Rating: PG, gen.
Word count: ~3K
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.
Warning: not really about a belfry.
a/n: this is the first part of my extremely tardy help_pakistan fic for the wonderful, patient innie_darling, who wanted more Lestrade-Sherlock-John interaction. I’m posting the first half of it now, short as it is, so that she can have something (hopefully) fun to read on her birthday—the rest will be up in a few days. HAPPY BIRTHDAY bb!!
a/n: I have been such a snail about this that another fic with a similar plot was posted recently (In the Batcave). Word of honor, though, that I was already well into the premise of this one when that appeared….
a/n: many thanks to calamitycrow, fleurione and marysutherland for the ultra-fast beta’ing and brit-picking. All remaining idiom-fail and infelicities my own.
Summary: Lestrade is hurt. Sherlock is phobic. And John has his hands full.
In the Belfry
Up, Lestrade thought, it had been a mistake to go up.
Or perhaps it had just been the inevitable result of a long series of mistakes that had begun with him allowing Sherlock, with John in tow, to commandeer his car.
“I know where the lab is,” Sherlock had said, poking his head through the window, pale eyes lit up, “Take us there, and you’ll have all the evidence you’ll need.”
“I’ll call—“ Lestrade had begun, but Sherlock had already had the passenger side door open, and was gesturing for John to get in.
The detective had seemed so sure, so overpoweringly, blindingly sure. And Lestrade had been so desperate to find the lunatics who were producing a lethal designer drug that had killed three of London’s brightest young things in the past month that he had foolishly gone along with it all.
He would have kicked himself for it now, except that his ankle was already a bloody mess.
“How far away did you say it was?” Lestrade had asked, 30 miles down the A3.
“Hampshire,” Sherlock had replied, leaning vulture-like over the driver’s seat, “Didn’t I say?”
There had been no apology in his voice, but Lestrade had learned long ago not to expect one.
And what a place it was. A weed-riddled lane wove through raggedy hedgerows to a decaying Georgian manor house—its stone steps cracked, its once-grand façade now fissured and ivy-covered. Lestrade had had to resist the urge to rub his eyes; he thought he saw a tree—an actual tree—growing out one of the paneless windows.
“Quite the ruin,” he’d said, as they’d left the car and approached on foot. “I should let—“ He’d dug his phone out of his pocket, tapped the keyboard.
“Put that thing away,” Sherlock had hissed, grabbing the mobile as the screen lit up, “who knows who they have watching this place—“
Lestrade had looked to John for help—surely alerting the Hampshire CID was the logical thing to do—but the doctor had just shrugged, and trotted along in Sherlock’s wake.
What was there between the two men? Lestrade had wondered for the umpteenth time. Not sex, he thought—despite all the snickering Anderson and Donovan did behind their hands. No—it was something more than that, something stranger.
And who was he to talk about the strange compulsion exerted by Sherlock Holmes, since he found himself following them both into the decaying house.
But Sherlock had been right—of course, he had been right. The capacious basement kitchens of the place had been converted into a pristine, state-of-the-art drug lab, the dust and decrepitude surrounding them throwing the gleaming instruments into sharper relief.
They had been in the excited midst of documenting the scene when they’d heard the rattle of several sets of tyres on the gravel drive outside.
And had made their ridiculously misguided decision to go up --
They arrived at the top of the final, rickety set of stairs. John carefully helped Lestrade prop himself against the wall, breathing a little heavily from having borne most of his weight up the last two flights.
“How’re you holding up?” the doctor whispered.
“Alright,” Lestrade grunted, struggling to control his own breathing. A ring of fire burned around his left ankle, where his foot had gone straight through a rotten plank a few flights down. He’d pulled it out easily enough, biting down savagely on the groan of pain and surprise that threatened to escape--but an array of vicious splinters had come with it. He was sure they’d ripped the skin right off his leg; something, surely blood, was pooling in his shoe, and putting any weight on the foot was agony.
John had assessed the extent of the injury with a brief touch, pulled one of Lestrade’s arms around his own shoulders, and wordlessly supported him the rest of the way.
Now, the doctor gave the Lestrade’s shoulder a quick squeeze, and turned to Sherlock, who was using the tiny light from the screen of his phone to investigate the dark space—an attic corridor that looked as musty as it smelled.
Two doors opened off it to the left, and two to the right. The first three were locked tight, but the farthest one on the left gave under Sherlock’s hand, emitting a sharp creak that made them all jump.
But the murmur of rough voices from the bottom of the stairwell didn’t pause or change—the fates seemed to have allowed them to escape the drug manufacturers’ unexpected return for the moment-- so the detective eased it open the rest of the way and ducked inside.
A minute later his dimly illuminated head re-appeared, beckoning them to follow. John gently tugged Lestrade away from the wall, helped him the short way to the open door.
A maid’s room, Lestrade decided, long abandoned. The single narrow window allowed in just enough moonlight for him to make out a low bed—a cot, really—with a tiny table beside it. A small bureau sat against one wall—and that was it, not even a chair.
Dead end, Lestrade thought, slightly panic-stricken. He felt a blast of fury at himself for being so caught up in the Holmsian urgency of the chase that he hadn’t managed to arrange for back-up. Twenty-three years on the force, and it was all going to end like this: letting a sociopath in a fancy coat make him forget procedure. Death by Sherlock: it should be an official category.
He tried to console himself with the fact that they’d got numerous pictures of the lab. All safely emailed to Scotland Yard. So the case was effectively solved, and someone would come and investigate eventually, even if all they found were three bodies. He didn’t find the thought particularly comforting.
Someday soon, Apple would invent a way for your phone to transport you as well as your data, Lestrade thought. Probably come pre-installed on the iPhone5.
It was possible the pain of his shredded ankle was making him a little punch-drunk.
John steered him towards the cot, and Lestrade lowered himself onto it gingerly, trying to ignore the puff of dust the movement raised.
He pulled his mobile out of his pocket. “No signal,” he told the other two, worry creeping into his voice. They quickly confirmed that the same was true for them.
“But why?” John asked, “why would they work downstairs and not up here?”
“No clue,” said Lestrade, “but there you are.“
“Painted shut,” Sherlock hissed, fingers busy on the window, “and the lock’s rusted tight. We’ll have to break it if we want to leave that way.”
“Not a good idea,” John had joined him, and was peering out, “We’re directly over the front door—they’d surely hear us, even if we could climb down.”
“But we’ll need to find a way out,” Lestrade put in, still annoyed with the level of concern in his own voice. Coppers were supposed to reassure civilians, even if the civilians in question were preternaturally, almost insanely, calm. “We’re in no shape to defend ourselves if they do find us; they’ve probably got enough weapons to start a small war, and we’re completely unarmed.”
John and Sherlock both turned towards his voice, and John diffidently twitched away the side of his short jacket to reveal the butt of Sig P226 on his hip.
Lestrade’s eyes widened. The good doctor grew more surprising every day. And seemed to have as little compunction as Sherlock about operating outside the law, not that this seemed the time to bring it up. “Mostly unarmed,” he amended.
“He’s right, though” John said, “You put your prodigious mind to the problem of our escape, Sherlock; I need to deal with the Detective Inspector’s leg.”
“Don’t you think the question of how to get out of here is a bit more pressing than a few splinters?” Sherlock’s tone was scathing.
“No. No, Sherlock, I don’t. Because if we don’t do something about those cuts, he’s going to slow us down even if we do find an escape route. Not to mention the trail of blood he’ll leave.”
Apparently, Lestrade noted with interest, John’s willingness to follow the detective’s lead had its limits.
The two men glared at each other until the Inspector felt the need to intervene.
“Er, he’s sitting right here, boys, and it’s true—you shouldn’t worry about me—think about finding a way out.”
Both intent faces swung towards him, apparently saw nothing worth taking seriously, and swung back towards each other.
Unexpectedly, Sherlock backed down. “Very well,” he said, “Do what you must.”
John, Lestrade was now unsurprised to see, had a pencil-sized torch on him as well as a gun. He knelt in front of Lestrade, clicked it on and very carefully pushed up Lestrade’s trouser leg and pulled down his sock to expose the damage.
“I’ll only be able to take out the largest ones now,” the doctor said, frowning at the bits of wood sticking out of Lestrade’s skin at odd angles, “someone’s going to have to go over this with a magnifying glass and tweezers when we get out of here. And give you a prophylactic course of antibiotics—that old wood is filthy, and my hands are none too clean.” He held the end of the torch in his teeth, braced Lestrade’s leg with one hand. “This is going to sting a bit,” he said, pulling something jagged out of the sensitive flesh over the ankle joint.
”Sting”, Lestrade decided, digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands, was an understatement.
“Impressive,” John said, holding up a thin piece of wood half the length of his finger. “Don’t worry—only two or three more that size.”
Lestrade bit the inside of his lip against the pain, but the doctor’s hands were sure and steady, his face calm in the torch’s glow. A few splinters in Hampshire were nothing to the bombs of Afghanistan, Lestrade supposed, even if there were a bunch of homicidal drug dealers a few floors below.
Suddenly, he was startled by something small and black flitting across the torch’s small circle of light. It was so close that Lestrade could feel a tiny flutter of air stirred by its wings play across his face.
“Well, hello there,” Lestrade said under his breath, at the same moment as John muttered, “bats, of course there’re bats.”
The doctor swung the light around, trying to figure out where the animal had gone. There was no sign of it in the small room, but to Lestrade’s surprise the sweeping beam caught Sherlock in an uncharacteristic posture of alarm, hands clasped protectively over his head.
“You know it’s a myth that they’ll get in your hair, don’t you?” John said dryly, “they’ve got quite good radar.”
“I’m not worried about my hair, you idiot,” Sherlock almost snarled, “They’re filthy creatures—rabies-carriers.”
“Sherlock,” John said, with far more seriousness than Lestrade could have mustered, “Rabies has been eradicated from Britain. Has been for quite some time now. You may have heard.”
“So they say; if you believe anything the government says,” Sherlock scoffed, hands still poised over his head. “In any case, how do we know it’s from England? It can fly—it might have flown across the Channel—a rabid French bat.”
At this point, even John lost patience. “Urban myth, Sherlock, urban myth. I can’t believe you of all people give any credence to that.” Sherlock started to protest, and John held up a placating hand. “Okay, okay—if—when—we get out of here—I will personally make sure you get a full course of the vaccine, and the biggest dose of immunoglobulin I can find. Okay? All right? Feel better now?”
Sherlock harrumphed. But he did, reluctantly, lower his hands. He sidled closer, crouching down next to John. With any other man, Lestrade would have said it was for protection, or even comfort.
John ignored him, concentrating on the medical business at hand.
Every once and a while they could hear a clicking, almost a chirping noise, coming from somewhere in the room. Every time is sounded, Sherlock’s shoulders twitched, and his jaw got a little tighter. The shift from his earlier imperturbability was striking—and something Lestrade had never thought he’d live to see.
“They eat insects, you know,” John said, without looking up from Lestrade’s leg, “quite beneficial animals, really. And protected by law.”
“Shut up, John,” Sherlock said, “Just shut up.”
Mostly to distract himself from the pain, Lestrade turned to the detective. “Wouldn’t have taken you for the phobic type.”
“It’s not a phobia,” Sherlock said, his voice a little too tightly controlled, “it’s a rational caution about a potentially deadly creature.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” John pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and blotted some of the blood off the worst of the splinter wounds, “some research shows that highly competent, generally fearless, individuals are more prone to phobias. It’s as if they take all their anxiety and stow it away safely in one place.”
Sherlock said nothing, his face like marble.
“Makes sense,” Lestrade agreed, wincing as John bound the handkerchief around his leg, a makeshift bandage, “But bats—I mean, you’d think he’d have some kind of affinity with bats. What with that coat and all.”
John let out a tiny laugh. “Da na na na na na—“ he hummed, “to the bat cave, Arthur—“
Sherlock looked ahead stonily, obviously working hard to pretend that the other two men didn’t exist.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” Lestrade intoned, “oh no, wait, wrong film—“
They both dissolved into a fit of silent, helpless giggles—definitely punch drunk now. “John,“ Lestrade gasped, “I think that makes you Robin—Don’t worry—you’ll look perfectly lovely in those green tights--
John caught his breath to protest, but Sherlock interrupted scathingly. “When you two imbeciles have had your fill of puerile pop culture references, you might spare a thought for how we’re going to get out of here before the lot downstairs find us and slit our throats.”
That sobered them up quick enough.
“Well,” said John, “the window’s out. And I don’t think we can sneak all the way back down, with Lestrade’s leg in the shape it’s in.”
“Back-up should come eventually,” Lestrade pointed out, because he was pinning all his hope on that, “As soon as the Yard alerts the Hampshire CID about the location of the lab.”
“I doubt it’ll come before they find the car,” Sherlock stated.
They all fell silent in the face of the truth of that. They’d left the Ford under minimal cover in a copse of trees a little down the lane. Someone would spot it soon, and start a thorough search of the house and grounds.
“Oh!” Sherlock exclaimed digging the heel of his hand into his forehead, “oh, stupid, stupid, stupid. The bat.”
John and Lestrade stared at him. “Yes,” John said, “we know; you’re scared of the bat. No need to beat yourself up about it.”
“No. We’re all being stupid,” Sherlock clarified. “If the bat got in, there must be a way for it to get out. There must be an alternative exit.”
“They’re like mice, though,” John said, “they can get through anywhere—just because it can get out, doesn’t mean we can.” Sherlock frowned at him. “Worth a try though, of course.”
Lestrade got to his feet carefully, found he could put his weight on his leg, though it wasn’t pleasant.
The three of them circled the tiny room again checking for any cracks or apertures they’d missed. When they got to the chest of drawers, John nodded at Sherlock, and the two of them together pushed it aside.
Behind it, they found a square of wallpaper less faded than the rest, broken only by a small hole about three feet off the floor.
“Ah,” said Sherlock, “now we’re getting somewhere.” He knelt, tracing narrow fingers along what turned out to be a rectangular indentation.
“A door to the space under the eaves,” John breathed, “papered over.”
“Here,” Lestrade handed Sherlock the Swiss Army knife he always carried, watched as the detective ripped away the paper over the opening. There was no handle, but he and John dug their fingers into the cracks and pulled. It seemed for a moment as if the door would be as immovable as the window, but then it gave way under their hands, swung open to reveal an even darker space under the eaves.
They peered inside. As if at the end of the tunnel, they could see a round area where the black was broken by irregular patches of a lighter black.
“A hole in the wall, perhaps?” Sherlock ventured, “on the far side of the house—“
“If we could make it bigger—big enough for us to get through, we might be able to get away without them seeing,” John seamlessly picked up the thread of his thought.
As if on cue, a muted rustling and clicking emerged from the space. More than one, Lestrade thought, definitely more than one. Quite a lot more than one.
Sherlock took a sudden, seemingly involuntary, step backwards.
“I’ll check it out,” John announced, and without waiting for anybody’s answer, ducked into the dark space and was gone.
Lestrade watched him for a moment, but quickly lost track of his agile form in the shadows. He turned his attention to the detective, who had put even more distance between himself and the opening.
“So, how long you been scared of bats, then?” Lestrade asked, “Go back to some nasty incident in your childhood, does it? Something involving Mycroft and bed-wetting perhaps?”
And, alright, maybe he was being less compassionate than he should have been to the detective’s plight, but he’d taken a lot of ribbing from Sherlock over the years.
But Sherlock just shook his head miserably. Something in the strained pallor of his face pulled at the Inspector’s sympathies a bit, make him, despite himself, want to assuage the detective’s anxiety and embarrassment.
“I’m scared of deep water, myself,” he continued more kindly, “Comes from falling off a boat when I was six—“
“Shut up, Lestrade. No one wants to hear about your commonplace childhood misadventures.” And vulnerable or not, Sherlock’s voice was as supercilious and scathing as ever.
Luckily for them both, John chose this moment to re-emerge, covered in dust and cobwebs, and what looked suspiciously like bat droppings.
on to part two