The closest Tower to Baker Street was the Regents Park Tower, placed dead centre in the Botanical Gardens. It tended to be a sought after Tower for two reasons: one, the Gardens were a haven of foliage and solitude from the sensory hell of London and when the Sanctuary was too far, the Gardens were an ideal substitute; and two, any criminal foolhardy or ignorant enough to try anything in the Dark Sentinel Holmes’ backyard had a death wish, whether they actually knew it or not. As a result, the Regents Tower saw very little actual business. Bakers Street’s surrounds, Londoners knew, were the safest in the city; young maidens and the elderly stepped confidently across the cobblestones with nary a single thought towards potential molestation, and the criminal classes obeyed their primal instincts and eschewed the area entirely. Only the Sentinels of the city – and the members of Scotland Yard – actually knew why, though.
Regents Tower was seeing business now though.
Sentinel Voltz shrugged his Germanic shoulders and exchanged a rueful, resigned look with Guide Lane as he heard the tinkle of silver bells of a very special carriage pulling up to the Tower door.
“We all knew this was coming,” his Guide shrugged. He was already blushing bright red which his Sentinel secretly found adorable.
Voltz turned one of his Guides hands palm up to press a kiss into the wrist joint by way of commiseration before turning to greet their guests.
They were soberly dressed. They were extremely soberly dressed – no man could manage to be that drab without special effort. Voltz suspected it was their way of combating the sheer awkward embarrassment engendered by their role within the clans and the duties therein.
The Record Keepers, Voltz sighed internally. Like muckrakers, undertakers and nightsoil carters. Respected as hell, but preferably not thought of much and best viewed from a distance.
It was perhaps a little unfair to think of these two sober, blank expressioned men in such a light. They did a necessary and vital job for the Clans. They traced every partnership in the city, archived their actions and injuries, their service to the nation, births, marriages, deaths, children. It was important and useful information, and affected things like legalities in criminal cases, seniority, pay scales, pensions, mandatory service...the entirety of the life-long partnership, in a nutshell.
Unfortunately, the legal ramifications started from the bonding....ahem, from the first moment of bonding. Which meant this pair was here to well....record it.
Voltz face remained stoic but inside he cringed. This was an era of moral prurience; you didn’t talk about intimacy, you didn’t show affection in public or profess yearning to any but the ear it was intended for – and yes, alright, Victorian models of behaviour had never actually claimed victory over the intensity of the Sentinel Guide bond, that was true; but still, even in a city of pin drop sharp ears, it was considered the height of vulgarity to listen in let alone write it down. The only reason Voltz had no trouble with idea that men just like these – maybe even these two very men, argh, argh – had pretty much been in the room when he had claimed his own precious Guide was that he never, ever allowed himself to think of it.
“You’re just in time,” Voltz greeted them, desperately trying to be jovial in the face of the rising tide of hot pink embarrassment that automatically followed these men wherever they went. “The Sentinel is coming up Baker Street at a dead run.”
Every step he’d taken had been bounced throughout the system; only when he reached his territory did the Towers fall silent. London was breathless with anticipation. Except for us, Voltz thought, breathless with humiliation.
“Sentinel Watt,” one murmured. “My Guide, Huxley. May we...” he gestured to the Sentinel Guide chair.
They were remarkably matter of fact about the whole business. Voltz supposed they’d rather have to be. He took his Guide’s hand and retreated to the signal fire, taking refuge in the crackling wood and rumble of the fire to drown out other sounds.
Lane squeezed his hand. He was still red as a Royal uniform, staring at the fire, but Voltz could feel undeniable curiosity running the length of their bond. Voltz silently raised an eyebrow at him, and Lane went redder still. His Guide wanted to know too? Well that was....charming actually. In a spicy way, which was just how Voltz liked it.
Voltz couldn’t exactly fault him for wanting to know. After all, this was no ordinary bonding. Even under all the uncomfortable vulgarity, Voltz couldn’t deny he was also somewhat interested....
Voltz closed his eyes and concentrated, feeling Lane ‘s silent assistance as he did so. He was nearly jolted out of his trace from shock when he finally locked onto them. He felt rather than heard Watt murmur in surprise. Surely the duel heartbeat phenomenon was supposed to develop after bonding? But there it was; two hearts, in duet, sometimes one would jolt faster, but then the other would match it within a beat, then one would skip, slow down and the other would follow it down...music, Voltz thought in awe. Already, their hearts make music. Usually that beat-echo-beat effect would only occur in old pair bonds, after a lifetime living one life.
Then the words came through and Voltz was recalled to task. While the pen of the Keepers scratched on the paper, Voltz took his Guide’s hand and traced the letters discreetly on the palm. He felt his Guide’s breath hitch and his heart flutter gently as the words became clear, and Voltz found himself clutching the hand when the words ended, lost in the beautiful, transcendent joy that his Guide projected.
“I think that’s it,” Lane whispered to him. “I can feel....I think that’s it.”
“That can’t be right!” Watt exclaimed from the chair. The others turned to him. “The bonding ceremony is very clear and remains unchanged from the centuries. Every pair recites the ‘Claimed and Marked’ oath.”
Voltz and Lane exchanged glances. “You have never actually met Sherlock Holmes, have you?” Voltz asked, not unkindly.
Watt and Huxley both answered in the negative.
“Holmes is not very...traditional. And judging by that tearing sound...” Voltz hastily reeled in his ears. “There won’t be...uh....anymore speaking tonight.”
“But that is the official...how are we to record the official moment of bonding without the ritu-?”
Whatever else Watt meant to say was long gone in the cataclysm that followed.
Voltz was just able to Shout a warning to the next Tower before curling around his Guide on one side of the Tower, whispering love sonnets in German in order to keep from actually tearing his clothes off.
When they woke up hours later, none of the four ever spoke of what happened again; at least, not to anyone else.
This was a common phenomenon throughout the city, it turned out.
This is what happened to the Dark city.
The stones and pipes were still slightly damaged and twisted from before, but that didn’t matter. Over the horizon, where the dark river met the endless fall, light was rising....
It was like a lightning storm, raining down, earthing strikes into any and every receptive mind available. Pain wound around pleasure winding around pain wound around pleasure – each end of the spectrum pushing the other higher, and higher, and higher.
None could ignore it, any more than they would ignore a flood, sweeping them off their feet.
Watson never did have any talent for shielding. How could he? How could any power that big be contained?
And yet, there was something that could.
The light spilled out from cracks between cobblestones, from drain covers and Underground entrances, from parks and palaces and pathways, until all the roads were a glowing filigree of light.
The stones started to turn cherry red, molten, until the whole city gave off hellish red light....
It wasn’t always a welcome sensation. Untrained Guides, those being returned on ships and carriages, clutched their heads and hearts. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it was overwhelming.
Untrained Sentinels clawed at their ears and noses and skins. There couldn’t possibly be this much in the world, could there? This much to sense, this much to know...
Sister Augusta, in one of the train of mismatched wagons currently being led through inner London, laughed and laughed and laughed until she cried. “Oh Holy Father,” she gasped between great, heaving sobs of laughter. “You work in such wondrous ways.”
Unbonded Sentinels had pretty much abandoned the Charpentiers boarding house. It was either that, or be hit with a ten pound breakfast skillet. Madame Charpentier was not about to let anything interrupt her sons bonding.
In the corner of his office, Carmichael was curled in a ball, weeping.
The city burned; it burned so hot that it melted and boiled, metal dripping molten yellow in pools of orange, liquid stone. Water in pipes and aqueduct boiled and whistled into vapour.
And over the horizon, a great glittering cloud plumed miles high in the twilit sky, reaching higher and higher, before collapsing toward the city like a tidal wave, pushed in a speeding torrent by a killing wind.
The sandstorm hit the city, exploding in magnesium white flames....
At some point in the bonding, it doesn’t matter when really, Watson felt beloved, callused fingertips trace speculatively across the three parallel scars on his back. “My brother....” Watson faltered after that, and lips replaced the mapping fingers.
“He wasn’t feral,” Holmes stated between kisses.
“When he slashed? No.” Watson whispered. “But he still wasn’t in his right mind.”
Well of course Holmes couldn’t argue with that. No one who touched his Guide to harm him was in their right mind.
It seemed as if the city would be turned to ash and smoke, that it was being wiped away....but then the river began to rise, spiralling up into the streets on great gouts of steam....
“They crucified you?”
Watson pulled gently on the old white scars near the ankle joints with his lips and teeth, as if he wanted to excise them.
“They are quite dead, my own.”
“Pity. I wanted to do that.”
It was hard to see past the fog; the steam so thick the city was engulfed in a low lying cloud.
But slowly, surely, points of light emerged....
Sherlock Holmes mapped the life of his Guide. He read the history of his skin, the politic of his preferences, the geography of his soul. His Guide was a complicated and mysterious puzzle, and one Holmes himself would be happy to spend a lifetime never actually solving.
“...Let’s see, what else? You can’t swim.....you don’t fear the water but you like land under your feet...you went into medicine early in your college career, probably for the sake of the elderly aunt who raised you...you are an exceptional surgeon, that much is clear enough...” he made and interrogative noise in his throat while Watson whimpered and whatever his mouth was doing. “Hmmm...allergic to walnuts....”
“Oh come on,” Watson huffed breathlessly. He laughed helplessly as talented fingers traced the ridges of his ribs. “This is.... how....how do you do that? How? How could you know any of that without ah-ah-asking someone?”
Holmes laughed, his torso rattling against Watson’s spine. “Whom could I ask, except you? Why would I share any part of you with another?” Teeth scraped deliciously against one earlobe. “You are mine.”
“Yes,” Watson moaned. “You are amazing...”
He murmured it against his Sentinels skin for hours. “Amazing, amazing, amazing....”
It was hard to really understand what it looked like when first seen. The surfaces played tricks, the fireflies darting this way and that fooled the eye, twisted perception.
But slowly, as the eye drew back, perception came and filled the world with awe.....
“The five cups?”
“Ah, Sentinel...” Watson sighed.
“I just want to know how many people I have to kill over them.”
What could Watson say to that? “When the enemy captured us, there was this Guide and he....well. He amused himself with the survivors. Do you understand thirst, Sentinel? Of course, you must. Do you understand what it would feel like to have the water put in front of you, within your reach, no restraints, no obstacles....but reaching for it to drink causing torturous agony? Because the Guide had gone into your head and...” Watson broke off.
Holmes arms were like iron bands around him.
“They wept, Sentinel. Those strong, brave men, they didn’t blink when the army flooded us, didn’t flinch when all around them died...but faced with those cups lined up in front of them, every attempt to drink like being stabbed with a thousand knives, they...”
“You didn’t.” A statement of fact.
“It...didn’t work on me. But watching the others in pain and despair was just as much torture to me. It was all so new and I had no control. The enemy only realized what I was at the very end. By then the wandering Sentinel came and began killing them all.”
“They left you there.” Came the growl.
“They were frightened. And Murray didn’t. Murray stayed, begged the Sentinel for help...I was in no state to do anything but curl up and die. And the tribe helped me...helped us. Got us back to the regiment.” Watson shifted uneasily even as soothing hands ran up his back. “I hated that Guide for what he did. For taking away their own minds, destroying their humanity like that.” He thought of Strangerson and winced.
Fingers curled around his jaw, forced him to face his Sentinel. “You are not now, nor could you ever be anything remotely like him, my own.”
“Because you would never let me,” Watson smiled weakly.
“Immaterial,” Holmes insisted. “It would never be an issue. There has never been a person in your life to whom you haven’t brought dignity and humanity to.”
Watson asked a wordless question while his fingers combed sable hair, but Holmes just smiled and proceeded to make his Guides world fly apart with ecstasy.
It had been an interesting week, Lestrade mused wryly.
Interesting – which meant unpredictable, strange and mildly stressful.
There was the House to rebuild. The Sanctuary to re-secure. People to arrest and charge for treasonous acts.
Of course, none of this was being done, because a lot of voices were bellowing at the tops of their volume in Parliament. Guides. Sentinels. International kidnappings; good grief a blame storm of apocalyptic size had been brewing ever since the news broke.
It didn’t help that retinues of Sentinel Guide pairs were travelling from as far as Russia to collect Guides who had been stolen. Some complete idiot in the Parliament had started to argue in favour of the Guides being claimed by the Commonwealth, which had triggered heated responses from half the globe. Some very, very fast talking diplomacy by the Royal Clan and personal assurances made by the Queen herself were the only thing keeping a world war at bay.
Mostly, the Yard Sentinels just...handled things. Found refuge for displaced Guides from the House, temporary lodgings for the kidnapped Guides, prison cells for everyone else. God only knows how, but it was being sorted out. Groups of foreign national Guides had been escorted back to their country’s ships to be taken home as soon as they were declared well enough to travel. Those who needed recuperation were guarded fiercely by an international retinue of Sentinels and sailors both, broken down into country groups. There was a Little France in one building, a Mini Spain in another, a Pocket Germany, a Minor Italy, a New Prussia....a lot of sovereign nations were setting up shop.
It may take months to sort everything out. American diplomats looked to be getting very little sleep these days as they communicated with superiors across the pond, scouring out and shutting down what was left of the insane church that fostered the whole mad plan. News of the Prophet’s death certainly demoralized them.
And where was Holmes during all this mess?
Well, despite the most vulgar speculation by the base and the crude, Holmes had spent most of the week sleeping – just sleeping – with his Guide. Lestrade knows this for a fact, because every Sentinel in the city had found some reason to wander briefly past Baker Street, keeping sharp ears open for the Alpha Prime.
The shocks had started coming when Lestrade learned that Holmes had started taking his Guide out. Usually a new pair would be in confinement for at least a month or more; Sentinels were fiercely territorial with new Guides. But Holmes, once again, ran roughshod over all the usual expectations. There were flurries of rumours spreading about the pair being seen at the opera, whisked up to the Royal box, or merely walking the streets, here there and everywhere, surveying the city. They dined at the Royale and Marcini’s, and there even some whispers that Holmes had taken his Guide down into some of the seedier boxing clubs – and Lestrade wished he couldn’t believe that! It was very Holmesian if it was true, though.
Outraged murmurs from Clan Elders followed them. The Guide didn’t wear a collar. Holmes didn’t wear the armband – not that he ever had. They walked together, shoulder to shoulder, like friends or brothers, not like Sentinel and Guide. Nothing they did was usual or normal for new pairings.
Lestrade didn’t know why all the other Clans were so shocked at Holmes’ behaviour. Holmes had never acted like a typical Sentinel. He couldn’t imagine why they thought bonding would change it.
He felt his Guide look up from the report she was writing and turned to face her. Her face was set in a frown, and her eyes flicked towards the door.
Lestrade rose just before Ascot entered. He hadn’t seen the man much this week. Oh, he’d been as busy as the rest of them, but he had somehow always been most emphatically where Lestrade... wasn’t.
“Ascot.” You could have used Lestrade’s voice as a plank.
There was a long, awkward silence before Ascot spoke again. “My Guide needs the Alpha Guide’s assistance with a House matter.”
Lestrade scowled. “Good God, man, they haven’t had a week yet.”
“It is a matter of some urgency. And Anstruther agrees,” Ascot added. “The law is clear. The Prime Alpha pair is the ultimate authority.
Which is why they were now at the House, waiting for Holmes and his Guide to show up.
The House wasn’t quite the wreck it had been. Glass had been cleaned from the quadrangle, the structure had been propped up, the char was being scrubbed off; the building may still be usable, but it was down to the engineers and Sentinels to do a survey yet. Lestrade felt his heart crimp when he saw it. Fourteen children, not coming back.
There was no hole deep enough for the Sentinels who had done it.
Lady Beatrice was pacing fretfully in the corridor when they arrived. Lady Lestrade scowled past her to the door. “How long has he been like this?”
“I don’t answer to you, Guide,” Lady Beatrice snapped back.
Lady Lestrade drew herself up. “No, you answer to the Alpha Prime Guide, and I am the Alpha Prime’s Beta.”
Lady Beatrice’s mouth worked furiously, but no sound came out. She was saved from having to answer by running footsteps.
Advancing at a respectable clip from the entrance was Holmes and his now infamous Guide.
“I could feel it from the street,” Watson said as he drew up to them. “Lady Lestrade if you would...” he gestured her ahead of him as they opened the inner chamber.
Lady Beatrice was left in the dust, mouth open.
“Congratulations on your bonding, Prime Alpha,” Ascot muttered to the Sentinel who was peering in the door, but not actually entering.
“If you are going to lie, Ascot, at least lie with passion,” was the dismissive response.
Within the room, Lady Lestrade and Watson both slowed in horror at what they saw.
“Carmichael,” Watson put his cane down and slowly crawled toward the stricken man. “Carmichael, can you hear me?”
The huddled little figure simply curled tighter, a near soundless whimper issuing from the rocking, tangled ball of limbs.
Watson sighed and yanked the man toward him. There was a brief struggle while Carmichael yelped and fought, but he was too weak to put up much of a fight.
“There, it’s alright now,” Watson rocked the man gently in his arms. “It’s alright.”
Lady Lestrade joined the embrace. “He’s in a bad way.”
It took half an hour for coherence to come back. There were scratches all over the poor man’s face from where he clawed, desperately seeking respite.
“How long has he been like this?” Watson demanded sharply of Lady Beatrice, who had finally been allowed to enter.
“I found him like that this morning,” Lady Beatrice stammered. “I tried to bring him out of it, but when he didn’t respond I sent for you all.”
“He’s been suffering a bit longer than that, Guide Ascot,” Lady Lestrade replied archly.
Lady Beatrice bristled. “Some of us have been busy with repairs.”
“To busy to keep track of your empathic staff?”
“Ladies,” Watson’s quiet voice broke into their snarls. Someone had furnished him with a medical bag, and he was daubing Carmichaels injuries one handed. The archivist refused to relinquish the other.
“I’m so terribly sorry,” Carmichael whispered.
“Silly, silly man,” Lady Lestrade admonished gently. “How long have you been hiding like this?”
“A long time, I think,” Watson said gently, before the man could respond. “Guide shouldn’t touch, isn’t that right? But Guides touch all the time, they need it. Unless they are trying desperately not to show they are affected.” He pressed a hand to the wounded man’s cheek. “To not show that they are a Guide, not a Consort.”
“I’m so, so sorry,” was the hoarse reply.
“Why?” Lady Lestrade gently brushed his shoulder. “All that hideous pain and isolation. To what end?”
“My sisters,” Carmichael replied bleakly. “If I’m a Guide I can’t inherit. Our parents left us a trust – it’s a tiny thing, but it’s all the income they have aside from my stipend. If I’m named as a Guide the trust goes to my uncle. He’ll squander it; and he’ll sell off my sisters to the highest bidder. I can’t let that happen. Please, Prime Alpha please,” he grabbed at Watson with both hands. “You can’t let that happen. Who will protect them? They’ve only got me, please, please...” he trailed off, sobbing.
“We will protect them, Carmichael,” Watson answered firmly, squeezing his hands. “As far as I’m concerned, they are Clan too. You need not torture yourself to save anyone. We are Clan, and we do things together.”
“If I can change the law, then it will be changed,” Watson said flatly. “Because that inheritance rule is just ridiculous. And if not, forget the trust. I’ll get you a raise instead. Enough to compensate for all the grief the stupid law put you through in the first place. I’ll pay it myself if I have to.”
“But...why?” Carmichael asked.
“Because you did me a good turn when I needed it,” Watson responded promptly. “You didn’t tell Lady Beatrice why I’d been exiled, did you? Because you knew she’d never pass that along when I was in custody. Instead, you risked your position to follow her, and make sure the record was set straight. Right?”
Carmichael nodded, even as Lady Beatrice sputtered in the background.
“And for that, Guide Carmichael, you get a pass for life from me,” Holmes appeared in the doorway, toting a tea laden tray. “You can have anything within my considerable power to give.”
“Just the tea for now, Holmes,” Watson grinned at him, extricating a cup. “Drink,” he told Carmichael. “You’re dehydrated. Underweight too, but one thing at a time.”
Carmichael drank, too overwhelmed for words. “I don’t...I don’t know what to say...”
“I’d be satisfied if you never tried to hide yourself again, Guide Carmichael,” Holmes replied. “I do not like my Guide to worry.”
“Futile,” Watson said cheerfully. “Look who I got for a Sentinel.”
Carmichael and Lady Lestrade stared at him, then burst out laughing.
“Guide Watson!” Lady Beatrice gasped, shocked.
“Doctor Watson, Lady Beatrice,” Holmes corrected her.
Their next stop, Ascots, Lestrades and Carmichael in tow, was to the Charpentiers.
“Madam Charpentier has rather a Guide boarding house than a Sentinel one at the moment,” Watson mused to Carmichael. He kept a firm grip on Carmichaels arm – the archivist was still terribly fragile. “So she’ll be pleased to have you.”
There was an uneasy air about the place, exacerbated by yelling voices once they got close to the kitchen.
“I don’t care what your orders are! The doctor said she’s not to be moved so if the head of her order came with Pope himself, she still wouldn’t be moved until she is well!” Madam Charpentier’s voice rattled windows.
“Madam! I am the Lord Ambassador of Switzerland!”
“And I am the owner of this house!” came the answering bellow. “So as far as you are concerned, I am landlord, squire, baroness, duchess, high priestess, queen and God Herself within these walls!
Watson, shaking with laughter, knocked on the door. “Your holiness, may we enter?”
The door swung open. “You, of course, are always welcome lad,” she smiled past the flushed face. “Your Sentinel too. And you all,” she glared at the Ascots. “You, not so much.” But she let them past.
A purple faced man, richly dressed, was scowling at them as they trooped in. “Madam, you have no authority. You will release the woman into my care...”
“Are you still here?” Madam Charpentier sniffed.
The man flushed deeper. “I carry the authority of your Queen!”
“Then you may take it up with her!” Madam Charpentier retorted archly, and then proceeded to ignore him entirely, settling her guests around the table.
Holmes took the opportunity to sidle up to the man, and mutter a few choice things in his ear. The Lord Ambassador went from purple, to white, to red, to grey, and suddenly couldn’t get away fast enough.
Ascot’s mouth was open as he watched the man retreat. Lestrade pressed a hand into his face. “Really, Holmes?”
“What?” Watson asked, looking from one to the other.
“I’ll...tell you later,” Holmes smirked at him.
Madam Charpentier was viewing a nervous Carmichael speculatively. “You,” she said slowly, with the air of one coming to a long-drawn conclusion. “Need to eat something.”
“He also needs a place to stay, Madam. Just temporarily until we can bring his sisters down from the country,” Watson asked politely. “He is a Guide...”
“A particularly powerful one, to hide for so long,” Holmes added
“And he is fragile at the moment,” Watson nodded, agreeing.
Carmichael looked at them both in surprise.
“Well of course he’ll stay here,” Madam Charpentier snorted. “I’m now something of an expert on fragile Guides.” With this she glared at Lady Beatrice, who at least had the grace to look embarrassed.
“How are your son and his Guide?” Watson asked.
“In heaven, they are so happy. Especially after being made to wait. But of course,” she gave him a wink. “I scarce need tell you what that feels like, eh?” she laughed as Watson blushed.
“And uh,” he glared at Holmes, who was laughing silently. “Sister Augusta?”
“Come and see for yourself.”
Someone, probably Madam Charpentier herself, had taken considerable effort to brush the Guide’s hair. Knee length, glossy black tresses fanned across white linen, framing a face still too thin and too pale, but as least had been improved with proper rest.
“Ah Guide,” she murmured, fixing dark eyes on him as her entered. “You look so beautiful.”
“You as well,” Watson replied as he took a seat next to the bed. Holmes took it upon himself to perch near her feet, lean forward and press his fingertips to her forehead.
She shuddered. “Merci. You’re strength is magnificent Sentinel. You will be very good for ‘im.”
“I thought so too,” Watson grinned at her. “May I?”
“Of course you may.”
Lestrade’s jaw dropped open as he felt Watson’s presence expand like blooming flower. “I can feel that.”
“My Guide,” Holmes said with no little smugness. “Is particularly memorable.”
“My God,” Lady Lestrade breathed, eyes wide. “He’s...”
Sister Augusta started to weep with relief. “Merci, merci, it iz so much better now.”
Carmichael breathed out. “She feels so much clearer now.”
“As well she might,” Holmes snorted. “But my Guide however,” here he shot a quiet smile at Watson. “Is a healer of the most excellent sort. You take on burdens like others take on days, Sister.”
She laughed sadly. “Mon Dieu, He does not give me veight vhich cannot be borne, Sentinel.”
Watson flicked eyes at his Sentinel, who nodded. “Alright, everybody, the lady is about to have her wounds checked. Carmichael, you stay.” Holmes added as he hustled the Lestrades and Ascots out the door.
“Hold her hands for me, will you?” Watson asked Carmichael, as he gently helped Sister Augusta to turn on her side, sweeping her hair out of the way. Startled, Carmichael did as he was told.
As Watson surveyed the healing wounds across the nun’s back, Carmichael cast around for something to distract her with. “They’re calling you a heroine, you know Miss Augusta. For keeping the Guides safe.”
She smiled at him. “A British one, or a Sviss one?”
Carmichael chuckled while Watson smiled silently over rebandaging. “I think it is an international agreement.”
She laughed too. “Vell, at least zey agree on somezing, oui?”
Carmichael smiled at her. “They should. You’re amazing. You have so much strength.”
“Ah, but you do as vell, Mister Carmichael,” she squeezed his hands. “Only one vith strength could stand, day after day, watching as ozzers paired off, helping them, giving of yourself, putting them togetzer and asking nozing in return...”
Carmichael jerked, startled. “I didn’t...”
“Oh, you did,” Watson snorted. “The Matchmaker may have assessed them but she wasn’t researching or matching the paperwork. You put pairs together wherever you could, I expect.”
Carmichael flushed. “They paired off anyway...I just...I just made them look good on paper. How did you...?”
“My Sentinel,” Watson said pointedly. “Is not a stupid man. Knowledge is power; knowing who really put Sentinels and Guides together was invaluable to him as an Alpha. He spoke of it to me as we came to help you. The more he explained, the more sense it made. You, Carmichael, have been solely responsible for most of the pairings in the city for years.”
“You see?” Sister Augusta laughed. “You are hero too, I zink. And one day, a Sentinel vill come and they vill not care about your background or your rank. They vill love you for exactly who you are.”
Carmichael flushed and ducked. “Well, one day a Sentinel won’t wait for you either, Sister. They won’t care about distance or churches, or vows or your foolish relatives. They will come for you no matter where you are.”
She smiled. “They it iz Gods will, and who am I to argue?”
“Aren’t we a pair?” Carmichael said, and laughed with her.
“Well hopefully,” Watson broke in, relacing the nightdress Sister Augusta had been dressed in as he finished. “You will both have the chance to find out how much of a pair you are. My Sentinel tells me that the French government is suddenly very interested in you, Sister.”
She grimaced as she rolled onto her back again. “Yes.” Was the flat reply. “They are...very interested in vhat I did. Zey say I could help the Loup.”
Carmichael gaped. “They won’t let you return to the order?” he gasped, thunderstruck.
“Unless you would prefer to take a new job with Carmichael here,” Watson suggested looking at both of them.
“To do what?”
“To do vhat?”
Outside the room, Lady Beatrice was fidgeting uncomfortably at the Charpentier’s table while her Sentinel tried to soothe her. Lady Lestrade worked off her tension helping Madam Charpentier make tea and scones while her Sentinel watched over her. Holmes leaned idly on the door which held the Guides, staring at nothing in particular.
Finally, Lady Beatrice broke and shot a pleading look at her Sentinel, who cleared his throat and turned to Holmes. “May my Guide speak to you, Alpha?”
Holmes turned his eyes on them, and shrugged. “She may.”
“I just want to know what is to be done regarding the House,” Lady Beatrice burst out, before hastily adding. “Sentinel.”
Holmes raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m afraid the organisation on Guides does not fall under my purview, Lady Beatrice, as I am certain you know. Whatever my Guide’s plans are, you shall know them...”
A thunderstruck, double voiced “What?!” came from within the room, which made everyone except Holmes turn towards it.
Holmes smirked. “Very shortly,” he finished.
It took another twenty minutes filled with increasingly rapid murmurs and chatter from within the room before Watson emerged, Carmichael having opted to stay with Sister Augusta.
“I see your proposal has borne fruit, my dear Watson,” Holmes grinned at his Guide.
Watson looked rueful. “It took some serious propagation, let me tell you.” He dropped into a chair, rubbing his eyes as his Sentinel took the chair next to him, taking a cup of tea proffered by Lady Lestrade as he did. Holmes took a contemplative sip before handing the cup to his Guide.
Lestrade was echoing the ritual across from, but Lady Beatrice silently shook her head when her husband offered. Madam Charpentier merely kept arranging scones from the kitchen.
“Will her plea of sanctuary be a problem, Holmes?” Watson asked after he’s downed half a cup.
Holmes snorted. “None whatsoever; even if it wasn’t an internationally recognized practice we are duty bound to answer, Mycroft finds international arguments a stimulating hobby. This would give him about an hour’s work.”
Watson smiled over his cup. “I really must meet this brother of yours.”
“Cherish your time without, Watson. Cherish it,” Holmes muttered.
“Really,” Lestrade added fervently. “I met him once. Good grief, your family doesn’t breed them friendly, Holmes.”
Holmes gave him a disdainful look. “The Prime Beta has a uniform, Lestrade; last changed when a ruff was the height of fashion. I think, under the circumstances, you need not wear it.”
And just like that, the Alpha recognized the Beta.
Holmes hadn’t stopped being infuriating. It was an odd sort of comfort.
“What proposition?’ Lady Beatrice burst out, unable to remain silent any longer. “What are you talking about? You intend to induct a foreign Guide to our ranks?” She was quivering with outrage.
“Guides know no borders, madam,” Holmes turned on her, his voice turned stern. “Her family sent her to a remote cell in the mountains, and she went and suffered because it was impossible for her not to love them, despite everything. Now her government is looking to turn on her much like they did, in a different direction. If she is in need then it is the duty if any Clan, let alone ours, to help her.”
“And besides,” Watson broke in calmly. “A Guide of her grace and sensitivity will be a valuable ally. A welcome addition, especially as a Matchmaker.”
Lady Beatrice’s eyes bulged, her mouth uttered a shrill, strangled shriek.
Ascot was bristling on her behalf. “My wife was chosen by the Royal Clan themselves to be the Matchmaker!”
He met Holmes’ gaze and saw the Dark Sentinel there, daring him to so much as raise his voice to Watson. Ascot visibly reined his temper in.
“The Matchmaker’s job is to enhance the Clan,” Watson answered flatly. “To protect the Guides and to foster strong bonds as they occur – naturally. Not to treat bonding rites as their own personal marriage market.”
Lady Beatrice flushed and bristled simultaneously. “I did what I thought best....”
“And despite your attempts to control Nature itself,” Watson continued smoothly. “You didn’t actually succeed; which is just as well. Had you enough talent with your gifts you could have formed some very weak bonds indeed – politically strong, but weak where it truly counted. I’ve seen Guides who could force it, and they are vile creatures indeed...but you are not one of these. You didn’t actually try to stop the Charpentier’s from bonding, despite the fact that you wanted to. You did right by most, even unintentionally. But Guide,” Watson’s voice took on a cadence of true power, that made even Madam Charpentier step back, and Holmes lean forward, mesmerized. “Carmichael worked next to you all day, every day, and you failed to see him for what he was. To him you did irreparable harm. And it cannot be allowed to continue. Many things, I think, cannot be allowed to continue.”
Lady Beatrice was dead white, and her Sentinel was shifting, fighting his instinct to get in front of her.
“For a start,” Watson leaned across to Lady Lestrade, and nodding gently to Lestrade (who nodded back mutely), pulled the ribbon from around her throat. “Guides don’t wear these anymore. They are the remnants of an age long gone; we are modern people and modern people do not endorse slavery, however subtly.” He stood to lean over the table, and unwrap the intricate leather collar from Lady Beatrice throat as well.
“Second,” Watson stated, glanced at his Sentinel, who merely stared back, his eyes a perfect show of support and acknowledgement. “There will not be just one Matchmaker anymore. There will be Matchmakers, plural. Sister Augusta and Carmichael have accepted the roles; as, I hope, will Alice once out of confinement.”
Only Holmes’s reflexes were able to keep the trace of scones from hitting the floor as Madam Charpentier came over.
“My Alice?” came the astonished reply from the older woman.
“She does instinctively what other Guides train for years to do,” Watson nodded. “I think having a bonded Guide there will be useful too. Different Matchmakers for different types of Guides. Treating them as all the same is just...”
“Stupid,” Holmes supplied helpfully.
“Yes,” Watson nodded. “And hopefully with more than one Matchmaker we can keep from having anything happen to a Guide like what happened to Carmichael. I don’t ever want to feel a mind as ravaged as his again, thank you. There will be other things, too. Inheritance laws, for a start. But...that may take some time.” He acknowledged sheepishly.
Holmes hid a grin behind his tea while the rest of the room picked up their jaws.
Lady Beatrice was in tears, half clinging to her Sentinel. “But...but...what will happen to me?”
Watson sighed. “I think....I think perhaps the mistakes you made stemmed from the fact that you spent all day apart from your Sentinel, never leaving the House, and never assisting him when he dealt with all walks of people. You never dealt with anyone but Guides and that rather...blinkered you to the needs of the tribe. I think sharing your husband’s role in Scotland Yard like other Yard Guides will be immensely helpful. I think you can learn what is needed to be a Matchmaker.”
“But I was chosen!” Lady Beatrice protested, turning on Holmes. “Sentinel, please tell your Guide...”
“Madam,” Holmes voice stopped her cold. “My Guides words are mine; no force on Earth will induce me to speak against him. You may abide by them, or you and your Sentinel may depart the Clan with honour and our blessing.”
There was one last errand they had to complete. The Ascots left them as they departed the boarding house, Ascot still consoling his wife. The demotion had been a bitter pill for her.
“I thought I would feel better about having her gone,” Lady Lestrade murmured as they travelled. “And it is for the best...but I just feel sorry for her now.”
Watson shrugged. “She’s a Guide, whatever else she is. She sincerely believed she was doing what was best. It’s not her attitude that angered me, simply her inability to recognize and acknowledge her mistakes. It happens to the best of us.”
“And the worst,” was Lady Lestrade’s wry rejoinder.
“Why the cells, Lestrade?” Watson asked, puzzled.
A shrug answered him. “The Yarders wanted to...keep him safe, given the circumstances.”
In a cell, alone and deep in the basement of the Yard, Sentinel Hope lay dying.
Cell was a bit of a misnomer; the door was wide open and some pains had been take to scrub it clean and scent it nicely. A proper bed has been granted to the dying man, silk sheets and all.
Anstruther was waiting on them when they arrived. “Won’t be long now. Please, Doctor, do not connect with him. If he goes while you’re within his mind...” Anstruther was a Sentinel, whatever else he was. The Guide was his first concern.
Watson smiled grimly. “Unfortunately, connecting is what I do.”
Hope’s face was a sunken, grey mask and he rested flat on his back, already half laid out. Holmes approached him first, keeping one hand on Watson’s arm as the Doctor perched upon the bed. Holmes was the one who shook him awake.
“I see...it all...worked out for...you,” Hope rasped eventually as he became aware.
Watson squeezed his Sentinel’s hand. “It certainly did.”
“Good,” was the soft assessment. “Don’t...let him go, Sentinel. Don’t take...your eyes from him. I did for...just...a minute and....” Hope trailed off, sobbing.
His heart stuttered feebly, failing and faltering.
Watson looked at his Sentinel, but Holmes was already taking Watson’s hand and guiding it to Hope’s chest in silent permission. Watson concentrated.
Anstruther burst through the open door. “How did you do that?!”
Hope’s heart had slowed and strengthened, matching Watson’s beat for beat.
“I’m letting him...borrow my heart for a moment,” Watson said slowly, while his face drained of colour. Holmes put his spare arm around him, holding him tight. “I can’t do it for long. I was waiting to see how this was taught at the House, so I could practice more.”
Holmes burst out laughing while Lestrade and Anstruther stared, open mouthed.
It was Lady Lestrade who answered Watson’s confused look. “They don’t teach anything like that at the House.”
Watson was bewildered. “But empathy is...this is the first thing Guides are taught in Afghanistan! Matching your body to your mind...” he trailed off in the face of their looks.
Holmes was nearly crying, he was laughing so hard.“Oh my Guide, my Guide,” he choked out. “You are endearing blind to how magnificent you are.”
Anstruther looked speculative. “Could you teach others to do that?”
Watson shrugged a yes, and turned back to Hope. “Where would you like to go, Jefferson? After...”
Hope smiled at him. “He’s right...you...are magnificent....just...like...Lucy. Never...let anyone tell....you different. Bury or burn...me. It doesn’t...matter...Guide. I will find...her....wherever...she is.”
“We just need to know,” Holmes half-asked, still embracing his Guide.
The sad story poured out of the dying man, in rasping fits and starts. The saga of John and Lucy Ferrier, the church that saved them to eventually kill them, how Guides in that church were even more subjugated than others, how females were claimed like cattle. How males were castrated and turned to eunuchs.
How they were killed for bonding with outsiders.
How Jefferson Hope had failed, failed, failed, and been left to die by Drebber and the church after Lucy was slain.
Watson face grew whiter and whiter. Holmes was tense, ready to yank him all the way back to Baker Street in a heartbeat.
Eventually, Hope pushed the Guide away. “I need...I need this...agony to end. Let...me...go. It’s over...all over. Lucy...my Guide....”
Hope faded and died as Holmes dragged Watson away.
Watson lay, fully clothed, in his Sentinel’s arms back at Baker Street, a hand soothingly stroking his back.
“I hated the Prophet,” Holmes spoke softly. “I hated him with all my soul. I don’t hate my opponents; there is no emotion involved, usually. They’re just a problem to be solved. But him, I could hate.”
“Why?” Watson whispered.
“Because he made you feel for him. Hurt for him,” Holmes murmured. “I could never forgive him for that. He had no right to burden you with his pain, because when the world hurts then your heart bleeds with it. My only goal – my only destiny now, is to ensure there is no more pain.” Holmes dark eyes were locked with his Guides.
Watson was surprised to feel wetness trailing down his face. Because he couldn’t feel it anymore. The burden and the agony of all those souls pressing on his unguarded mind. The desert was contained, shielded by the fall of water from his Sentinel’s mind.
“You have my word, John Watson. From this day forth, no more pain.” Holmes pressed their foreheads together. “Do you know why?”
They stood in the mist of city as it cleared.
“For this. For this priceless, immeasurable gift, which I can never repay. Do you see now, Guide, what you have given me?”
Watson realized what he was seeing and his mouth dropped open.
The stone and metal had burned away. After the onslaught of the desert fire and sand and the waters flooding, the city still stood, the same but irrevocably altered.
The city wasn’t stone and brass and steel anymore. It reflected the dark of the starry sky overhead and the rainbow of colours at the sunset horizon. It magnified them, broke the light into every possible shade.
It was now a city made of glass.
Water flowed through see-through pipes and gold-edged aqueducts casting a million watery echoes. Fireflies turned the surfaces into a billion glinting points of moving light. Glossy, crystalline surfaces reflected the stars in the sky and the glowing motes of swirling fireflies. Gaslights were magnesium bright, casting stark light and shadow where they haloed the city. Ghostly images, input overlayed from the real city to this place via his Sentinel’s senses, walked and trotted and wheeled the glittering streets, but now a firefly would alight on them briefly, and for an instant they would have colour and expression – a heart, a soul, that only a Guide could feel.
Clicking, ratcheting devices, their parts exquisitely wrought leadlight, hummed and ticked, connecting buildings and bridges, roads and towers. Clear notes sang from water drawn across glassy edges, a symphony of the most delicate, fragile kind.
There were still dark, stony foundations; gaping black holes to the Underground framed in spun glass, black shadows and a black river. The Dark Sentinel was at the heart of it, hidden as much by the light as by the shadows. But the shadows just made the light brighter.
It was an impossible, heart rending beauty. It would take years to fully understand and comprehend how amazing it was.
“You, my Guide,” Holmes had their foreheads pressed together, his face more alight than even the city could manage. “You are the conductor of light. You are the lens, through which all things become clear.”
They sealed all the wordless promises with a wordless kiss.