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R v Holmes (2009) (depraved bats)

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 15 for language, mostly gen (humans), het (bats)

Spoilers: none (set pre TV series)

Summary: Fortunately, it is not yet canonical that Sherlock hates bats.

Mr Carter greeted her enthusiastically as she came into the chambers. "Got a brief for you, Ms Johnson," he announced. As always, he buzzed the sound of the 'Ms' to make it quite clear that he thought that she should really be calling herself 'Mrs'. And as always, she said nothing, because the one person a barrister really couldn't afford to piss off was the clerk to the chambers. Not if she wanted to eat this month.

"Anything interesting?" she said hopefully.

"Strange one," he said, looking appraisingly at her.

"You're not actually applying the cab rank rule, are you?"

"No, but it's a harassment case, so I thought of you."

Oh, wonderful, she thought. It's Let Embarrass the Female Barristers Day again, is it?

"I don't do employment law," she said quickly. "Paul Davis is the man for that."

"Criminal harassment. You're OK on crime, aren't you?"

"Why have they brought it to our chambers?"

"Brother of one of our usual clients."

"Who's that?" This might actually be something good after all.

"Mr Holmes, Mr Mycroft Holmes." His little sharp eyes were on her, checking she was clued in enough to appreciate the significance. No one wanted an out of touch barrister.

"Oh, yes. I haven't appeared for him yet, but I've heard all about him." Definitely promising. They were largely a commercial chamber and Mycroft Holmes had a string of companies with a complex legal structure. They were almost certainly a front for something else, though she wasn't sure yet quite what sort of crook he was. Other than a crook who paid his substantial barristers' bills on time, obviously. If she could do a favour for him, it might be handy.

"OK," she said, "so his brother is up on harassment charges. What's he been doing?"

"Telling a woman at Barts' mucky stories. But it's a bit odd, so I'll let you see for yourself. The files are all on your computer, but there's not much yet, I'll get someone to harass the CPS, see if there's anything more. Oh, and we've acted for this Mr Holmes, Mr Sherlock Holmes, before, a few years ago, before your time, so I've had the previous files pulled up as well."

"Thank you very much, Mr Carter."

"My pleasure, Mzzz Johnson."


The file was thin, but that was partly because there wasn't much to say. It wasn't even as if the facts were really in dispute. Sherlock Holmes had had that extremely peculiar conversation with Pauline Li of Barts Hospital a couple of months ago. The only question was, with what intent? The statements from the pair weren't really useful, and the background information on Holmes somehow didn't gel, she couldn't get a sense of him. Posh upbringing, been got off drugs charges several times, but nothing recent, so quite possibly clean now. Unless he'd been high during the conversation, but there was no hint of that. Some kind of  'private detective', which probably actually meant a trustafarian, but one with slightly more imagination than the usual 'novelist' or 'record producer'. That could all fit together, but the Barts' angle was peculiar. And why had he been talking about bats, for goodness sake?

Well, it didn't really matter about the files. For a harassment case, this kind of harassment case, they weren't going to be trying the evidence, they were going to be trying the person. So she needed to interview Mr Holmes as soon as possible, get her own take on him. But she should probably make sure that the interview took place in a well lit area, and possibly with a panic button to hand.


She was dressed even more conservatively than usual, and she had her secretary on standby outside, but not inside taking notes, because you never wanted that when you met a criminal client. She wasn't altogether reassured by what she saw as Sherlock Holmes came in. Tall, very smartly dressed, posh good looks, looked younger than his actual age.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr Holmes," she said, as they shook hands. His grip was strong, there were muscles inside that thin frame.

He smiled disarmingly. "Call me Sherlock, please." The overall air of boyish charm didn't fit with the cool, assessing way he was looking her up and down. Posh weirdo then, probably serial harasser,  relied on his good manners to get away with taking liberties.

"I'd prefer to stick with the formalities," she said, offering him a seat. "I'm Ms Johnson, I'll be representing you. Do you need me to explain any of the details of the trial procedure, first of all?"

"No, I'm very well informed about the courts: it's a summary offence, so magistrates' court, presumably City of Westminster, now Bow Street has gone. Of the district judges there, three out of five are Oxbridge, as are you, one went to my school, as did the head of your chambers. I haven't checked the details of the deputy district judges yet.  Should we discuss the charge? In theory I could get six months in prison, but it's a first offence, so a fine is more likely, if I am found guilty."

Posh, arrogant weirdo, who knew how to play the system. At least, she thought, he wasn't likely to go to pieces in the courtroom, and she didn't have to bother with platitudes about impartial justice.

"Yes. In November 2008 you allegedly committed a breach of Section 154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, by causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress. Specifically, sexual harassment."

"Yes, because I showed Pauline Li at Barts an academic paper about bats."

"As I gather, it was a suggestive paper about bats," she said, thinking: let's see what happens to his manners when we start discussing sex.

"By suggestive, you mean it discussed fellatio by Cynopterus sphinx, the short-nosed fruit bat, and its possible evolutionary functions?"

"Yes. And you talked about it in some fairly graphic detail with Miss Li."

He stared at her, and then suddenly the slightly languid air fell away.

"I was trying to...the thing was, it was an early draft, not even a preprint, and it was in Putonghua, Mandarin Chinese, and though my spoken  language is very good, I wasn't quite sure of some of the written characters. So I was wanting Pauline to explain the Chinese terminology for oral stimulation and whether they have sex-specific terms for it, because I wanted to be quite sure I was clear on which sex of bat was doing what, because obviously that makes a lot of difference to the evolutionary significance. "

Arrogant, posh, brilliant weirdo, not just playing silly games. She desperately thought back to the more peculiar dons she'd met, and mentally went up an intellectual gear. He'd want the facts laid our clearly, not just bland generalities.

"So did you explain at the start to Miss Li that it was bats you were talking about?"

"Oh yes. And she was fine with the bats mating until I got onto the details."

"She thought it was some kind of obscene joke by you, or some risqué suggestion?"

"It was about bats, for God's sake! Who tries to seduce women by talking about bats?" Then a look came over his face, as if he was actually trying to imagine a serious answer to that question.

"Miss Li is not a zoologist, of course, she works in the anatomy department."

"Bats, humans, all the same basic structures. And I've discussed translations from the Chinese before with her."

"How long have you known Miss Li?" she asked.

"About three years or so."

"Would you consider her to be a friend?" she said cautiously.

"Don't really go much for friends. But certainly a good acquaintance."

Slightly vulnerable weirdo, from the tone of that. Could be helpful in court, could not be.

"So what kind of translation work have you discussed with her before.  Other academic papers?"

"Yes. The last one was about identifying a chopped up torso from its knee joints."

Oh, shit, she  thought, and asked desperately: "A male or female torso?"

"Male. Does it matter?"

"Possibly," she said slowly. "What I'm concerned about is that there's nothing that might be considered to be a course of conduct, other previous things you've said to her that might be interpreted as harassment, especially with sexual connotations."

"You think chopped up female torsos have sexual connotations that male ones don't." It was a statement rather than a question, and she wasn't sure if she should be worried about that.

"It's what the judge might think. Have you ever discussed academic papers with Miss Li that don't involved either sex or violence?"

"There was one about poaching of tigers. For a case I was on."

She thought rapidly. "It wasn't explicit was it, there was nothing suggestive? The body parts of tigers weren't mentioned, were they?"

"Oh, you mean tiger penises as one of the reasons that they're killed. No, nothing like that, that I can remember."

He was a man who couldn't remember whether or not he had discussed tiger penises. This was probably not going to go down well.

"Good," she said, trying to sound positive, "because if there was more than one incident you might be liable under the Protection from Harassment Act and that doesn't necessarily require you to have intended to harass someone. But the 1994 act is intentionally causing harassment, and that's a lot harder to prove. So, first of all, are you in the habit of discussing academic papers with other people? Did you discuss the fruit bats with anyone else?"

"Not at the time, because I couldn't talk about it properly till I'd got the terminology clear. And I wasn't sure the police would be interested anyhow. I suppose I might have tried Mike Stamford, he's always interested in stuff like that, it's just he's a complete idiot."

You may have a brain the size of a planet, but that doesn't mean you can't go to jail if you piss enough people off, she thought, and wondered if she should tell him that.

"He's not a friend of yours either then?" she said instead.

"He's sort of a friend. I talk to him quite a lot."

"OK, so we can call Mr Stamford-"

"Dr Stamford. He's at Barts as well."

"We can call Dr Stamford," she said, and smiled reassuringly, "as a witness that you habitually discuss academic papers with others at Barts, in a friendly, sort of friendly way, and with no alarming intent. Now, the trickier bit is the sexual aspect of this. You're a man, Miss Li is a woman-"

"Well spotted, Ms Johnson. Glad to see a keen legal mind at work."

Don't be sarky, Mister Holmes, I'm trying to keep you out of prison.

"Before this, were you attracted to her, was she attracted to you?"

"The evidence suggests she wasn't attracted to me, or only very slightly. Occasional pupil dilation, no change in breathing patterns, gaze on me not unusually prolonged. I presumed that her sexual preferences were probably for Chinese men, lot of ingrained racial prejudice among the Chinese. Oh, and I wasn't attracted to her, of course."

He was possibly a very good liar, but the detail and the tone of detachment somehow rang true.

"I see," she said. Well, no point in hanging around  before this next bit, if he didn't get embarrassed by fruit bats, he wouldn't worry about this. On the other hand, they were presumably straight fruit bats...

"I...this is a little difficult," she began. "In cases of sexual harassment, one line that is sometimes adopted by male defendants to show their lack of intention to harass is the fact of their sexual orientation."

"Surely gay men can harass women as well?" he said, in a tone that suggested this should be blindingly obvious.

"Yes, but judges tend to be old-fashioned, and presume that it's only straight men who want to make inappropriate advances to women."

He smiled again, a 'that's an interesting statement' smile, more than a 'be charmed by me' smile, she thought. She was starting to get used to it.

"For what it's worth," he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm probably gay. Not entirely sure, not really interested. Is that a problem for you?"

"No, I'm, I'm gay myself." She sometimes had to say it, despite the risk, to reassure a client. Or to deter one.

"Right. Good, wondered if you were. The ring on your finger, is that just camouflage or have you got a civil partner?"

You shit.

"I've got a partner," she said firmly.

"Must be hard, the Bar's quite conservative, I imagine, hard enough for a woman, let alone a lesbian, do you find it tricky, are you out? The ring says yes, your shoes say no."

He wouldn't understand politeness or euphemisms, he would understand a kick to the groin, but she couldn't give him that. At least her secretary wasn't in the room.

"I...the firm think I'm married. I'd be grateful if you don't tell them otherwise."

"Hard to maintain the cover story when your husband's never there, or do you have someone helping you out?"

How had he got her into talking about this? Hypnotic weirdo?

"I say he's away overseas," she said hastily. "Now, please, this really isn't about me, it's about your situation. You're not involved with anyone else, male or female?"

"No. Married to my work."

"You're a private detective?"

"Consulting detective."

"Do you do a lot of bat related work?" she asked.

"This has nothing to do with work. There's a man in Oxford I helped out about a plagiarism case years ago, and he got me interested in bats, sort of follow on from the bee thing. What the Guangdong group mostly write about is genetic change. Did you know that fruit bats who live in large colonies in caves show greater genetic homogeneity than those that roost in trees? I did hope you could transfer the results across to use as a first approximation for genetic drift of humans in cities versus countryside, useful for partial DNA matches, can't get the details to work yet."

"I didn't know that about bats," she said, at last. "So you start talking about bats, or dismembered torsos, or the problem of being a lesbian barrister to anyone you meet, do you?"

"Anyone who looks as if they've got a brain in their head. Problem?  Not good?" He looked almost hopefully at her for a reply.

How to put this?

"One of the other possible angles that is sometimes used to argue for lack of intentionality is that the accused has some...problems in social interactions, might be behaving in a clumsy, rather than an intentionally distressing way."

"That I'm so socially inept that I don't know it's wrong to talk about fellating fruit bats, you mean?"

"Fruit bats fellating one another, yes. As I say, that is a possible approach."

"I have been diagnosed as a sociopath," he said cheerfully. "Well, that's one of the diagnoses I've had. If that's helpful?"

How had this happened? How had she let this conversation happen? She couldn't think of a way of getting it back on track, she'd just have to clear a few things up when she wrote to him.

"It's not really helpful, " she said at last. "Sociopath suggests the possibility of you acting on other people intentionally. We're looking more for, for 'person who has no idea about the appropriate thing to say in a clueless and nerdy, but not too weird way'. "

"And gay."

"No, actually probably not gay, because we're only looking for normal weirdness, not compounded weirdness. So maybe don't mention the gay thing, it's not really relevant. And, are there any women you're friendly with, slightly friendly with, talk about bats to, who don't get freaked out about it?"

"There's Molly."

"Who's she?"

"She works in the morgue at Barts. A pathologist."

"Dr Molly..."


"Dr Molly Hooper. Who is a fellow academically-minded person with whom you have scientifically based discussions that are intellectually stimulating, but with absolutely no unfortunate overtones."

"Well, I mostly try and chat her up when I want access to a corpse."

"Mr Holmes, do you think you would enjoy prison?" she demanded.

"Is it worse than boarding school?"

"I don't know, I went to a comprehensive myself. Did you enjoy boarding school?"

Now that had been a good guess, she thought. He had paled slightly – she hadn't realised he could go paler – and was suddenly thinking rather more seriously about all of this.

"Actually, not much. So I shouldn't mention corpses?"

"Fruit bats alone might count as acceptable eccentricity. Fruit bats and corpses, they'd send you down for something just to show they hadn't missed the signs of a future serial killer."

"So Molly's no use to you?"

"If we didn't mention the corpse bit at all, do you think she might be prepared to act as a witness and say that you're attracted to her?"

"Well, obviously I'm not."

"Can you try and help, Mr Holmes? It would be very useful to a traditionally minded judge to know that you had an interest in a woman who wasn't Miss Li. Especially if she was..." No, she really couldn't say the next bit.

"Your liberal principles are running up against your desire to win the case? What is it you can't talk to me about, Ms Johnson?"

How the hell had he worked that one out? Still, at least he didn't have a problem with 'Ms'. And if she was going to get him off, he had to know what line to take.

"Am I correct in thinking that Dr Hooper is middle-class and white?" she asked.

"Intelligent extrapolation from basic demographic data, and quite correct."

Patronising till his dying breath, he almost deserved  a sentence. But no, she was going to get him acquitted, despite himself. So she needed to get him to behave.

"If you're hanging round a nice white middle-class woman, then they might think you're probably not going to be harassing a Chinese woman for sex at the same time. If that is, when you're in court, you're giving off the air of a man who's not particularly interested in women, but might absent-mindedly get married if someone suitable suggested it."

"So you want me to lie in court?"

"I want you to be yourself," she said firmly.

"What kind of myself?"

"Not the kind that asks that sort of question," she told him. "The socially inept, mad scientist side, not the side that actually understands about humans, but doesn't much like them. Because that side of you might have harassed someone, just to see what would happen."

"I didn't. I, I wanted," and suddenly, there was actual pain in his voice, "I wanted someone to talk to about the bats, because it was amazing, and it had given me lots of ideas, and I thought Pauline would be interested, she might understand. And why do people just want to talk about football and soap operas and house prices and not how astoundingly, gloriously weird the world is? Why doesn't anyone want to talk to me about that?"

And for one incredibly peculiar moment, as his pale, intent eyes looked straight into hers with so much longing, she was tempted to say: OK, come and talk to me about fruit bats, I don't know anything, but I'm willing to learn. And then she looked away, and thought, he really is dangerous, only not in the way I'd expected.

"I don't think there's anything more useful that we can get from this interview," she said hastily. "I'll write to you, to set out my suggestions on the case, and then maybe we can have another discussion just before the trial. If it comes to trial, of course."

"I think the CPS are trying to up their quota on offences against women prosecuted, so it probably will go ahead," he said. As they stood up, and shook hands, he said: "Thanks for your help, I'm sorry if I upset you. I'm not very good with women, well, or men."

"You're better with bats?" she ventured.

"Or corpses. You know where you are with a corpse." He smiled an almost normal smile. "You really must think I'm strange after all this." Again, it was a simple statement, a simple familiar statement.

He'd probably spot a lie, but she could at least try to be polite, because she'd been wrong about the sort of posh weirdo he was.

"Yes, but I don't think you harassed Miss Li, or had any kind of sexual interest in her," she said at last, and hoped she had judged her next  statement correctly.

"Why not?"

"Because if you did, a paper about bats wouldn't have been enough. You'd have wanted an actual fruit bat to show her, wouldn't you? Or even a pair."

His head went back, and he roared one absolutely genuine laugh, and then he was racing out of her office in a blur of swirling black fabric, and she could still feel his glee as he went down the corridor. And she sat down again and started to think how you put all that conversation in an attendance note.


 "Good day?" her wife asked her, when she got home after the trial, a few weeks later.

"Definitely. Got my client off, which I was pleased about, wasn't sure I'd manage it."

"Oh yes, this was the Barts bat botherer, wasn't it? The judge believed him?"

"Mr Holmes did what I told him, which I hadn't expected. I thought he'd start hamming it up, give a bad impression, but he didn't. He was all earnest cluelessness, as if asking about Chinese terms for indecent bat behaviour was something anyone would do under the right circumstances. And when Doctor Hooper, the pathologist from the morgue, was giving her evidence, it was sickening. He had the 'I am ready to be redeemed by the love of a good woman' look off pat. Zoology's answer to Hugh Grant, of course they didn't convict him. And then the smirk he gave after the verdict went his way was even more sickening. 'Got away with things again, aren't I clever?', that kind of thing. Thank God I never have to see his smug face again."

"He might be back again. Serial offender."

"I hope not for harassment, at least. I told him that he should start giving warnings in advance if he was going to talk about strange things, you know: 'the following discussion may include graphic descriptions of bat sex'. Let people know what he's like beforehand. With his kind of weird logic, he might even do that. Was your day OK?"

"Suppose so, nothing much happened, you don't want to hear about it."

She'd done something wrong again, and what she was going to say next would make it worse. But she  needed to get on with this before Mr Carter started commenting.

"You said," she began, and then paused,  "you did say you had another photo I could take to work."

"Oh, you mean of your 'husband?' Yes I have, though I still wish you weren't ashamed of admitting about me. How long is this going to keep on? I'm getting bloody fed up of being the invisible civil partner."

"I'll need to work out what to tell them," she replied, and thought: And you'll need to get rather more presentable.

"Well, I suppose I can cope with it for a bit longer, but not for ever. OK, Clara, I'll go and find you the latest picture of John," said Harry Watson.

NOTE: Inspired (if that's the word), by this notorious article and this case.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 14th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
Ah the bat paper! Smutty and interesting at the same time! That case on the other hand is terrible - the poor man.

Anyway, enough about the 'inspiration' - this fic was hysterical, and I loved the twist at the end. :)
Nov. 14th, 2010 10:05 am (UTC)
ah! did not see that ending coming, despite the fact that Clara in my head is definitely a barrister. now there's an accident waiting to happen... can just see Sherlock pulling off the "I am ready to be redeemed by the love of a good woman" look. and of course the boarding school question would get through to him when not much else does!
Nov. 16th, 2010 09:30 am (UTC)
I remembered you'd had Clara as a barrister in some of your fics, so shamelessly ripped that possibility off when I first had the idea for some legal fic. (It's not plagiarism though, it's research!). But Clara and Harry are among the most protean of all the characters, and I'm losing track of how many different jobs they have in different people's fics, from doctor to senior police officer to business consultant. (I'm doing one currently where Harry's a historian). If we ever get canon on who/what they really are, it's going to cramp our style no end!
Nov. 16th, 2010 09:38 am (UTC)
yes, getting canon on these two really would spoil our party - have to hope it doesn't happen, even though it would be interesting to see some version of them in series 2. mind you, given what passes for female characterization in series 1, maybe they should just leave the women to the rest of us!
Nov. 19th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
This wonderful! Just wonderful!

"Because if you did, a paper about bats wouldn't have been enough. You'd have wanted an actual fruit bat to show her, wouldn't you? Or even a pair."

...perfect! And I loved the fact that it turned out to be Clara.

Nov. 19th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
I love this more than I love fresh bread, and Cornsweet's "Visual Perception," and hell, breathing I think!

John and Harry are both attracted to the brilliant, irrepressible ones then. Hooray!

Memming this like mad.

And can I interest you in some literature on the odour of semen? Or a possible correlation between porn-seeking behaviour and election results? Because they're fascinating and this feels like the only place in the world we can talk about that stuff!
Nov. 19th, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
Just put a post up especially for us to discuss weird science things that Sherlock really ought to know about. So please bring those references there, we all want to hear about them.
Nov. 27th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
Thank god I have a husband I can exchange forwards of interesting/bizarre scientific articles with!!!

I can so easily see this happening, considering Sherlock has worse social skills than even I have. It would never have occurred to him that it might upset someone to have him bring up fruit bats and fellatio.

What a pain in the ass he must be as a client for an attorney!

The bit about who his attorney's wife is - and who she's using as her beard - rocks. XD

And the article about the guy accused of harrassment IRL - wow, what a mess! I agree that it had to have been because of the whole research/conflict of interest thing. The guy is fascinating! He's even a DJ on the side! (And he has a bit of music called "Fruitbatman" too, with samples from the old Batman TV show.)
Nov. 27th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was so amusing! xD Poor, missunderstood, ronery Sherlock. xD The twist at the end was wonderful, and it makes perfect sense with canon. Of course Harry would've had enough and left, and of course Clara would've been able to use John, who was out of the country, as a cover.Sherlock's characterization was spot on! :D And on top of it all, SCIENCE! \0/ Great fic, thanks for sharing. ♥
Jan. 31st, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
I *heart* this story.
(no subject) - shehasathree - May. 15th, 2011 08:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 9th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
Lovely!! I had to click your tag "darwinian seduction techniques" - what a wonderful tag! - and I found some wonderful stories. Clara is perfect, and I see why John would like her. Now I'm imagining what it would be like some years later if Clara and Sherlock meet again though John..!

I like how you make Sherlock's antisocial tendencies funny and cute, but at the same time show how damaging and dangerous they can be, both for Sherlock and for others. Thank you for writing!
Jul. 10th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed the fic - it was fun to write this one. I haven't done any more which use this particular combination of Sherlock and Clara, but I might at some point, and I always enjoy writing women who aren't afraid to stand up to Sherlock. It's also interesting to write something where Sherlock does have to face up, at least briefly, to the consequences of his own outrageous behaviour.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )