"Any last words, Mr. 'olmes?" asks the man with the gun, the one that is currently aimed at the detectives' forehead.
"Last words?" Holmes replies calmly, voice hovering on the edge of boredom, "Several in fact. Shall I speak quite slowly so that you my be sure to follow along?"
The amusing thing really, is that it takes the brute almost three seconds to realize he's been insulted, and Holmes is quite certain he's never seen anyone's face turn that shade of purple before. Fascinating, although further observation is cut short by the sharp pain that comes with having a revolver smashed into the side of ones skull.
He goes down hard, knees hitting the dirt and blood dripping into one eye.
"Think you're funny?"
Now most people, when kneeling on the floor of an abandoned warehouse surrounded by four large men - and having just enraged the one with a fast temper and a loaded gun - most people would consider that a Bad Thing.
But then again, most people aren't Sherlock Holmes.
He's feeling almost triumphant at the moment (a little woozy as well, but triumph's lurking under there somewhere) and it isn't hard to follow his reasoning.
After all, he's still alive - a fact most betting men would have laid long odds against not ten minutes ago.
So yes, he's alive, and that's a start. Staying alive long enough for the Yard to find him...well now, that's another thing.
The man looming over him - a bricklayer by trade, though he's been out of work ever since getting caught stealing from his employer - trembles with rage.
Holmes blinks up at him and affects an injured tone, "Terribly rude of you to interrupt a dying man's last- oof!" A sharp kick to the stomach sends him sprawling onto his back.
"SHUT IT!" The man bellows, and Holmes would certainly find his color interesting now...if he weren't busy trying to breathe.
In and out. Expand the lungs, now contract. Again,
Ignore the pain.
"Not such a Don Jack now, are ya'?" The man nudges him with the toe of his boot.
Holmes breathes, and calculates how long it might take Watson to find him, weighing the difficulty of the search against the average intelligence of the Yard. Forty minutes perhaps. Sixty, if Lestrade misses the clue Holmes left about the fishing docks and has to double back.
The figure is not comforting, but nor is it impossible. He's beaten worse odds (though he cannot recall precisely when).
Sixty minutes, and the bullet from a colt revolver travels at 1,000 feet per second.
He needs more time, but has no currency with which to buy it. There is nothing he has that these men want.
But he's working on it.
Holmes has often observed the strange correlation between rage and lust, the fact that emotions once inflamed will burn in ways that logic cannot dictate. So while it is of little practical interest that the man before him is a bricklayer and a thief, he is also an invert and a sexual deviant, and that is very interesting indeed. That is something he can work with.
From his position on the floor Holmes offers him a lopsided grin.
"I...I must say, your hospitality leaves much to be desired."
It's a calculated risk - as his risks always are, whatever Watson may think - and it's certainly not the most elegant of solutions but the alternative to a slow death is a quick one, and the latter doesn't suit his purposes at all.
He reminds himself of that as ribs give way beneath the heel of a hobnail boot and his world explodes in a dazzling burst of white.
The clock ticks.
The imbecile with the gun is shouting at him again and really, all that blustering can't be good for his blood pressure. Perhaps if Holmes is lucky the lumbering idiot will have an aneurysm, but he doubts it. A man's given only so much luck in a day and Holmes had used his measure earlier in the evening to incapacitate the group's ringleader, the only one of them that came anywhere close to intelligence and therefore the only one who would have certainly killed him outright.
He's banking on the others being too stupid to know better.
So far, things are progressing about as he'd expected.
Rolling over with a wet cough that accomplishes little more than sending a fresh wave of pain through his chest, he jabs a fist into the dirt and lifts himself on shaking arms. Something feels broken. Several somethings, in fact.
Watson will be furious with him.
Well, better Watson's wrath than a hole in the ground.
Holmes makes it to his knees and wonders why he thought that was a good idea as sudden vertigo causes him to be sick. Retching with broken ribs is never a pleasant experience. He briefly ponders what it says about his choices in life that he has that knowledge to draw from.
"...but where's yer rozzers now, ya damn filthy Jack?!"
Ah, yes. Perhaps that aneurysm would happen after all...
"Are you going to shoot me, or shout me to death?"
The man goes quiet, mouth hanging open.
Holmes doesn't bother hiding his contempt. "If it is to be the former, I kind-kindly ask that you get on with it and spare me the agony of the latter." He locks eyes with the man and puts all his strength behind his next words, profoundly aware they may be his last:
The gambit was set. Holmes waits and hopes he has not misjudged.
The man closes his mouth and continues to stare at him, obviously trying to think; the detective watches as rusty gears turn with agonizing slowness. Finally he seems to come to a decision, his face breaking out in the slow sort of grin stupid men get when they think they're being clever.
"Right," he says slowly, porcine eyes filling with some dark intent, "Right. Get 'im up, boys." no one argues - there seems a tacit agreement among them whereby the one holding the gun gets to call the shots.
Somewhere in his head, Watson just rolled his eyes at him.
Holmes chuckles at the pun as hands latch onto him, hauling him to his feet and it's only the iron grip on his arms that keeps him upright. He bites his tongue to stop from crying out.
The man leans in close, the smell of alcohol and decay thick on his breath. Cold steel presses under the detective's chin. "Now I wanna hear you beg." He hisses.
Holmes cocks an eyebrow. "Well," he replies, voice rasping a good deal more than he would like, "As you have been such gracious hosts, how can I refuse?"
He clears his throat. The other man watches him carefully.
"Oh please," he says, a mock tremor fluttering his voice, "have mercy gov'nor! Spare a few coins for this poor ol' soldier?"
Another punch snaps his head back and he spits blood.
(Two thousand, four hundred seconds)
There are eighteen windows in the main room of the warehouse, set high into the walls to let the sunlight filter through. Indentations in the wood left by heavy machinery points to it once having been a textiles shop, though the equipment has long been taken away and sold. More recently it has been appropriated by a group of squatters as temporary residence, and again by smugglers dealing in the opium trade. There are seven-
"...want we should do with im' now? We's wastin' time."
-seven families of pigeons roosting in the northeast corner. The man on his right in the black hat owes the one on his left with the stolen shoes fifteen shillings, but only because the other man cheats at cards...
"Shut it, Pete. Ain't no hurry. No knows we's 'ere, do they Mr. 'olmes?"
The world turns grey and his vision begins to crumble so he shifts sideways, broken ribs bumping against the elbow of the man holding him and the shock of pain brings him instantly awake.
If he loses consciousness now, he's good as dead.
Gun man grabs him by the hair, dragging his head up. Holmes regards him with open contempt and the man's eyes narrow. "Still a right hykey bastard, eh?"
Holmes spits in his face.
Smarter men might have wondered at the detective's seemingly suicidal behavior, why a man of such lauded intelligence seemed hell-bent on self destruction. They may have paused to ask themselves why they were keeping him alive.
But these men - these petty, vindictive, and above all, very stupid men, do not ask questions of themselves. Angry people rarely do...and Holmes has made them very angry indeed.
He hasn't given them what they want.
They want him to scream, to cry. They want to hear him beg. They mean to kill him - and they will - but they want to see him broken first.
So it is simply a matter of refusing to break.
The man's speaking again - something about manners, and of finding better uses for Holmes' mouth - all the cliched sorts of threats generated by men with small, vicious minds. There are snickers behind him but he pays them no attention. He's not really listening anyway. He doesn't need to.
One of them reaches for his belt, how predictable, and he pushes through the pain to flash him a fierce, blood-stained grin. "But we've only just met!" His body tenses instinctively, ready to absorb the blow but it never comes. They've already tired of that game.
The interest rate on borrowed time just increased exponentially.
(Sixteen-no, eighteen. Eighteen hundred...)
Hands shove him roughly to the ground and he feels the belt being used to secure his wrists behind him. Then a boot to the back of the head and his mouth is filled with dirt. The world narrows to a series of distant sensations; the taste of blood and sawdust on his tongue, the feel of splintered wood beneath his cheek...the sound of buckles being undone.
The clock ticks.
He hopes Watson gets there soon...
The thing that Lestrade will remember most, after they find Holmes broken and bleeding, after they pull the men off him and pull Watson off the men - because at the end of the day Lestrade is still a officer of the law and he can't let Dr. Watson murder anyone in front of his constables, whatever his personal feelings may be - the thing he will remember more than the smell of blood and fluid (because he'd done his time as a young bobby in the old London rookeries and he's seen plenty of both), more than the way the doctor's hands shake as they reach into that bag of his or the horrified looks on the faces of his men or the way they all pretend not to notice when the doctor finally gathers the detective's body in his arms and simply holds him (the same way they pretend not to notice the tears)...
The thing that Lestrade will remember most after they find him - half dead and half dressed and lying in a pool of his own blood - is that Holmes is laughing.
And it isn't until the doctor sticks a needle in his arm and sends him under that he finally stops.