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 tyre 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 a revolver on his hip.
Lestrade's eyes widened. The good doctor grew more surprising every day. "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.
"Well," said John, brushing ineffectually at his coat. "I suppose it might work. There's quite a big gap in the brick facing there; someone's tried to board it up, but I expect the planks will come off with a good shove. And if we open up the hole, there's a drainage pipe just outside; we can shimmy down to the far side of the house." He hesitated, looking at Sherlock, "It's just....well, it's just that there're rather a lot of, erm, those things, in there."
"Bats, John?" Sherlock asked harshly, "You can say the word; I'm not scared of the word."
"Alright then: bats." The doctor tilted his chin up to look the detective in the eyes. "There're a shitload of bats—flitting about, hanging from the rafters, looking for their midnight lattes for all I know. I believe the technical term might be colony—but shitload sums it up just fine."
Lestrade had to give Sherlock credit for receiving this information without flinching. The detective just squared his jaw and said, in that same thin, controlled voice, "Very well, then, let's get on with it."
"Agreed," Lestrade chimed in, feeling the first stirrings of hope he'd felt all night.
John nodded his approval of Sherlock's courage, and gestured towards the opening in the wall. "You go first, Inspector—that way I can help if your leg gives you problems—then Sherlock. I'll take up the rear—"
Lestrade opened his mouth to protest. But John just tapped his waistband. "Armed, remember?" He gave Lestrade a half-smile that wasn't diffident at all—was halfway to dangerous, really. "It's hands and knees all the way, and filthy, but not otherwise difficult. Here--" He handed the torch to the inspector.
Lestrade took it, wondering when John had so completely taken charge of the situation, and why it didn't bother him more. He moved towards the narrow door, his ankle not particularly happy about supporting his weight, but more or less cooperating. He paused at the entrance: bats didn't bother him particularly, but the rustling emanating from the thick darkness under the eaves was unnerving, made him feel he was entering hostile territory.
He took a deep breath, steeled himself, and ducked into the hole.
Behind him, however, Sherlock balked.
"Perhaps the Detective Inspector is right," Lestrade heard him say, and almost overbalanced at the weirdness of Sherlock deferring to his opinion, "Hampshire CID will be sending someone out soon—there's no need to—"
"Sherlock, you know we can't—they'll stumble on the car any moment—" John's tone was calm, patient.
But when Sherlock said, "I'm not sure I'll fit—"in a distinctly wavering voice, John abruptly reached his breaking point.
"That's nonsense, Sherlock, and you know it," the words came out sharp as bullets, "I've been there and back already—it's fine—"
"For you, perhaps. You're—"
"Compact?" John supplied warningly.
"That's one way of putting it," Sherlock said, proving that phobic panic hadn't lessened his ability to piss people off, "Whereas I'm—"
"Overgrown." And now John really did sound like he was about to lose his temper.
With a sigh, Lestrade withdrew from the door, and stepped between the two men, passing the beam of the torch over their strained faces.
"Now, now, lads," he said wearily. This was something he had experience in, after all; he had seen the same kind of conflicts between a hundred new recruits before their first armed raid.
"Look, mate--" He said to Sherlock.
"Not your mate," Sherlock sneered.
Lestrade ignored him. "It's like I was just saying, we're all frightened of something. Doesn't mean we can't get on with it and get the job done, does it?" He got a withering look for his trouble, but pushed on, "Isn't that right, John?"
John seemed confused.
"While you were off doing recognizance, I was telling Sherlock here how we're all scared of something," Lestrade prompted, "I'm scared of deep water, for instance—"
"Oh," John took the hint, but frowned as if he were wracking his brain for a suitable example.
"Okay. Yeah," he said after a moment, "you know, the first time I had to perform surgery under heavy artillery fire, I was scared shitless. I really was. But it was fine the next time. So, I promise, you'll be okay--"
Not helpful, Lestrade thought, not helpful at all to know that John could get over his fear of such a genuinely terrifying thing so quickly . It might answer some of his lingering questions about why the doctor got on so well with Sherlock. But it did not solve their predicament.
And there they were, the three of them squared off against each other in the tiny room: Sherlock belligerent with fear; John more fed up every minute; and Lestrade at his wits' end.
The chirps and wooshes of the bats sounded faintly beyond the dark hole in the wall, and, for the first time, Lestrade thought this phobia thing might cause them some real difficulty.
They might have stayed that way forever, too, if rapid footsteps hadn't suddenly sounded on the gravel drive far below, and they hadn't heard a voice shouting "Boss, boss, there's a cop car in the lane—they must be somewhere in the house!"
A door slammed, more voices were raised—inside this time—and without his really knowing how it happened, they were suddenly all on the other side of the wall, under the eaves. Lestrade was never sure, afterwards, whether John hadn't resorted to physical force to get Sherlock through the door.
"Get moving," the doctor hissed, as he somehow closed the opening again and total darkness settled around them.
Lestrade shivered. It wasn't as if he could see malevolent red eyes glinting in the gloom or anything, but the air around them did feel alive somehow, stirred by the breath of a hundred tiny mouths.
But there was no help for it. He flicked on the torch, was happy to see its wan light joined by the glow of John and Sherlock's phones. He got himself down on his hands and knees, and started an ungainly crawl towards the patches of lighter blackness at the far end of the narrow space.
He thought he heard the others following, but he had to concentrate his attention on his own progress, being careful not to jar the burning cuts in his leg more than necessary.
Shitload turned out to be a remarkably precise term for the number of bats in the space. Flawless radar notwithstanding, Lestrade could occasionally feel one brushing against him, wings not so much leathery as lambskin soft. The beam of his torch cut across clusters of them, bodies folded up tight in their upside-down sleep. The odor of their dropping pervaded the cramped space, and their high-pitched chirruping pinged all around him.
He could feel the seeds of anxiety, an echo of Sherlock's fear, start to ripple along his own nerves, but he focused on the boarded -up opening in front of him. He was getting closer now—would be there any minute.
And then everything went pear-shaped.
The knee of Lestrade's trousers caught on the rough wood flooring, abruptly halting his forward progress. Between the recent memory of his foot going through the steps, and general tension of the night, the sensation sparked a surge of panic: he knew, with unbearable certainty, that he was going to be trapped here forever, in bat party central, until all that was left was his dusty and mummified corpse.
He yelped—he couldn't help it—and jerked his knee violently away from whatever had snagged it.
And that was it; that was all it took to set all the bats off at once.
Lestrade had never been near a tornado, but he imagined that this was what it would feel like—if a tornado were to take place inside instead of outside, and were to consist of tiny bodies instead of wind, zooming about in desperate futile patterns, around and around the stuffy attic.
He curled involuntarily into a tight crouch, close to the floor—hands going over his head for protection. They'd just have to wait it out, he thought, wait 'til the bats settled down. But the storm of wings went on and on.
Behind him, over the noise of flight, he heard an anguished whimper. Lestrade reminded himself firmly that the bats weren't going to hurt him, and risked a look around. Sherlock was up on his knees, face wild with fear and misery, wheeling his arms as if he thought he could bring down the creatures one by one.
It was going just about as well as one would imagine.
Before Lestrade could say anything, though, John caught the taller man from behind, almost tackled him, really--gripping his wrists and pulling his arms down. "Sherlock," the doctor said sharply, "stop it." Seeing Lestrade watching them, he barked "Get that hole open, Inspector—I think we all need to get the fuck out of here—now."
Lestrade didn't have to be told twice. He did a kind of commando crawl towards the ragged opening, head down, insensible to both the jars to his injured leg and the tiny bodies streaming above him.
The boards had been tacked across the opening from the inside, he was relieved to find, so he scrabbled for the ends, tried to pry one of them free. Bats slid round him from all sides, squeezing through the narrow openings between the slats, gliding away into the dusk.
The wood was old, splintery and soggy at the same time, and Lestrade could feel it shredding his fingertips to match his leg, but he ignored that too, and pressed on until one gave under his hand. Triumphantly, he ripped it away, and a thicker stream of bats instantly flowed through. But the Inspector was too charged with adrenaline by now to care, and he was able to yank away a few more boards quickly. Finally, frustrated by the slowness of the process, he twisted himself around until he could get a few good kicks in at the remaining planks with his good foot. He'd been a decent football player in his day, and he had enough power left in his legs to break through the ancient plywood.
An absolute torrent of bats flowed through the opening as the last boards gave way. Lestrade ducked his head again—shuddering involuntarily as their smooth wings grazed his sides and neck, ruffled his hair—and hoped against hope that the thugs below wouldn't attach any special significance to the silent, black-on-black river now bisecting the night.
Once the last bat was gone, an eerie quiet settled over everything. Lestrade raised his head, ridiculously grateful for the fresh evening air on his face. A brief glance outside confirmed John's report: they were a good three or four flights up, but a drainage pipe snaked down the side of the manor house, would put them in jumping distance of the ground.
He turned to share the good news, and saw a second thing he never thought he'd see.
Although it didn't seem as if it should be physically possible, John had somehow managed to tuck the lanky Sherlock under his chin. The detective was curled into the tightest ball of humanity Lestrade had ever seen, the doctor's arms around his shoulders, and his legs in a protective half-circle around Sherlock's narrow hips. Sherlock had his face pressed into John's neck, and now that the noise of the bats had stopped, Lestrade could hear the wordless sounds of comfort John was murmuring into his dark hair, his tone as far from the frustrated bark of their earlier argument as possible.
Lestrade frankly stared, another piece of the puzzle of the doctor and the detective clicking into place.
As if sensing his eyes, John looked up and met his gaze over Sherlock's head. We shall never speak of this his face conveyed, as clear as day, and Lestrade, despite the temptations he knew would arise, couldn't help but nod.
"Erm," he said, weirdly reluctant to disturb their embrace, "we should get a move on—before they come to see what spooked the bats—"
As if on cue, a crash broke their fragile peace; the door at the other end of the space swung open and a powerful beam of light penetrated their brief asylum.
"Oi!" Someone shouted, "I see them. You there—come 'ere before I come in and get you myself."
"Go," John shouted, and pushed at Sherlock, but the detective was already moving, back to his usual quick reflexes now that the source of his fear had literally flown away.
"You first," Lestrade said, and when Sherlock seemed about to protest, added, "So you can catch me at the bottom—I don't fancy breaking my ankle on top of everything else."
With a tight smile, the detective eased his long torso out of the opening. He balanced precariously, half in, half out, while he searched for something to grab onto on the outer wall. When he did, he slid his legs through, hung suspended for a moment while he reached for the pipe with his feet.
Then he dropped away, out of sight.
"Alright, coppers," a thick voice growled, altogether too close already, "you asked for it—we're coming in—"
Lestrade almost wished the bats were still around—at least they'd have provided some kind of obstacle or distraction.
He'd forgotten about John's gun. The retort was deafening in the enclosed space, but satisfyingly followed by an agonized howl from near the door.
Nifty shooting, Lestrade thought admiringly, cold-blooded to fire without warning like that, but nifty shooting all the same.
"Now would be a good time, Inspector," John whispered, calm and level as ever, "to shake a bloody leg."
Lestrade couldn't have agreed more. He repeated Sherlock's actions, feeling for whatever handhold he had found. It wasn't much, just strategically placed cracks in the ruined facing, but it was enough. He dug his fingertips in, ignoring the pain of rough brick on new cuts, and pulled his legs out. He dangled there sickeningly for a moment, until his feet connected with the metal pipe. Then he clawed his way down the wall until he could get both hands around the pipe, and slid, more than shimmied, through the seemingly endless expanse of night air.
The pipe ended about eight feet off the ground, but apparently Sherlock had taken him seriously about the ankle, because strong hands caught him around the waist as he prepared to jump the rest of the way, broke his fall.
"Thanks—" Lestrade gasped, winded, and then broke off as another shot rang out above them. They held their breath—or at least Lestrade did—until John's dark shape appeared on the wall, scrambling nimbly down the drainpipe.
Sherlock caught him in the same way—that crazy height of his turned out to be good for something, Lestrade conceded—and they all stood there grinning stupidly at each other for a moment—unable to believe they'd escaped from both bats and criminals relatively unharmed.
But their relief was premature, because of course the thugs had noticed how they'd exited the attic, and now footsteps—lots of footsteps—pounded on the gravel—rough voices raised in pursuit.
"Shall we, boys?" Lestrade asked.
And, as one, they turned heel and ran in the general direction of the car.
Lestrade's ankle felt as if had swollen to twice its normal size, and every stride sent a jolt of pain through his whole body. Their pursuers were gaining on them, and part of him wondered that they hadn't shot to kill already.
But none of that mattered.
Because he was flanked by John and Sherlock, both wearing smiles of pure exhilaration—faces lit up by the game, the danger, the chase. And he knew he wore the same expression.
In a moment of clarity that he would never have allowed himself outside a life-or-death situation, Lestrade admitted, if only to himself, that he hadn't let Sherlock commandeer his car simply to up his clearance rate. No, it had be in the secret hope that something like this might would happen—something out of the ordinary, something almost ridiculous something grand.
He and John Watson had that in common.
And he thought that they'd both be getting a lot of mileage out of the bats.
Laughing inwardly at that thought, Lestrade ran as hard as he could toward the approaching lights and sirens of what could only be the Hampshire CID, finally coming to their rescue.