Antenna (antennapedia) wrote,

FIC: The adventure of the displaced Watcher 2/3

Title: The adventure of the displaced Watcher 2/3
Rating: FRT
Author: Antennapedia
Disclaimers and notes in part 1

part 1

Giles: Wednesday, 6 January 1886

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:

- The user needs to meditate to point it at a particular destination. There is a chant, which I will transcribe below.
- After use, it normally resets itself to point to the time it just jumped from. A return ticket, in short.
- A crystal embedded at its centre glows when it’s in mid-trip.
- It’s triggered by a key phrase, the one I heard Ethan say: I command time to bend, repeated three times
- It can bring its possessor backward in time only. Dreadful things happened to a man who attempted to use it to move forward beyond his present. No Verne scenarios here.
- The talisman needs to recharge after use; the bigger the jump the longer the recharge. For a jump of a century, the recharge time would be several days, perhaps as many as five. This means we have time yet to find it.

Open questions:

- What happens if it is repointed in the middle of a trip? That is, if the thief who took the artifact from me attempts to jump backward instead of returning?
- Or are the trips keyed to an individual in some way?
- What was Ethan up to? What did he want to do in 1886? He had to have been planning the trip. Or was it simply random, a nod to his god of chaos?

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.

Watson: Thursday, 7 January, 1886

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.

Giles: Friday 8, January 1886

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.

Watson: Friday, 8 January 1886

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.

concluded in part 3
Tags: fic:holmes, fiction, genfic, story:displaced watcher

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