An accident with a magical artifact sends Giles into the past. Can the specialist in hopeless cases help him before the artifact is lost and he is forever stranded?
Thursday, 4 January 2001
The flight to London from Los Angeles was tediously long and about as miserable as it was the last time I took it. Heathrow was its usual congested self; we were in a holding pattern for what felt like ages before they let us land. Once on the ground it went well. Jet engines, conveyor belts, computer displays showing current flight times, televisions, espresso bars: modern Heathrow, modern London, almost indistinguishable from LA. I had a jetlag-inspired moment of wondering if I’d travelled anywhere at all in those eleven hours. Perhaps someone had packed me into an aluminium sausage, fed me bad food, shown me a bad movie, then released me back into LAX. Then I heard the accents and relaxed. I was home.
My new policy of checking luggage as rarely as possible worked out. I was on the express to Paddington and then the Tube to my hotel in Bloomsbury in no time. In fact, getting to London was so smooth that I should have known it would all go pear-shaped in the worst way once I got there.
I thought about looking up Robson or Parkes, but decided I had no interest in it. Business was a better way to spend my visit. My aim was to take some papers into the Council building and begin abasing myself immediately. I also wanted to stop off at Pudge’s and get a few items I was having a hard time acquiring Stateside. Maybe even make a business connection, set up some kind of understanding with the current proprietor. Who I think is still a Pudge, hundreds of years of business done in the same spot by the same family. Exactly the sort of thing one doesn’t get in California, where if anything is more than 50 years old it’s ancient and impels Buffy to twitch her nose. And I wanted to just be in the city that used to be home. So I took a bit of a side-trip into Soho, with my leather case slung over my shoulder. It was a brisk day, rainy, a nasty shock to my California-thinned blood, so I dressed warmly. That worked out well.
Some shockers, after four years away, welcome and unwelcome. The age, the clutter, the cigarette smoke, the pasty faces, the accents, the clothes. Who knew pinstriped jackets could look so foreign? California has begun to seep into me. Begun to feel like home. As I write, it feels more like home and more achingly distant than I would have believed possible. This afternoon, though, I was enjoying being in London again. Enjoying inhaling the smell of city, walking down the cramped little street with the cobblestone paving, picking my way up the creaking wooden stair up to the shop on the first floor. Pleasure overlaid the fear that sent me to London in the first place. Not to mention my building fit of nerves about my visit to the Council. They always manage to make me feel a complete berk five seconds into any encounter.
The first sign I had that things were going wrong was Ethan. I don’t know what he was doing there in the shop. Or rather, I know why he said he was in the shop. He was also after the Thurible of Abyssinia that I need for the shop protection ritual. They had one. £100. Shockingly overpriced. I had begun to say so to Pudge when Ethan shoved his foul face between us and said he’d take it without quibbling over the price. I’d completely missed his arrival. He probably didn’t want the damn thing, but we were going to quarrel over it anyway. He had some sharp words to say to me on the subject of the Initiative and the handcuffs they’d been putting on him last I saw him.
“You escaped immediately,” I said.
“Of course,” he said.
“I expected nothing less,” I told him, and hoped he believed me.
He was still angry with me, and I with him. The chain of outrages goes so far back that neither of us remembers which started it. We had words with each other, louder than before, and the elderly Pudge behind the counter demanded that we leave. Can’t blame him. I’d have thrown us out of the Magic Box. There we were on the pavement, glaring at each other. I was furious at the loss of my chance to set up any deals. I grabbed Ethan to have the usual satisfaction of beating his face in. Something about the sight of blood on his face makes me happy. Buffy says I have Ethan Issues, capital letters. Suppose she’s right. I have even more Ethan Issues this evening. So I grabbed him, and shook him as if he were a rat, and something heavy fell out of his pocket. It was like a wand, only much thicker and with a knob at the end. I snatched it up, in case it was a weapon he could use against me. At the very least I could beat him over the head with it.
He saw it in my hands and cackled. “Have a nice trip, Ripper,” he said, and then spoke a phrase in Latin, repeating it. I have been straining to recall the exact words. I was shouting at him as he spoke, so had trouble hearing. But I think it was I command time to bend, which in retrospect would make sense.
Something rushed around me, wind and color and noise. My head reeled, and I fell to the pavement. I thought at first Ethan had hit me with an offensive spell. In the next moment I knew that couldn’t be the case. He was missing. Something was very wrong. I pushed myself to my knees. The ground was cold under my hands. Icy. Much colder than it had been moments before. The stench was amazing: smoke and horse dung. There was ice and filthy snow on the street. Same street, obviously Beak Street. By this time I’d stood up and looked around myself. The sounds were all different. No droning of motors; instead horses and wooden wheels and a boy crying out the afternoon news. The people were dressed like Victorians, in hats and long skirts. A man passing by stared at me as I clutched at a lamp-post to hold myself up. A gas lamp.
I knew at that moment the rough outline of what had happened, but I don’t think it had quite sunk in. Denial, as Buffy would say.
I still had the artifact in my hands. I saw the door to Pudge’s shop, looking much the same as it always had, maybe a bit more run-down than usual, and I fled into it. I burst into the shop waving the wand thing and demanding to know what Pudge knew about it.
Of course there was a Pudge behind the counter. Same pinched face and sharp nose as the great-great-grandchild Pudge who’d been serving me moments before. The Pudge looked at me as if I were a madman. I suppose I was. I calmed myself, using every bit of self-control the Watchers had beaten into me. I schooled my accent as far into Oxford as I could and drawled, hoping that was close enough to what the accent of the educated classes was at the time. I held it out to him, and asked if he’d seen it before. We bent our heads together and began discussing it. There was a crystal at the heart of the knob, which I hadn’t noticed before. It was glowing, faintly. Now that I was calmer, I could feel the power in the thing. I told Pudge I suspected it moved its operator across dimensions, or possibly through time. He stiffened at that, and said he’d just had an enquiry about such artifacts. He nodded in the direction of a man on the other side of the shop, currently browsing the books. He looked like the sort of man one sees in productions of Dickens: greying muttonchops, flowing overcoat, top hat, stick.
Then I made my second mistake. I went over to the man, and politely asked him what he might know about the artifact in my hands. He turned to me, looked me up and down once, dismissing me, then his eyes fastened on the object in my hands.
“Ah. At last. You’re late. Well, give it here, man!”
“That artifact belongs to me,” he said, in the most arrogant tones I’ve ever heard used to me. And I’ve heard Quentin in a temper.
“The hell it does,” I told him.
He lashed at me with his walking stick. I blocked the blow reflexively. Have a nasty bruise across my forearm to show for it. He smashed at me again, this time with a word of Power, which knocked the artifact out of my hand. He grabbed it, knocked me down with another blast of magic, hit me in the solar plexus the old-fashioned way, with the stick, and ran.
Dreadful lapse on my part, and one I pray will not be one I forever regret.
When I could breathe again, I ran down to the street after him, but he had vanished. I went back into the shop and questioned Pudge about the man, but he would tell me nothing, not even when I pointed out that the man had just perpetrated robbery and assault under his very nose. I may have risen to delivering a threat. Not entirely sure; I was shaking with reaction by then. This Pudge then demonstrated the same lack of taste exhibited by his descendent, and threw me out of the shop. There I was on the pavement again, this time looking around myself in numb fear. I had no idea what to do next. I breathed until my head stopped spinning. With my overcoat buttoned, I hoped I didn’t look too far off the norm. I was missing a hat, and everyone around me had one. I tried to guess the year, based on the clothing, and could come no closer than late Victorian. Then I came to my senses and walked over to the newscrier. 1886. 4 January. Exactly 115 years.
It was mid afternoon in London, in January, during the little ice age. The air was sharpening for snow, and the sky was darkening. I had a moment of desperation and hopelessness and yes, I’ll confess it, blind panic. Then I realised that there were two avenues of attack for me. I set aside the Watchers for the moment, out of reflexive hatred, and chose the second as being a better bet. More likely to help me retrieve the artifact.
I set my feet into motion on the familiar yet unfamiliar streets, and made my way to Baker Street.
Monday 4 January, 1886
The afternoon had been bleak, the sort of afternoon that drives Holmes to fits of smoking the most poisonous tobacco in his possession, or playing dark and brooding airs on his violin for hours, or worse, to seeking the comforts of the morocco case. I was beginning to hope for something vile and shocking in the evening papers to pull him out of his funk. We heard the bell ring around four, and Holmes looked at me. “We might have some diversion now, Watson,” he said. His reasoning here was apparent: neither of us were expecting a visitor. I rose and tidied away the worst of his messes with newspapers and coffee cups, to give our visitor a place to sit, should he wish one. Holmes displayed that streak of vanity I have sometimes seen in him and straightened his dress in the glass, then positioned himself in his armchair in the bow window, with eyes closed ostentatiously. We heard steps on the stairs, then Mrs Hudson’s voice, then her knock. Holmes bade her enter. She said that a Mr Rupert Giles was calling, and did we wish to see him. She handed his card to Holmes, who examined it with a puzzled expression. He commanded her to show Mr Giles up immediately.
I noticed that my companion was already intrigued, and eagerly took up my notebook and pen to record the encounter as it took place. I have those notes to thank for the detailed nature of my record of the interview here in my diary, and a most amazing interview it was!
Mr Giles came in behind Mrs Hudson, and stood a little diffidently just inside the door, with an overcoat over his arm and a battered leather case in his hand. He stepped forward to give her room to leave behind him, and I ushered him forward.
Rupert Giles was a handsome man of middle age, over six foot tall, with a powerful build disguised under strange clothing cut too large for him. He had a full head of slightly curling hair, not yet grey, and worn untidily. His face was angular, with strong cheekbones and a stronger chin, speaking of an equally strong character and determination. He had on a neat pair of spectacles, and yet he bore himself like a man who was ready for fisticuffs, as I have seen Holmes at times. His nose had been broken at some time in his life, and not set properly, and a long scar marred his high forehead. I might have taken him for a military man, except that his voice and manner were refined. He stepped further into the room, in response to my urging, and looked about himself as if dazed. He stared from Holmes to me and back again. He set down his coat and case, and stood with a hand on his chest, still gazing steadily at Holmes.
“Where are my manners?” he asked, seeming to come to himself. “I am Rupert Giles.” I introduced myself and Holmes. He shook our hands with a little smile on his face, then sat on the chair opposite Holmes.
“What brings you to us, Mr Giles?” asked my companion.
Mr Giles began his explanation hesitantly, stuttering a little. “This afternoon, an artifact of some antiquity and power was stolen from me while I stood in Pudge’s Magic Shop. I believe that I am marooned without it. I would like your aid in recovering it.”
“Yes. It was responsible for transporting me a, a, well, a great distance. I believe it will be required to return me to where I belong.”
“The artifact is a magic one, then. You needn’t dance around the issue of magic with me. I am a minor adept.” Holmes lit a cigarette with a lazy word, inhaling and gazing at our visitor through the smoke. I have seen him do this now and again, though he usually prefers to reserve its use for times of need. Mr Giles smiled and inclined his head for a moment.
“So, we have established that we each are aware of the world of the arcane,” said Holmes. “From where did this artifact transport you?”
“Perhaps you can tell me,” said Mr Giles, cautiously. “The answer is a fantastic one. I believe you will have more trust in it if you arrive at it yourself.”
“If you will permit me,” said Holmes. Mr Giles nodded. Holmes rose, moving close to our visitor. Mr Giles looked at Holmes with the greatest expression of delight I have ever seen on one of our clients. He bore Holmes’ examination with every sign of good nature, and it was a remarkably close examination, of the sort that often causes our visitors to bristle with offence.
Holmes began by picking up the man’s overcoat, laid on the back of the divan. He looked inside at the lining, and gave Mr Giles the first of many piercing stares. He then stepped near to the man and took his hands in his own and examined them closely. He uttered a little groan when he saw the man’s signet ring, but did not comment on it or ask any questions about it. Mr Giles had an object strapped to his wrist with a leather band, that looked like a miniature pocket-watch. Some fashionable ladies have taken to wearing their watches on their wrists, but I had never before seen a man do so. Holmes examined this watch with every sign of fascination.
The strange man stood to allow Holmes to examine his jacket.
“Where did you go to university?”
“Ah. I’m a Cambridge man, myself. And you read?”
“And took a First?”
Mr Giles laughed quite silently. “Yes.”
“Would you recite something for me?”
“Does it matter what?”
“Anything you know well.”
He responded by reciting a poem that sounded rather like nonsense, about a fantastic beast killed by a man with a sword. The stammer vanished when he recited. “Or I could do some Shakespeare, if you’d prefer that to Carroll,” he said.
Holmes made an absent noise from the floor, where he was inspecting our guest’s boots, which I must say looked to be of bizarre fashion, with a thick sole of strange material. They were more like a workman’s boots than a gentleman’s. Holmes returned to his feet and walked around our guest, examining his face and hair quite closely. Then, to my great shock, Holmes lashed out with a fist, seemingly with every intention of knocking Mr Giles senseless. Our guest blocked the blow handily, then almost without effort seized my friend and held him with his arm locked behind his back in a position that looked most uncomfortable. I have rarely seen Holmes bested in a dustup, and never when he had the advantage of surprise. Holmes shocked me again by laughing. “You may release me now,” he said. “I will not be making the mistake of matching blows with you any time soon.”
Mr Giles nodded, then released his grasp. “You shifted your feet to brace for the swing,” he told Holmes. Holmes rubbed his hand absently, as if to return feeling to a numbed extremity, and returned to his examination.
Holmes at last withdrew to his armchair, where he sat and gazed at our visitor for a minute over steepled fingers. Mr Giles himself sat down in his chair again, seeming ill at ease. He removed his glasses and polished them vigourously with a handkerchief.
“Mr Giles, would you tell me in what year you were born?” Mr Giles hesitated, glancing once again oddly from me to Holmes. “Come, man! I must know what gulf separates us!”
“Nineteen fifty-four,” said Giles.
My friend exclaimed, then continued with the remarkable question, “And when is home?”
“Two-thousand one,” was the reply.
“Why come to me and not them?”
“I have been raised from boyhood to admire you. I have to think you’d do a better job than they at finding the artifact.”
At this juncture I rose from my chair and demanded to know what nonsense they were talking.
“Time-travel, my dear Watson,” said Holmes. “The artifact has dislocated Mr Giles in time from over a hundred years in the future. No wonder you are so desperate to recover it, sir.”
“But this is fantastic!” I exclaimed. “How can this be? How can you believe such a tale?”
“Mr Giles has been careful not to tell such a tale, you’ll note. As for the possibility of the thing, well.” Holmes made a dismissive gesture. “I have read speculation about how one might go about it. It would take fantastic power, but it is possible. The question of whether Mr Giles has indeed travelled in time to be with us is a more concrete one. The clues are, as usual, all before you, my dear, only you perhaps do not understand the significance of some of them.”
“You know his methods,” said Giles, quietly.
Holmes lit another cigarette, using a match this time. “First, you will perceive that he is a well-educated man, but his mode of dress is most odd.”
“Yes, I had noticed that,” I said with some heat. “I thought perhaps he’d come to us from America.”
“Where is his hat? He was wearing none when he came in, and his hair gives no sign that he has worn a hat at all recently. And his watch! It is obviously designed for a man, obviously some years old, from the creases on the band, and yet made by no firm I have heard of. And it keeps accurate time, but does not tick.”
“Quartz mechanism,” murmured Giles. “Not invented yet.”
“There are other puzzling aspects of his dress. The maker’s labels on his coat, and his jacket. The material of the lining of his overcoat. His spectacles, which are not made of glass, and the soles of his boots. These but are more entries in the same column. There is his calling card, which has several baffling sequences of numbers on it, whose purpose I cannot guess, and very strange printing, not letterpress at all. Next, we come to his accent. I can detect Oxford overlaid on London, and then something else over that. But where in London? And what has been rounding off his Rs recently? How is it that I cannot place his accent?”
“Camden, then California. A place that does exist on your maps now, though the accent of its citizens today would be little like the accent I hear daily.” Our guest smiled fondly, then his expression changed to one of great worry. He rubbed at his chest again.
“Thus, we have the picture of a man dislocated in time. And we continue! Who is this man? He has worn a ring in his ear, but is obviously no sailor. He has seen much physical combat; you observe the scars and the broken nose and his great skill. And the fingers on his left hand were once broken, and set expertly. But most telling, most telling, Watson!” Holmes sprang from his chair and leapt over to our guest, and flung open his jacket. “He is carrying wooden stakes and a cross in special pockets sewn on the inside of his coat. This man is a Watcher, a warrior and a scholar at once.”
Our guest assented.
“And the last piece of evidence, Watson, is on his left hand.” Giles held up his hand at this point of Holmes’ speech, and I saw the signet ring again. I stepped over to the strange man and, having received his nodded permission, looked at the signet ring. It had an odd stone like onyx, and a Latin motto written around the stone, servo eam. I could see nothing of note about it, and said so to Holmes.
“This is the evidence I suspected you would not understand, Watson. This ring is made only for the Watcher of the active Slayer, and given to him when he swears his oath to her. I can sense the magic active in the ring. You could be the Watcher to a Slayer who has passed, sir, but I doubt it. You do not show the signs. Your great distance from your Slayer is troubling you. You have rubbed your chest no fewer than three times during this interview. And yet, I know of the man who is the active Watcher right now; he was described to me as much younger than you.”
“1886,” said Mr Giles, musingly. “Farringdon and Rachel, was it? Have they come back to London to deal with Whitechapel, or are they still on the Continent? No, that would be ‘87.”
I at last burst out with my questions. “You must tell me, Holmes, what on earth it is that you are discussing. Slayers? Watchers?”
Holmes made a gesture to Mr Giles and sat down again, smiling to himself. I felt more than a little irritated by his obvious amusement. Mr Giles gave my friend an intimidating glare, apparently equally irritated. “I’m told I love the speech, but I have never actually been able to get all the way through it.” He turned to me, then drew a breath. “You know about magic. Do you also know about demons, and vampires?”
“Vampires, yes, Holmes has warned me of something of the sort, though I believed at the time it was one of his little jokes.” I cast my friend an apologetic glance. “But demons? What is this?”
“The world is older than you know,” our visitor said. He then proceeded to explain to me that vampires were real, and walked the streets of London even as we spoke. I looked to Holmes, certain that our distant traveller was at last revealed to be a madman, but he merely nodded at me.
“As long as there have been vampires, there has been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, to find them where they gather and to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers.” He went on to explain the great powers granted to the Slayer, and the Council of Watchers, and his role as a teacher to the active Slayer. I took copious notes as he spoke, so I will not repeat the information here. It was all rather astonishing.
“You understand why I must return to my time,” he said to Holmes, with some urgency. “I must return to Buffy. She’s in the middle of—” He broke off. “I came to London to beg the Council to research something for me, a very strong demon Buffy has been stalemated with for several months.”
At this juncture, Mrs Hudson appeared with tea for three. We adjourned the discussion until all of us were well-supplied with muffins and cups, and had rearranged ourselves cosily around the fire.
“You’ll dine with us, of course,” said Holmes, “And stay in the spare room Mrs Hudson has yet to let.” Our guest made as if to protest. “No, I must insist. You likely have no coinage that would satisfy a merchant. And though, true, you will eventually persuade the Council of your bona fides, I doubt you will do so this evening. No, you must stay with us. And you must tell me of the theft. But first, do have one of these most excellent muffins.”
I write in the sitting room of 221B Baker Street, a sentence I should never have expected to find streaming from my pen. It’s mid-afternoon. Holmes has taken off. Watson says there’s no telling whether he’ll reappear tonight or not. He’s on the scent of something, so he might not show himself for days. I hate feeling out of the loop. I’m used to running the investigation, co-ordinating all the information. Holmes of course assumes that role for himself. And given my displacement from nearly all that is familiar, he’s right to do so. I haven’t his resources. Just wish he’d share his discoveries more freely than Watson’s accounts say he did.
Hardly know which tense to use. Watson hasn’t yet written most of the stories about Holmes I’ve read. He hasn’t had most of the cases. Holmes hasn’t yet— better not to write it here.
I’m walking around in a haze of unreality. The whole interview yesterday, dinner with the two of them last night, all of it feels at one remove. I’ll tell myself that I’ll wake up and find myself in the hotel, reeling from whatever drug Ethan slipped into my drink this time. And then Watson will idly fold over his newspaper, and I’ll shake myself and know I am truly here.
Of course I’ve seen photographs of the famous pair, but this experience is so different. Here they are, in colour and in three dimensions, moving and breathing and smoking their tobacco, pouring me tea, handing me muffins with butter on their fingers. Holmes’s sudden laugh and hooded eyes, Watson’s soft chuckle and bushy moustache. Watson smells of pipe tobacco and eau de cologne; Holmes of cigarettes and chemicals. They’re younger than I usually think of them, barely past thirty. Vibrant. Alive. I swing back and forth from laughing with sheer delight to meet them, and gnawing at my fingers in panic that I’ll never be able to return to Buffy.
I spent most of the night staring at the ceiling, fretting. Watson saw my exhaustion at breakfast, and solicitously asked me how I’d slept. The man is really quite empathetic. “Just jetlag,” I said, without thinking. I found myself explaining that I had also been in California yesterday morning, as well as in their future. At first they thought I meant the artifact had transported me. I set them straight, then shut up when Watson tried to get me to talk about what fantastic contrivance had transported me 5000 miles in the course of hours. Infernally curious man, as well as soft-hearted. Holmes stopped asking questions as soon as I’d satisfied him that it was irrelevant.
Would it matter if I told Watson about jet planes and airlines and trans-Atlantic flights? I think not… and yet. Thinking about time-travel paradoxes makes my head spin. I cannot possibly hope to sort out the issues. I can only solve the problems directly in front of me with what little wisdom I have gathered to myself. If I keep my dear Buffy’s interests in mind, I cannot put my foot wrong. Or so I tell myself. I’m likely whistling in the dark. I’ve resolved to keep my mouth shut as much as possible about the future. No sports scores, no investment tips, no talk of war. This is the recommended behaviour, I believe.
After breakfast Holmes took me round to the Council building on Gower Street. He gave me one of Watson’s soft hats, to satisfy the casual observer, but said my modern clothes would help my story. He sent his card in to the man he said he knew best, a Watcher named Galloway. Holmes told me who Robert Galloway was while we waited. He was the Watcher to the Slayer before the current one. I didn’t know the name, as I had known the names of Farringdon and Rachel. They’re famous; their campaign in Whitechapel is required study. But this Galloway I didn’t know by reputation. Holmes had assisted him and his Slayer in a small matter two years earlier, he told me. He had run into them in mid-battle, and been shocked to find a woman fighting while a man stood on the sidelines.
I am used to cooling my heels in that Council hall, waiting for someone to decide I deserved attention. The damn thing had hardly changed in a hundred years. I do not exaggerate. Bloody irritating. I was working up to full agitation, which is my usual state in that hallway. Fortunately Galloway appeared before I broke down and began pacing. He stretched a hand to Holmes, then turned to me. I could tell instantly that he’d had a Slayer. Been a real Watcher, not just a pencil-pusher. An unconscious deduction, a glimpse and a blink and I knew. It was in his stance, his combat-ready bearing, the broad shoulders and chest from ungentlemanly muscle, the scarring on his face and knuckles. And then the grief, which I could see in his face and his walk. Half a human being.
Some day I will be that man. Sometimes I wish to go first, to die for Buffy, but then I remember that she’s already lost a Watcher. Won’t put her through it again if I can help it. And she asked me to live for her. My Slayer, I miss you. You’re so far away. Can feel the ache where you should be in my heart. I must get back. The thought of being marooned here, so far from you—
I must have given myself away somehow just now, because Watson interrupted to hand me some brandy. He put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and hovered until I’d drunk it down and calmed myself.
Must have been ten times as bad for that poor man. Don’t know how he stood it. Holmes introduced us, and we shook hands. I gave him my condolences, poor and useless though they must have been to him. He looked at me coolly, then at Holmes. Holmes murmured that we needed a private place to talk, and Galloway drew us into a side room.
Galloway wasted no time asking me what right I had to wear the ring on my left hand. I bristled, but Holmes intervened before I could say anything rash. He pulled out chairs for the two of us and got us settled. He then explained my story, rather better than I could have. I’d have made a mess of it, stammering about temporal paradoxes and speculating about the artifact.
Galloway said that if Holmes vouched for me, it would be enough for him. He would give me the Council’s help, saving one thing. I claimed to be a Watcher, and this claim couldn’t be accepted easily. Galloway had his own inquiries to make before he agreed with Holmes. Holmes made an exasperated gesture when he heard this; I think his pride was stung that someone refused to trust his deductions.
Galloway then set wheels in motion, calling in some flunkies and sending them running again on errands. I had to revise upward my estimation of his Council status. They usually give retired field Watchers sinecures. Not this man. It turns out Galloway is one of the Three. He led me out, and down the hall. I groaned when I saw where we were going. I got exactly what I had dreaded on the plane: a session in the chamber at the centre of a circle of suspicious faces. Such wonderful fun. I can expect it twice on this trip.
Must remember to tell Buffy that it could be worse than tweed. I could have worn a frock-coat every day.
It went about as well as my interviews with the Council usually go. They demonstrate their power over me; I splutter helplessly, stammer, and eventually lose my temper. But this time I could answer all their objections. I knew the oath, knew the ancient passphrase, could magically demonstrate my fidelity, and had the ring. They put me under a truth spell for a few excruciating minutes, the sons of bitches, but I passed that test as well. They pressed me to tell them of the future, if I were truly from there. I told them who won the World Series in the year 2000, which thanks to Xander I unfortunately know. I then wished them joy of the information, and told them they’d get no more from me. One of them asked me why I was afraid to talk, claiming that information from the future was exactly the same as prophecy. That was a stumper. I finally told him that prophecy is what the Powers have decided we ought to know; anything I revealed would be the choice of a mere man. I trust myself to decide what my Slayer needs, but I am not capable of bearing the burden of the world. No matter how tempting it might be to contemplate averting the tragedies of the last century.
At this Galloway stopped the proceedings, and said they’d heard enough. He shocked me by asking what the Council could do for me now.
I told him that I need access to the library and funds to pay Holmes for his services and to pay my living expenses. I must investigate the artifact that had stranded me so far from my home, so that I can use it to return when Holmes regains it. If Holmes regains it. My return to my Slayer’s side is critically important. We understood each other on this point, I think.
And that was that. They gave me what I needed. Money. They’ve always had pots floating around. Less stingy with it now than they are in my time. (Tenses again!) Before I could blink I had a bank draft (written to Holmes, which seemed like a good idea to me), a pile of Bank of England notes, and a pocketful of coins. Also, and most importantly, access to the library. Unrestricted, which I was never granted even as a full Watcher in my time. Some shifts in attitude seem to have occurred in the last century. Once they decided I had indeed been partnered with a Slayer, their respect for me increased. I have grown used to being treated with suspicion by the Council, my judgement questioned precisely because of my service to a Slayer.
Holmes took me away again immediately. He said he wished to “strike while the iron was hot,” and interview the magic shop Pudge as quickly as he could. He would put me in Watson’s capable hands for the remainder of the day.
I shall have to look Galloway up when I get home. I likely have his diaries. Would love to read of his Slayer and learn her name.
Holmes and our guest returned at a bit past the lunch hour. Giles, as he has asked me to call him, spent some time writing in his own diary, which he said he keeps for the Watchers who come after him. While he did so, Holmes dressed himself in one of his odd disguises. This one made him look like a cross between a don and a madman, perhaps rather closer to the latter. He instructed us not to wait for him, but to amuse ourselves as we would. Giles asked me, a trifle shyly, if we could visit a tailor and get him something to wear. He felt he couldn’t move about freely in the city until he looked more like a gentleman. And besides, his own clothing was beginning to become rumpled and dirty. The clothing of the future— so like our own, and so unlike. I wonder if it is the fashion to wear clothing that is so large, and baggy. Giles’ sleeves hang quite far down over his wrists.
We tried my coat on him first, to see if it would do at all. He’s broader in the shoulders and taller than I. So I took him round to my tailor and begged for a quick job done for my poor cousin, who’d had his trunk stolen from him on his trip back from America. Giles picked up on the ruse quickly, and told a sorry tale of his travel on the steamer. My tailor isn’t the most fashionable, but he does a decent job and was quite willing to to put himself out for a cousin of mine. We had him do some evening clothes and one suit for day-time wear. Giles laughed silently at the suggestion of a frock-coat, saying only that his Buffy would be vastly entertained to see him dressed so. And of course sundries, some of which my man was able to send ‘round immediately. Giles pointed out to me that he’d be rather sorry to trade his boots for mine. He’d had an easier time walking on the fresh snow than I’d had.
I then took him to the Stores for a few other items he might find useful. And we got him a shave, which he badly needed. He emerged from that experience with a shudder of relief, telling me only that he would never be letting another man near his throat with a straight razor again.
We took a cab back to the flat, as the weather had stayed sharp, and snow was falling once again. Giles insisted on paying for the cab, saying he had no lack of funds now. He fumbled with the coins for a moment, then sorted them out. He again had that odd look on his face, which I have quickly learned to interpret as meaning that he has been reminded that he is far in his past. I made so bold as to inquire what had struck him about the coins, and he said that he hadn’t counted shillings and pence since he was a boy. I had somehow thought he’d moved to America as a much older man, but perhaps I misunderstood.
We dined in, on Mrs Hudson’s simple but plentiful fare. Giles had the manners of a perfect gentleman. I toasted the Queen with my port, in a moment of puckishness, to see how he would react, and Giles cheerfully lifted his glass. He said that the last Queen he’d toasted had been an Elizabeth, but he was proud to toast Victoria. It’s heartening to learn that Englishmen are still Englishmen, even one hundred years in the future. And that England will still have a monarch and an empire.
Afterward we lounged about, finishing the port, and talking of many things. We discussed books. Giles urged me to read a novel by a writer I had never heard of, a man named Robert Louis Stevenson. He said that “Treasure Island” was just the sort of book I’d enjoy. We talked of Poe a little, and Giles quite astonished me by saying that some of Poe’s more lurid stories were based on actual events. He then told me some tales of vampire-hunting with his charge. Buffy seems quite extraordinary. It continues to amaze me that one of the fairer sex could be such a fierce warrior, and so brave. The story of how she went to meet her own death at the hands of the Master brought tears to my eyes.
In return, I told him of some of the cases with which I’ve been able to assist Holmes. I believe I am beginning to get the knack of this tale-telling— I was able to tell him the story of the Under-Secretary’s mistress in a manner that had him leaning forward in his chair in his eagerness to hear what happened next.
A peculiar thing happened after our third glass. Giles stood to poke at the fire, bracing himself with a hand on the mantelpiece. When he straightened again, he observed that he’d placed his hand adjacent to the unanswered correspondence. Another guest might have inquired as to why a pile of letters was affixed to the mantel with a knife, but Giles did not. Instead, he gave a curious giggle. Seeing the knife in person gave him a shock, he told me. Giles stuttered a little as he asked me what it was like to live with the great Holmes. I told him some tales of his eccentricity, and marvelled to hear him say that he knew of many of these traits. The bullet-marks in the wall had been plastered over several months ago, but Giles knew to ask after them. And after the Persian slipper. I asked how it was that Giles, a man so removed from us, should know such intimate details of my life.
“Oh!” he said. “You are famous. British heroes. Every schoolchild knows of Holmes and Watson, the detective and his faithful chronicler. Everyone has read your stories of his great cases. I think you have begun to write?”
“Yes, I have. But I have not yet been able to convince any of our magazines to purchase my tales. My literary agent Doyle assures me that I need only persevere, but really I begin to despair. No-one seems interested in reading about a consulting detective.”
“Oh,” said Giles, appearing disconcerted. He began stammering rather badly. “Do not lose hope. You will do well, eventually. Your literary agent is correct.” He sat down and drained his glass in one swallow, then refused to say any more. I did not understand why this exchange disturbed him so. I find it quite heartening to be told that I will eventually publish my stories. I haven’t asked him, but perhaps I will even publish my Afghanistan memoirs one day.
Giles retired shortly afterward, and seemed to have recovered himself entirely when he bade me a good-night. I have sat up long enough to write this, in hopes that I would see Holmes if he should return. It appears he will not be back at a reasonable hour this evening, however, so I shall follow our guest to dreamland.
Dastin’s Folly. It’s called Dastin’s Folly. Perhaps someday it may be known as Giles’ Undoing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I spent my day in the Council library. The entire day. Felt a bit wretched in the morning, thanks to one glass of port too many with Watson last night. A pot of Mrs Hudson’s excellent tea set me to rights. I parted from Watson, who asked me if I would be quite all right in the city on my own, and set off across London. Victorian London.
It continues to be a marvel to see the city I know so well, so familiar and so strange at once. Buildings not present yet, buildings present that will not be in a century. Streets not yet built, or not yet run through to other streets. Entire neighbourhoods that will be different worlds. And other places that are exactly as they will be. No tangles of metal and glass! No traffic lights, or zebra crossings. No wires linking buildings.
Had an odd thought. London’s monuments, its statues, its arches, its cluttered cathedrals, are all to the glory of empire. For me, that empire is memory. For this city, these people, it is real. It is present. The over-gaudy plaque in Westminster to the obscure general who won a battle in the mid-east is a plaque to a man who took territory that is under the flag now. When Watson drinks to the Queen’s health, he is not toasting a tourist attraction, or a quaint tradition. He toasts out of respect. This is the efflorescence of empire.
I wandered out of my way, exploring, before it struck me that I was distracting myself. The historian in me is on a lovely holiday, but the Watcher must, as always, take precedence. I have a problem to solve, and I have to stay focused.
The porters let me in to the Council building with no difficulty. Apparently word of my presence had been spread. I went immediately to the library and assured the librarians that I knew my way around. They checked on me anyway, periodically. At teatime one of them practically dragged me out to a table where they fed me sandwiches and tea. We talked about which languages I’d needed to translate most often, and which ones I’d felt had been a waste of classroom time. Surprised them all by saying that the Sumerian had come in shockingly handy.
They asked me no questions about the future. The good thing about dealing with fellow Watchers is the intelligence. They might be hidebound cold bastards, but they grasp the essentials of a situation quickly. Holmes would have made a good Watcher. On second thought, not; he’s too iconoclastic, too independent. Too impatient. Couldn’t ever subordinate himself to the needs of a Slayer. Has more than enough brains for it, though.
Attempted just now to imagine Holmes dealing with Buffy after a nasty breakup. Laughed so hard I disturbed Watson from his writing.
I’m going to have to watch myself with Watson. He extracts information I don’t wish to divulge quite innocently, simply by being so genial and friendly and warm. So himself. The question of what Holmes saw in the man is well-answered. Teach Watson a few more languages and he might do well in the job. Hadn’t thought of that before.
But back to the research. The Council collection has improved somewhat in the years between now and my time. This is somewhat counteracted by the fact that I have access to the restricted collection, and thus am able to get my hands on some volumes I’ve longed to see. I made excellent headway on one of my topics, and little progress on the second.
Ought to come clean about that here. I decided that if I’m worried the Council are going to play silly buggers with me about Glory, I am not above going behind their backs and doing the work myself. Perfect opportunity, here.
I have an ally in the Council now: Galloway, who appeared again today, watching me as I tore out my hair in frustration. I cursed the Council at him when he asked me why I felt I needed to do this on my own. I tried not to give away that Buffy and I had both gone rogue, but just to leave him with the impression that the Council played games with its information in my time. He lectured me. Told me that the Council existed to serve the Slayer, and was nothing without her. I had the right to demand anything I judged the Slayer to need. Gave me pause. Why have I been so timid? He gave me one of the junior researchers to put on the job of learning what he can about a demon named “Glory”, and a phenomenon known as the “Key”. I spent a half hour rattling off everything I could recall of Buffy’s encounters with her, from the Sphere of Dagon to her extreme strength. The man took notes, and when I had done vanished off into the stacks. He’s got orders to send a message to Baker Street when he finds anything. Part of me had been hoping he’d come back with an answer immediately, but this was unrealistic. Perhaps tomorrow.
It also occurs to me that if I get the Council to do the research now, the answers will be on hand in a hundred and fifteen years when I go to ask them about Glory. It does mean that when I return, I will be heading in to a Council that already knows the entirety of the reason for my visit. This will put me at a disadvantage.
The artifact search was easier. The Council makes a point of tracking items like that, and had vast tracts of useful data, well-indexed.
Dastin’s Folly. It was constructed in 1434 by alchemist and sorcerer Cornelius Dastin, who was obsessed with repairing various unfortunate events of his youth. He lost his nose in a brawl, or a duel, or perhaps in a battle. Accounts vary, and become more romantic the further one gets from the original sources. Dastin was said to have done some nasty things in its construction, but his treatise on that is lost. At least, the Council had nothing on how he built the thing, which apparently took twenty years and some extreme cleverness to get right. Dreadful things happened to Dastin as a result of his attempts to meddle; he made his predicament rather worse. So did everyone else who attempted to use it to change the past, though some claimed to have told their past selves how to make fortunes. Accounts varied about whether it actually worked. Eventually the artifact was retrieved from the unlucky adventurer into whose hands it had fallen, and given into the keeping of the Cistercians at Clairvaux. This was 1504 or thereabouts. There it remained in obscurity and safety, among men immune to its temptations, until the disturbances of the revolution. It was stolen in 1790, and vanished from knowledge. Some reports of sightings in 1838, but no reliable word.
I was able to contribute an accurate sketch to the archived materials.
Dastin’s notes survived, partially, and are transcribed in one of the volumes I found. The key points:
I wish I knew what Holmes was up to. Frustrates me not to have heard from him. He may treat Watson like a loyal sidekick if he wishes, but I am a different sort of man.
Holmes appeared briefly this morning, around eleven. He was dressed as a horse-groom, a role I have seen him play several times now. He ate a prodigious early lunch, saying little other than that he expected to have answers for our guest as early as tomorrow morning. He inquired after Giles, then retired to change into yet another costume. He left, and I have not seen him since.
My friend has spent the last two days in the library of this Council of which he is a member. Yesterday he returned here in good spirits, saying he had learned a great deal of useful information. He returned today, in the mid-afternoon, with a much different manner, quite down in the mouth. “They have nothing,” he told me. “There is no demon answering that description recorded anywhere.”
He was further discouraged that he had missed Holmes’ brief visit. He told me that he’d made no progress on his research into the nature of the demon that has been plaguing his charge, his ‘slayer’. Buffy has been much on his mind today. He has been rubbing his chest often, with that gesture Holmes pointed out on his arrival. Holmes had warned me that the great physical separation from the girl could be expected to cause him distress at times. I suspect it troubles him most when he most worries about her. I distract him at these moments and it passes.
A runner came by with a delivery from my tailor. Giles fell upon the boxes with pleasure, opening them and exclaiming over the contents. I encouraged him to change for dinner, and suggested we might try dining out. Giles said he’d be thrilled to get out of his increasingly rumpled clothing, then took himself and the boxes away. I went off and changed. Holmes and I don’t bother changing if we’re dining at home, but it seemed to the thing to do, to make it a proper night on the town.
Giles returned, bathed and dressed, a man transformed. He was elegant, refined, and yet still retained the air of strength I had felt in him from the first moment. He stood before me, hands outspread, and spun slowly. He looked delighted with himself, and told me that he loved fancy dress. I stepped over to him to adjust his tie, but found he’d done an excellent job knotting it on his own. He held out his gloves, with the air of Holmes examining a new species of tobacco ash.
“Not used to wearing these, I’m afraid. Nor the hat,” he told me. “But I feel like— well, like somebody famous from the— oh, never mind.” He put on the hat, cocked it, and struck a pose. Then he waltzed around my sitting room, with an imaginary partner, with that same air of delight. He came to a stop, looking a little shame-faced, and apologised. Then he inquired as to the specifics of our evening plans. Dinner at Simpson’s, I told him, then said I thought we might see a play. He had another idea, however.
“What about the Savoy? Any G and S playing? Gilbert and Sullivan, that is?”
When I told Giles, after consulting the evening paper, that the play currently performed at the Savoy was “The Mikado”, he became almost childlike in his eagerness. How could I not yield to such excitement, such obvious delight in the prospect?
We then left for our evening out. I had been worried that Giles would feel out of place in London society, even the poor version of it that I enjoy, but he was quite comfortable at Simpson’s. In the Savoy, waiting for the curtain, he fetched us whisky and soda from the bar and toasted me, his anticipation plain on his face. We had more whisky at the interval, while Giles critiqued Mr Grossmith’s performance, which had quite pleased him. Afterward, we walked to Picadilly and the Criterion Bar, at his request. He said it thrilled him to be able to see the place where I had met young Stamford and been propelled along my journey with Holmes. He stood me for more drinks there, amongst the swells. We were in fine case, quite lit up by the time we struck out for home. We made our way up Regent Street with arms over each other’s shoulders. Giles was attempting to teach me one of the songs we’d heard performed just hours ago. Something about a list of people who’d not be missed. Apparently the opera is destined to be remembered. It’s been a rousing success, been playing nearly a year, so I suppose this isn’t shocking. Holmes and I saw it last spring.
Giles explained to me that it was tradition, when putting on a production, to rewrite the lyrics of one song to refer to the ‘society offenders’ most unpopular at the moment. “The task of filling out the blanks I’d rather leave to you,” he sang. Then he sang a version in his pleasant tenor.
As some day it may happen that a victim must be found, I’ve got a little list—I’ve got a little list Of undead demonic bastards who no doubt are underground, And who never would be missed—who never would be missed!
There’s the pestilential insect who wants to be your wife— And desiccated Inca girls who want to have your life— All Watchers who are up in dates and floor you with ‘em flat - All vampires who in getting staked, spray dust on you like that - And hyena packs who eating pigs al fresco can’t resist— They’d none of ‘em be missed — no they’d none of ‘em be missed!
Giles abandoned his song abruptly to touch his chest. “Dear Lord,” he said, “I miss Xander. I am a very long way from home indeed if I’m missing that boy.” He looked abashed. “I apologise for my sentimental outbursts.”
I assured him that it was no bother at all, that I was rather glad to have met a man from the future, and that I found his company congenial. I put my arm ‘round his shoulders again, and we continued our way toward home.
We were nearly to Baker Street, crossing past a little alleyway off Duke Street, when Giles stopped me with a hand on my arm. We stood a moment listening, and I heard the sounds of an altercation. Giles beckoned me to follow him into the mouth of the alley. There a man stood, struggling with a woman who twisted and writhed in his grasp to no avail. The man turned to face us and I uttered a cry. His face was inhuman, twisted, strangely deformed. A pair of unearthly yellow fangs jutted from his snarling mouth. Blood smeared his cheek. I realised that this, this was a vampire, and that the woman in its dreadful grip was in mortal peril.
Giles produced a stake from a pocket of his overcoat and whirled into motion, once again the powerful and dangerous man I had seen when he first entered our lodgings. He plunged the stake into the vampire’s back with great force, and paused a moment. I then saw a sight that will remain with me until I reach my grave: the vampire dissolved into dust, with a strange sighing cry. The dust showered over Giles’ arms and legs and onto the snow, staining it black. The woman the vampire had been ravishing screamed and fell to the fouled snow. I went to her side, intending to examine and treat her wounds, for blood dripped from her throat. But she wrested herself from my grasp with hysterical strength, then fled. I made as if to follow her. Giles seized my arm and arrested my progress.
“She will recover,” he told me. “And just now she will be in no mood to greet rescuers calmly. By morning she will have forgotten or explained away the incident.”
Shaken, I asked Giles if that had indeed been a vampire. He assured me it had been, and that London at present was home to several vampires of great infamy. He brushed himself down, removing the foul-smelling traces of the vampire he had slain. We continued our way north to our lodgings in silence, sober, with no further urge to sing.
Last night with Watson was magnificent. I saw The Mikado at the Savoy! George Grossmith, Jessie Bond, Rutland Barrington, the singers the roles were written for. It was almost more than I could bear. To add to the surreality of the experience, I ‘dressed’ for dinner for the first time in my life. Wearing a modern tie and tails to formal events is one thing; this is different. It’s normal. It’s everyday. It isn’t fancy dress, no matter how much it feels that way to me. The clothing is so complex. All buttons and studs and layers of lush fabric. Cut perfectly for my body. When I put it on I found myself standing differently, walking differently. I nearly didn’t recognise myself in the glass as I sorted out the tie and the cufflinks. I felt like I was another man. And there I was, in a theatre packed with men dressed similarly, surrounded by women in silk and feathers, holding a libretto for a comic opera I’ve known since childhood.
And then I found myself undressing for bed and shaking out the vampire dust, just as I might after any evening out at home. Gave Watson a bit of a turn and shocked me back to my senses. Rupert Giles, a twit in a top hat, stake in hand, playing at being a Victorian. Fool. I’ve been traipsing around pretending everything is all right. What if I’d missed staking it and gotten myself killed? What if I’d gotten Watson killed? What if it had been Angelus or Spike, and I’d just changed history by staking it? Why was I not spending every waking moment working to get myself back?
I lay awake thinking. Trying to sober up. No more drinking with Watson.
Holmes reappeared some time during the night. I went down to the sitting room this morning, once again hung over, to find him calmly smoking a cigarette over coffee, spraying ash on his eggs. I sat down and immediately pumped him for information, which he blandly refused to give me. I don’t know how Watson puts up with the man’s ego. He adores making a big show of revealing what he’s learned, stage-managing the whole thing so as to impress onlookers. Chiefly to impress Watson, if you ask me.
“Have you found it?” I said.
“All will be revealed—” he began. I cut him off.
“Quit showboating and just tell me. Do you know where it is?”
“I believe so, yes.”
Holmes crossed his knees and sipped his coffee. “Watson tells me you’ve learned a great deal about the artifact. Perhaps you would be so good as to share your discoveries.”
“Bloody hell, man!”
Watson was suddenly at my elbow, pouring another cup. He held it out to me.
“We have an excellent plan which we’ll set in motion today, that should get you back home. Don’t we, Holmes?” I caught him grimacing at Holmes over my head. I took the cup, like a decent man, and drank it. Shouting at maddening British heroes isn’t the done thing.
I know what’s bothering me. I can imagine Buffy saying it to me, flipping a lock of hair: “You’ve got control issues, Giles.” Perhaps with capital letters. More Issues. The business with the vampire rattled me more than I’d thought. I need to do something. Desperately.
“Mr Giles,” said Holmes, “we appear to have got off on the wrong foot today. Perhaps you’d be so good as to walk with me, after you finish your breakfast. I think we each have information to share. The day is a fine one, I perceive.”
I consented. Watson didn’t seem to mind being left behind. He just asked if we’d be back for lunch, and helped himself to Holmes’ paper.
I put on my own warm overcoat and one of Watson’s hats, and trailed after the world’s first consulting detective in his fur coat and top hat. The winter storms seem to have moved off. One spends a lifetime complaining about weather predictions in the morning paper, but one misses them when they’re not there. No radar, no forecasts, nothing but the barometer. Today we had a chilly sunshine. The streets were bloody awful. Filthy with coal dust and horse manure. Yes, there are water-carts and street-sweepers, but there are an astonishing number of horses on the streets. And many of them in miserable condition. I commented on the filth to Holmes, and told him I understood now why the city once had killing fogs. It’s much cleaner in the 21st century.
We walked east, past the Council buildings. I found myself leading after that, treading familiar streets toward Bloomsbury. At the Museum steps, I asked him if he’d mind if we went in. I told him I’d worked there, before being sent to Buffy at the end of ‘96. Then I thought I ought to have specified a century, then I realised it was obvious. One hundred years from now, just about, I will be starting work in the back rooms of that building.
It has changed, of course. The steps I walked up today are less worn than I remembered them. The visit was painful. To see such damage inflicted on fragile artifacts! What they were doing to those mummies— unwrapping them! If I were an Egyptologist I’m certain I would have had a fit right then. I did splutter a great deal over the displays in my own field. I’m afraid I gave away that Etruscan had eventually been translated, by reading it aloud to Holmes and explaining the real significance of various items. He had me translate several inscriptions for him before I stopped over-focusing on the translation and realised what I had done. Thoughtless, and not the sort of revelation he’d be likely to miss. At least this slip likely did not change the course of history, unlike my previous one with Watson— I didn’t translate anything even remotely interesting, and it’s not earth-shattering news that Etruscan might be translated some day.
Or so I tell myself.
I lost my taste for the museum in the endless hallway of Greek pottery. (Homoerotic items not on display, though they’re present, in vast quantity, in storage. Most amusing.) Holmes laid a hand on my arm to silence me, and led me from the museum. He took me to a pub, bought me a drink, and at last talked.
Holmes knows who stole the artifact from me. Pudge, damn him, knew the identity of the man, but it took threats of prosecution for trafficking in banned artifacts before he would consent to reveal it to Holmes. Pudge was terrified of vengeance; the man is apparently an unholy terror, a sorcerer known to use magic to kill, sometimes horribly. His name is Roger Merridew. Holmes looked at me expectantly over his ale, but I’d never heard the name. Merridew wishes to prevent Victoria from ascending to the throne by assassinating her before her coronation. It seems to have something to do with getting Germans out of the succession. Merridew also disliked the influence Prince Albert had on the nation. All that civilisation doesn’t sit well with some people. It’s true that the course of European history would be drastically altered if Victoria were not to marry and have her brood of children. Though perhaps not the way Merridew wants.
What is it with schemes to assassinate monarchs? Unpleasant things happen when people succeed. For instance, world war. And the Serbs didn’t get what they wanted for another eighty years, and it was an holy mess when they did. Oh Lord. What was Ethan doing with the thing?
Whatever Merridew’s aim, he has a few other men in on the scheme with him, mainly members of a small occult society.
Holmes has tracked down Merridew and established the chain of actions he took after he stole the Folly from me. He may know less than we do about how to operate it. He’s spent the last few days holed up with an alchemist friend of his, Holmes believes in research and experimentation. The artifact should nearly be recharged after a century jump, so we’ll have to act soon to make sure they don’t use it and possibly strand me here forever. Or worse, use it and achieve their aim of assassinating the Queen. I’m not sure it’s possible; I’m not sure the timestream as I know it can be changed. But I’m also not sure it can’t be. Hasn’t the fear of just this been dogging me every time I open my mouth?
I was unable to reassure Holmes. He quizzed me on what I’d learned about the artifact. I told him everything. He questioned me quite closely about what it looked like, how it worked, and what I knew of the rules of time travel. Which wasn’t much.
Holmes proposes that we investigate the home of this alchemist tonight. He believes the man will not be at home, but will instead be off at a meeting of his esoteric brotherhood. He was certain Watson would go along with it, but wanted to sound me out. How did I feel about a spot of burglary? I just laughed, thinking of the times he would ask Watson the question, and told him that it might be good to have me along to disable any magical traps we might encounter in the lab. Bound to be a few.
So here I am, in their sitting room, scribbling to fill time and keep myself from fidgeting out of my skin, waiting for the proper dinner hour. I’ve prepared a few magic tricks for the break in, but I did that hours ago. Holmes and Watson ate earlier, but I couldn’t. Stomach is turning over. At last I’ll be able to act in some way other than turning over the pages of dusty books. I confess I’d like a chance to hit something.
We’re off now.
We took a cab to Shepherd’s Bush, where Holmes said this alchemist kept his laboratory inside his home. His name, Holmes said, was Jenks, and he had a career as a respectable chemist by daylight. By night he was known to Holmes as an associate of criminals, and though not known for viciousness himself, he had assisted Merridew in several particularly infamous experiments. Demon-summoning, with the use of instruments to contain the summoned creature, for instance. He did have a reputation as a clever man, skilled at crafting magical objects.
We alighted from the cab some distance from our eventual destination. Holmes led us through the streets to a mews, then to a particular high wall and gate. Giles stopped us then and cast some kind of spell over us, chanting something swiftly in a language I did not know and flinging a pinch of some strange-smelling dust into the air. He explained it would obscure us from observation, though not if we came in close contact with anyone. Holmes produced some lockpicks, and worked a few moments of a plainer sort of magic on the gate’s lock. In a trice we were in the back garden, making our way quietly along an icy flagstone path to the servant’s entrance. It was a neat house, not over-large, but something that a prosperous man in trade might have built for himself.
The house was deserted, as far as we could tell. A single gas lamp burned in the hallway. Darkness and silence ruled otherwise. Holmes led us surely and quietly through to a doorway leading down into a cellar better lit than the house above us. We emerged from a doorway into a strange room, filled with books and arcane gadgets and tools and strange apparatuses blown from glass. Blue flames from Bunsen burners glowed under a sealed glass bubble, in which a grey and black mass smoked. A great litter of papers and books covered a huge worktable, along with hand tools for working wood.
It smelled strange to my nose, and noxious. “Like a cross between a chemical laboratory and an herbalist’s shop,” said Giles, and I signalled my agreement by stifling a sneeze.
Holmes advanced cautiously into the room, I at his elbow. Giles stood just behind us, hands raised and lips moving in a soft magical casting of some kind.
“It seems clear,” he said. “Odd.”
I stood guard at the stairway, revolver in hand, though not cocked, bending a keen ear to any noise or step in the house above us. Holmes moved confidently into the room, nosing among the papers and books. Giles took the opposite path through the room, investigating the books on the shelf along the wall nearest me.
“The plot is quite advanced,” said Holmes, abstractedly. He held in his hands a large map. “They have researched the coronation thoroughly. I think they might be able to succeed with their scheme, if they manage to use the artifact.”
“How do we know they have not used it already?” I asked.
Giles answered me. “Presumably because Victoria is still alive and still rules. I’m not sure how it would feel to us if they succeeded. The three of us might retain the memory of the past as it was, or only I might do so. It—” He broke off, and pointed at a table against the far wall. Holmes moved toward it swiftly. On the table was a vise, and clamped in the vise was an wooden object, like a short staff, flared into a knot at one end, with a crystal in its centre. Holmes moved toward it quickly and unclamped it. He held it aloft. I moved away from the stairwell, taking several steps closer in curiosity. Giles also sprang forward.
My inattention cost us at that moment, as footsteps on the stairs alarmed all three of us. A man stepped into the room, then shouted unintelligibly back up the stairs. He stepped forward again, gazing at us with anger on his face. He was middling-young, thin-faced and clean-shaven, with some scarring on the left side of his chin. He was in evening dress. I noticed that his fingers were stained with chemicals. This, then, was Jenks the alchemist.
He addressed us. “That item is mine, and I will thank you to put it back.”
“I think not, on both counts,” said Holmes. He began edging toward Giles.
I lifted my revolver and held it steady, aimed at the man. “Have a care,” I told him, “and we will not harm you.”
The man looked at me with not a trace of worry, and stepped slowly aside from the stairway. A figure appeared on it, moving quickly. I shifted my aim, but too late. A man rushed upon me, infernally strong, knocking the weapon from my hands. His face was ridged, his mouth bristling with yellow fangs. I knew at once this was another vampire. I locked my hands about the monster’s throat, my one thought to keep its fangs away from my own throat. Its hands were cold on mine, inhumanly cold. Its stench was foul, a charnel smell of blood and decay. I have not smelled such a thing since Maiwand, and its effect upon me was horrible. I flinched and my grip slipped. It began to get the better of me. I was dimly aware of Giles shouting to Holmes, then that sighing cry, surrounding me and echoing into an unimaginable distance, the scream of a demon dying. Then I was coughing, my lungs filled with the dust that was all that remained of my assailant. I bent double, attempting to catch my breath. Giles held me up for a moment, until I straightened, then spun away. He held my revolver in his left hand.
Across the room, the alchemist was locked in a struggle with Holmes. He disengaged from Holmes and threw a crystalline object onto the floor at his feet. It tumbled and flashed bright, nearly blinding me. Holmes was knocked back, over the great worktable that stood at the centre of the room.
Jenks cried out a challenge to us. “You shall not stop us! She will fall!”
The man held the artifact high over his head and began to chant in Latin, commanding time to bend to his will. Giles cried out a warning, then brought the revolver to bear, his thumb upon the hammer. Holmes regained his feet and leapt forward. The alchemist continued speaking, flinching away from Holmes. Giles fired, just as the man turned away. The crystal at the heart of the artifact shattered.
The great report of the revolver in the tight confines of the room deafened us. I clapped my hands to my ears, too late. I could near nothing. The events of the next few minutes took place in a blanket of silence, then a dreadful ringing din, the struggles that followed all a dreadful pantomime.
The artifact exploded, and the alchemist was thrown back. Fragments flew in all directions. Glass shattered. The great glass bubble at the centre of the room fell to pieces. Liquid sprayed onto the open flame of the burners, and fire spread immediately. The alchemist fell to the floor, writhing and clutching a maimed hand to his chest.
I rushed to the side of the injured man, Giles alongside me. Holmes swept up papers by the armful and stuffed them into his satchel, hurriedly clearing the table where the artifact had been. We got the man to his feet, and half-carried him out of the basement. The fire was spreading along the walls, licking along the shelves of books. We got back up the stairs, Holmes on our heels.
We stood in the back garden, breath heaving in great plumes into the cold night air. We laid the injured man out on the snow and I began tending to his hand. My hearing returned to me, slowly, as I bound his wounds. I could hear the din in the street, the commotion and cry for the Fire Brigade.
Holmes cast one of his rare spells, laying his hands on the alchemist’s temples and bidding him to forget. “I’ve blurred his memory of the last hour,” Holmes said. “He’ll not recall our visit. Come, Watson. Let us leave him to the care of others.”
We turned to find where our new friend had got to. He stood unmoving, watching the house burn. I stepped to his side. He attempted to step to meet me, but swayed on his feet and fell to his knees beside me on the snow. “Oh, dear God,” he said. The flames were leaping high from the house, and I thought at first he was referring to the grave danger the fire posed. But his eyes were focused somewhere else, somewhere far away, perhaps as far as the moon.
“We must get him home,” Holmes said to me. I keep a vial of sal volatile in my pocket for occasions such as this. I held it under Giles’ nose. He shook himself and uttered a strong oath. I took his arm in mine, and urged him to run with me after Holmes, through the gate and away. Holmes led us through the maze of streets, until we were safely blocks distant from the scene of our disaster. The glow of the flames lit the sky behind us. Holmes found a cab and bundled us into it. We were driven home in silence, in sympathy for the misery drawn over the face of the man sitting opposite us.
Once in our comfortable sitting room, I mixed a whisky and soda and offered it to Giles. He shook his head curtly, and moved to the bow window, where he stood silently looking down at the street, clenching and unclenching his hands. Holmes took the drink from me and tossed it back. The ringing in my ears had at last abated.
Giles spoke then, stammering as was his wont when speech was difficult for him. “I thank you gentlemen for your efforts on my behalf. I will see you in the morning. No doubt the Council will have some use for me.” He gave us both a slight bow, and left the room.
Holmes drew me aside and said, “Watson, do not let him alone, and on no account allow him to do anything foolish. We may have lost our hope to send him back, but he must be made to understand that he can yet help his Slayer. Remind him of that, as often as you need to. If he gets through the first day, I think he will be all right. And it is not clear to me that we have definitively ended this conspiracy.”
Holmes then turned to the great mass of papers he’d snatched up before we made our escape from the inferno. I splashed more whisky into glasses, then carried them after Giles to his little room upstairs. There I found him sitting on the bed, hunched up, his boots and jacket off. I put his whisky on the nightstand, and sat on the armchair next the bed. I tasted my drink and contemplated him. His lot was indeed dreadful. He’d seen the end of his hopes to return this evening, had in fact ended them with his own finger on the trigger of my service revolver. It had been a grand sacrifice Giles had made. His place in time, weighed against the life of Queen Victoria.
I told him as much.
“Dulce et decorum est,” murmured Giles, but there was something in his voice that told me he did not mean it as it had been meant when we read Horace as schoolboys. “And yet, I couldn’t let him do it. Couldn’t let him go back and assassinate her. I meant to kill him, you know.”
I patted his shoulder in what I hoped was a soothing manner.
“I couldn’t let him,” Giles repeated. He buried his face in his hands. I pressed the whisky on him, and held his hands around the tumbler until he’d drunk it down. His face returned to something closer to its natural colouring.
“You did the right thing.”
“Dastin’s Folly. Giles’ Undoing. Don’t you understand? I’m trapped here.”
I did understand, but thought that talking with him about it would do more harm than good. Instead I told him that he ought to be proud of himself.
The dose I’d slipped into the whisky began to take effect then, and Giles’ eyes grew heavy. I helped him undress further, then tucked him up into his narrow bed, in between Mrs Hudson’s clean linen sheets. I settled myself in the armchair at his bedside and prepared to sit up all night with him. Though now that I have reached an end to my account, I may steal a blanket and wrap myself up to sleep here in the armchair. I must be here when he wakes. The man from the future sleeps peacefully enough now, but I cannot answer for his mood come morning, when he recalls this evening’s events.
I slept like a dead man and woke with my mouth full of ashes, Watson’s hand on my wrist counting my pulse. I wish I were a dead man. I will never see my Slayer again. Willow and Xander. Joyce. Even Anya. My friends, my books, my shop, my flat, my car, my life. Television. Computers. The Internet. Sunnydale. The Hellmouth. My Slayer, my Slayer, my Slayer. Buffy. I can perform one last service for her. I can spend my days researching Glory. I’ll learn what Buffy needs to know, and take steps to ensure she’ll receive my research. Then, I don’t know.
How will I get it to her? Can’t trust the Council further than I can spit them. They might be better behaved now, but I know what they’ll be like with Travers at the head of the Three. I’ll have to find an outside agency. Must ask Watson.
I made a hash of everything last night. I stranded myself here. I injured a man, burned down a house, and stranded myself. Was the reign of Victoria worth the remainder of my life? Watson thinks so. Likely it was worth a great deal more sacrifice than that.
Holmes is wasting time with the rubbish he stole from the alchemist last night. He’s smoking something utterly foul. I need to take a walk so I can breathe.—
Later: My faithful shadow Watson went on my walk with me, this although the weather is again nasty, wet, and cold. I think it’s a suicide watch. Bless the man, but if I wanted to be dead right now I would be already. He got off on the wrong foot, though, trying to tell me that it wouldn’t be so bad, that England was a grand nation. I’m afraid I let him have it.
“Not so bad? Not so bad? You’re racist, sexist barbarians from my point of view, did you know that? You know why Buffy didn’t come with me to London? Because a new term is starting at university, and I didn’t want her to miss classes. You lot are still arguing about whether women deserve education. And you know why else? Because her mother— a successful businesswoman I will point out— is recovering from surgery to cure a tumour that you wouldn’t have been able to detect, let alone remove. Your medicine is disgustingly primitive. You’re still arguing about whether it’s sound practice to damn well wash your hands after touching dead bodies!”
“Be fair now,” said Watson. “I think that one’s settled.”
“You haven’t discovered antibiotics. You have no idea what I’m talking about, even. I could die from a simple infection. Fight a vampire, get scratched, and die. I’ll have to discover penicillin for you if only to save my own sorry life. God!” I stood, huddled in my coat, and looked around the park, at the Bayswater Road just to the side, the carriages scattered along it, the mansions. “I can function here because I had an old-fashioned schooling, and because I am an historian. I’m never going to belong. I’m never going to be comfortable. Playing tourist in the past is one thing. Living in it— hell!”
“It sounds as if the future is rather different,” Watson said, more calmly than I deserved.
“More different than you can possibly know,” I told him, gloomily. And then I felt ashamed of myself, and apologised to him.
“Quite all right, old man,” he said, with his hand on my shoulder. “I know you’re thinking of your Buffy.”
At that I had to turn away from him until I could get control of myself. He did help, though. I admit it. He put his arm in mine, and I thought maybe I could bear it. We walked some more and talked a little. He assures me he knows of a trustworthy firm of solicitors who may be relied upon to execute a commission a century from now. At least I know I can send word to Buffy.
When we returned, we found an agitated Holmes waiting for us. He needed my help with some of the alchemical symbols and magical notation. I’ve sorted him out, I think. Holmes has a theory about what Jenks was up to. Dammit, he needs me again.—
It’s the strangest thing. With the return of hope comes the return of fear. I had the rest of my life mapped out an hour ago. Bleak, joyless, but known. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen. I could be forced to endure last night’s crushing disappointment all over again.
But I think Holmes is right. Jenks had been working on duplicating the artifact for Merridew. He had a transcription of some notes, possibly by Dastin himself, on its construction. He’d found a suitable crystal, mounted it in the correct wood, and been labouring over the spells to power it since Monday. He’d shed human blood to cast those spells. More than one man died to make the thing I destroyed last night.
According to Jenks’ lab notebook, Merridew had been by to collect the original just hours before we ourselves were there. What I destroyed was the copy. The copy. The Folly that carried me back here is still out there, still in Merridew’s hands. Only now we must move quickly. It has had enough time to recharge, and we know that Merridew knows how to operate it. We have to act now.
Holmes knows where Merridew lives. He’s sent his spies, those street urchins, out to collect information. We’re going to have to do a spot of cat burglary, he thinks.
Aha. A Baker Street Irregular has just been and gone with news for Holmes. Merridew’s manservant has been heard complaining that his master is planning yet another ritual that’s expected to leave candle wax all over the parlour floor. Merridew has been frustrated by his inability to bend some odd object to his will, and will have another try tomorrow. Perhaps the artifact doesn’t like being reset mid-trip? The important point is, he’s at his London house, and he’s got the damn thing with him.
It’ll all be settled tonight. Either I learn tonight my hope is gone and I am marooned here for eternity, or we recover the artifact and I am able to return. Holmes says there is likely danger of confrontation again. Merridew, unlike the alchemist, won’t hesitate to use magic to kill us. Watson is at his desk cleaning and reloading his revolver. I’m preparing a few tricks of my own.
I’ve written a letter to Buffy, along with clear instructions on when and how it should be sent. In it I explain what has happened to me and beg her not to kill Ethan herself, but merely to beat him until he wishes he were dead. I also summarise what little I’ve managed to learn about Glory from my time in the Council library. Since we did not receive such a letter before my trip to London, I have written instructions for it to be sent the day I flew to London. If we fail tonight, I’ll put the letter into their hands, as well as this diary. Or Watson will. I know he and Holmes will survive.
Watson tells me that I’m too gloomy, that Holmes is optimistic therefore I should be as well. He’s now urging me to “stop working myself into a fantod” and come eat my dinner with them. Let’s shall, as Buffy would say.
I set pen to paper well after midnight. The excitement of the evening is still hot in my blood, and I find myself unable to sleep. I can hear pacing on the floor above, and it does not take the faculties of my friend Holmes to know that Rupert Giles is also unable to rest. But ah, I hear the creak of his bedstead. He will be in well-deserved sleep soon.
Poor Mr Giles was in a state this afternoon, polishing his glasses until I wondered there was anything left of them, but he calmed down well enough once we came to prepare for our mission. We dressed in dark clothing and tucked black silk masks into our pockets. Holmes had a dark lantern with him, as yet unlit. Giles had some magical items, selected from Holmes’ small store of such things, prepared, he told us, as defences in case we encountered Merridew. Holmes said he rather hoped we would not, as the man was truly dangerous. He had outlined his plans to us over dinner. He knew the location of the house, and its approximate plan, and he knew that Merridew had a study full of magical objects located somewhere on the first floor. He could not say with any certainty where the artifact would be kept. He had safe-breaking equipment with him, in case it should be needed.
Again, we took a cab across the city, but only as far as south Kensington this time. We alighted some streets away, as before, and made our way toward our true destination. Giles again cast his obscuring spell on us, while we were some distance away from our target. There the resemblance ended. The stakes were higher tonight. Our nerves were at a high pitch. I, for one, was determined that we would not allow our friend to suffer again the shattering blow that had been dealt him the night before. Tonight we would succeed.
Holmes led us to a spot in the wall around the mansion that his band of street urchins had pointed out to him, where some bricks had been knocked out and the ground glass on top worn smooth. Giles gave the lithe Holmes a hand up and over, then me with my imperfect shoulder, and finally clambered over himself, with athletic grace. We stood in deep shadow, in a corner of the gardens, affixing our masks to our faces. I was reminded of the last time I had played the cat-burglar with Holmes. I had been fearful of being caught, but had not felt in danger of my life. And yet, the memory of our success in that venture emboldened me.
We stole through the gardens, keeping to the cleared paths and the shadows. At the veranda, Giles stopped us while he worked some magic, silently. When he nodded, Holmes picked the lock on the great windowed doors. We opened it, slipped into the house, and shut the door behind us. We could hear movement in the house, toward the front, voices, the sound of a man giving peremptory orders to a servant. The servant moved down the hallway; a door opened and shut. Then nothing. Holmes led us through the room, keeping to the carpet, and to a back staircase. We ascended it swiftly, the only sound the slight creaking of the steps under our weight. At the top was another hallway, with several doors. Holmes pointed me to one, Giles to another, and himself moved down the hallway like a wraith. Giles turned down the gas, to give us a greater murk in which to hide.
My room proved to be a small library. Some shelves held objects of interest, but on closer inspection, none of them were our target. I rather thought the device would not be on display, but would be in amongst other items in active use, such as the profusion of clutter upon Holmes’ desk or upon mine. I slipped out of the room and closed the door behind myself, striving to leave everything just as I had found it. Giles emerged from his room at that moment. He shook his head at me. Down the hallway, Holmes was standing at the last door, with lockpicks in hand. He beckoned Giles to his side, and gestured at the lock. Giles stood with his hands up and his eyes closed. He muttered something under his breath and made a chopping gesture. The lock clicked. He lifted one corner of his mouth in a most alarming smile, all feral anticipation and coiled violence. He reached forward and turned the knob. We followed him into the dark room.
This was obviously our target. Holmes slid open the shutter on the dark lantern and let it play over the room. I saw books and scrolls open on a desktop, a worktable with candles and a litter of crystals. On the floor was a pentagram drawn in chalk, with more guttered-out candlestubs at its points. There was an oppressively strong smell of incense, wax, and cigars. Underlying it all was a sulphurous taint, the reek of corruption and blood. The hairs on the back of my neck fair stood on end as I entered that room. I could sense death.
We fanned out through the room, but it did not take us long. On Merridew’s desk I found a thick wooden wand, smooth with age, the crystal at its heart glowing softly.
I handed it to Giles, who took it from me with shaking hands. He tucked the artifact securely in his breast pocket. The expression on his face was a delight to see: gratitude, joy, and relief, all mixed. He smiled as I had not yet seen him smile, and I realised the extent to which his predicament had been weighing upon his heart. I embraced him, and he gripped me fiercely in return.
“And now, gentlemen,” whispered Holmes, “we needs must make our escape.” He blew out his lantern. Just as we began to move toward the door, we heard voices, again, and steps in the hallway outside. Holmes gestured us toward the wall by the door. We flattened ourselves against it. Giles positioned himself nearest the doorway, again with that look on his face, that of a man waiting for an excuse for violence. I was grateful at that moment that the man was my friend, and not set against me.
We caught part of a conversation in the hallway.
“—struck my head some time during the fire.”
“My dear fool, you have a child’s memory-fuddling spell on you. In a moment I’ll rip it free, and we’ll know what truly happened. And if you’re lying to me to save your neck, you’ll live to regret it.”
We heard a key turn in the lock, and the door swung open. A man stepped through, his eyes on a paper in his hands, older, well-dressed, with greying whiskers. Giles kicked, in a manner I had not known possible for the human body, and the man fell in a heap. We heard a shout from the hallway, and Holmes leapt through the door, fists at the ready. I plunged after him, revolver in hand.
All was chaos in the hallway. Holmes was engaged in a struggle with a man in servant’s clothing, while another approached from behind. Both looked like formidable men. Giles came past me to assist Holmes. My attention was occupied by Jenks, the alchemist, who stood looking wildly about him at the struggle. One hand was wrapped in bloodstained bandages. He turned to me and I raised my revolver and advised him not to try anything.
Holmes shouted a warning, just then. Giles spun, then flung himself at me and knocked me to the floor. An unearthly red light filled the hallway, and a sound like sizzling flame. Something flew over our heads, where I had just been standing, and flared against Jenks. He screamed, and fell where he stood. Giles seized me and tossed me to the side as if I weighed nothing. I crashed into a small table, smashing it to splinters, and slid against the wall, for a moment unable to rise and burning with anger to be tossed aside so. Then I perceived the nature of the fight. The man whom Giles had kicked in the study had emerged again— Merridew, I presumed. His hand glowed with magical energy, a hideous writhing ball of red flame. He advanced until he stood next where I lay half-stunned. Giles and he cast at the same moment: the flame struck a shield which Giles had erected around himself. Giles gave a cry and staggered, falling to his knees with the effort of defending himself. Merridew raised his hands as if to attack again and I acted without thought: I kicked Merridew’s feet out from under him just as he cast, and the bolt hit the sorcerer in his own leg. He uttered a horrible, heart-rending scream.
Giles turned without a moment’s hesitation and pulled away one of the two men who had Holmes in their grasp. He threw an elbow then a knee, in a most brutal manner, and the bruiser fell to the floor in a heap. I scrambled to my feet to assist, but it was over. Holmes swiftly took the upper hand against the remaining servant, and knocked the unfortunate man unconscious.
I quickly ascertained that my companions were unhurt. Jenks lay unmoving upon the floor, already gone to his final fate. I turned my attention toward the figure of Merridew, which writhed upon the carpet in the hallway, hands clamped to his leg. He began screaming weakly, pitiably. I moved to his side, thinking he had been burned by the magical bolt he had accidentally cast upon himself, but Holmes pulled me away. He warned me not to touch either man.
Merridew lifted his hands to us in supplication, begging for help.
“Dear Lord,” breathed Giles, and I echoed him. The man’s flesh was melting away from his bones of legs and hands, slowly but inexorably. I have seen many horrifying things in my life, as a doctor in the army and as Holmes’ assistant, but few as abominable as that. My gorge rose, and I controlled myself with difficulty.
“Either put a bullet in his head or leave him to die,” said Holmes. “There’s nothing to be done.”
The wretch was thrashing weakly on the carpet now. The magic had eaten away the flesh up to his elbows. Merridew had meant me to die this way. Given Holmes’s accounts of their crimes, he was a murderer many times over. But no man deserved this end. I raised my revolver. Holmes and Giles held their hands over their ears. It was done. We stood a moment with heads bowed, then left that dreadful place.
I spent Sunday in London with Holmes and Watson, playing tourist with a light heart. The artifact was securely locked in Holmes’s little safe, and I thought, why not a holiday? I’ll be returning to my own time at the very moment I left. An extra day here will not hurt. And it has been such a very long time since I’ve had a holiday. Rationalisation, I’m sure, but I can see Buffy’s impish face approving.
The deaths of Merridew and Jenks were mentioned in the afternoon papers, attributed to an accident with the chemical experiments the late Mr Merridew was known to have engaged in as a hobby. I felt no remorse for either death: Merridew had done it to himself, and if half what Holmes said of him was true, deserved it. And Jenks had also murdered, to construct his copy of the artifact.
Holmes and I talked a little about the incident. He was uncertain the conspiracy had been averted. There was some suggestion, he thought, that Jenks’ true employer had been someone other than Merridew, someone with another motivation. There were allusions in his papers to reports written for another audience. I clapped my hand over my mouth, because I had so nearly blurted out “Moriarty” just by reflex. Holmes looked at me oddly, but said nothing. “You’ll work it out,” I told him. He then asked me to repeat the details of my encounter in Pudge’s shop in my time, with Ethan. I believe I grasp the direction of his suspicions.
I got one last chance to dress up in white tie and tails. We dined out. Watson and I made ourselves squiffy on a couple of bottles of wine. Holmes watched us with tolerant amusement. We took a cab home— no more risking encounters with Angelus or heaven forbid, Spike, for me. I’d be too tempted to stake them and to hell with history as I remember it. Back at Baker Street, in that amazing sitting room, those two smoked cigars and poured brandy for me and pressed me to tell them what I had liked best about the London of my past. The two of them, of course, but I said nothing to give myself away. Instead I talked about architecture, and the Square Mile, and how odd it was to visit St Paul’s, as we had that morning, and not see the monuments of the last century. And not see what had been rebuilt after the Blitz, but I didn’t mention that. I was privileged to watch those two men at ease with each other, making jokes and telling teasing stories of the other’s foibles. Holmes, when flushed with the pride of success, is good company.
I woke this morning, bathed in that huge enamel tub, for the first time sentimental about its lack of a shower instead of cursing it. I dressed myself in my own clothes, expertly cleaned by Victorian servants. The clothes make the man, the cliché goes, and I was acutely aware of it. With those clothes on, I was once again a modern man, Rupert Giles the Watcher, not Rupert Giles the Victorian gentleman visiting his cousin Watson. My whole stance changed, unconsciously. I’ve always thought of myself as putting on a reserved, gentlemanly bearing as part of being English in a land of Americans, but now I know what that truly feels like. In evening clothes, standing in the Criterion Bar with Watson, then I was a gentleman. Now I am something else. A Watcher.
I would have to say farewell to Watson soon, and I knew it as I laced my boots. I’m not much for showing my emotions, but they were close to the surface this morning, while I choked down toast and drank coffee with them for the last time. I made sure my bag contained all the papers I had brought with me, as well as my notes on Glory, the artifact, and my diary. The Council researchers never did get back to me, but I’m confident they can turn something up in the amount of time they’ll have to work on the problem. Especially with Galloway riding them. I have a mind not to cower in front of them this time, but to demand they serve the Slayer as is their sacred task.
Holmes suggested to me that we use the device in front of the shop where I’d been when it had been originally triggered, on the theory that I would return to my current location in space when I returned in time. It’s likely rather more complicated than that, but I agreed with him. I had a little plan in mind. We took a cab down to Soho, and got out in front of the shop. I beckoned them both in after me, and climbed the stairs. The Pudge behind the counter recognised me, and made as if to complain, then silenced himself when Holmes appeared behind me. I looked in the glass cases— the very same glass cases in the shop a hundred years hence, I swear— and found the Thurible of Abyssinia. £5, and dirt cheap. I paid, and tucked it securely in my bag. There, I’d done Ethan in the eye once, and I’d do him in the eye again if things worked out as I expected.
We went down to the street. It was time.
I looked at Watson, and opened my mouth, and was silent. What does one say to a man one will never talk to again? A man whose face I’ll next see in his portrait in the National Gallery? Or in his photograph at the front of the complete edition of his works, sitting on the shelf in my flat? And what can one say to Holmes, one of the great heroes of the Empire, a man who risked his life to perform a service for me, a stranger to him? In the end I said nothing, but embraced them both. Watson clapped his hand on my shoulder and told me to buck up, I’d be seeing my Slayer soon enough. And it was that thought that got me over the hump.
I thought about where we’d been standing when Ethan had sent me back, and which direction he’d been facing. I positioned myself where I’d be three steps behind him. I went down on one knee, to brace myself for the travel. I took one last look around, nodded to my friends one last time, and spoke.
The dizziness passed faster this time, now that I knew what to expect. Warmer air, but still cold, rain spattering down. Noise. The smell of horses and coal smoke vanished, and was replaced with the smell of petrol fumes, a smell I had not realised was so pervasive. The light changed: late afternoon, just starting to darken in winter twilight. I felt Buffy in my heart again, distant but warm, a presence I hadn’t known until it was gone. Ethan was there, standing with his hands on his hips, laughing to himself. I tucked Dastin’s Folly into my jacket pocket and stood. I tapped him on the shoulder and bared my teeth at him when he turned. I had the time to set and get off a good swing, and I did not waste it. I laid him out on the pavement and wonders! didn’t break my hand. I stood over him, rubbing my knuckles and marvelling at the sight of the blood on his smashed lip, always a pleasure.
The bastard didn’t seem to mind. He just laughed up at me and said, “Enjoy your holiday, Ripper? It was supposed to be mine.” I cursed him, and he laughed harder. Eventually I gave him a hand up. We began walking down the street, heading out of Soho.
“Really? Just a holiday?”
“Yes, really. Fancied seeing Gilded Age London. Empire, wealth, peace. Why? You didn’t have any trouble there, did you?”
I just growled at him. But when I saw a pub at the next corner, I knew what I wanted. “Fancy a pint?” I said to him.
He looked at me warily for moment, wiping the blood from his face, then said, “If you’re buying.”
Don’t I always buy, when it’s Ethan? Whether I intend to or not.
I’m not entirely sure why I did it. Buffy’s face looms over me (though how she manages that, at her height, I’ll never know; must be a Slayer skill), accusing me of being out of my mind to go drinking with Ethan again. I suppose it was the thought of Watson, more than anything. Watson, my friend, standing with me in the Criterion Bar. There are precious few people here I could do that with, and fewer back in Sunnydale. Or seeing the easy familiarity Watson had with Holmes, the two just so calm and comfortable with each other. When did I last feel that with a friend? With Ethan, once upon a time. I had the artifact safely in my pocket. I’d foiled whatever plan he’d had. So I drank with him, and toasted the Queen, no heel taps, and toasted the blessed twenty-first century. And I toasted my companions of the last few days, and made Ethan’s eyes bug out.
Ethan dropped me in the lobby of my hotel a couple hours ago with an empty wallet and a head full of whisky mash. I had to ask the clerk at the lobby desk what room I was in, I was so far gone. At least I managed to retain my shoulder bag, with my diary and my notes on Glory. I’m sitting in my dreary hotel room now, gulping water and crunching aspirin, writing this and thinking of them.
They’re both dead now. Dead and gone. Nearly sixty years gone, in Watson’s case, and forty-four for Holmes. I am tempted, so tempted, by the idea of going back to visit them again, of clasping Watson’s hand in friendship once more. Perhaps I could hang onto the artifact, not turn it in to the Council. After we’ve dealt with Glory, perhaps I could go back and pay another visit, in less stressful circumstances. I wonder how difficult it is to use. I could take a look anyway—
Ethan picked my pocket some time this evening and relieved me of the temptation. Probably when he was extracting my wallet to pay the cabbie. Good old Ethan. Such a fool I am. I’ll have to hunt him down and beat him to a pulp properly. But it’s more than that. Holiday in London in January? I think not.
Rupert Giles emerged from the taxi in front of the home of his Slayer, on Revello Drive. He had gone there directly from the airport, feeling the need to see her first, before dealing with anything else. He blinked in the warm sunshine and leaned into the window. He paid the driver in rumpled American dollars, with a generous tip, and trudged up to the porch. He held a garment bag, a battered leather shoulder bag, and a heavy winter overcoat. His shoulders were slumped. His interview with Travers had not been pleasant. He’d been sent away with no information and no hope of getting any.
Buffy answered his ring at the door. “Giles? That was fast. We thought you were going to be there the whole week. Woah, look at you with the hugs.”
Giles held onto her for a long minute, feeling the empty spaces in his chest refill. At last he released her and ducked his head. “Ah, well, I came back, er, early, at least in objective terms. Got absolutely nothing from the Council, and had a bit of an adventure.” Giles moved his bags just inside the door and draped the coat over them.
“Yeah? Let’s hear it! Hey, something weird happened the day you left. A courier arrived with a bunch of stuff addressed to you, care of me.”
Giles was puzzled. “A courier?”
Buffy led him into the living room, where a long box sat. An envelope lay atop it, with his name written neatly across the middle. It was thick, a little heavy. The name and address of a firm of solicitors was printed on it: Murbles, Kingson and Forsyte. Giles picked up the envelope and slipped a finger under the flap. Paper spilled out. A thick sheaf, pages dark with copperplate writing. A yellowed envelope, addressed to him, in a messy hand he recognised with a shock. A second age-darkened letter, addressed to Buffy, in his own handwriting. Oh, damn, he’d left it behind, along with the instructions on how to get it Buffy. That was how Watson had known how to reach him.
He hid his own letter to Buffy in his pocket. Sentimental tripe, it was. Better she not see it. And he didn’t know that he could keep his composure and read Watson’s letter in front of Buffy. He set the papers aside for the moment and opened the long box. He caught a whiff of mothballs. He folded aside the tissue paper, and gasped at what he saw inside. He took out the suit jacket and held it up. Buffy quit pretending to straighten the magazines on the coffee table, and pounced. “Evening dress,” he told her. “My tailcoat. Watson must have seen how much I loved wearing it.”
“I’ll tell you everything in a moment.”
Buffy took the other pieces of the suit out of the box one by one, cooing in pleasure over the silk and wool. It was perfectly preserved; Watson had done well. Giles left her to it and turned back toward the rest. He started with the sheaf of paper, curious what Watson had found so important to send across a hundred years to him. He looked at the cover sheet. His hand shook, but he smiled for the first time since the Council had told him they had no help for a rogue Slayer and a disgraced Watcher, no matter what the archives said.
Concerning the Hellgod Glorificus and the Dimensional Key
Prepared for Watcher Rupert Giles and Slayer Buffy Summers
22 January 1886
19583 words; reading time 66 min.
tags: award-winner, c:buffy, c:ethan, c:giles, c:holmes, c:watson, council, genre:crossover, london, magic, season:05, timetravel, watchers, f:btvs, f:sherlock-holmes, p:gen, s:displaced_watcher