He'd been a damn fool bloody idiot to go haring off after Worth, just on the bloody sight of the bugger. He'd been a damn fool, just because the sight of that sly, nervous grin had gotten his temper up. A damn fool, and pretty soon a dead bloody fool, too. Being invisible didn't count for much when you'd blundered into something that didn't need to see. And a trip-wire and a half-ton of iron grate didn't need eyes to trap you good and proper.
He tumbled down the shaft, hit the bottom hard. Heard a thunderous groan of metal, and the shattering crash as the grate swung closed on top of him, and a yelp from Nikola as the man scrambled back. Dazed, trying to remember which way was up through the fall and the bash on his head, Nigel blinked blearily towards the noise. Towards the grate, some five feet or so above him, and the pale oval of Nikola's face in the dusk above it, hands tucked protectively to his chest. Nigel blinked a bit, tried to make sense of that. Didn't come up with any answers he liked.
"Bloody idiot, tell me ... didn't try to catch ..."
Nikola ignored him, crouching down over the grate with feline grace, hands reaching out to wrap around the bars of the grating. Hissing faintly as he tested the weight, then his head jerked up, eyes narrowing dangerously at something Nigel couldn't see. Nigel, managing to reach his feet at last, stood carefully in his prison, looking up. Guessing what was up there.
Worth. Bloody bastard, son of a ...
"I'll never catch him," Nikola said softly. Darkly, looking down again, meeting Nigel's eyes. "Not and get you out at the same time." He hissed a curse, in some language that definitely wasn't English, and his hands whitened around the bars to Nigel's freedom. Tightened, as if holding himself there, keeping himself from giving chase by force of will alone. Then, very deliberately, he relaxed, expression smoothing out, and frowned down at Nigel in concern. "Are you alright?"
Nigel considered for a moment arguing for the man to chase Worth, and the trap be damned, but ... But he'd started paying attention to where the bloody hell he actually was, and the results ... were not encouraging. Nigel didn't consider himself a man prone to fears in tight spaces, but that rather changed somewhat when he found himself in what looked for all the world like a long, wooden box slung underneath the docks, at a guess nestled among the pilings. Capped in iron, and with ... Yes. He shifted his feet carefully, and listened to the thick slosh of water beneath him. Ignoring Nikola for a minute, he crouched down, ran his hands through the murk at the bottom of his prison, and met the holes knocked into the wood at the base.
The holes through which the Thames was merrily lapping, and evening tide fast on the rise.
He stood back up sharply, ignoring the throb of his abused head, and shot Nikola a wide-eyed, desperate look that the man understood instantly. Nikola cursed again, vehemently and fluently, and while Nigel still couldn't identify the language, he definitely caught Worth's name, and what he guessed were lengthy and detailed opinions on what, exactly, the man could do with himself.
Right this moment, he was inclined to agree, and add a few suggestions of his own. Little toerag, who went around building water traps on the docks on the off-chance his enemies, who hadn't even bloody known about him five days ago, would show up? Didn't the bugger have nothing better to do with himself?
"Hold on," Nikola told him tightly, switching back to English after a fraught moment, grimacing down at Nigel. Nigel stared up at him, taking a moment to be testy about it. What the bloody hell else was he going to do, pray? Nikola shot him a strained grin, for that, and then ... Then the man grunted, shifted back on his haunches, legs bunching and straining as his hands tightened around the metal, and as Nigel stared in something between horror and awe, did his bloody damnedest to lift the entire lump of iron by his lonesome. All half bloody ton of it.
"What the ...!" Nigel started, ready to yell at the man, call him a bloody idiot looking to rupture something, and then where would they be? When ... When the grate squealed, metal groaning under strain, and actually started to lift. Nikola snarled viciously under his breath, feet sliding underneath him, arms shaking from the strain, and hauled back along the line of his body, working his hands laboriously to the edge of the grate, looking to worm underneath the edge as they cleared the lip of the dock and move to push ...
Nigel stared at him, jaw somewhere in the mess at his feet as he simply blinked, simply stared in something close to awe. He'd known the man was stronger now, known that vampires were something else again, but this ...
Just as he was about to be impressed, legitimately awed, Nikola snapped out a harsh breath of startlement, a small cry of warning, and his hands, white-knuckled and bone-pale as they were, lost their grip. Slipped away, with a tiny crackle that Nigel hoped didn't mean what he thought it meant, hoped wasn't actually Nikola's fingers popping out of joint, and the grate clanged back into place. Nikola, silent save for a whuff of shock, fell away out of sight.
Nigel cursed, heart stuttering in concern, and barely refrained from attempting to climb the bloody walls. Long and loud, and while he might not have Nikola's range of languages to do the cursing in, English was more than good enough if you were willing to be inventive about it. And the Five were always willing to be inventive.
"Nikola, you thrice cursed bloody fool, are you alright?"
"If I say yes, will you repeat that second-to-last phrase?" the man's voice was thin and breathless, but there was humour in it, and that was good enough for Nigel. "I'm almost certain there's no way for me to do that without time travel being involved. And possibly a ladder."
Nigel snorted, more roughly than intended, and let himself fall back against the wall of his prison, head hanging in relief. "Really? A ladder's the best you can come up with? What, you couldn't invent a means of flying between now and then?"
"Oh, I'm sure I could, if you wanted me to." There was a shuffling sound, and then the man was back, hands once more tucked protectively to his chest, peering down at Nigel with a thin smile. "Anything for you, Nigel, you know that."
Nigel grinned softly, with a hard edge of humour, and nodded to the man. Watched, as Nikola carefully flexed his hands, fingers slotted back into joint. "Don't do that again," he said, very quietly, watching Nikola's face until the man inclined his head, until Nikola agreed. "We've got enough bloody troubles without you trying to play super-vampire, don't we?"
"It was ill-considered," Nikola agreed, lip curling ruefully. "How's the water depth?"
Nigel grunted, glancing down at Thames tangling around his shins. "Not dangerous yet," he mused. "Don't want to be stuck here for hours, though. Aside from anything else, it's bloody cold. I'll freeze to death long before I drown." He grinned, blackly humorous as he looked back at Nikola, up the funnel of a long, wooden box. "On the other hand, at least the coffin's ready made."
Nikola blinked, a flicker of something Nigel could have sworn was panic in his face, then the man narrowed his eyes into a gimlet stare. "Did anyone ever tell you," Nikola purred, light and deadly, "that you have an extremely suspect sense of humour?"
"James," Nigel admitted cheerfully. "Also Helen, though not in words. And my mum. And Tilson, back in Oxford, remember? After the October prank? And ..."
"I get the picture," Nikola cut him off, but smiled. "And I suppose it never occurred to you to listen?"
"Ever listen when anyone told you you were a madman?" Nigel asked back, softly, gently pointed, and Nikola blinked, ducked his head, nodding ruefully.
"Touche," the man murmured, before visibly pulling himself back into the moment, back to the problem at hand. "A moment, Nigel," he mused, poised thoughtfully, looking down at Nigel, hands wrapped once more around the bars. Nigel eyed them warily, as Nikola lifted his head, turning to study his surroundings, squinting into the middle distance as the gears visibly turned in his head. Madman. Oh yes, definitely a madman, as proven by attempting to lift half a ton of metal by himself. But also a genius. Never doubt that. Nigel never did.
He just hoped whatever idea the man came up with involved neither an audience nor further attempts to injure himself. Nigel couldn't see a decent way to explain being locked naked in a death trap under the docks. Besides which, they'd no idea how many of the locals around here were with Worth. Come to think of it, they were probably lucky none of the little bugger's gents had showed up to shoot them while they were pinned down. If Nigel'd known they were going to walk onto the nest like this, he would've brought James along. Or John, except John and Helen were busy doing ... whatever it was they did that wasn't quite courtship and wasn't quite hate. Sod him getting in the middle of that, even if it might've saved his life.
Ah well. Next time. Next time, they'd bring the lot of them. And for now, Nikola, with his ticking brain and his vampire strength, was going to have to be enough.
"I have an idea," Nikola said at last, eyes still looking off into the middle distance somewhere, staring at some plan laid out behind his eyes like a drawing of a clock, complete in every detail. Nigel had wondered, sometimes, what the hell it was like to live like that, with a mind like that.
He wasn't sure how the man ever got any rest.
"Just ... Just hurry up about it," he said, belatedly realised he was huddled in a corner of his prison, shivering. The waters were climbing his shins slowly, and he couldn't feel his feet. "Nikola? Hurry up."
Nikola's eyes snapped down to him, the fog of thought fading as he took in Nigel's predicament, and then every line of the man hardened, cooled, until he looked like one of his own machines, an automaton crouched in the twilight over Nigel's head. Or a vampire. Lets not forget the vampire. "Hold on," was all the man said, clipped and tight, and then he was gone.
Nigel nodded blankly, to empty air, huddled back against the wood, and waited. Held on. As he'd pointed out before, what else could he do?
He wasn't completely sure how long Nikola was gone. One of the (many) disadvantages of needing to be naked to utilise his power was the lack of pockets for keeping watches in. And, of course, the lack of watches themselves. He briefly considered asking Nikola to figure out a means of making mechanical objects invisible. The man could probably do it, given enough time. Then he realised that watches were the least of his problems. If he was going to ask Nikola to turn anything invisible, clothes should probably be the first thing.
And shoes. Oh, and shoes. He considered, given the narrowness of his prison, wedging himself somewhere up along it, crossways across the shaft, and getting his feet out of the wet. But he wasn't at all sure his feet could be trusted to support him, at this stage. The Thames was nothing to be bloody wading about in, this time of year. Certainly not bloody naked, and oh, whenever Nikola got him the hell out of this, he was going to kill Worth. He was going to string the little bastard up by his britches and beat him to bloody death, so he was.
Odd, perhaps, how it never occurred to him that Nikola wouldn't get him out. Odd, how he never wondered at how long the man had been gone, and thought 'he's not coming back'. Odd. Or maybe not. Whatever else you said about the man ... he wouldn't leave a friend in the hole. Not now or ever. It never occurred to Nigel to doubt that.
It did occur to him, though, that Nikola might not get back in time. Which was why, when the knock sounded on the wood next to his ear, his first thought was to call it a hallucination.
His second, much belated and after a number of increasingly demanding thumps to the wood and a voice gruffly and fearfully yelling muffled in his ear, was to wonder how the hell the man had gotten down here.
"Nigel ... bloody ... can you hear me ... you stupid ..."
"Watch who you're calling stupid," he called back, pulling his wits together and turning in his box towards the side with the knocking. Pressing his hands to it, looking for a knothole or something to peer out of. Not that it'd be light enough under the dock for him to see anything anyway ... "Nikola? How did you ...?"
"Nigel, stand back," the man interrupted, with customary brusqueness that oddly reassured Nigel. "Get back from the wall, as far as you can."
"I've got two feet of room, here," Nigel grumbled back, feeling oddly giddy, but he did as the man said. Squished himself back against the far wall, pressing his back into the wood as far as he could go, idly thinking, given the grate and the man's lamentable tendency to blow things up, that it probably wasn't near far enough. But there really was no help for it. "Alright! I'm as safe as I'm going to get! Just ... be bloody careful, alright?"
There was a little pause, some silence, and then Nikola purred back, in a tone that never, ever meant anything good: "Of course, Nigel. Careful."
Which was why Nigel was not at all surprised when, half a second later, four black, blade-like claws stabbed right through the wooden planking and halted inches from his face. No. Not at all surprised.
That didn't stop the yelp of outrage, mind.
"Hold on," Nikola said again, with a very audible grin, his hand reaching through the new hole to get a secure grip on the planking, and then, with a heave of vampiric strength and a splintering of wood, the man simply tore the wall away, dropping the remains casually into the Thames and grinning at Nigel from the boat bobbing in the darkness beneath the pilings.
Nigel stared at him, shivering wetly in his corner. Obscurely disappointed, for some reason he couldn't quite pin down. "And this is different from trying to pull up a grate on your own, how?"
Nikola shrugged casually, still grinning. "This worked? Wood is easier than metal?" He shook his head, snickering faintly as he reached through the gap in the box to help Nigel into the boat.
Nigel staggered forward, fumbled a hand into Nikola's grip, let the vampire take rather more of his weight than was probably wise considering Nikola was in a boat, and therefore not that stable. But they managed to pull him over the side somehow, and he didn't encounter any more of the Thames than he already had, so Nigel supposed it would be churlish to complain. Nikola chuckled lightly at him, all but plucking him out of the air, and then the man's arms were around him, warm and rough and rubbing at Nigel's chilled skin. In payment, Nigel tried not to get his muddy feet near the man's pale suit, for all they were by far the coldest and most worrying part of him.
"St-still," he murmured, as gruffly as he could with chattering teeth. "Hardly worthy of a genius, Nik-Nikola."
"Sometimes brute force has its uses," was the only reply, Nikola distracted by rooting for something in the bow. "And credit where it's due, I did have to work out your position relative to the edge of the dock, in the dark, and piloting this ... this contraption. You know I've never been very good with boats ... Ah! Here you go!"
He pulled out a very fine woolen blanket, and what looked for all the world like a set of towels. Nigel stared at him, and kept staring even when the man had draped the former around him, and bent down to work at his feet with the latter, probably ruining what had once been a very nice set. The man seemed utterly unconscious of the eyes burning a hole in the back of his neck, rubbing cheerfully at Nigel's feet and obviously not caring in the slightest for the incongruity of it, two men in a boat in the darkness under the London docks, one naked and the other bent over his feet.
There were times when Nigel wondered if he wasn't the mad one, if he hadn't gone mad years since, and just never noticed, that things like this should seem ... almost normal.
"If I asked ... If I asked where on earth you managed to acquire a set of towels ...?" Nigel asked, breath hitching as feeling started to come back into his feet, blinking blearily. Nikola chaffed his ankles lightly, hands warm and strong and capable of ripping unsuspecting coffins apart, gentle as they guided the cloth around the bones of Nigel's feet.
"Warehouse," Nikola waved airily. "All in a good cause, and all that. And ... it was banks they said you couldn't pilfer from, right?"
Nigel blinked, and then ... then he rather gave up, for a minute. "Somehow, I'm not sure I care, right this moment," he murmured, leaning back and letting his head fall with a slight thunk against the side of the boat. Holding tight to his blanket, waiting for the shivers to subside, and watching the top of Nikola's head, watching the pale passage of his hands with idle, exhausted interest. Nikola looked up at him, his expression not really visible in this light, but Nigel didn't really need to see it to know it. Didn't really have to see to understand.
"We'll call James, when we get out of here," Nikola said quietly, voice low and tight, hand curling near-possessively around Nigel's ankle. "Get rid of Worth's little chemical factory. And then ... Then, I think, we will find Worth, yes? And show him ... how upset we are with him."
"Hmm," Nigel agreed, absently, head already dropping tiredly. "Sounds like a plan. Do wake me up when we get to that part, won't you? Or at least when we get out from under this blasted dock ..."
He heard more than saw Nikola's smile, tracked the dip of the man's head in the dimness, and the light squeeze on his ankle. "Of course," Nikola murmured, around a little grin, and Nigel finally, finally, let himself relax. Let himself go.
Mad or not, he could always count on Nikola to get him out of a hole.