herself of Watson's reassurance that the wound itself wasn't that bad, as long as the bleeding could be checked.
"Keep firm pressure on it," he'd directed her, his personal plea audible beneath the professional instructions. "Keep him warm. Keep him awake."
She looked behind her once more and found the doctor returning her gaze. Strain had redrawn his features in stark, grim lines as he hunched against the chill. One of his hands forced the makeshift bandage against Lestrade's belly; the other curled around the detective inspector's wrist, monitoring the man's pulse.
"How long?" he called to her.
The ambulances, of course.
Before she could consult her watch, she saw his eyes shift and widen. The transformation was immediate as Watson shed his role of healer for that of protector, rising to a defensive crouch in front of Lestrade. Donovan swivelled in alarm, getting a foot underneath her, readying to shield her own charge from new threat.
The shadows moved at the mouth of the alley.
Anderson had found them.
"Check on the ambulances!" Sally shouted at him. "Two of ours are down!"
He jogged forward, mobile to his ear, nodding.
When she turned back to Sherlock, she found one elegant eyebrow raised.
"Two… of yours?" he whispered.
"Say you're insulted, and I'll happily feed you this scarf." She readjusted her hold on its fabric. Sherlock managed a rather anaemic snort before he grimaced.
Anderson spoke rapidly on the phone. Donovan's next quick glance revealed him handing Watson's jacket back to the shivering doctor and draping his own long coat over Lestrade in its place.
"No, don't you dare," she said, as Sherlock's head pitched forward. She eased it back to rest against the wall and patted his cheek lightly. "Stay awake. Your sidekick over there will murder me if you die on my watch."
"Not my… sidekick," he managed with obvious effort.
"Fine. Whatever you say. Keep talking."
"Cold," he said.
She adjusted her coat to cover more of his chest, folding a lapel over his uninjured shoulder, pinning it with his lax weight.
Anderson approached, scrubbing a hand across his stubbled face. "Five minutes for the ambulances."
"Lestrade?" she asked.
"Should be in hospital now. It's an ugly wound." He crossed his arms against the night air, hugging himself, clearly shaken.
Sherlock didn't look at Anderson, but Donovan could sense that the consulting detective was listening attentively.
"The doctor knows what he's about, though, I'll give him that," Anderson continued. "Sally, what the hell happened?"
"Seems to be related to the Yarbrough case. Payback, maybe. I can ID three of them, at least. So can Watson," she said. "Bastards."
"Need any help" – Anderson turned a cool glare on Sherlock – "with this?"
Donovan felt Sherlock's lean muscles tighten under her hand. With his injury, that must've hurt. Sherlock blinked up at her, eerily pale and utterly expressionless, awaiting her response.
"No, we'll do," she said. "Go watch for them at the street, yeah? And get the rest of the team here. The scene will need to be secured."
As Anderson retreated, Sherlock nodded once drunkenly and slumped back against the bricks.
"Not long now," she told him. "Hold on."
An ugly wound, Anderson had said. Christ. No, she couldn't afford to dwell on that at the moment.
"Don'tforget," Sherlock slurred. She ducked her head in order to catch his fragile words. "BrentMaillard."
"Brent Maillard. You're certain?"
"Brent Maillard." She rocked back on her heels and searched his face, watching as his lids drooped closed. "Got it."
Beneath her coat his hand flapped vaguely, as if he'd intended to make one of his dramatic gestures but realised too late that he lacked the strength. "TellJohn. TellJohnto… ridewithhim… tohospital…" His tongue darted out and wet his lips. "Watchover…"
When his eyes opened abruptly, she started in surprise. For a long moment, they simply regarded each other, exhaling white clouds into the blackness together.
"Yeah, I will. Thank you." She meant it.
Sherlock broke eye contact first, turning his face away to stare into the dark, his bruised cheek to the dank wall. The trembling in his limbs intensified. If he could've melted into the bricks by sheer effort of will, she guessed he would've done.
It pained her merely to look at him, splayed out brokenly, gulping shallow sips of air. Just as much as she didn't want to see this, she understood that Sherlock didn't want to be seen – especially by her – this way.
Faced with such a portrait of miserable vulnerability, she recalled what she'd told him about empathy.
"I'll ride with you, then," she said.
His answer was brittle, over-enunciated, and scarcely loud enough to hear: "Not. Necessary."
"Didn't say it was," she said.
She straightened the drape of her coat so that its fabric warmed the bare flesh at his neck.
After several heartbeats, the wail of sirens echoed from a distance.
About bloody time.
"Can'tstopyou," he whispered at last. "Obviously."
A final look over her shoulder showed Watson bending low over his patient, talking with gentle urgency, his free hand gripping Lestrade's shoulder. The doctor must have felt Donovan's eyes on him; he glanced up at her, his gaze sliding to Sherlock and back again, an anxious question on his face.
She offered him her best approximation of a smile, given the circumstances, and a nod that she hoped was reassuring. He responded in kind.
"Not long now," she repeated to Sherlock.
The sirens swallowed all other sound.