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Jeeves and the Hole in Time

Chapter Text

The Original Charleston (Isham Jones & His Orchestra)

Before we get into the thick of things, as it were, I must ask you to remember this: it was a perfectly ordinary August day in the metrop. Bertram had once again been dragged kicking and flailing into the soup by Aunt Agatha, she of the distinctly draconic mien. Minus the scales, of course. Saint George himself would have shuddered to face her without air support, particularly if she had some young beazel up her sleeve to mould him properly.

Gussie Fink-Nottle had been lunching with me at the flat when the telephone rang. Jeeves shimmered off to answer it.

"It was Lady Worplesdon, sir," Jeeves informed me upon his return. I fear that lunch was suddenly less than appealing. The old tum gave a bit of a hop. "She says that she will be bringing a Miss Dorothea Bingley-Tworp to meet you for dinner this evening."

My eyes widened. "Who?" This was not news I wished to hear. I had vital plans at the Drones that night involving a good round or two of dinner-roll cricket and several stiff drinks. Bingley-Tworps were simply not on.

"Miss Dorothea Bingley-Tworp, sir. Undoubtedly of the Sussex Bingley-Tworps." He stood steadfast, hovering near my chair.

My heart did a triple-gainer off the deep end. "I say. They have Bingley-Tworps in Sussex? Sounds a bit of a plague, doesn't it? What if she wants me to marry this beazel?" It was an utter disaster. "Jeeves, this is an utter disaster!" I cried. "Bring me a b. and s. immediately."

"Very good, sir." He biffed off to the bar, materializing mere moments later at my elbow with the elixir. I lifted it from the salver posthaste.

"Perhaps it's not so bad," Gussie lisped. He blinked a few times, looking like he was attempting to get the grey matter moving. I thought it might require a shove. "She might at least be pretty."

I shook my head and downed the drink, feeling slightly bucked up by its effects. "Oh, no, young Gussie," I sighed. "A fine profile is not enough to win the Wooster heart." It had not been for some time, I fear. I turned to Jeeves, of course. He is my stalwart bulwark in the face of all life's vicissi-somethings. "Jeeves, old thing, what would you suggest?"

Jeeves eyed me with a distinct air of displeasure. I had rejected his sartorial plans this ack emma by refusing the sedate blue tie with red dots in favor of a much more charming and fashionable magenta paisley. He had been giving me a bit of the cold shoulder ever since I knotted it. "I could not say, sir."

"Of course not," I muttered. "I can't very well refuse her, you know, as she'd crush me like a butterfly trampled by enraged bull elephants. One doesn't outright refuse Aunts, regardless of one's preference. It simply isn't the act of a preux chevalier."

"You could hide," Gussie suggested.

"I say, that sounds at least vaguely possible. Jeeves, am I in France today, by any chance?" I looked up at my peerless valet, hoping that an application of sorrowful countenance might move him to pity.

One ebony eyebrow twitched. "She is aware of your presence at the flat, sir." He coughed gently as a sheep on a distant hillside. "Though we do have several hours yet before Lady Worplesdon's appearance." He gave my paisley neckwear a sidelong glance. "Perhaps some opportunity might arise."

On some things, this Wooster will not be moved. "I will not be moved, Jeeves," I insisted. "The paisley remains about the Wooster neck." I tried the s. c. again, to no effect.

"I am sorry to hear that, sir." There was a certain soupy thingness in his voice at this comment. "I currently have no suggestions."

"Well then, perhaps a good walk and bunging some fish into the system might knock loose an idea or two in that massive brain of yours." I stood and gestured grandly to the door. "Hyde Park makes an excellent setting for idea-knocking. After all, there are so many of them wandering about there, lost and unloved."

"Are you certain, Bertie?" Gussie poked a few more bites of the mid-day repast into his mouth, hoping to get the most from his visit.

I nodded resolutely. "Absolutely. Jeeves, make ready the wangee and the hat."

"Very good, sir." Within moments, the table was clear and the three of us were togged out for a thought-inducing constitutional.

Distressed and dejected, the Fink-Nottle and I set off with Jeeves at our heels to try tempting the muse. Actually, Gussie was neither distressed nor dejected. That was just me and I had enough of the stuff for both of us, with a glass to share at the Drones. I had thought perhaps a few hours at Hyde Park to watch the fruity action at Speaker's Corner might be just the thing to distract myself and fill Jeeves with ideas, but this was not to be. In fact, things were much more dire than I had suspected.

Aunt Agatha appeared out of the crowd, sailing toward me like a mighty tarpon on the crest of the waves, eyes all ablaze with indignation and wedding plans. She had a limp-haired specimen of the female of the species trailing along behind, fluttering a bit, as fledgling sparrows are wont to do when they've taken an accidental bounce from the familial nest. The Lord may know when every sparrow falls but I suspect he'd have given this one a miss. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the beazel to whom the nephew crusher intended to shackle me. Not a particularly invigorating prospect, I must say.

Gussie quailed and ducked behind Jeeves when we spotted them, the blighter. After all, he had no reason to hide; he wasn't the one in Aunt Agatha's sights. I'm not sure she even saw him as she broke upon the Wooster presence like one of those tidal thingummies, drowning the entire countryside in her wake.

"Bertie!" she bellowed. There was nothing I could do but stand there. I was as a fox when the hounds had finally rallied round and dragged it off for tea and toast.

"What ho, Aunt Agatha," I responded, my upper lip almost entirely stiff. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."

She shot the most ferrous of steely glances at Jeeves then fixed the gimlet e. upon the Wooster corpus. "Why are you not preparing for our dinner this evening? I expressly insisted upon a proper meal for your introduction to Miss Bingley-Tworp."

"Oh, is this your nephew?" The limp-haired Bingley-Tworp gazed at me with watery blue eyes.

Aunt Agatha took her wrist and pulled her a few steps closer. "Bertram Wooster, this is Dorothea Bingley-Tworp. Dorothea, my nephew Bertram."

I offered the beazel a friendly handshake. "Delighted," I lied, wondering about escape routes. The crowd was thick but the soup seemed thicker. A veritable stew, really. Her hand was cold and nearly as limp as her hair. It rather made the hot summer day more like the bleak wind of March, as some poet johnny once said.

She fluttered her watery eyes at me and pasted a simpering smile on her face. "Oh, he's just so handsome," she burbled. "Father will be ever so pleased!" I cast a quick and desperate glance at Jeeves, only to be greeted by the sight of a Fink-Nottle quivering behind my man's broad back, peeking round him like a timid canary, though he wasn't at all bright yellow, you understand. Neither appeared to be ready with any assistance. "You must call me Dottie," the creature bleated.

"I say, Dottie. My friends call me Bertie," I told her, and her face cracked with a frightening grimace that bore a strained familial resemblance to a grin. It squinted her eyes into narrow little slits that put me in mind of a particularly dyspeptic Siamese. I shuffled back a step or two, uncertain of her motives. She looked about to pounce, or perhaps produce a hairball.

"Bertie, you will walk with us," Aunt Agatha commanded.

"Well, what about Jeeves and Gussie here?" It wouldn't be sporting to leave them behind, of course. It would also rather reduce the chances of Jeeves being able to extract me from the consommé if the opportunity arose. I turned my eyes to my valet, allowing a fragment of my distress to appear. His stuffed frog mask was firmly in place.

Aunt Agatha glared at them. "I suppose they may as well come along," she said, though the tone of her voice did not convince me of her pleasure at the situation. As she turned, I noted a startled rumble of sound spreading through the crowd. At first I thought it might be the masses parting before my aunt like the Red Sea before the rod of Moses, but there were people gesturing to the sky and I looked up to see what was causing the ruckus.

Above us, the sky had begun to roil in colors I had never seen before and which I am not certain even a fish-fed brain like Jeeves's could describe. There were no clouds at all, for it had started out a clear day and remained so during our walk. It was as if the sky itself was melting about the edges, folding in on itself, though that didn't quite describe the sensation. It was almost painful to look at and I shielded my eyes with one hand. More and more people were shouting and pointing and I retreated a few sharp steps until my back abruptly met with the wall of Jeeves's solid front. "Sir," he said in a very soupy tone, "I suggest we vacate the area immediately." It was about this time that the sky split open with a deafening roar.

There was a sudden cry from the crowd and people began running in every direction, much like an anthill when stirred up by that young rotter Edwin. Although there was a Wooster at Agincourt, I suspect even he would have tucked tail betwixt the extremities and decamped if faced with a splitting sky of an indescribable yet distinctly terrifying color. Aunt Agatha and Dottie were already halfway down the pitch and Gussie was quivering next to Jeeves like one of his mating newts. I gaped at the sky for a moment longer as the crowd stampeded, quite unable to gather wits enough to move. This was an incident of rather larger magnitude than some policeman shouting "Ho!" and trying to nab me for nicking his helmet, and the old onion was quite ill-equipped to grasp the whole of it.

I felt Jeeves's large, solid hand on my elbow. "Sir, I really must insist." He gave my arm a jerk and that snapped me out of my frozen state; the split in the firmament widened and a terrible wind swept through, blowing my hat clean off. Jeeves's bowler naturally remained obediently perched on his head. He began to run as the wind rose violently, tugging me along with him until my own feet got the idea. Gussie was hard on our heels. I'd never taken him for a track star, but right at that moment I'd have put my chemise on him to show at the Ascot.

It was about the time I heard Gussie's horrified shriek that my feet left the ground. I let out an exceedingly unmanly sound myself at that juncture. Jeeves's hand was still around my elbow, but not for long. There was a twist and a jerk and I saw him go flying, his eyes wide and his mouth open in a circle of utter astonishment. I flailed. We weren't the only ones spinning about but we were certainly the only ones I was quite concerned with at the moment. I made a grab for him and latched onto the cuff of one trouser leg. "Jeeves!" I shouted, but I don't think he heard me over the awful noise in that shuddering sky. We spun higher and faster until the spinning tore his leg from my grasp. Then there was only hard, cold silence and blackness as we were swallowed by that immense, gaping maw.

Chapter Text

Strange Boat (The Waterboys)

When I was a young child, I once fell from the branches of an apple tree onto the loam below. It had been painful but not ultimately damaging. I broke no bones, nor did I suffer anything worse than bruises. The fall I took on the 12th of August, 1924, was short and sharp after a precipitous rise into a terrifying sky.

The ground below me was not that of Hyde Park. I struck rough stone when I fell, painfully dashing the air from my lungs.

As I struggled to regain my breath, disoriented and in pain, I heard a startled shout and a panicked, obscene, "What the fuck?" What I saw before me at that moment were a pair of boots of a particularly hideous metallic, reptilian green. Black denim trousers rose from the instep. I could not yet raise my eyes, as I had been stunned when I met the unyielding surface. I gasped, trying to breathe and find my bearings, only to hear the scream of a familiar voice. Mr. Wooster's scream ended abruptly and I realized that the roaring in my ears was not internal but rather the sound of a fast-moving river situated down the slope below me.

"Oh, shit, no." The feet moved and the person before me scrabbled frantically down the rocky slope from where I had fallen. I traced his movement, trying to get my own limbs back under my control. My gaze passed the moving figure, only to be greeted by the chilling sight of Mr. Wooster's arms flailing as he was caught in the grip of a violent grey torrent. He bobbed, swirled in the current around a boulder, and disappeared under the rapids.

Mr. Wooster is a strong swimmer, having been a rower during his years at Oxford, but this river would defeat the strongest of men and there had been no time or reason for him to prepare for the inundation. Terror seized my breast and I struggled to my feet as the man ahead of me shed his red rucksack, a black cap, hiking staff, and an olive drab wool jacket, stumbling and skidding through the dangerous, uneven terrain. I saw immediately that he was making for one of the fallen trees that extended into the water below Mr. Wooster's position. I drew a hopeful breath as Mr. Wooster bobbed to the surface again, but his movements were sluggish and uncoordinated. I surmised that he had been injured in the fall, most likely more seriously than I had been.

I staggered down the slope, stumbling painfully across what looked for all the world like glacial moraine and river wash-out situated in a deep, temperate, evergreen forest. The already treacherous footing was complicated by an unpleasant drizzle. Wherever we had fallen, it was not London.

As Mr. Wooster struggled in the current, the man before me pushed up the sleeves of his heavy heather-green jumper and began scrambling out onto the log and shouting to my employer, though I could not make out the words over the roar of the river. Mr. Wooster turned his head, only to be dragged under once again. I tumbled but regained my feet, thankfully without injuring my ankles or knees. The man crawled out further, nearer to where Mr. Wooster appeared likely to land. A moment later, Mr. Wooster struck the log hard and the man reached out swiftly, grabbing him by the shoulder of his jacket. The force of the water jerked both of them down, threatening to drag them beneath the log, and I feared for a moment that Mr. Wooster's would-be rescuer would also be pulled head-first into the deadly current. I believe he might have been, had he not been clinging desperately to a broken branch protruding from the log with one hand, with a knee curled about a second jutting limb.

Panting hard, I came to the edge of the water. I was about to dash in without pausing when the man turned his face to me and shouted, "No! Up here!" The order was forceful enough that I obeyed without thinking, joining him atop the fallen tree as he shouted, "Come on! Come on! I can't hold him here forever!" The accent was American, though it was difficult to make out over the sound of the water. When I plunged my arm in to take hold of Mr. Wooster, the wisdom of the order not to enter the river was apparent. The water was cold enough to burn, and my fingers began to go numb almost immediately. I realized in that moment that if drowning did not claim Mr. Wooster, hypothermia might well kill him before we could get him to safety.

Mr. Wooster struggled weakly, taking hold of my arm with clumsy, frozen fingers. His eyes were closed against the water, his dark blond curls plastered flat to his head. I put my back into the effort and, between the two of us, we dragged him up onto the log until only the lower half of his legs remained in the river. We were both gasping with the strain and Mr. Wooster was coughing and choking as we raised him up.

It took both of us several minutes to shift his limp, shuddering form to the stony bank. He was terribly cold and pale, his lips already blue with the chill. His breathing was labored and, as we finally lowered him to the ground, he began coughing and vomiting up the water that he had drawn in.

Breathless, our benefactor panted, "Get those cold clothes off him. I need to get my kit." He staggered up the slope to where his jacket and pack had fallen as I rested Mr. Wooster against the tall, exposed roots of the fallen tree. At first I was unable to see the reason for removing Mr. Wooster's clothes. Surely stripping him naked in the rain on a cold stone slope was unwise. Yet leaving the freezing cloth on him would only sap what little heat remained in his body. I tugged at the odious magenta tie, removing it and pulling at the studs of Mr. Wooster's shirt with shaking hands. The project was complicated by Mr. Wooster's need to empty freezing water from his lungs and stomach again. Trying to keep him upright would be folly so I lay him as gently as I could on the hard stones. I held his shoulder as he lay on his side, shuddering heavily and coughing, but otherwise unable to move. The chill of his wet clothing soaked into my own, serving to impress upon me the urgency of my task.

The man returned, tossing the rucksack to the ground beside me, and pulled it open. It had been closed with curious sliding fasteners that made quick work of the task. He pulled several small packets and a roll of dark cloth from the pack, then opened one packet with the same type of fastener as I returned to removing my employer's clothing. "Hurry up," he snapped. With a quick motion of the wrist, he pulled a towel from the packet and flipped it open, then began drying Mr. Wooster's hair. "We need to get him dry and warm him up fast."

I understood the desperate need and, in a matter of moments, had Mr. Wooster stripped down to his skin. There was no time for false modesty or propriety when a life was at stake. The man handed me the towel and made a cursory examination of Mr. Wooster's corpus as I worked to dry the water from him. "Oh, man, he's gonna be bruised up really bad tomorrow." He flipped the roll of cloth open and it revealed itself as a pair of the same type of denim trousers he was wearing. "I don't know if these'll fit, but try to get him into them." He dropped a pair of heavy wool socks next to me and tugged off the thick knitted woolen jumper he had been wearing.

It was at this juncture that I realized Mr. Wooster's rescuer was actually a woman. Her hair was done in an extremely short, very masculine cut, and I had not noticed until that moment that part of it was dyed a most extraordinary unnatural peacock blue. The bulk of the jumper had effectively concealed a generous expanse of décolletage, tattooed in a disturbingly primitive fashion, and adorned with several disparate necklaces of different styles and materials dangling from her neck. She wore only a strap-shouldered camisole of some form-fitting and entirely-too-revealing material beneath the jumper. Given my full focus on saving Mr. Wooster's life, I think I can be forgiven for my initial oversight. I froze and stared for a moment, too shocked to move or even look away from the wanton display. She shoved the jumper into my hand, not noticing my reaction, and continued dealing with the emergency. It was only Mr. Wooster's groan that broke me from this startled immobility.

Together we lifted him sufficiently to get his legs into the trousers. The inseam was a bit too short and the waist rather more generous than Mr. Wooster's willowy form required, but they would serve for the moment. She tugged the woolen socks onto his feet as I pulled the heavy jumper, still warm from her body, over his head and guided his arms into the sleeves. A tiny packet of some clear material with what looked like folded foil inside was the next item she took. She opened it and spread it. "Emergency blanket," she said, indicating that I should wrap Mr. Wooster in it. The idea that a thin metal foil would be of any earthly use was beyond my comprehension, but her actions were confident if rushed, and I had no one else to turn to. As I enfolded Mr. Wooster's shuddering form she pulled out two more packets, tearing them open, and rolled the small white packets from within briskly between her palms. "Chemical foot warmers," she explained. "Get them in under the blanket but not right next to his skin. They heat up pretty fast and we don't want to burn him." She helped me place them under his armpits, at the small of his back, and on his belly before we closed the odd metallic blanket around him.

That done, she checked his pulse at his carotid artery and, apparently satisfied, she sagged slowly to the ground next to us, tugged the wool jacket back around herself and set the black fisherman's cap back on her head, panting for a few moments to catch her breath. I took Mr. Wooster's trembling form into my arms to get him up off the cold, wet rocks as best I could and he lay his head against my chest. The terrain was much too difficult for me to carry him to safety. We would have to wait until he was warmer and able to support at least part of his own weight before we could move him. I had no idea how long that would take or whether darkness might arrive before it occurred. The idea of spending a night here with Mr. Wooster cold and injured frightened me. My utter lack of control over the situation frightened me further.

The woman reached out to me and lay one hand on my shoulder. "Are you hurt?" Her voice was gentle, even through the sound of the river.

I was damp but not particularly cold. I felt bruised and exceedingly disarrayed, but did not believe I had broken any bones in my fall. Mr. Wooster was as safe and comfortable as we could make him under the circumstances. I could feel the warmth of the chemical pack at his waist already beginning to increase. "I believe I am uninjured, madam."

"You want to tell me what the hell just happened here?" She had grey eyes behind small oval spectacles whose thin metal frames matched the shock of peacock blue in her hair. The ensemble was in overwhelmingly poor taste. The knees and one leg of her black trousers were wet and streaked with green algae from her frantic crawl across the log. A silver metal ring perforated one nostril and I noted the glint of multiple earrings through the ear I could see. Her raised eyebrow also appeared to bear tiny metal spheres above and below. Given the ring through her nose, I assumed this was also driven through her flesh. I shuddered. Her wild, unseemly appearance and the obscenity of her language were greatly at odds with her swift and thoughtful action on our behalf. I had no idea what to expect from her; I had no basis from which to derive a psychology of this individual.

"If I knew what had happened, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, I have no idea where we are or how we arrived." I focused my attention on Mr. Wooster's coughing, shivering form in my arms, praying that this was some horrifying hallucination and that I would soon wake in a hospital bed, safe if insane. "Perhaps you can tell me what you perceived, madam?"

At the edge of my vision I saw her move to pick up the items discarded in our frenzy of motion and return them to her rucksack. "You fell out of the sky, dude. It opened up like the last trump and you almost nailed me. A foot closer and we might not be having this conversation."

Her vernacular was extremely strange, but at least she appeared to be speaking some variety of English. "Where are we?" I asked.

"Mount Rainier National Park on the Glacier Basin trail. We pulled your friend out of the White River. We're about a mile and a half from the trailhead."

"We are... in America?" How had we traveled so far? Her description would certainly explain the mountainous terrain, but nothing else about the situation.

She nodded. "You sound like a Brit. Where did you come from, anyway?"

"London, madam."

"Wow. London?" She sat, silent, for a long moment, obviously struggling to accept the information. I rubbed gentle circles on Mr. Wooster's back with one hand, trying to offer him some comfort as his teeth chattered and he shuddered with cold. "I'm Joan," she said. "Joan Barr. I live in Seattle. You?"

I looked up at her. "My name is Reginald Jeeves, madam. This is my employer, Mr. Bertram Wooster." I drew his almost-insensate form closer in my arms in a half-unconscious protective gesture. Mr. Wooster had visited Seattle last year as a part of the 'Ask Dad' theatre tour he had undertaken with his friend, Mr. Cyril Bassington-Bassington. Perhaps there would be people there he knew. At last, there seemed a glimmer of light at the edge of this horrifying misfortune.

Miss Barr blinked for a moment, looking surprised. "He's your boss? What do you guys do?" She leaned over and began picking up Mr. Wooster's soaking clothing, twisting the trousers to wring the water from them. I winced, but after their immersion in the heavily silted river, it would take more than a laundering to restore them. It was likely they were entirely ruined.

"Mr. Wooster is a gentleman of some means and a member of the aristocracy. I am his valet." His blue eyes fluttered open for a moment but he was shaken by a coughing spasm that left him gasping for breath. I held him through the difficulty, trying to ease the stress on his body. After a moment, he slipped one trembling hand out of the thin, metallic blanket and laid it over my heart. I covered it with my own, hoping she would not notice the intimacy of the gesture or that she would consider it nothing more than a kindness to a frightened and injured man.

Her surprise brought forth an unexpected question. "People still have those?" The sound of her genuine confusion unnerved me. It was the word 'still' that alarmed me most. Whatever had happened, we had been dropped in a place nearly five thousand miles from home. What if distance were not the only difference? It could not be; yet what had already happened was equally unthinkable.

I gave Mr. Wooster's hand a gentle squeeze, hoping he was aware enough to feel the pressure and be reassured. "May I inquire as to the date, madam?"

Miss Barr's head tilted slightly. "The da... it's, ah, September 10th. Thursday, I think. I'd have to look at the calendar."

My heart skipped. It had been August the 12th when we left our flat that morning. I hardly dared ask the next question. Somehow, I managed to say the words. "And the year?"

The perturbed expression on her face deepened. "It's 2009."

I felt lightheaded for a long moment as I did the math. Eighty-five years. Somehow we had been transported five thousand miles and eighty-five years, only to be dropped into the wilderness in a foreign country, with Mr. Wooster injured and, as yet, unable to even stand. It was utterly impossible. I could not encompass it with my mind. "But, that's..." I could not even give voice to my shock. My initial hope that Mr. Wooster might have acquaintances here who could aid him was crushed unmercifully in that bleak, harsh moment.

She must have seen my distress. In a quick movement she was on her knees next to me hovering over both of us, her hands on my shoulders. She looked me directly in the eyes. "You look like that was really bad news. You gonna be all right?" She honestly wished to aid us; this much I could see quite clearly.

"This morning," I whispered miserably, "it was the 12th of August, 1924."

She sank down onto her heels, as much in shock as I was, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Holy fuck," she murmured. I was far too overwhelmed to protest her language. She was obviously some kind of savage, judging by her attire and her outlandish demeanor. She shook her head as if to clear it and turned to me once again. "Okay, look, I don't know what the hell happened here. I wouldn't believe this if I hadn't seen you guys drop out of the sky right in front of me. I mean, I'm still not sure I do, but you boys are obviously going to need some help beyond first aid and a ride out of the woods."

I nodded to her. "I would be most grateful, madam." She lowered her eyes to Mr. Wooster, cupping his cheek carefully in one palm. Her thumb trailed slowly across his fine, arched cheekbone. "He's still really cold. Let me get out a few more of those warmers and see if we can get his core temp up a bit. We have to get him off the mountain as soon as he can move. We can't stay here too long. That would be very, very bad."

At the warm touch of her hand, Mr. Wooster turned his face toward her and opened his eyes again. "J-j-j-j-jeeves," he stuttered through chattering teeth.

"Yes, sir?" I had to lean close to hear him over the sound of the river.

"Wh-where are w-w-we?" He shuddered violently and his fingers tightened on the lapel of my morning coat. He tried to speak again but could not form words.

Miss Barr sighed in relief and addressed him. "At least you're coherent. That's a good start. Did you whack your head on anything while you were in the water?" she asked. Mr. Wooster shook his head in the negative but did not try to speak again. "Okay, that's good." She did a quick and cursory exam of his skull with her fingers to assure herself of his report, seemingly satisfied with her results. "Do you feel any particularly intense pain anywhere, like you've broken anything?" He looked up into her eyes, pain and confusion plain on his open, expressive face, but again indicated a negative. "Good, good. Don't worry. We're going to get you out of here, dude. We'll take care of you. You're safe. Understand?"

He nodded. "Yes."

He looked up to me for reassurance. I did not feel any confidence, but I could not allow him to see that. "Miss Barr will help us, sir. You must rest and get warm so that we can get you out of the wilderness." Still shivering, he buried his face in my chest. My heart ached for him and I cradled the back of his head in my hand, rocking him gently as I let my chin rest in his disheveled and still somewhat damp hair. Miss Barr busied herself opening more chemical warming packs, handing them to me to tuck under the blanket. As I put my hand inside I noted that the skin of Mr. Wooster's torso was growing slightly warmer and the ambient temperature inside the blanket was indeed rising. The distressing blue of his lips had already begun to fade to a dreadfully pale but more normal flesh color. I could not help letting out a heavy, relieved breath. Until this moment I had not been certain that he would not die of hypothermia after his ordeal. He was still in a great deal of danger but now we had more time to react appropriately. I had rarely felt more helpless.

"Look, Reginald, my first aid skills aren't that good." It was alarming to hear her speak my given name. I knew that Americans were informal, but I was unprepared for this after all that had happened. I stopped her with a gesture of one hand.

"Miss Barr, I would prefer it if you addressed me as Jeeves."

Her mouth hung open for a long moment. I could only interpret the expression she wore as one of surprise and hurt. "Ah, right. Sorry. Jeeves. Anyway, as I was saying, my first aid juju isn't great. We'll need to get him in to see a doctor as soon as we can." She paused again then shook her head as I attempted to decipher her jargon and the meaning of the expression on her face. "It's just, crap, I don't know how we're going to do that. You guys won't have any valid ID and I'm guessing you don't have any money you can use either, so we're sucking for resources here."

"Is there a monetary exchange in Seattle?" Her supposition that we did not have money was patently false. I carried Mr. Wooster's wallet and knew we had a substantial amount of cash with us. There was no reason to believe we could not afford appropriate medical care for him. I could not bear to see him suffering if a doctor was available.

She shook her head. "After eighty-five years? At best, your money's antique. Maybe you can sell it to a collector for some cash, but you're not going to be able to exchange it or spend it. Even if you could, I suspect the exchange rates would be seriously disappointing." By this point she was displaying obvious distress.

If I had known then even a fraction of what I subsequently learned, I would have understood far better the dilemmas we faced and the distress she showed. As it was, I said, "I am an exceedingly resourceful individual, Miss Barr. I believe I will be able to find some satisfactory method to resolve this situation." She merely sighed sadly and shook her head, spectacles dangling from her fingers as she rubbed her eyes with her other hand.

With the extra heating packs now beneath the blanket, Mr. Wooster was finally beginning to show signs of rallying, despite his chronic coughing and shivering. My conversation with Miss Barr was curtailed while I tended to my employer and she finished dealing with his sodden clothing. She removed several items from his pockets, shaking water out of them before placing them in an outer mesh compartment in her pack, then folded and rolled the rest of his clothing so that it would fit in the rucksack.

It was more than an hour before we could rouse Mr. Wooster reliably without triggering either a coughing spasm or a bout of intense shivering. Miss Barr gave us both clean water to drink from a metal bottle and I helped Mr. Wooster get his shoes back on. They were cold and still wet, certainly, but he could not walk here without them. He said very little throughout the whole ordeal and I believe he was in a profound state of shock after all we had experienced.

Miss Barr seemed quite lost in thought as I kept watch over Mr. Wooster. She also appeared to be very worn and tired from the rescue, so conversation was at a minimum. I barely understood our situation myself and I had not been exposed to the frigid torrent of glacial runoff nor battered in the rough current. We would have to support Mr. Wooster between us whenever possible to keep him upright as we traveled, but Miss Barr informed us that the rough terrain extended only another half-mile at most. After that, the trail would clear and widen considerably, becoming almost level until the trailhead, though we would have to negotiate occasional small rivulets that cut across the path. It was that half-mile, however, that concerned me most. It had already begun to grow dim and we would be moving through very difficult, stony terrain with an injured man to care for. The possibility of falling and injury increased as the dusk deepened, so even though Mr. Wooster was still far from stable, we had to begin the trek. Once we achieved the trailhead, I did not know how we were to get to the city.

I was startled when she spoke next, too used to the river's roaring in my ears and the sounds of Mr. Wooster's frighteningly frequent coughing spasms. "I hate to do this to you guys, but we're going to have to head out soon. I intended to be on the road a couple of hours ago, and the darker it gets, the worse dealing with the washout is going to be." She rustled about in her rucksack and pulled out a handful of small metallic packages. "Here, peel these open and eat them. One for you and one for him. They taste like cardboard, but they'll help you keep moving." She followed her own instructions, placing the wrapping back inside the pack and searching within for something else as she ate.

I did as she told me. The item inside the wrapping was rectangular and slightly sticky. It smelled sweet but unrecognizably peculiar. I nibbled a bit from one corner. She had been quite correct in her assessment of the flavor; it bore a striking resemblance to paper-wrapped wood chips with a slight overtone of chocolate. "Sir, can you hold this yourself?"

He held out one shaking hand. "I think so, old top." His voice was rough from his coughing but his fingers closed about the item. His face curled into an expression of utter disgust when he tasted it. "Good Lord, this is awful."

"I agree, sir, but it may be the only meal we get for many hours. You need to restore your strength because we are going to have to walk now." With a heavy sigh, he nodded and slowly chewed the dry mess. Miss Barr offered us her water bottle again and both of us drank gratefully. I was eager to wash the taste of the infernal thing from my mouth. "How will we negotiate the trail?" I asked. She handed me a small metal tube about the length of my hand.

"Flashlight." She spun one fingertip about the glass end. "Turn the end to turn it on and focus the beam." I did so and found that this tiny hand torch provided a surprising amount of light. She took the wrappers I had dropped beside me and placed them in her pack, then pulled a small strip of fabric out. It proved to be a headband of some sort, with a tiny mass that she settled on her forehead before replacing her cap. She reached up and pressed a button on the top of the mass and a clear, blinding white light shot out from the incredibly small lamp. She turned her head so that the light was not in my eyes then tilted the lamp downward slightly and looked at Mr. Wooster. "Hey there," she said, giving me a quick glance before looking back down at him. "What should I call you?"

"Bertie." He reached out to shake her hand. She nodded and took it for a moment.

"I'm Joan. You're still way too cold, Bertie. We really have to get you back to the car and get you warmer." The light over her face made her expression difficult to read, but I could hear the worry in her voice. She slung the rucksack onto her back and picked up her walking staff before she reached out with her free hand and helped me raise Mr. Wooster to his feet. Looking back up at me, she said, "Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. All that blood moving around again is going to cool his system down when it comes in from the extremities. We have to keep him moving because if we stop we're unlikely to be able to start him up again, and that could be fatal. You have to keep him moving, understand?"

Cold fear pooled in my chest as I steadied Mr. Wooster under my arm. I nodded. "Yes, I understand perfectly." I understood that he could still perish out here despite our best efforts. I would not fail him. I could not.

Miss Barr took Mr. Wooster by one elbow and began leading us through the treacherous terrain. She looked off to one side. "You see that?" she said, nodding her head slightly to illuminate a strip of bright orange fluttering in the damp evening light. "That's a parks service trail marker. Keep an eye on those and we won't get lost. They're spaced so we should never be out of sight of one through this section."

Even with our support, Mr. Wooster was unable to move quickly. He stumbled frequently, his breath coming heavy and harsh between bouts of coughing, when we had to stop long enough for the spasms to end. Putting one foot before the other was taking all of his focus and his energy. He said nothing as we struggled down the slope, Miss Barr testing the trail with her staff to be certain of our footing amid the stones. Glacial moraine consists of loose stone shed by glaciers in their passing and retreat. White-water river washout is the result of swift floodwaters washing away the land beneath trees and from around immense stones. These stones, moved by glacier and river, range in size from small pebbles to boulders the size of an omnibus, and we moved through this territory in the fading half-light, mist beginning to rise as the sun vanished behind the densely-wooded mountain ridges.

As we moved further from the river's edge, the sound of Mr. Wooster's labored breathing became more obvious in the thickening silence. He leaned heavily upon me, his arms wrapped about himself to help keep the blanket in place. Miss Barr helped me support him, an arm about his waist while mine held him secure about his shoulders. Each stumbling pace drew more from his small reserves of energy. Even with the brilliant light of Miss Barr's head lamp and my own dimmer hand torch, the path was a difficult one. It would have been a challenging but quite negotiable matter in daylight and in full health, but in our current state it was an ongoing, endless nightmare.

The mist surrounding us made it difficult to find the orange trail markers, but Miss Barr appeared to have a sense of where they would likely be found, as she had passed this way before. In our few snatches of exchanged conversation that did not consist of encouraging Mr. Wooster or pointing out hazards, she noted that she had been on a day-hike to the alpine meadows some distance below a glacier much further up the mountain. Because of this, the landmarks were fresh in her mind, and she led us with reasonable facility through terrain that would no doubt have been deadly if Mr. Wooster and I had faced it alone under these conditions.

Exhausted, we finally crossed another of the small, shallow streams that separated from the White River and made our way onto a well-traveled earthen trail in the loam under cedars, hemlocks, and tall Douglas firs. Unable to take another step at the moment, I leaned against one of the immense trees beside the path, holding Mr. Wooster against me with both my arms about his waist. "I really... must stop for a moment," I panted.

She nodded, her own breath coming harsh and quick. "Okay, but just for a couple of minutes to catch our breath. We can't let Bertie stay here and we're likely to get too stiff to move if we don't start up right away." She pulled one of her water bottles from a mesh pocket on the side of her rucksack. Taking a deep draught, she offered it to me. I offered it to Mr. Wooster, steadying his shaking hands to help him drink from it before I took my own share. As I handed the bottle back to her, she consulted a strange device that lit in her hand. "About two hours," she noted. She was obviously winded herself but seemed determined not to show any weakness to me. "Longest half-mile I've done in a long time. The trail flattens out from here. It's pretty much clear going now, all the way back to the campsites at the trailhead."

"C-can't do it," Mr. Wooster mumbled. He was trembling violently now and his legs buckled as he spoke.

He did not fall, but only because he was already braced against my body. "This is really, really not good," Miss Barr murmured.

"I shall carry him, then," I told her. She took the torch from my hand and removed her head lamp.

"Here, you'll need this." After a moment's juggling of too many things in too few hands, she slipped the tight, stretchy band around my head, replacing my bowler atop it. It felt awkward, but it meant both of my hands were finally free to deal with Mr. Wooster's now-limp form. She patted his cheek as he leaned hard into me and he opened his eyes. "Bertie, are you with us? Can you hear me?"

His voice was barely audible in the eerie hush of the foggy wilderness. "Still here." She looked up at me and nodded.

"Okay, hoist him up. We've got about a mile to go, but it should be a lot faster. You think you can do it?"

I took Mr. Wooster up in my arms. Exhaustion tore at me, my limbs aching, my lungs complaining. There was no other option. "Yes, madam." We were so close. I could not fail him now.

Miss Barr was noticeably limping, leaning on her staff as we set out along the broadening, soft path through the loam. The difference in our progress was dramatic, even though we all seemed well beyond the limits of our endurance.

"Do not be afraid, sir," I murmured to him. "I will not allow you to remain in danger."

His head bounced softly against my shoulder with every step I took. "Jeeves," he whispered. "Such a marvel."

That final mile took approximately twenty minutes to traverse. As we approached the trailhead, there was a large sign providing information about the trail. "There are some campsites just down here," Miss Barr informed me. "Once we get down to the road, you guys can go ahead and sit to wait for me there. I'll go get the car and bring it around. It'll take me about five minutes, okay?"

I could hardly contain my sense of relief. My arms were trembling with the effort of continuing to carry Mr. Wooster. He is not a heavy man, though he is tall, but after an ordeal like ours, carrying even the lightest weight could be a difficult matter. "That will serve admirably, madam," I said. I could now see before us a break in the trees and openings with built-up firepits and tables for campers.

It was a matter of moments before we reached a tarmac road. I collapsed slowly onto a fallen log at its verge, letting Mr. Wooster sag into my lap. Miss Barr leaned her staff against the log next to me, dropped her rucksack, and took a few deep breaths. "I'll be right back." I nodded, too tired to respond. She hurried off into the dark, torch in hand. In the light of my headlamp I could see her limping painfully as she tried to run.

As she disappeared into the dark, I turned my attention again to Mr. Wooster. "Sir, can you speak?"

He nodded weakly. "Not dead yet." He coughed again, his body wracked with the effort. I allowed myself to caress his cheek, reassuring myself of his conscious presence. He pressed into the palm of my hand, his eyes half-closed. We were both trembling now, Mr. Wooster with cold and I with utter exhaustion. I had not been pushed so far beyond my limits since my service in the Great War. I found that it brought back unpleasant memories, but forced them from my mind. My work was not yet done; Mr. Wooster was not out of the wilderness.

The sound of an engine rose in the distance and a moment later I saw bright lamps approaching. The vehicle stopped only a few feet in front of us. As the door opened and Miss Barr stepped out, a light went on within the passenger compartment. It was the strangest looking vehicle I had ever seen. There wasn't a single sharp, squared angle about the entirety of its form. It had an enclosed compartment, but it was much lower to the ground than I was quite used to and I was uncertain how men as tall as myself and Mr. Wooster were to fit within. I helped Mr. Wooster sit up as Miss Barr opened doors and the boot of the car, tossing her rucksack and hiking staff into the back. She rummaged in the boot for a moment and pulled out a dark woolen blanket.

Mr. Wooster blinked in the light as Miss Barr stepped back over to us. "I say," he said, squinting at the smoothly curved body of the vehicle, "does that fly?"

Miss Barr gave a short, dry laugh. "Sorry, no. The future isn't what it used to be."

My employer looked up at me again, confusion in his eyes. "We really are in the future, then?" I nodded. I had been uncertain how much of our conversation he had been aware of earlier. This told me that he had been more conscious than I had realized.

"Yes, sir."

"I thought I was halluci-whatsit."

I couldn't help but smile. "Believe me, sir, I wish we were hallucinating."

"Okay," Miss Barr said, "we could put Bertie in the front seat and lean it back so he can lie down, but I don't think you'll have enough leg-room back there that way." She looked into the body of the vehicle again, considering the amount of space. "Or Bertie can lie down in the back across both seats and you can sit in front, Jeeves."

"In the back." Mr. Wooster's voice was soft and strained. "I need a lie-down."

"Right." Miss Barr lay the wool blanket across Mr. Wooster's lap and leaned into the vehicle, doing something I could not see, then moved the front passenger seat forward. "Let's get you in here, then."

I looked at the folded down seat. I had never seen automobile seats that moved forward or back. "Madam, perhaps it would be best if we both sat in the rear seat. I will be able to monitor Mr. Wooster's condition if I am there with him." She looked at me and back at the vehicle.

With a shrug, she said, "Sure. That makes sense. He'll probably be warmer if he's lying in your lap anyway." She closed the front passenger door and gestured to the open rear door. "Come on, let's get you guys settled."

It was the work of a few minutes to get us arranged comfortably with the doors closed. Seat-belts were a novelty but their safety value made sense to me. The seats themselves were cloth-covered and quite soft. The situation would allow Mr. Wooster to sleep, though the entire back seat was not long enough for him to stretch out, even with his feet on the floor behind the driver's seat. It would be somewhat awkward, but by no means impossible.

Once we were secured, Mr. Wooster curled up in my lap facing me, his legs tucked up with his feet resting against the opposite door. I took a few moments to examine our surroundings. The car's dash was well-lit with blue-green light. There were dials and buttons and switches, some of which were marked with glyphs that I could not decipher in my current condition. One dial obviously indicated speed. There was another for fuel level. There was a dim display that appeared to be a clock, though it was unlike any other I had seen, showing mysteriously changing numbers rather than having hands that turned about the face. Many of the buttons and switches were unmarked and I could not hazard even a guess as to their function.

The movement of the vehicle was quite smooth, and it was quiet within the compartment. "It'll be a couple of hours to Seattle," Miss Barr informed us. If the numbers on the dash really were a clock displaying the correct hour, then this would suggest an arrival time of after one-thirty ante meridiem. "You guys might want to get some sleep if you can."

"Will you be able to remain awake?" I asked, concerned. I knew exactly how exhausted I was and I had seen that she was in some pain. She had to be equally done in.

"I'll be fine," she said. "I'm kind of fried, but I've driven like this before under worse conditions. No worries." She adjusted one of the dials on the dash. "Let's get some heat in here so Bertie will warm up."

I cradled Mr. Wooster in my arms, leaning back into the soft seat. He sighed against my chest, his breathing rough. "Thank you, madam. I am unspeakably grateful that you were prepared for an emergency."

"Nobody with an IQ above room temperature goes out on the mountain alone without a survival kit," she said. With that, she left us to our own devices, concentrating on the road as she hummed unrecognizable tunes to herself. The road was very dark and twisted through the mountainous terrain, but Miss Barr proved to be a proficient driver and I slowly allowed myself to relax, trusting her to get us back to something resembling civilization.

Within ten minutes, the air inside the vehicle was almost as warm as the August day we had fallen from. It smelled a bit of lavender, which struck me as unusual but not unpleasant. I held Mr. Wooster in my lap, allowing my attention to wash over him. He slept, his breathing still harsh but improving now that we were in a warm, dry place. I brushed his hair away from his eyes and let my fingers trail through it, combing it into a somewhat neater configuration now that it was finally drying. The drizzle we walked through had not been enough to get us truly wet, but it had interfered with anything drying and that had concerned me, as it was a factor that worked against getting Mr. Wooster warm again.

My fingers kept moving through his hair of their own accord for quite some time. We met an occasional vehicle along the road, but they were rare. Eventually I let my hand still on Mr. Wooster's temple. "Don't stop, please," he whispered. He tensed minutely, opened one eye a fraction, and looked up at me. My chest tightened. I could not refuse him, and began the slow caress again. He closed his eye with a quiet sigh and relaxed again in my lap.

Although I had worked for Mr. Wooster for the past three years, we had never been in a situation where we had been in such close, intimate contact for such a long period. I had occasion to touch him from time to time in the commission of my duties, of course. I had once even carried him from the front door of his flat to his bed when he came home from the Drones club too inebriated to finish the walk on his own.

I cared for him. I cared for him in ways that a gentleman's valet should not.

I knew it was improper, and I suspected that he returned my affection, but there was nothing to be done about it. I was unwilling to risk any harm to his reputation, nor would I be a party to a prison sentence -- his or my own. No word was ever spoken, of course. None ever would be, because it was my duty to protect him and keep him safe from harm. As long as he did not marry, I could remain in his service; this was all that concerned me. I accepted it, knowing it could not change. Yet holding him like this affected me deeply and I could not deny it. It was nothing so crude as lust or arousal. After everything we had been through this day, I would have been ashamed of myself had that been a part of it. But this closeness, my master asleep in my lap after I had carried him to safety in my arms, left me grateful for our survival and feeling more than a little selfish for cherishing this opportunity to hold him through all these hours without any significant risk to our reputations or our freedom. I did not think I would ever have the chance again.

The rough wool blanket lying over Mr. Wooster smelled of dust with a hint of petrol. It had no doubt been sitting in the boot of the car for some time against just such circumstances as this. I was grateful for Miss Barr's foresight and for her ability to keep her head under trying circumstances. Her appearance and vocabulary were alarming, but her actions were noble ones, and she was apparently a woman of some means if she could afford an automobile like this. She had acted gently and appropriately with Mr. Wooster throughout the ordeal and had asked after my own condition several times as well. I was at a loss to explain her appearance in combination with her behavior, though I did not wish to ask impertinent questions of her. Perhaps, I thought, she was of a prosperous, genteel family but had taken it into her head to act as some kind of anthropologist and had lived among savages, adopting some of their habits. It was not unknown among the gentry in England, certainly. Her eccentricity definitely rivaled a few of the most extreme examples I had seen.

One gentleman I had worked for briefly, Mr. Horace Postlethwaite, was the youngest son of Lord Grundsby. Mr. Postlethwaite had once traveled to Papua and New Guinea and lived for several years among the head-hunters there. He was not fit for civilized society after his return, despite the efforts of his family. My position with him lasted less than three days, during which time I observed him donning tribal paint and wearing a gourd penis-sheath about the house. He did not meet the required standard.

As we traveled the long road through the night, we gradually began driving through well-lit hamlets and small towns until finally we turned onto a broad, immense highway with several obviously demarcated lanes of traffic moving in each direction. I could feel the force of our acceleration as we sped up to join the flow. Even at this hour, after one o'clock in the morning, there were an astonishing number of vehicles on the road, all of them moving at speeds better suited to automobile racing contests than sensible transportation. Some vehicles were small, like the one in which we traveled, but others were larger than omnibuses and they all passed within just a few feet of each other at breakneck speeds higher than I had ever traveled on anything other than a train before. Miss Barr seemed alert but entirely unperturbed, still humming aimlessly to herself, though I was tense and gripped the back of the seat before me, white-knuckled with alarm. She wove in and out of the moving torrent with practiced ease, casting swift glances over her shoulder or flicking her eyes to one or another of the mirrors attached to the automobile. The maneuvers set my heart to pounding anxiously. At times I could feel our vehicle shudder with the force of the wind stirred up by the passing of huge lorries, towing boxy trailers the size of train cars. Some of them were towing two or even three of these train cars, one behind another. To see such a large wall of metal moving so fast within what felt like only inches of my body quickened my pulse even further and left me trembling. It was difficult not to imagine colliding with one, to devastating effect.

Then, in one magnificent moment that overshadowed all of my nervous anxiety, we crested the rise of a hill and the brilliant lights of a large and active port city rose before us. It was breathtaking, with vibrantly colored arcs and signs made of eye-dazzling light like liquid fire, and a large, impressive cluster of sky-scrapers. One building stood out above the rest, taller than any inhabited structure I had ever seen. In the distance beyond, though not nearly so tall, was a strangely-shaped openwork tower that I only glimpsed between other tall buildings as we moved. It reminded me oddly of a much shorter Eiffel Tower with a giant white and blue pie perched incongruously atop it. There were obvious, brightly illuminated outlines of hills, and a bay, with its working docks, below us. There were city lights in the distance beyond the water as well. This could not rival the sheer size and grandeur of New York or London by any means, but I was astonished and overwhelmed by the height of the buildings. In the sky above us, blinking lights moved. A few were low enough to be recognizable in silhouette as unimaginably immense aeroplanes unlike any I had ever known. The overall effect was stunning. I gently shook Mr. Wooster's shoulder. "Sir, wake up," I urged him. "You must see this. It's incredible."

He blinked and groaned, and I helped him rise from my lap to peer through the windscreen before us. "Look, sir." I could not keep a sense of breathless excitement from my exclamation. There were high bridges arcing across the water and sweeping over roads on lower levels, all lit with streams of the red and white lights of moving motorcars and lorries. The sky glowed with the light of the city below, reflected orange in the low bank of clouds that hung above it.

Mr. Wooster leaned forward, his face between the front seats of our vehicle. "I say." The sound of astonishment filled his voice.

Miss Barr favored us with a quick glance over her shoulder and a relieved smile before turning her attention back to the speeding traffic. "Welcome to Seattle, boys."

Chapter Text

Viva SeaTac! (Robyn Hitchcock)

I think I'll always remember that first sight of Seattle's bright lights gleaming in that dark, queer night. The colors, the strange shapes, the sheer thingness of the setting, is something I can't really put into words. It was nothing at all like the horse-and-a-half waterfront town with pretensions of urbanitas I'd visited last year -- stop, make that 1923 -- with that chump Cyril Bassington-Bassington and his traveling theatre show. I'd never seen buildings so tall or, well, much of anything even the smallest bit like it, really. It wasn't something I could ever have quite imagined. It was dashed impossible to take it all in, especially when I noticed how fast we were driving. I like to tootle about the countryside in a two-seater as much as anyone else, but that bit was more than a little unnerving, I must say. It seemed bally reckless.

That didn't last too long, thankfully, as our blue-haired beazel turned off the main route's chaotic mess and drove us up a steep hill into a tree-lined and somewhat less frantic sitch. "It's not far to my place now," she said. "Only a few more minutes. How are you holding up, Bertie?"

My lungs felt soupy in a liquidy sloshy sort of way and I was more tired than I'd ever been with my eyes still open, but at least I wasn't cold any longer. That had been a hellish fright, and one I hadn't thought I'd survive when I'd been bouncing off boulders and fetching up against a very pointy and unwelcoming log. The thing had given me a good, sharp jab in the ribs when we met. I felt stretched considerably thinner than a very thin thing and I hurt like the dickens from spats to topper. "Not exactly corking, old thing, but still wiggling about." I lay back down in Jeeves's lap, watching what I could of the passing lights and buildings out the window at my feet. It was a very cozy spot, and one I'd rather been wanting to inhabit for quite some time, but one doesn't admit to such things. It's simply not done if one wants to avoid a stretch in chokey. If I were taking undue advantage of having nearly shed this mortal c., I suppose I deserved a bit of it, what? And Jeeves's hand in my hair had felt just boomps-a-daisy when I woke to it earlier.

If this was the future, and it did rather seem to be, considering, then I didn't suppose it was a terribly bad sort of place. At least, not so far. I mean, you can't really tell what the future is like if all you've seen of it is a frigid river, a particularly unfriendly stony mountainside, an extremely peculiar mannish beazel, a not-flying-as-advertised motorcar, some dark, twisty roads, and a splash of dazzling city light.

"You sure you're breathing okay?" she asked.

"Well enough, I think," I told her.

She nodded. "Right, then I think we'll skip trying to mess with an emergency room tonight. That would take hours and I just don't have it in me at the moment."

Jeeves's voice rumbled under my ear as I rested my head on his chest. "I believe that is a sensible approach," he agreed. "A few hours' sleep for all of us would be most agreeable."

We took a few more twists and turns along some tree-lined lanes and then she tucked the motorcar next to several others under a building of several stories. I wasn't quite sure how many, as it happened rather quickly, but it was only a very small block of flats. She turned off the engine and there was an odd clunking sound behind us before she opened her door. "Okay, guys. Last stop for tonight. We've got two flights of stairs ahead of us."

That didn't sound particularly pleasant, but it did seem like a hot bath and a soft surface might be in my near future. Jeeves helped me sit up as Joan rustled about in the boot of her car, closing it with a good, solid thunk. "Allow me to assist you, sir," Jeeves said, tucking an arm about the Wooster corpus as I staggered back onto my pins. I'm afraid I wobbled rather a bit from being stiff and sore, so that stalwart paragon of valets picked me up again, as he had on that blasted mountain. I wasn't about to complain. I didn't think my legs would work anyway.

Joan leaned heavily on the staff in her hand, limping badly as Jeeves carried me behind her. She unlocked a door and then we were in a dingy bit of a hallway leading to a staircase. As she'd said, it was up two flights of stairs. When we got to the top storey and ankled toward one of the doors, I heard the barking of a small dog in the flat to the right of us. Joan unlocked her own door and led us inside. Jeeves set me on my feet as we entered.

"Welcome to the madhouse," she said, flicking on a light. She dropped her rucksack next to the door and closed it, tucking her staff into the corner behind the door. There was a light suggestion of a woody scent in the air, as though a few trees had gone wafting through waving their branches about. It was rather pleasant, I thought. "Come on. You guys can sleep in the library."

Neither Jeeves nor I said anything. I staggered along after her with Jeeves holding me up, one broad hand on my shoulder. The flat was a tiny speck of a thing from the bit I could see. That bit consisted of a hallway, a couple of closet doors, a bedroom with an unmade bed, a salle de bain, and the room that had been given the library designation. Really, the whole place could have passed for a library, there were so many books about. There was a settee in the library proper, which she wafted the cushions from and set to tugging out a folding bed from its bowels. It was the work of only a minute as Jeeves bunged his bowler onto one of the bookshelves. She pulled bed linens, pillows, and blankets from the little closet in the room and tossed them down on the thin mattress as I stared out the window at the gleaming lights of the city below us. "I'm going to let you boys deal with this. I need ten minutes in the shower then I'll be out to help."

Jeeves had a very soupy look on his face. "Madam, I cannot sleep in this room with Mr. Wooster. It would not be proper." He sounded quite distressed. The concept obviously offended his feudal spirit. I looked up at him in alarm.

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. You can crash on the man-eating couch in the living room if you really want to. I've slept on it before; it's comfy enough. There's more sheets and stuff in the closet. You guys can have a soak or a shower when I'm done, but I stink like a goat and I need to swish off before I go anywhere near food." With that she turned about and popped off round the corner into the bath chamber.

I wasn't about to let Jeeves depart without kicking more than a bit. "Jeeves, you can't." I grasped his wrist as I sat on the bare mattress. The Wooster ticker was working double-time at the thought of him leaving just then. The sound of running water and the rumble of a fan started up in the next room.

He looked down at me, one corner of his mouth turned down just a touch. He was obviously quite perturbed as he eyed the place. "Sir, we cannot. Now that you are safe, we must maintain the proper standards."

"Dash the proper standards, Jeeves! And blast them, too, while we're at it! Put the proper standards entirely out of your mind for a moment. What if it happens again? I mean to say, what if the sky opens again and this time you're nowhere near me? Who knows what could happen? One of us might be scooped up like a feather in a hurricane and dropped into the soup in some other time or place, and one that might be a fair sight more unpleasant than this!" I'm afraid at that point the lungs had had enough and offered up a sharp protest. Jeeves quickly sat next to me and put an arm about me to steady me until I could breathe again. I don't mind telling you that I felt battered as a cricket ball in a particularly enthusiastic test match.

"Sir, I think it unlikely that such a thing could occur once again."

I gave him a stern look. "And just how likely was it that this time-swirling thingummy would happen in the first place, can you tell me that?" I asked him, and I meant it to sting. I wasn't sure if I was more angry or frightened by the whole thing. I decided it was actually an unholy alliance of both, like devils and deep blue seas, with a soupçon of the sort of apprehensions that come in crowds, as that Word-something poet johnnie would have it.

His eyebrows drew together just a fraction. There was a distinct, uneasy pause before he spoke again. "I will admit, I would not have credited it had it not happened to us."

"So you see, we've got a bit of a three-pipe problem before us." I plucked at the heavy woolen jumper that lay itching slightly against my skin. "Lord, I need a gasper and a desperate measure of b. and s., preferably without the s."

Jeeves got that taxidermied amphibian look about him. "I will inquire as to Miss Barr's supplies when she returns, sir. I would, however, point out that my remaining here with you tonight would be extremely improper and could present the wrong impression."

"The beazel did proffer it as the first option, old fruit. I'd say it's unlikely she considers it improper under these rummy circs, and it does seem to be all the space she has, after all. Perhaps she doesn't want to wake to a valet sleeping in her sitting room?" I tightened my hold on his wrist. "Please, Jeeves. I don't want to think what might happen if I got stranded somewhere without you."

He looked for a moment like he might refuse, but I tried the old sorrowful countenance again and he pursed his lips a bit. When he spoke, his voice was soft, much like his sheep-on-a-distant-hillside cough but with slightly less volume. "I should not wish to be separated from you, either, sir. Since, as you say, it was Miss Barr's suggestion, I suppose there would be no harm in my sleeping in here with you for tonight. We shall see if we can make other arrangements tomorrow, for you will at the very least require new clothing," here he gave my desperately failing sartorial state a grim look with which, for once, I was in complete agreement, "and a place to stay. We should also summon a physician for you, to be certain you will be well."

I felt like a tired young terrier pup after a long afternoon's dashing about after sticks when presented with a warm, wooly blanket to sleep on. "I think that would do." I let my thumb slip along Jeeves's wrist as I let go. I rather needed the reassurance, I think. He was so solid and dependable when nothing else here could be at all fathomed.

"And now, sir, if you will allow me to prepare this... bed." The Jeevesian brow tilted in a disapproving manner. I wobbled to my feet and propped myself against one of the bookshelves for the approximately two shakes of an ovine extremity it took for Jeeves to turn the mattress into something resembling a proper smooth-swarded bower for the young master. Once it was covered with blankets and the pillows were properly fluffed, I sank down upon it gratefully.

At this juncture, Joan reappeared in the doorway wrapped in a dark blue dressing gown, her hair damp and standing up at odd angles. She placed a pair of brick-red towels on the bed. "Okay boys, your turn. I'll see about something foodlike." Considering what she'd fed us in the dire and barren heart of the cold wilderness, I was a bit worried that 'food-like' might mean utterly inedible, but I was quite hungry enough to devour a fatted calf, a brace of fretful porpentines, and an entire bally squadron of chickens without bothering to divest them of fur and feathers. Apparently, being half-drowned and frozen nigh unto expiry was good for the appetite.

Jeeves let me lean on him for the few steps from our temporary lair into the salle de bain. I sat on the loo, aching like billy-o, while Jeeves gave the tub a suspicious examination. "Allow me to clean this properly before we run your bath, sir," he huffed in a more than slightly soupy tone. It did look a bit dingy, what. Jeeves poked around in the cabinet under the sink and came up with some kind of cleaning thing he approved of, then went at the basin until it was quite sparkling. He ran the bath for me and sprinkled in a packet of some bath salts that were sitting in a basket on the tank of the loo. It smelled of sandalwood and I could feel the heat coming up from the tub like a gentle breeze wafting from a warm, welcoming sauna. I think it was quite the most heavenly thing I could conceive of in that moment.

"Here, sir. Let me assist you in removing these clothes." I'll admit I was a bit wobblier than usual, so Jeeves's steady hands were a bit of a sacrament to my comfort. He helped me lower myself into the tub, which was much more modern than I'd been expecting, given my previous impression of Seattle. It was one of those very low, sitting right on the floor without any legs at all in evidence type thingummies, built quite into the wall. Getting down into it with all my stiff limbs and aches was more difficult than I'd have liked and the trick required Jeevesian support. Once I was settled I took a quick look about. There was a wet brown soap bar sitting in a small divot in the wall. Above and before me was a wire rack hanging from the showerhead, loaded down with brightly colored bottles of shampoo and such, and a loofah tucked behind them. Perched on one corner of the basin next to the wall was a dashed strange rubber duck. Rather than being the usual cheery yellow sort, like my own, it was bright red, with a black tail and little black horns sprouting from its head as though it had been in a dust-up with a cow and had, quite unexpectedly, won the day.

"I say," I said. I picked the beast up and gave it a good squeeze. It squeaked like any proper rubber ducky ought. "What do you make of this, Jeeves?" I waved it at him.

"It appears to be a rubber duck, sir."

"I'll say, but it's the dashed oddest rubber duck I've ever seen." I squeaked it again and set it afloat, splashing a bit with my toes in the lovely heat of the water. "At least I'm warm again. I thought I'd never thaw, and might end up like one of those ice sculptures at the Drones, all stiff and dripping."

"Indeed, sir, I am most gratified you did not. This said, everything here seems extremely odd. I shall leave you to your bath and see if Miss Barr might have something you could wear as pyjamas for the night."

Once again my heart took the pip at the idea he might be out of my sight. "Are you sure, Jeeves? I mean, you could wait until I'm done and we could both undertake the expedition."

Jeeves's eyes softened a bit. "I assure you, sir, I shall be gone only a few moments. I will return immediately."

I leaned back in the tub, somewhat molli-something. It was far too shallow and I felt like I was bathing in a bally horse trough, until I tucked up my knees and slipped down further into it, but the old trough would serve in an emergency, which this most certainly was. This was one of those times when I thought perhaps modern style was less useful than the old-fashioned thingummies. "Well, I suppose that would be all right. But hurry back, won't you?"

"Indeed, sir. I will not be long." He shimmered out of the room and left me to have a splash about in the sandalwood-scented soup.

***

I left Mr. Wooster in the bath, closing the door behind me, and went to seek out Miss Barr. She looked up as I entered the small kitchen. "Bertie's stuff is on the table," she said. In the bright electric lights of the flat she looked drained and I could see that she was trembling slightly as she stirred the contents of a soup-pot with a pair of chopsticks. "I hope you guys are okay with udon, because that's about the only thing I have right now that's hot and fast." On the countertop next to the stove was a cutting board and an Oriental-style chopping knife, along with a small selection of thinly sliced vegetables.

"I'm sure it will be quite suitable, madam. Do you by any chance have a bottle of brandy and some soda water? Mr. Wooster has requested a drink and his cigarettes." Glancing past her to the open dining area that adjoined the sitting room, I saw the table upon which she had placed Mr. Wooster's belongings, including his cigarette case and his watch. There were tall, broad windows along the entire wall overlooking the city.

She chuckled. "Wae worth that brandy, burnan trash! Fell source o' monie a pain an' brash," she quoted. She gestured to the top of her very large icebox. "There's scotch if you like. I have Talisker and Laphroaig, or Jameson if you prefer Irish. There's also vodka, rum, and a few liqueurs. No brandy, though."

"The poet Burns, madam?" The quote had been surprising but quite apt under the circumstances. I could not help but raise an eyebrow as I passed her in the narrow room, taking the Laphroaig from its place. It was a bottle of twelve-year-old. Miss Barr continued to defy my attempts to divine her social class and station. She was a conundrum, and this bothered me. I could not control what I did not understand.

"Burns rocks. Glasses in the cabinet behind you, next to the sink. If you want to knock one back yourself, feel free." She continued stirring as I attempted to understand what she meant by 'rocks' in reference to the Scottish poet. "While you're at it can you fetch down three bowls, please?" I opened the cabinet indicated and took down a glass. The only glassware in the cabinet was a set of water tumblers and a few pieces of stemware suitable for red wine. The dishware was an odd conglomeration of styles and sizes, enough for a partial service for eight. There were coffee mugs in a number of colors and shapes, printed with a variety of designs that I did not take the time to examine. I brought down three of the bowls, as requested, and poured Mr. Wooster two fingers neat into the water glass. One made do with what one had. She took the bowls from me and set them upon the counter next to her. "Thanks, Jeeves."

I took three steps to the small dining table and opened Mr. Wooster's cigarette case. "I fear his cigarettes are ruined, madam." They had become a sodden mass inside the small case. The silver would have to be polished as soon as I was able. I would need to provide him with a cigarette from the supply I kept for those moments when he might not be carrying one himself.

"There's no smoking in the house," she said, looking up at me as she added the vegetables to the pot. "I don't smoke so I haven't got anything to offer him, but if you guys want to smoke you have to do it out on the balcony."

"Outside, madam?" After all Mr. Wooster had endured, this seemed an entirely unjustified demand.

"Just like everyone else," she said, taking one of the bowls from the stack. "It's like that most places these days, and I have friends with asthma who can't breathe around it. I hate making hospital visits because somebody's stopped breathing, particularly when it's avoidable. Seattle's gone smoke-free in all the public buildings, so unless you're in somebody's house where they're okay with it, or you're in a private club that allows it, you won't be able to smoke indoors anywhere. Not too close to the doors or open windows, either."

The possibility that smoking might be restricted or forbidden had not occurred to me. I was considering my response when she held out a bowl of hot broth filled with long, thick noodles and slivers of vegetables. It actually smelled quite good as I took it from her and my stomach growled in response. It had been a very long time since I'd had a proper meal. She reached into the drawer next to her and extracted another pair of chopsticks, setting them points-first into the bowl. "Go ahead and take that in to Bertie. I'll give you yours when you come out again."

I nodded. "Very good, madam." Both of my hands were full now. "Madam, do you have a tray on which I might carry these items?"

She gestured to a baker's rack behind her dining table, which held a variety of both English and Oriental tea pots and implements on its shelves. I realized this meant I might actually be able to provide Mr. Wooster with a proper cup of tea for his breakfast in the morning. "There's a tray there you can use." I set the whisky and soup on the table and rearranged the tea cups and pots until I could access what I needed. Her woven bamboo tray would hold the glass and soup bowl quite neatly.

"Thank you, madam."

As I moved to return to Mr. Wooster, she stopped me with a hand on my elbow and looked into my eyes. I could feel the tremors of exhaustion in her muscles as she touched me. Her face was worn and weary. There were fine lines about her eyes that I had not noticed before, and a touch of grey in the medium brunette hair at her temples that had been overshadowed by my first impression of the shocking blue streak on one side. I still found it somewhat difficult to look at the metal piercing her face. "I'm... I hope he'll be okay. I really could have done better out there. I was too rattled to remember to start a fire and that could have gone really badly. We'd have warmed him up quite a bit faster if we could have got a little hot liquid into him. I'm sorry." She looked genuinely upset by this thought.

"Madam, you have no need to apologize. Your quick thinking and resourcefulness saved Mr. Wooster's life and, quite possibly, my own. I cannot thank you enough for that. Any small oversights on your part are quite understandable given the trying circumstances. The fact that you were present and prepared for an emergency made all the difference."

She released my elbow. "You were going into that river after him, weren't you? Without knowing the first thing about how deep it was or how bad the current might be."

I nodded. "Yes, madam, I was." While I might have been able to retrieve Mr. Wooster from the torrent on my own, we would no doubt both have died of exposure on the mountainside from the cold of the river had she not been present. I would still have done it without hesitation, for I could not live with myself if I had allowed him to drown without even attempting to save him. I suppressed a shudder at the thought. "Please excuse me, madam. I promised Mr. Wooster I would be only a moment."

"You're a very brave man," she said softly, turning back to the pot and preparing a bowl of soup for herself. I did not consider it bravery, merely my duty.

Mr. Wooster was playing with the red rubber duck when I returned to the bath. He looked up at me as the door opened. "I say, Jeeves, is that the threatened 'food-like' whatsit?" I could hear exhaustion in his voice.

"It is, sir. Miss Barr had no brandy or soda, however she has provided a very respectable twelve year old single malt scotch whisky and a bowl of hot soup." I sat on the edge of the tub and held the tray for him as he took up the glass. He swirled the whisky in the glass and scented it.

"Well, now, that's the real tabasco. Should hit the frightfully lacking spot quite remarkably." He drank a bit of it and placed it back on the tray. "Oh, indeed. Topping stuff. Who would have suspected eccentric blue-haired beazels of stocking a fine single malt?" He coughed uncomfortably a few times before looking into the soup bowl. "Why isn't there a spoon?" he asked. "And what are these sticks for? Dashed odd, putting sticks in soup."

"It is an Oriental custom," I informed him. "They are called chopsticks, sir. The residents of Japan and China use them in place of the usual silver service."

His face twisted in confusion. "I thought we were in Seattle, what? Isn't that in America? Or, at least, wasn't it when I was there last?"

"Indeed, sir. I can procure a spoon for you if you wish."

He looked up in alarm. "Oh, no no, that's just fine. Stay right there, would you? If I'm going to attempt the absurd act of eating soup with sticks, I might as well do it in the bath, where I won't have to worry overmuch about the mess, right?" He picked up the chopsticks, one in each hand, and looked down into the bowl.

Setting the tray aside for a moment, I gently took the chopsticks from him. "Allow me to demonstrate, sir. They are held like this." I showed him the proper way to hold them, opening and closing them in my fingers as an example.

"Oh, that's bally clever," he exclaimed. "Let me try that wheeze."

I handed them back to him, helping him grasp them appropriately. His hands were warm in my own now, a very reassuring improvement over his earlier condition. He smiled up at me as he wiggled the chopsticks several times in imitation of my illustrative gesture. When I thought he might successfully attempt the maneuver with the noodles, I raised the tray for him again. "Soup in the Orient is traditionally eaten by sipping broth from the bowl and using the chopsticks to bring the solid items to one's lips, sir."

He gave me a doubtful glance. "Sipping from the bowl? Are you sure, Jeeves? That doesn't seem terribly genteel at all. I mean, all the slurping and whatnot."

"I assure you, sir; when using the Oriental method, it is considered quite appropriate for a gentleman to sip from the bowl."

"Oh, well, then." He picked up the bowl in one hand and attempted to put my advice into practice. This was accomplished with an acceptable minimum of noodle escape or spilling of broth. When he finished the soup he handed the bowl and chopsticks to me. "I say, that was actually quite tasty. I could perhaps use a nibble of dessert, but at least now I don't feel all hollow about the middle, and the warmth is starting to make me quite sleepy on top of all that almost expiring I was doing earlier." I did not trust myself to comment on the idea of him dying, so I remained silent. He took the glass of scotch and finished it quickly, then yawned with a deep breath that ended in another coughing fit. Once the nerve-wracking display ended, he shook himself and said, "I should pop out of the tub and let you have a splash yourself, Jeeves."

"Very good, sir. Allow me to return these things to the kitchen and acquire clothing for you to sleep in."

One eyebrow raised. "Ah, yes. That's lovely, Jeeves. Carry on, then. But hurry back, won't you?" The hint of worry remained in both his voice and his expressive face.

When I returned to Miss Barr, she was sitting at her dining table, leaning wearily over her bowl and eating noodles in a desultory manner. She looked up when I entered and set the tray down on a counter. "Madam, might I trouble you for something Mr. Wooster may wear to bed? I realize that you may not have such items, but I must ask."

She nodded and stood. "Yeah, I've got a couple of things in my room that might work." She proceeded to her bedchamber and gestured for me to follow her. The bed was unmade and looked like it may never have been so, furnished with dark red sheets and a gold and burgundy brocade duvet. There were bookshelves lining the walls here, as well, a large window overlooking the city much like the one in the library, and a dresser whose top was covered with a peculiar assemblage of diverse items including animal bones, framed images, and small sculptures. Partially burnt candles were arranged upon the surface as well. She opened a drawer and removed a pair of flannel pyjama trousers of royal blue with a headache-inducing astronomical print of smiling suns, crescent-faced moons, and somewhat more subdued stars. Her next choice was a pair of black silk pyjama trousers. She opened another drawer and pulled out a thin, black cotton long-sleeved tunic printed with Hindu designs. It was appalling. All of them were unspeakably wrinkled. They had a slight, lingering scent of cedar on them that was not at all unpleasant. "Those silk ones might fit you. One of my boyfriends left them a few weeks ago when he was visiting. You're a bit broad in the shoulders for any of the tee shirts I've got, but the rest of this should sort of fit Bertie. I know it's not ideal, but it should do until we can figure out what we're going to do with you guys."

Aside from the sartorial shock I was experiencing, her casual reference to one of presumably several lovers visiting and leaving his clothing sent my mind reeling. What other improprieties did this woman practice? Were we actually safe in the presence of someone who showed obvious signs of depraved behavior? I reminded myself again that she had saved our lives and taken us into her home without question. She handed me the clothing and I stared down at it for a moment. "Thank you, madam. I'm sure these will do."

"In the left hand drawer under the sink are some new toothbrushes. I keep them in case I get unexpected company," she said. "Go ahead and grab a couple. I'm sure you'll be wanting to brush your teeth before you crash." 'Crash' appeared to mean 'sleep' in her vernacular. I thanked her again and returned to the bath chamber to assist Mr. Wooster.

He was leaning back against the wall when I returned, looking rather worse for the wear. Mr. Wooster was already beginning to develop a number of bruises, large and small, on his arms, legs and torso. They would, no doubt, be quite painful by morning. I set the pyjamas on the counter next to the sink and opened the left hand drawer beneath it to extract toothbrushes. There were several in different colors, encased in rectangular boxes that looked like a very thin, transparent bakelite. "What ho, Jeeves?" Mr. Wooster said, opening his eyes and looking up at me.

"I have procured clothing for the evening, sir, and toothbrushes. Sadly, your cigarettes were ruined by the river."

His countenance fell at that. "Oh." He sighed and let his head rest back against the wall again.

I opened the medicine chest above the sink, hoping to find aspirin for Mr. Wooster. I was confronted with a wide array of bottles labeled with the names of drugs I had never seen before. Many of them appeared to be prescription compounds with Miss Barr's name on them. I took one large container marked as a pain-reliever called acetaminophen, and examined the dose information. The label was much more thorough than I was used to regarding doses, effects, and potential unfortunate side-effects. Satisfied that this would be a suitable substitute, I attempted to open the bottle. I was defeated at first, until I realized that there were instructions on the lid suggesting I push down as I twisted. This slightly awkward maneuver rewarded me with the medication I desired. "Here, sir," I said, offering him the small, white tablets. "This should help with some of the pain you are experiencing."

He reached up with one damp hand and took them from me. I gave him water in one of the tiny paper cups I found in the drawer with the toothbrushes. "Jolly good," Mr. Wooster said, swallowing the pills. "I feel like I've been trampled by an entire rugby team, Jeeves. One consisting of overly large chaps carrying twice their weight in lead." He looked down at his body. "I rather look it, too, I suppose."

"If you are ready, sir, I will help you dress for bed." He nodded and held out one hand. He had been quite unsteady on his feet and was most likely too stiff to rise without assistance, so I took his hand and helped him stand. Handing him the towel, I opened the drain then readied the bed clothing as he stepped out onto the small, dark green bath rug. As he dried himself, I kept my eyes averted to afford him some privacy. It was a commodity we would have little of for at least a few days, I suspected. When he handed me the towel, I held the pyjama trousers open for him. He put a hand on my shoulder and leaned heavily upon me as he endeavored to step into them.

"I say, Jeeves, these are quite the sort of thing you'd want to be rid of if we were at home." I drew the trousers up to his waist and he tied the cord to bring the waist to an appropriate size. The tunic was next. I tried not to show my distress at the final effect. He smiled gently at me. "I know this pains you, old thing. I'm sure it's only temporary."

"As you say, sir." After he brushed his teeth, I helped him into the library and he sat on the bed with a relieved sigh. "If you do not mind, sir, I shall have my soup and shower before I join you here. Please try to sleep." I was uncertain I would be able to, in such close quarters with him, but he required rest.

He spoke softly, nodding. "Right, then. But don't be too long about it, would you?" His eyes betrayed his uneasiness as he lay down. I pulled the covers up over him and he shifted about in the bed, attempting to find a comfortable position.

"I shall return momentarily." With that, I turned off the electric light and quietly closed the door. Miss Barr was in the kitchen again when I returned, rinsing dishes and placing them in a small version of an electrical dishwashing machine. I had seen them in very large, modern households occasionally, but never one so small or in a private flat.

"Your soup's still on the stove," she said. "Didn't want it to get cold."

"Thank you, madam." I poured the remainder of the soup into my own bowl. There was a pair of chopsticks on the counter for me and I took the bowl to the table and sat. It felt rather odd to be dining like this. I generally ate alone in the kitchen of our flat, or in company with other servants. Miss Barr appeared utterly unconcerned with this potential breach of protocol. I could not be certain she was even aware that it was a breach.

When she was done with her dishes, she dried her hands and came to sit at the table with me. "I'm going to bed in a minute," she said. "Just a few things so you're not at a loss if you get up before I do." She gestured to the icebox. "You guys can eat anything you like that I have, just let me know if you use the last of something. Tea's up in that cupboard." She pointed to the cupboard above and to the left of the electric stove. "I don't have coffee, so if you're a coffee in the morning type, you're out of luck. We can get you some later if you like. Also, there are some things in here I'd prefer you not touch." She nodded toward her sitting room. "Anything on a shelf or table with candles on it is an altar. Don't touch anything on them."

"An altar, madam?" This was another puzzling eccentricity.

She waved away my question. "Long story. I'll tell you later if you really want to know. Just don't mess with my stuff, okay?"

"Very good, madam."

"You guys can read anything in the house that doesn't look hand-written. I've got working notebooks and journals on some of the shelves, and they're private, but anything in print is fair game."

"Thank you, madam." I had not had the time to examine the bookshelves, but I did have some hopes of learning what had transpired in the world since 1924, provided her library had suitable history texts. Given the sheer size of her collection, I believed there was a good chance of this.

"Last thing, it's probably better if you don't try going out without me in the morning. You don't have a key to get back into the building, you'd probably get lost, and there are an awful lot of things you should know before you head off on your own. We're going to have to find a way to get you boys some cash tomorrow, and then you're going to need clothes. I'll try to be up by noon."

She was obviously of the same school of sleep as Mr. Rockmetteller Todd, a Long Island poet of Mr. Wooster's acquaintance. It was not a habit I advocated, but we were, after all, guests in her home. "Very good, madam. I shall endeavor not to disturb you in the morning."

She nodded and rose from her chair. "Thanks." She squeezed my shoulder with one hand. "I'll see you tomorrow. Night." With that, she limped off to her bedroom, leaving me in the quiet to think and to finish my meal. After I ate, I gave Mr. Wooster's belongings a cursory examination. His outer garments were damaged beyond rescue, though his underthings could be washed so that he would be able to wear them tomorrow. I picked up his watch and opened it. The childhood portrait inside the cover of himself and his parents had sustained some water damage but was, thankfully, still recognizable. I knew that losing the portrait would have been a harsh blow to him. The watch itself would have to be taken to a watchmaker for cleaning and lubrication before it would work properly again. I emptied the silver cigarette case of its waterlogged contents and rinsed it. Polishing would have to wait. There was little I could do right now, and exhaustion threatened to lay me low in very short order.

I would have lingered a bit and taken time to examine my surroundings, but I had promised Mr. Wooster I would not be long. I knew I would feel better after I showered. The efforts of the day had caused me to perspire heavily, my arms and shoulders ached from carrying my employer out of the wilderness, and I had suffered some painful bruising from my fall as well. The hot water would be a welcome relief. I could wash our undergarments in the shower and leave them to dry over the shower-curtain rail. After washing my own dishes and returning them to their rightful places, I turned off the lights and proceeded to the bathing chamber, where I showered, brushed my teeth, took some of the acetaminophen myself, and washed our clothing.

The black silk pyjama trousers were short in the leg but fit well about the waist. They would be acceptable, but it appeared I would have to sleep bare-chested. I was disturbed by this situation, but there was nothing I could do about it presently. I hoped Mr. Wooster would not be upset by this unfortunate lapse.

When I entered the darkened library, the room was lit only with the ambient light of the city outside. I did not wish Mr. Wooster to be disturbed by the light in the morning so I closed the venetian blinds. Taking a bracing breath, I lifted the covers back and got into the bed beside my employer. He was curled up in a forlorn ball on the side opposite me. "What ho, Jeeves?" he asked softly, without moving.

"You should be sleeping, sir." I lay on my side to face him, studying him in the darkness.

"I was rather concerned you might not return." Without uncurling himself, he shifted slightly closer to me. "What if something happens while we're asleep?" He turned his head toward me, his eyes glittering in what little light was coming through the blinds.

"Nothing will happen, sir."

Unwinding his body, he rolled over to face me. "We've read this particular script before, old thing, rehearsed and ready for the stage. How do we know?" He reached out tentatively and placed a hand on my bare shoulder. I could not help shivering under his touch.

"If anything does happen, sir, I will do everything within my power to remain with you. Please try to sleep, sir. You have been through a great deal today and you really do need to rest." I took his hand and carefully removed it from my shoulder. He squeezed my fingers before lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling.

"I suppose that's all I can ask," he said.

"Tomorrow we shall obtain suitable clothing for both of us, sir. After that, we shall assess our situation and decide upon the next step."

He nodded and coughed again. I did not like the sound of it at all. "Good night, then, Jeeves."

"Good night, sir." Tonight, I would try to sleep. Tomorrow, I would begin to rebuild our lives.

***

I was disoriented for a moment when I woke. The dim morning light through venetian blinds was unfamiliar, as were the book-lined surroundings, and there was also the small matter of Mr. Wooster's limbs wrapped around me, his head resting heavily on my shoulder. I closed my eyes and took a slow, deep breath, almost afraid to move lest I wake him. Our situation was concrete proof of what had happened yesterday. I was not mad. It was no hallucination, no dream. Ironically, my current position was something I had dreamed of and greatly desired for much of the time I had worked for him. To wake like this, with him holding me, his body pressed to mine, was a moment of ecstatic torment that I did not wish to end.

I allowed myself to lie in his arms for several guilty minutes, brushing my hand gently over his waist as I rested my cheek against the tousled hair at the crown of his head, just feeling the rise and fall of his chest. He didn't stir at my touch, but I had not expected him to. Slowly, reluctantly, I took him into a close embrace and inhaled the warm, clean scent of him, burning the sensations of this moment into my memory. I moved his arm and leg from around my body with great care, laying his head softly on one of the pillows, and rose. There was no clock in the room, but I did not hear Miss Barr stirring, nor any other sound in the flat. I could hear the soft sounds of traffic and birdsong outside.

Opening the library door, I peered into the hallway. All was as it had been last night; pale carpeting extending from one wall to the other all the way down the hall into the sitting room, the bathroom door partly closed. Everything was dim. It was either early or quite overcast, possibly both. I retrieved Mr. Wooster's and my now-dry underthings from the shower curtain railing and took a quick shower before dressing to begin my day. There was no brilliantine for my hair and I knew it would be unacceptably unkempt, but I did not see any alternative at hand. I ran my fingers through it so as to at least get it in some semblance of order in the hope that it would dry in its proper place.

Having to dress in yesterday's clothing was an unaccustomed inconvenience. I preferred a fresh change of clothes each morning and not having this left me feeling a touch out of sorts. While I enjoyed travel and new surroundings I, like my employer, also preferred a regular, predictable routine. I did not know what I would do to clothe Mr. Wooster before we could purchase him at least one new suit. Miss Barr's black denim trousers and heather-green jumper had looked ludicrous on him. Perhaps she would have something more appropriate, even if it was not in his size. She looked like the sort of mannish woman who wore trousers as a matter of habit. Perhaps her wardrobe transgressions would extend to men's collared shirts as well. I took Mr. Wooster's underthings into the library and left them on the arm of the folded-out settee in preparation for Mr. Wooster's rising. He lay there quietly; his breathing sounded not-quite-right. I pulled the bedclothes back up to cover his shoulder once again, taking an extra blanket from within the small closet in the room and spreading it over him, then smoothing them out so that he would be warm and comfortable.

My first order of business was to familiarize myself with the kitchen and its contents so that I could provide Mr. Wooster with a suitable breakfast. It was laid out in a narrow space with counters and appliances against either wall, in a galley style. I recognized the stove and icebox, as well as the dish-washing machine from last night. There were a number of other items on the counters that appeared to be labor-saving devices of some sort. One was recognizably a large electrical mixer for batter or dough. There was a small toaster. Most of the rest were items whose function I could not discern. On the stove and one of the other devices were numerical clocks like the one on the dash of Miss Barr's motorcar. They did not agree with one another, but were within ten minutes of it, allowing me to guess that it was approximately ten-thirty in the morning. This was significantly later than my usual time of rising, but I felt it excusable under the circumstances. I did not know how to rectify the two displays so that they matched, nor did I know which was closer to correct. I would have to deal with that later. I took my watch from my waistcoat pocket. The last time I had wound it, it was set for the correct time in London in August of 1924. Needless to say, it was far from the current time. I decided to set it for something between the two clocks, intending to synchronize them all later.

The cabinets and drawers revealed a reasonably well-stocked kitchen. A small bookcase next to the kitchen held many well-used recipe books of dishes from different countries and continents. There were sufficient pots and pans of different sizes and purposes to prepare food for at least eight people. It seemed Miss Barr liked to entertain. The face of the icebox was covered with picture-postcards affixed with a variety of garishly decorated magnets, and a random sampling of at least a hundred tiny magnets with individual words on them. Some were arranged into beautiful poetic phrases or stanzas. Other arrangements were suggestive double-entendres, or outright obscenities in a very aggressive vernacular. It was most distressing and simply compounded my confusion regarding our hostess.

The tea was in its promised place and there were many types; green teas from Japan, Chinese oolongs, a number of dark pekoes, several herbal tisanes and, thankfully, a good quality darjeeling that would be quite suitable for Mr. Wooster. None of them were the inferior quality tea bags that many Americans favored, but proper loose-leaf instead. The spice rack held good quantities of herbs and spices for both sweet and savory dishes. Many of the bottles were labeled, but some were not. Cinnamon sticks and the like did not require them, and the few unlabeled powders were immediately identifiable by their scents as cinnamon, clove, and other familiar items. Everything seemed arranged in a logical and orderly fashion. There were boxes, cans, packets, and jars of commercially prepared foods, all of which were labeled in the same obsessive manner as the medications in the bathroom. Some jars were obviously home-prepared preserves, labeled only with a date and a general description of the contents, some of which were unusual; "rowan berry jam," "salal berry pie filling," and the like. There were large bottles of dried beans and other pulses and grains of varying types, several large bags of different kinds of rice, and containers of many kinds of pasta. On the counter sat glass jars of salt-preserved citrus fruits and a large basket of yellow onions and garlic. So far, everything seemed well stocked for a variety of preparations, though her tastes seemed as bizarre as her appearance.

When I opened the icebox, however, I discovered that nothing else was as I had presumed. There were no eggs. There was no bacon. In fact, there was no meat at all in the cold compartment. There were packets of raw noodles, a tub marked "tofu" that held a brick of some white substance suspended in water, containers of fresh vegetables and leafy greens for salad, butter and several different cheeses in separate drawers and compartments, and a wide variety of condiments. There were flexible translucent containers filled with the remains of previous meals. There was no milk, but there was a quart container of 'half and half,' a combination of milk and cream that I surmised must be used for Miss Barr's tea. It was almost full. The container proclaimed the cream as 'organic,' though I could not imagine what inorganic dairy might be. Perhaps, like that horrifying bar of I-knew-not-what that I had been given last night, some foods now were artificial. I was uncertain what to do with many of the condiments, though some were familiar enough. The colder upper compartment of the icebox yielded a loaf of sliced nut-bread, slim packets of eel marked with both English and Japanese writing, several bags of stuffed pastas, and frozen fish and fowl, along with a lamb shank. There were containers of what looked like broth, but no ice at all.

I would be unable to give Mr. Wooster his preferred breakfast, but there was flour and sugar, butter and cream. I could, at least, make scones for him and prepare some tea. This task took very little time, and the temperature markers on the stove were clear enough. There was no pilot light, but the stove appeared to be electrical, like everything else I had seen so far.

With the scones baking, I washed the dishes I had used and then took time to look out the broad sitting and dining room windows over the city. Seeing it in the daylight was as breathtaking as my initial view of it late last night. Tall buildings rose from what seemed to be the central core of the city, lining the bay below. Cargo ships moved across the water and large aeroplanes flew through the partially-cloudy skies. There were grand, snow-capped mountains in the distance beyond the water. I could see a great number of trees among the buildings nearby, though many of them on the street immediately below me were rather small specimens. Overall, it gave an impression of verdant life everywhere, even with the leaves turning in the autumnal weather. The light in the sky made it obvious that I was facing west across the bay. I knew the body of water below was the Puget Sound, though I had never seen it before. Mr. Wooster's descriptions of Seattle after his return to New York had given the impression of a rough but growing town, lively and filled with colorful personalities. It seemed that the city had come into its own in the more than eighty-five years since that time. I would not attempt to guess how Seattle fared against the much older and greater cities of my own age, but from this vantage point it seemed quite successful.

When I took the scones from the oven, I started the kettle, choosing an appropriate tea pot. There was only one proper English cup and saucer in the house. It sat on the baker's rack among the other tea service items. It was an extremely ugly floral pink monstrosity that bore no resemblance to anything else I had seen so far. I was not going to serve Mr. Wooster's tea in such a thing, so I was required to substitute a coffee mug. Most of them were printed with animal motifs or outdoor scenes. Some had comic drawings on them. One had what appeared to be a molecular structural diagram on it. I was uncertain of the molecule represented though, considering its context, I suspected caffeine. I chose a plain, black mug of thin ceramic.

When the tea kettle whistled, I prepared the infusion. Before I took Mr. Wooster his breakfast, I had a cup of tea and a scone myself. Then, arranging the tea service and a buttered scone with apricot jam on the tea tray, I carried it into the library, where Mr. Wooster was just beginning to rouse himself. "Good morning, sir," I greeted him. "It appears to be a clement autumn morning, somewhat cloudy but pleasant. I have brought you some breakfast, though I am afraid it does not meet the required standard."

He sat carefully, moving stiffly as I set the tea tray on a small corner table next to the settee. "What's that, Jeeves?" he asked, looking up at me. "No eggs and b.?"

"I'm afraid not, sir. Miss Barr did not have either of those items. I hope that a scone and jam will prove a satisfactory alternative until this situation can be rectified." He reached out and took the coffee mug.

Sipping, he smiled up at me. "Well, it may not be the usual breakfast service, but the tea's corking, at least."

"Thank you, sir." I stood by the bed and watched him, attempting to discern his condition after the ordeal he had suffered last night.

He ate the scone quickly. "You know, Jeeves, I think I could use another of those if you don't mind. I'm feeling quite hollow about the middle today. Rather like I might echo if you knocked against me, you know?" His expression was creased with a ghost of pain. "And, really, if there's more aspirin about, I wouldn't mind one of those, either."

"Very good, sir." I nodded and went to acquire the medication and further sustenance for my employer. As I did so, I heard Miss Barr stirring behind her closed door. Fortunately, I had made enough scones and tea for all of us, so she would not have to prepare her own breakfast today. I felt it was my responsibility to try to repay her in some fashion for her help and hospitality. As I returned to the library with Mr. Wooster's medication and a second scone, Miss Barr stumbled by in her bathrobe without giving me so much as a glance. I was not certain her eyes were even open. She entered the bathroom and closed the door and, a few moments later, the sound of a shower began.

Mr. Wooster was coughing violently when I entered the room. I set the plate down on the tea tray and quickly sat next to him, supporting him with an arm about his shoulders until the fit subsided. He leaned against me, shaking a bit, and panted heavily for a few moments before he spoke. "Sorry about that, Jeeves. My lungs are still feeling a bit like soggy, abused sponges at the moment."

"Once we have procured proper clothing for you, sir, I shall see to it that a doctor is brought to you." His breathing sounded rather wet, but he had inhaled a good deal of water last night and it might take time to resolve. Still, there was no sense in taking any chances. Mr. Wooster had never been ill before in his life, by his own reports, and I did not want that to change.

He nodded, his voice stronger now. "Jolly good, Jeeves. Any idea what we'll wrap the Wooster corpus in until that occurs?"

"I shall ask Miss Barr when she has dressed, sir. Perhaps she will have something more suitable than the denim trousers and jumper you were wearing last night. I could not advise appearing in public in such a state when we go to procure proper clothing."

One corner of his mouth quirked upward and I stood once again to resume my respectful stance by the side of the bed. "This is one sitch where I agree with you quite firmly, old fruit. I don't suppose my suit was salvageable at all?"

"No, sir." I shook my head. Several seams were torn and the silt suspended in the glacial runoff had completely ruined the fabric. "It was most unfortunate."

He sighed sadly. "Well, then, we'll have to hope that Joan has something a bit more spiffing, I suppose."

I entertained severe doubts that 'spiffing' would be forthcoming. "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, sir," I said with feeling.

"That's one of those poet chappies, isn't it?" He tilted his head as he looked up at me.

"Yeats, sir."

That garnered a smile. "Ah, right-o. That Irishman with the Nobel prize. I remember you mentioned him."

"Indeed, sir." I allowed a bit of a smile myself.

Outside our door, Miss Barr padded back to her bedchamber, hair still damp and protruding at strange angles. She appeared no more awake than she had been before her shower. The door closed softly. I turned my attention back to Mr. Wooster. "I shall draw your bath now, sir."

"Oh, that's just topping, Jeeves." He picked up the second scone and set about devouring it as I left to start the bath water. I heard Miss Barr leave her room as I attended to the matter.

After beginning that task, I went to the kitchen to inquire about clothing for Mr. Wooster. Miss Barr stood hunched over the stove, putting the kettle on. She was once again dressed in black denim trousers, this time topped by another overly-revealing camisole of bright red, with an open black silk band-collar men's shirt over it. It was extremely wrinkled. The awful metallic green boots she wore left me lightheaded with disgust. By this point, even Mr. Rockmetteller Todd's sartorial choices seemed preferable.

"Miss Barr?"

"Tea," she mumbled.

"There is already tea, madam. It is in the pot on the table."

"Cannot brain." I blinked at the utter nonsense of the phrase, uncertain of what I had just heard. She turned off the burner and shambled to the dining table, pouring herself a mug and adding cream before I could do it for her. After she took a sip, she stumbled, eyes half closed, over to me and rested her forehead on my chest for a moment. I could only stand in shock at the inappropriate gesture. "You are a god," she muttered, then turned and returned to the table and looked at the scones. "Mind if I have one?"

Mr. Wooster's praise was often prolix, but it had never turned to apotheosis. After I composed myself, I must admit that the concept did rather amuse me. "By all means, madam." She took one of the scones and bit into it, not bothering with butter or jam. "I do need to enquire after the possibility of clothing for Mr. Wooster so that we may procure him appropriate attire."

She grunted and nodded as she took another sip of her tea. "More tea. Then clothes." Her voice was still gravelly with sleep.

"Very good, madam." I left her in the kitchen to turn the bath water off. Mr. Wooster had finished his scone when I returned for him. "Your bath is ready, sir."

My employer was perusing the spines of the books on the shelf next to him when I entered. "I say, Jeeves, this Joan beazel reads the bally oddest books."

"I am certain that is so, sir." He attempted to rise, groaning quietly as he moved.

"Well, this is an unpleasant wheeze. I think I'll need a bit of help, here, Jeeves. I've gone stiff as a particularly unyielding plank." He looked up to me in moderate distress. "This just won't do."

I leaned down to help him to his feet, cringing once again at the horrific pyjamas he was wearing. Later today, I reminded myself, later today we would find a tailor and purchase appropriate clothing and I would no longer be subjected to the visual cacophony. "I am sure that the pain medication and your bath will be of some assistance in this matter, sir."

"Splendid, Jeeves. A splash in the warm and well-scented does seem just the thing." He smiled as he leaned on me, limping gingerly into the salle de bain. Removing the vile clothing revealed extensive dark bruising over his torso and limbs. He had been extremely lucky he had not struck his head in the river. It was quite obvious why he was stiff and sore. I eased him into the tub and left him to splash about with the red rubber duck while I attempted to acquire something for him to wear. "Do hurry back, old thing," he called after me, a hint of anxiety in his voice. I wondered how long it would take before his fear of a recurrence of our mishap would fade.

Miss Barr was already in her bedroom, peering into her closet and sliding hangers this way and that. "Hey, Jeeves. Morning. Thanks for the tea and scones." She seemed somewhat more alert, though there was still a certain puffiness about her eyes. She looked almost as exhausted as she had last night. "Come on in. Let's see if we can find anything, eh?"

"Very good, madam." I entered the room, doing my best to ignore the still-unmade bed.

She handed me a pair of faded black denim trousers, almost grey in places with wear. "These are a couple of inches longer than the ones I had yesterday. I wear 'em with my stompy boots. They might be a better length."

I flipped the folded trousers open to examine them. They did appear rather closer to the proper inseam, though the worn appearance was distressing. She handed me a black leather belt and pulled a shirt from her closet, much like the one she was wearing. It was a dark, forest green silk with an attached collar and cuffs. It was also wrinkled. At least the colors were not actively offensive. Mr. Wooster is actually quite handsome in a very dark green, and I knew he would appreciate the silk. "Madam, do you have an iron?"

She looked up at me, blinking in confusion. "Uh... I think so? Maybe?"

I sighed and closed my eyes momentarily against the pain. "You do not know if you possess an iron." Of course not. Her clothing had obviously never been on speaking terms with one.

"If I do, it'll probably be in the laundry closet on the top shelf, most likely behind everything else." She gestured to the remaining unidentified door in the hallway.

The closet contained small laundry machines of unusual design stacked one atop the other. The shelves held not just laundry supplies and unidentifiable containers and sundries, but a basket of various tools, and a small fire extinguisher. There was a tall water-heating tank in the closet as well. Upon closer examination, the laundry closet did in fact yield an electrical iron and a small, table-top ironing board, though both showed signs of great age. I wondered if she might have inherited them.

By the time I had finished dealing with the clothing Mr. Wooster would wear, Miss Barr was seated in her sitting room at her desk, which faced the broad window over the city, typing swiftly away on some kind of keyboard that bore more resemblance to a very flat cigar box with its lid up than anything I recognized. Aside from the fact that it had a keyboard, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to any typewriter I had ever seen. She appeared quite absorbed in her typing, and I went to help Mr. Wooster from the bath and dress him. He was quite relieved at my reappearance and although the hot water had loosened his muscles somewhat, he was still very stiff, with a significantly restricted range of motion. I helped him stand and aided him in toweling off.

The provided clothing, while not at all to my liking, did fit better than what he had worn last night, and I knew our options were extremely limited at this juncture. The cuffs of the trousers and shirtsleeves were still a bit short on him, but the shoulders fit well and the dark green did look quite good on him. His lack of a tie left me at a loss. "Well," he said, examining himself critically in the mirror, "it's not exactly Savile Row, but it's really quite soft and comfy, what?" He passed an appreciative hand over the thick silk covering his arm. I actually quite agreed with his assessment of its softness and quality. Once again, a conundrum.

***

Jeeves had his stuffed frog expression tacked firmly on his dial as he looked me over. I could tell that he truly hated what I was wearing; I can't say that I blame him. It really was nothing at all like what a gentleman should be wearing, even for sport. Sadly, there were no other options than Joan's closet, which I had not actually peered into myself. I shuddered to think what I might be wearing if I'd fallen in with a beazel more like Madeline Bassett. I was bally well not about to put a frock on! That wheeze had been tried before and this Wooster refused outright to do it again. Jeeves wasn't quite looking his usual impecca-whatsit self, either.

"Jeeves."

"Yes, sir?"

I reached up and gingerly mussed his hair. "You look, well, fluffy."

The stuffed frog expression got stuffier. "I am sorry, sir. I am without my usual supplies this morning. I shall rectify the situation directly, sir."

I couldn't help feeling a bit of underhanded amusement at the sight. Jeeves in his slicked-back brilliantined perfection is a vision to behold but this waif-like version had its own appeal. I found I rather liked it.

Last night I'd spent a goodish bit of time waking up and going back to sleep, hoping it was all some strange halluci-thingummy that I'd wake from in my own Berkeley Mansions bed when the sun rose, but the Jeevesian presence next to me in our bookish bower quite convinced me of the reality of the situation. A warm, sleeping, bare-chested Jeeves, at that. I would have been exceedingly hard-pressed to imagine a thing like that in such vivid detail otherwise. I will not admit to having done so before, either. Given that said paragon of valets was quite sound asleep when I woke with my back tucked tight up against him, I thought there might be no harm in rolling over and getting a bit closer, just this once. If he noticed at all, it could easily be explained as simply rustling about in my sleep. He really was a dashed comfortable pillow. Not that he'd want to hear that, of course. His feudal spirit would have him kicking like a stroppy kangaroo about it.

I wasn't at all happy about the bruises, the spongy lungs, or being hideously stiff and sore but there wasn't a thing to be done for it that wasn't already sailing along. I was warm, I had something to wear, I'd had my usual perfect cup of tea and a rather nice brace of scones, and by all reports the day was shaping up to be a decent one, though I did rather miss the idea of it still being August. Jeeves had been carrying my billfold and most of the ready, so once we found ourselves an exchange we'd be set and could figure out what to do with ourselves from there.

Jeeves led me into the sitting room, where Joan was perched in front of a desk sporadically typing away at something. "What ho, what ho, Joan?" The windows out over the city offered a thoroughly spiffing view of our new environs. It was quite as impressive this morning as it had been last night.

She turned and smiled at me. "Hey, Bertie. How are you feeling today?"

I goggled at her mostly-bare and glaringly tattooed bosom before I managed to avert my eyes. "Oh, my. Um, quite corking, really." I glanced over at her from the corner of one eye. "Are you, ah, quite finished dressing, old thing?" One didn't normally see that much décolletage exposed in polite society, I'm afraid. It was a bit of a shock to the Wooster ticker.

She looked down at herself with an expression like a mackerel that was flummoxed to find itself sans scales. "Is something wrong?"

"Madam," Jeeves said, looking a bit peevish, if peevish is the word I want, "such an appearance is usually reserved for the bedchamber."

She leaned back in her chair and relaxed, giving a horsey snort. "Oh, I see. Sorry, guys. This is normal for the here and now." She tugged her shirt closed over the display and buttoned one button at her bosom to cover the most excessive of the excess. "I'll try to do a little better while you're adjusting." At least now I could look at her without turning seven shades of puce. One expects this sort of thing from chorus girls, but not from people with as many books as the Bodleian. Of course, some of the books I was perusing when Jeeves entered to tell me the bath was ready were... well, lewd, really, and one might think that someone in possession of such things might end up in chokey if they weren't cautious. "That doesn't fit too bad, really," she added. "You look adorable in green."

I'll admit to the damask cheek flushing just a bit. Jeeves seemed to get a bit taller beside me. "Er, thank you," I replied.

Her smile slid into something possibly less predatory than that of a jackal for a moment, but it vanished like a pie in the hands of Tuppy Glossop. "Don't worry, boys, I don't bite." And then she mumbled, "Unless asked very nicely." I attempted to imagine wanting to ask someone to bite me. It proved near-impossible. I looked up at Jeeves for a bit of fortification. He was glowering, which in his case means that one eyebrow was raised and the other lowered about an eighth of an inch and there was a touch of a fretful quirk to his lip.

"So," she said, rolling her chair back away from the desk, "I've been doing a little poking around while you guys were getting ready, checking into numismatists and currency dealers so we can find a place you guys will get a fair deal for whatever you're carrying."

"Madam, would it not be easier just to go to a currency exchange?" Jeeves asked. Well, I would have thought so too.

Joan picked up her mug and took a sip of tea. "I honestly don't think that'll work. Your money won't be spendable, trust me. It's been, what, eighty-five years?" She shook her head. "This is your best bet. Really. I pinged a friend of mine who's into it and he sorted a dealer out for me, said they'd be likely to want what you've got."

I looked at Jeeves. I hadn't heard her telephone anyone. In fact, looking around the place, I couldn't even see a telephone. The place was a bit thick with octopus-armed bronze statues from India, but no telephones. She hadn't dashed off any telegrams that I'd noticed, either, and no one had called at the door. "How did you accomplish this?" Jeeves sounded terribly suspicious and I didn't blame him.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Reaching out to her desk, she turned the little boxy thing she'd been typing at around. It had a brightly lit color photograph in it. Except that I noticed bits of the photograph were moving. I blinked and shuffled a bit closer to get a good look at the thingummy. "It's moving."

"This is a computer. I know that word means nothing to you, but you'll need to learn about it if you're going to get by. It's... well, it's complicated."

"One would assume from the name that it performed some kind of computations," Jeeves said. She nodded.

"Yeah, it does, but that's really the least of its functions when it comes to day to day stuff for folks like you and me, who don't dig around in the guts of the thing." We both moved a bit closer, Jeeves peering over my shoulder. The bally thing was making quiet beeps and twirples every so often. There were tiny pictures and places with words and flashy bits and it was all rather confusing. "It's part typewriter, part telegraph, part library, part telephone, and part wireless motion picture show while we're at it," she explained.

"I say." I blinked at it. That sounded entirely spiffing.

"I was checking out some local coin dealers and such," she pointed to one of the places with words, "and I managed to catch a numismatist friend of mine online and ask him about who's reliable." She tapped another place with tiny pictures and words. "So I did some research and we had a conversation about it without my ever having to get up from my desk." I leaned in even closer until I could read what was printed there. New things were printing themselves while I watched, with little twirple sounds. It looked like a telegraph conversation garbled with random bags of letters, but I didn't understand any of it really.

"There's a place he recommends on the Eastside -- that's the town of Bellevue, on the other side of Lake Washington, where a bunch of rich people live -- where we'll probably be able to sell your stuff and get you enough money to get some clothes. Depending on how much you're carrying, you might do well enough to do a little more than that."

Jeeves was giving the whole thing a rather intense and curious examination. Being the great fish-fed brain he is, I saw understanding rise like rosy-fingered dawn on his face. "I believe I grasp at least a fragment of this," he said softly. "Much of the language being displayed here escapes me, madam, but the concept as you have described it would seem to be loosely based on Mr. Charles Babbage's proposed difference engine, though taken in a vastly different direction."

"Got it in one." She gave him an encouraging smile. "Cool. And really, guys, I'm not trying to rip you off here. I just want to help. I can't imagine how weird things must be for you, but I'll do what I can, okay?"

Jeeves's previously ruffled feathers settled more toward a glossy, contented state then. He nodded solemnly. "I suppose we should examine our currency to assess our situation properly," he said.

"Yeah. Probably the best idea. That way we'll know what we're up against." She got up and toddled over to the dining table. "Go ahead and lay it out here." She patted the table top. Jeeves and I both sat at the table with her.

"Jeeves, do you have what was in my pockets yesterday?" I suddenly remembered I hadn't seen any of it since I'd been rather abruptly sucked up into the sky.

"Indeed, sir." His voice was a soothing balm for the Wooster brow.

"You've got my cigarette case and my watch, what?"

"Of course, sir." He handed me the goods. The cigarette case was, sadly, bereft of gaspers. I opened my watch, relieved to find that the photo inside hadn't been more than a bit dampened and somewhat stained in the ordeal. With a pleased sigh, I put it into my pocket. He then brought out billfold and coin purse, both his and my own, and emptied the ready onto the pitch. Joan's eyes widened at the revelation.

"Wow." She gave a soft, excited huff, leaning forward on her elbows. "You boys are doing better than I thought. Gold coins?" She chuckled. "You might get more than clothes out of this if we can work it right."

"I should bally well hope so," I said, and I meant it to sting. "Bertram has been known for rolling in the ready and, unfortunately, most of my friends have tended to touch me for a bit of it when they were down at the heels."

She tilted her head. "I get that, honest. You were really really rich in 1924, where you probably had a huge bank account and a bunch of other sources of income. But right here and now, this is what you have, sitting right here on the table, and it's going to have to last you until you can find a way to get more of it. That may be difficult."

"How would it be difficult?" I strained the Wooster onion trying to think of some way that Jeeves might fail to get us out of the soup.

Joan gave me a sideways glance. "Honey, have you ever worked a day in your life?" She looked at Jeeves. "I know you're a working man. You might get out of this doing pretty well if we can get past some basic hurdles."

"Well, I thought about working once," I admitted. "The idea didn't last very long." She shook her head sadly. "What, you're not going to call me a useless blot on the landscape, are you?" I couldn't help thinking she had a rather aunt-ish expression on her face right then.

"No, Bertie," she said sadly. "I'm sure you're a sweet guy and all. I'm just not sure how you're going to make it here unless you've got some pretty spectacular hidden talents."

"I shall continue to see to Mr. Wooster's needs, madam," Jeeves rumbled. She raised an eyebrow.

"Oookaaaay." She took a deep breath. "Do either of you have any identification on you? Drivers license? Passport? Voter registration or whatever you guys have over there?"

"Well, we have passports, but we were only going for a walk down to Hyde Park, not getting on a bally ocean liner."

"I am afraid we are not carrying any identification papers, madam," Jeeves said. "I am registered as a chauffeur under the Motor Car Act, but I do not believe that will help."

"No, probably not. I'm not sure it would if you'd had picture ID on you, but at least it would have been a start. The rest of it sounds more like a historical research project for a genealogist, and that's out of my league."

"Well, why would we need that, anyway?" Identification papers seemed a terrible imposition. They'd make it dashed difficult to give the authorities a false name when one nicked a policeman's helmet, too.

"Without identification, you're not legally considered people. I'll probably have to do the actual sale of your cash for you because of that. The dealer's likely to write a check for it and you won't be able to cash one. You can't drive a car or buy a bottle of wine or go into a nightclub. You can't get medical care. You can't cross an international border. You can't get a library card. You can still buy things with cash, but you can't open a bank account. If you have a run-in with the law they won't be able to figure out who you are and you're going to vanish into a bureaucratic hell the likes of which you can't possibly imagine. Add the fact that you boys dropped out of the sky from 1924 into the mix and the best you're likely to get is a room in some government loony bin. I don't recommend that, by the way."

"Was that an implication that you have, as you say, been in a 'government loony bin', madam?" Jeeves asked in his soupiest voice.

"Yes, and the accommodations suck." I have to tell you, I was a bit worried now. I'd entertained the notion that she might be barking mad but this seemed to put the cork in the barrel. I edged a little closer to Jeeves, as his height and imposing whatsit were something of a reassurance after hearing we were under the roof of a loony. "Don't worry about it," she insisted. "I'm broken crazy, not dangerous crazy."

"There's a difference?" I wasn't at all sure of that.

"Massive," she assured me. Jeeves was still a bit tensed up next to me, like a suspicious Alsatian with sharp teeth and a grudge. "Oh, for -- look, Jeeves, I'm not gonna hurt anyone. Would you please stop acting like avenging angel with a bug up its ass?" She took off the specs and let out a burbly noise as she buried her face in her hands. "Thor's hairy goats, what the hell did I do to deserve this?"

I was somewhat taken aback at her creative abuse of the King's E., but grasped Jeeves's shoulder. "Really, old fruit, I don't think she's actually dangerous."

"Besides," she muttered, raising her face from her palms and looking at Jeeves with a chary glance, "you think I don't know you could kick my ass from here to Sunday without working up a sweat?"

Jeeves acquired the aspect of a fretful porpentine. "Now, Jeeves, see here--"

"My apologies, madam," Jeeves offered, unstiffening a smidge. "I am responsible for Mr. Wooster's well-being and it is a responsibility I take quite seriously. I did not, however, intend to offend you."

Joan leaned her chin on one hand and squinted at us for a moment before she popped the glasses back on her face. For a vanishing fraction of the flutter of a sparrow's wing, she looked much older than I'd imagined, and much more tired. "It's okay," she sighed. "It's not like this is something that happens every day. I can understand you guys are a little jumpy. So am I. I've got a couple of strange men under my roof that I don't know the first thing about, remember?" Well, that rather put a few things in perspective. She sat up again. "I'm just like everyone else," she said, "just a little more tired and a little more fragile sometimes, okay?"

I reached out and put a hand over hers. "You did a corking job yesterday, getting us out of the soup like that."

She turned her hand in mine and gave it a quick squeeze. "It's okay, Bertie. I'd do it again in a heartbeat." She looked up at Jeeves. "Are we going to be okay here?"

"Yes, madam." Jeeves sounded significantly less soupy now that the possibility of barking mad beazel attacks had been averted. He was still looking a tad frayed about the edges. If he was feeling even a fraction as banged about as I was then it seemed we were all in a frightful state. It had been too dark last night to see if the massive warm wall of Jeeves's chest had sustained any bruising. Sometimes he seemed like some ancient Greek god to me and he was never this far out of sorts. I found myself rather worried about him.

"Moving on," Joan said. "We'll hit the coin dealer first, then we'll take you to some of the thrift shops over there. You can pick up some fancy, good quality stuff for relatively cheap. Those people will wear something once and toss it out." She sounded scandalized by the idea. I hadn't thought she could be.

I looked up at Jeeves. The soupy look was back on his face again, this time with an entire menu of reinforcements. "You are suggesting that Mr. Wooster purchase clothing that has been previously worn by someone else?"

"Well, like, not underwear or anything, but yeah."

Jeeves stiffened into a tower of icy valet beside me. "I am certain that we can find a suitable tailor for him somewhere in a city of this size, madam."

She gawped at him. "A... a tailor." The tone was distinctly astonished, as though Jeeves had suddenly sprouted three heads and an albatross.

"There are tailors in Seattle, madam, are there not?" The room had got absolutely arctic.

Her eyes were wide and she looked quite alarmed. "You don't know what you're asking here! Tailors... um... Jeeves, if you want a tailor for a suit you're looking at a rock bottom minimum of something like twelve hundred bucks just to get in the door. Even if you go to some crappy off-the-rack place you're probably looking at seven-hundred-ish for an imitation of what you're used to."

Well, I tell you, I thought I'd been hit with a bally cricket bat right about the midsection, followed up by a corking bolt of lightning. "Twelve... hundred..." Jeeves stammered.

Joan unwound a bit while Jeeves and I tried to catch our breath. "I've been trying to tell you guys," she said gently. "Things are not what they used to be. You might get like four thousand for what's on the table here, if you're really lucky and the coin dealer got laid last night. I'm not a negotiator and I'm not up on the value of this stuff, so it's probably going to be a lot less than that. And four thousand, even if you get that, isn't going to go very far." She gestured around her. "This place costs me fifteen hundred bucks a month. That's about half of what I get from my pensions every month, and it's dirt cheap for a two-bedroom place on the Hill. Moving into a place like this? They want a credit check that you'd never be able to pass because you don't legally exist, first and last month's rent, and a security deposit that's almost as much as the rent itself."

I couldn't breathe. Even Jeeves looked entirely overcome, his eyes wide under his unnaturally fluffy black hair. "But, when I was in New York last year, a flat in Manhattan was only two hundred dollars a month! This isn't nearly the size of the one we had. And there's not even a piano."

"You were in New York eighty-five years ago, Bertie." She looked sad and sympa-whatsit. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Things are so different now and you guys are totally lost at sea and you don't even know it. I don't know how to make you understand."

Jeeves swallowed and composed himself. "Perhaps we should listen to your advice, Miss Barr." He still sounded dashed shaken. I felt like I'd just been poured into a martini glass myself. I desperately needed a drink and it was barely lunchtime.

***

After Miss Barr's shocking revelation of the cost of a single suit, I will admit it took me several minutes to find my footing again. There was very little further discussion, as she noted we had much to accomplish this afternoon. Spending a few moments at her computer, she obtained a colorful map of the area we would be traveling through, complete with a small arrow pointing out the location of the establishment. Tapping a few keys, the map itself was produced on paper from a small grey box on her desk. I surmised it was a printing press of some sort, though I had never seen one so small. Small seemed to be the operative method of the times.

Miss Barr offered Mr. Wooster the olive drab wool jacket she had been wearing when we met her. It appeared to be a German army jacket with enlisted stripes, missing most of its buttons. It was of an obviously different vintage than those I had seen on the enemy during the Great War, and the flag was from the post-War period. She said it was likely the only thing she had that might fit him. I had my own morning coat, of course. Miss Barr chose a dove-grey pinstripe mess jacket for herself, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist; it was slightly threadbare but seemed of good quality. It was adorned by an elegant but obviously inexpensive brooch in the shape of a wiry-thin Oriental dragon. I was disconcerted by her choice, considering the hour and the circumstances, but had to admit it looked quite sharp on her over the now-fully-buttoned black silk shirt.

"Mr. Wooster does not have a hat," I noted as I donned my bowler. It would not be proper for him to go without, but I doubted Miss Barr would have suitable headgear.

"Most guys don't wear them these days unless the weather calls for it," Miss Barr replied. She was not wearing one today herself.

She led us down to her motorcar, limping on the stairs, though not as badly as the previous night. Once we were outside, I offered Mr. Wooster one of the cigarettes I was carrying.

"Oh, thank you, Jeeves. I was really feeling the need for a gasper." He leaned in while I lit it for him. Miss Barr opened the vehicle but waited patiently while he smoked. The cigarette triggered another coughing fit, which concerned me, as it left him quite breathless. We got into the car and began our journey, Mr. Wooster in the front seat beside Miss Barr, and myself in the back, where I did find it a bit cramped.

As we set out, Miss Barr placed a small rectangular bit of glass and metal into a cradle of some sort protruding from the car's dash. Tapping it a few times, music suddenly began, seemingly out of nowhere. "I say!" Mr. Wooster exclaimed. "Where is that coming from?"

"It's my phone," Miss Barr said, though that made no sense at all. "Well, really it's more like my computer, but it's also a telephone. You remember how I said a computer had wireless capabilities?"

"Yes," Mr. Wooster said, though he sounded a bit doubtful.

She kept her eyes on the road as she spoke, and I watched the people around us. As she had said, hats were rare and those being worn tended to be of the sort to keep one's head warm rather than anything with fashion in mind. The clothing varied, but I could already see that Miss Barr was not unique in either her wardrobe or her unusual hair coloring. "Well, most phones today run on the same wireless principles. But since they're also computers, they have the capacity to do other things, like keep a calendar and an address book, and they can also carry pictures and music."

"But, it's so small. Where do you store all the gramophone records?"

She did not answer for a moment, focusing on the traffic as she turned us on to the main highway. The traffic now was even heavier than it was last night when we drove into the city, and still moving at breakneck pace. "They turn it all into numbers and store it that way. I mean, really, it's all kind of magical; I've been using computers for years and I only have a really basic grasp of how it all works. In the end it doesn't really matter, because as long as it does what I want it to, I don't have to know how to fix it or the exact way things get done. It's like a car, Bertie. I assume you had one; did you ever actually worry about what was under the hood?"

"I didn't need to," he said, and I could hear the growing understanding in his voice. "I say, Jeeves, I really think we should get one of these whatsits. Just think of it, carrying a stack of gramophone records in your pocket!"

Unfortunately, the recording being played at the moment was extraordinarily cacophonous. It sounded more like grinding mechanical gears and enraged ocelots than music. Her taste in this seemed as execrable as her taste in footwear. "If this is what it will play, sir, I would beg to differ."

"I can change it if you like," Miss Barr said. "Some modern music takes a little getting used to." With another few taps on the glass of the device, the music changed to the opening bars of what proved to be an excellent performance of Handel's Water Music. "People put anything they like on these things, so you wouldn't have to suffer anyone else's choices."

"That... that really is quite acceptable, madam," I told her. "Thank you." The transition from grinding noise to Handel was as strange and jarring as everything else about the woman. I found myself wishing she would be consistent. I would have found it much easier to either like her or despise her, rather than veering madly between both.

Our drive took us across a long lake over an immense floating bridge which, she informed us, had sunk in a storm one November some years ago. The thought did not give me confidence in the structure but she assured us that under normal circumstances this was not likely. "Washington's kind of famous for collapsing and sinking bridges," she noted wryly. "Back about 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge went down in a windstorm. That one was a suspension bridge, though, like the Golden Gate in San Francisco. Somebody caught it on film. A high wind was howling through the narrows and more or less hit the resonant frequency of the structure. It twisted and bounced and collapsed like a house of cards. Pretty amazing, really. People still refer to it as 'Galloping Gertie.' I can show you the footage later if you like."

I had not heard of any Golden Gate in San Francisco, but her reference suggested it was famous. Mr. Wooster raised an eyebrow. "Was anybody hurt?"

Miss Barr shook her head. "No, there was one car on the bridge when it went down, but the driver got out."

"Oh, well then, that sounds like a corking adventure." He chattered cheerfully about motion picture shows as we crossed the lake, interrupted by occasional coughing. Its water was rippled and whitecapped on one side, but curiously still on the other. We traveled through several tunnels during our journey as well, emerging on another highway and then entering a small city with another cluster of very tall buildings. Miss Barr consulted the map as she looked for the establishment, then began looking for a place to park. This took quite some time and, when she had done so, she walked to a narrow kisok nearby, sliding a small card into a slot, pressing a couple of buttons, and taking the small slip of paper it produced. She had taken a cane from the car when we got out and was leaning on it now as she walked back to the vehicle and proceeded to stick the paper to the inside of the front passenger window. Examining the kiosk revealed that she was paying for parking.

Our walk to the coin dealer's establishment was several blocks. People here were dressed considerably more conservatively than those in the district where Miss Barr resided, though there were still a large number who wore denim trousers. It appeared to be almost a sort of uniform among persons of a certain age, though most of them wore varying shades of blue where Miss Barr wore black. A disturbing number of people wore undervests as outer clothing, often printed with slogans or pictures that usually made no sense at all. I had given Miss Barr our currency and coin before we left her flat. We followed her in, where she asked for a Mr. Thornbush. The man who appeared was an elderly gentleman of distinguished appearance with thinning grey hair and gold-framed spectacles. He shook her hand and, when she explained her mission, he invited her into a small office in the back of the sales area. I was concerned about leaving her to perform the task alone but I also realized that my own opinions might be completely worthless here, so Mr. Wooster and I perused the display cases while we waited.

Mr. Wooster stayed close to me as we looked at the items available. The majority of the offerings were, as one might expect in America, of American origin. They dated back to the origins of the nation in both coin and currency. Some items were extremely expensive, with price tags asking several thousand dollars. Many of the later ten-cent pieces bore the image of a president I did not recognize and who must have held office after our... our... disappearance? Our journey? I was entirely uncertain how to refer to what had occurred.

The global currency section was also of interest. England was apparently ruled by a new Elizabeth now, if these displays were to be believed. I was unfamiliar with the name; she had not even been born by that day in August when we had gone for a walk in Hyde Park. Even the types of coins had changed, leaving me quite confused about what a pound was worth now. I wondered how my country had fared in all the time we had been missing. Mr. Wooster was, as I had rather feared, bored by the proceedings. When Miss Barr had not returned fifteen minutes after going into the office, I took Mr. Wooster outside so that he could have another cigarette.

"It's just all so bally odd, Jeeves," he said as he exhaled a cloud of smoke. "Seeing an entirely different person on the money and whatnot. And what's a Euro, anyway?"

"I could not say, sir." I had not asked while in the shop as I did not want to give away our complete ignorance. I hoped perhaps Miss Barr would be able to shed some light on the situation later.

Mr. Wooster leaned against the stone facing of the building next to its wide glass window, huddled over his cigarette in the chill wind blowing through the busy street. We garnered several puzzled looks from passers-by, but I did not know if they were directed at Mr. Wooster or myself. In my uniform, it seemed I was actually the most unusually-dressed person visible. Even the men in suits were in very casual styles. "It all feels only half-familiar, Jeeves," he said, looking around him. "Chaps with long hair, beazels all in trousers, everyone biffing about in their undervests. I mean to say, it's obviously a city, but it feels like I've walked into one of that Wells chappie's novels, you know? With the time machine whatsit?"

"In a way, sir, this is exactly what has happened to us. Unfortunately, the ability to return to our proper place is not available, unlike the gentleman in Mr. Wells's novel." How I wished I had a machine that could take us back to where we belonged. I wanted to see Mr. Wooster dressed properly again, to have our comfortable and familiar flat about us, to enjoy turning my mind to solving the small dilemmas his friends would bring to us. Standing here in the street, seeing him dressed in such an unsuitable fashion, I felt cold from more than the wind.

A few minutes after Mr. Wooster finished his cigarette, Miss Barr exited the shop. She glanced about her, obviously looking for us, then hurried over to join us, moving quickly even while limping with her cane. "I did the best I could, guys, but my lack of knowledge probably didn't serve you very well." She produced an itemized receipt and a cheque and handed them to me. The cheque was made out in her name for a little over three thousand five hundred dollars and all of our currency and coin were accounted for on the receipt. "We'll head for the bank so I can give you guys the cash, then we'll hit the thrift shops."

I folded the items and put them in my pocket. "Very good, madam."

"You've done us a dashed kindness, Joan, old bean." Mr. Wooster smiled at her and she returned the smile, patting his shoulder.

Even banks had changed significantly in their operations since our time. There were machines outside where people inserted cards and pushed buttons, depositing cheques or withdrawing money. Miss Barr went inside and we waited for her while she actually spoke to a teller. I could see the teller examining several items of identification from Miss Barr before counting out the money. What she had said regarding identification papers being necessary appeared to be the truth. I did not know how difficult this would make our existence but, at the moment, there seemed nothing to be done about it.

Returning from the line, Miss Barr handed me a roll of bills. "Remember," she said, "this has to last you guys until you can find jobs or something."

I counted out the bills before putting them in my billfold. Everything was there. The next several hours were spent in very large shops with open floors like warehouses, filled with the cast-offs of other people. Miss Barr would find the books and music section and wait for us there while Mr. Wooster and I went through what little suitable clothing was on the racks. We were both initially befuddled by doors that opened without even touching them. By tea-time we had spent approximately six hundred dollars on enough clothing for both of us for a week. Most of it would require some tailoring, but that could be done easily enough with a sewing kit. At least Mr. Wooster would finally be decently clothed. Miss Barr took us to an Indian restaurant for curry when we were finished, as we were all quite famished.

I was hesitant about eating with Mr. Wooster in public, but there did not appear to be any alternative. It was not my place to dine with him, as his valet, but everything seemed entirely out of place in our lives right now. When I said something to that effect, Miss Barr gave me a piercing look and said, "That social class thing doesn't matter anymore." Her tone of voice was quite sharp and I did not understand why. It seemed almost as though she had taken it as a personal affront. There were questions forming in my mind that I did not know how, or if it would be appropriate, to articulate.

While Miss Barr and Mr. Wooster chatted over our food about music and how it had changed through the decades I remained largely silent, content to observe the surroundings and the situations, trying to learn more about the world we had fallen into. The restaurant was clean and well-lit, with a Sikh cook in evidence in the kitchen, and the food was quite good, but when the bill came, the over-forty-dollar total shocked me yet again. Miss Barr offered to pay for all of us, which surprised me, but Mr. Wooster insisted that it would be his treat. "You've been very kind to us, old girl," he told her. It was yet another example of his generosity, a thing that had always drawn me to him very strongly.

"Is tipping for service still a custom in America?" I asked her.

She nodded. "Fifteen to twenty percent is standard," she informed me, "depending on service and how generous you're feeling. The state's a bastard and usually taxes waitstaff for a fifteen percent tip even if they don't get one, provided they're not working under the table."

A puzzled expression flitted across Mr. Wooster's face. "Under the table? How would they be able to work from down there?" He tilted his head and edged down a bit to peer beneath the table at which we were seated.

"It is a colloquialism, sir. It refers to employees who are not legally on the payroll for various reasons." So, despite the requirement for identification papers, there was still some form of underground economy, much like the one developed around the speakeasies of New York. I had seen wine and beer on the menu here quite openly, so I had surmised that the so-called Noble Experiment had ultimately failed. I was certain it had been a great relief to everyone except, perhaps, the prohibitionists themselves.

When I paid the bill, I added twenty percent to the total, appalled at the idea of being taxed on money one hadn't even received. Mr. Wooster always paid me very generously and his friends often gave me tidy sums when I helped them out of their various difficulties, so I had never been in want of anything in all the time I had worked for him. I wondered what wages were like in the city of Seattle, and what I would have to do to keep Mr. Wooster from having to find employment. His personality and his previous life were both completely unsuited for labor and I would do everything within my power to shield him from its necessity.

In the course of our journey back to Seattle, we stopped at another shop the size of a warehouse floor. This one had mass manufactured new items for purchase and I procured underthings and toiletries for us, along with a few other supplies; the lack of a razor this morning had left me feeling unclean and the sight of the slight stubble on Mr. Wooster's face was most distressing. I fear that both Mr. Wooster and I had spent a goodly amount of time gaping at the size of these markets, as well as at the extortionist prices for everything from socks to housewares. How people managed to live at all with so many immense expenses left me worrying despite the seemingly-large sum I carried in my pocket.

Miss Barr collapsed on her settee like a marionette with its strings severed when we returned to her flat, her face clearly announcing that she was in pain. Mr. Wooster gave her a concerned look. "Are you all right, Joan?" He placed a hand on her shoulder.

She nodded. "Yeah, just tired and creaky. Don't mind me." She waved him off and he followed me into the library, where I began sorting through the items we had purchased. I would want to launder everything before I allowed Mr. Wooster to wear it. God alone knew where the things had been or who had been handling them before we had selected them. Mr. Wooster sat on the bed, looking over at one of the shelves of books.

"Have you looked at any of these, Jeeves?" he asked, gesturing to the shelf.

"No, sir. I have not yet had the time to peruse the contents of the library." I removed sales tags and sorted things by colors and types of fabric.

"You might want to. She's got some philosophy thingummies here, though I haven't heard you mention many of these chappies before." He paused for a moment. "Though, apparently, some of these chappies are actually beazels. That's a rummy thought." He looked up at another shelf. "And there's rather a lot of stuff about witches and voodoo and alche-thingummies and druids and magic. Do you think she's some kind of devil-worshipper or something?" There was worry in his eyes. I examined the shelf he was referring to. The collection in question actually covered most of that book case. It included several titles by Mr. Aleister Crowley, a scandalous individual who was called "the wickedest man in the world." Such things were not entirely unheard-of interests among the more dissipate and eccentric of the upper class, but they could be signs for concern.

"I could not say, sir." Her comment last night about altars was somewhat illuminated by the collection. Yet the adjacent bookcase revealed a similarly large collection of books on mythology and theology, and a wide variety of religions both Oriental and Western. "I rather doubt that she is a Christian, but this does not lead one to the automatic conclusion that she worships Satan." I could not be certain, of course, but it was not entirely beyond the bounds of the possible.

"Well," he muttered. "Well. Well. But then there's this." He pointed and I followed his gesture to a row of shelves along the bottom of the cases. There was a substantial collection of obscene material regarding a wide variety of sexual perversions. The spines of the books brazenly displayed their titles and, when Mr. Wooster took one from the shelf, titled 'The Erotic Bondage Handbook,' there was a technicolor photo on the front that would have got both the photographer and the possessor a stiff prison sentence in England in 1924. I sat, lightheaded, on the bed next to Mr. Wooster. "I mean, is this even legal?" he asked, blushing furiously.

"I... I could not say, sir." I was quite certain I was just as flushed. I also wondered why he had chosen that particular title, out of all the others on the shelf. I took it from his hand. "I would suggest, sir, that we ignore this particular section of the library until we are more certain of our situation."

Eyes wide, he nodded. "Oh. Well. Yes." I had difficulty meeting his eyes, but he was also extremely embarrassed by the incident and I suspect he was having an equally difficult time meeting mine. I looked to several of the other bookcases in the room. These were much more ordinary; history, politics, sciences and maths, biographies, a large collection of herbals. There were books on art and psychology and medicine and a small section of fiction. There was a complete Shakespeare and a likewise complete volume of Sherlock Holmes stories, which I took down from the shelf.

"I think, sir, that this might be far more suitable reading for you." He took it as I handed it to him.

"I, yes. Well." He flipped through the book quickly, already more at ease. "Oh, I say, this has... it has a whole new collection in the back of it, Jeeves. 'The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes' printed in 1927." He leaned against the soft back of the folded-out settee. "1927, Jeeves. That's, well, I mean to say that's not for another three years."

Everywhere around us were things that showed how long ago our time was, and how alien the world had become. "I daresay there are a great many books that were published after 1924, sir."

He stared at the Holmes volume for several minutes, silent, as I sat next to him. Finally, he looked up and grinned. "Well, that must mean that there are hundreds of corking mystery novels out there that I've never seen, right?"

I could not help but smile at this. "Of course, sir. One presumes that mystery will always be a popular genre."

"Right ho!" With that, he re-opened the volume and began to read. I got up and continued my work on our clothing.

When I had everything sorted, I went into the sitting room to find Miss Barr to ask her how to use the laundry facilities, but she was no longer there. On her table was a key and a note, written in a crabbed and uneven hand.


Guys - I needed to get some sleep. Here's a spare key. Feel free to go out and explore the neighborhood. The apartment is on Belmont between Republican and Harrison. If you get lost, ask somebody for directions. Folks are reasonably friendly here. There's a branch of the public library a block up toward Broadway (up the hill from here) on Republican if you want to do some reading. There's a big grocery store at the corner on Broadway if you need anything, and a lot of other shops and restaurants. Don't try to buy alcohol or tobacco because they'll ask for ID and you don't have any. Have fun. -- J

I picked up the key and put it in my pocket. I was not yet ready to leave the flat, and Mr. Wooster would not be appropriately dressed until I had dealt with the clothing. With Mr. Wooster occupied in the library, I took a look around the sitting room. Along with the desk and the settee, there was a smaller double-seat couch. Both of them looked quite comfortable. There was a coffee table in front of the larger settee, stacked with books and papers. A small rack for magazines was filled to overflowing with periodicals that seemed largely literary, political, or about Oriental religions. There were, surprisingly, no newspapers at all.

Next to the desk was a small glass door leading out to a rather decrepit-looking balcony. Bookshelves lined this room just as they did in the library. They contained books on writing, dictionaries in several languages and a small selection of books on linguistics, collections of quotations and other reference books, a very large collection of poetry books and books on poetics, field guides to birds and plants, along with some natural histories of various regions of the United States, books on travel, gardening books, and a selection of books on music and musicology, as well as several volumes of sheet music. There was a guitar atop one shelf and several different kinds of hand drums. Miss Barr seemed to be well-educated, with a broad variety of interests and, it seemed, at least some pretense of musical skill. The guitar's strings were slacked and out of tune and a thick layer of dust lay on the uppermost side. It had obviously not been used in a very long time.

One puzzling feature of the room was a low cabinet with a very large box on top. The front of the box was almost entirely composed of a large plate of glass, with a few small buttons below. There were other electrical devices inside the cabinet whose function I could not decipher. Next to this cabinet was a set of shelves containing what seemed to be films and music, according to the information on them, though I did not know how they functioned or how they might be viewed or played. The music covered many genres and time periods, from the Baroque through the Classical periods, with even earlier Gregorian chant and music that appeared to originate during the Medieval period. There was a selection of Jazz and I recognized some of the artists that I had enjoyed and had seen perform in New York. Much of the music was far more recent, and there was also a great deal from different parts of the world. I wondered if the glass-front box might be some sort of motion picture viewing device; it struck me as being somewhat similar to the display area on the computer I had seen earlier. I would have to ask. Mr. Wooster would undoubtedly enjoy seeing motion pictures.

Books were not the only plentiful objects in the room. There were a fair number of bronze statues from India, some of which were on shelves with candles and incense burners before them. Several carvings of local American Indian art were hung on the walls here and there, though the style was abstract enough that I was not certain of the creatures being represented; Miss Barr's unfortunate tattoos were of this style. Statues of Egyptian deities were also scattered about, and a number of other unidentifiable images that were also on altars. A large bison skull hung next to the door to the balcony. There were color photographs and paintings large and small, both art pieces and informal portraits of a number of individuals. A few photographs were of Miss Barr with people I assumed were her friends. One photograph showed her as a somewhat younger woman, with a white-haired elderly woman and a tall, fair-haired man of approximately Miss Barr's age or perhaps a few years younger, both of whom shared a familial resemblance with her. It seemed most likely that they were her mother and a brother. There was another photo of that same man and a young woman together on the steps before a large stone church, presumably at their wedding, though their clothing was extremely informal for such an occasion.

Informal. It was a word in which I found myself drowning. America had always seemed rather less formal than my own country, but it appeared to have become aggressively so since last I was here. I was beginning to believe that it was, indeed, me and not Mr. Wooster that people had been staring at earlier. It was a disconcerting thought.

***

Jeeves had left me with a collection of new Holmes stories and biffed off, his wonders to perform. Though I did find the story I was reading fun and exciting, I have to admit that what really occupied the Wooster onion was that scandalous shelf filled with the fruits of the tree of the k. of good and evil. Well, more evil, really, at least according to the law. According to the butterflies doing a sprightly foxtrot in the Wooster tum, however, I wasn't entirely certain the appell-something 'evil' was quite the case. I'll admit to a rummy bit of confusion regarding exactly what this signified, though I doubt it was that sound and fury thingummy.

I kept looking from my story over to the shelf. It truly was that apple wheeze, though the sitch displayed a suspicious lack of Eves. I would have thought that a lot of the books were about blithe happiness and jollity, what with 'gay' in so many of the titles, but in yielding to t. and taking a peek within the covers of a few of them, I was astonished to discover that the word had apparently come to mean 'sodomite'. In technicolor. With the most blatantly improper activities being illustrated in distressing detail. The beazels got equal time on the shelves, which I discovered under 'lesbian'. Those left me even more distressed, but all of it got me a bit stirred up, if you know what I mean. I was quite afraid I might actually burst into flame if I gazed too long. I really couldn't have that, so I bunged the books back in their slots and took a few deep breaths, preferring to return my attention to some odd monkey creature in 'The Adventure of the Creeping Man.'

I mean to say, I tried to return my attention. Bertram was having less than complete success. I'm afraid I really needed to bung a jingling padlock on the mind, as one of Jeeves's poet johnnies would say. At that point, perhaps thankfully, my soupy lungs decided to remind me of their soggy presence and kicked up a bout of coughing. Bally unpleasant, and it left me feeling a bit like I'd been making the mad dash from the sound of the hoof-beats of galloping relatives. Jeeves shimmered into the room at the sound of the fracas. He'd got himself into a clean suit, but it wasn't his usual uniform. It was still his sombre black and white, but there was something disturbingly less proper than usual about it.

"Are you well, sir?" I could see concern in his face, with that little wrinkle he gets between his brows when he's distressed.

"Just the lungs deciding to kick," I told him, trying very firmly not to picture that familiar form doing any of the things from those books.

He ventured closer to the Wooster corpus. "Shall I find a way to summon a physician for you, sir?"

I shook my head and waved my Holmes at him. "No need, old thing. This Wooster, while willowy, is composed of stern stuff. It'll pass soon enough. It's not like I've never taken a dunking before, what with all that boating."

"As you say, sir. I shall have clean clothing for you directly." He slipped a soupy look over the w. form and shimmered off. Before my mind could stray along the garden path again, he was back with a proper suit of clothes for me, and a safety razor.

"What say I give the old jaw-line a scrape before we return me to my natural state, Jeeves?"

Relief settled over his fine, dark-browed features. "That would be highly satisfactory, sir. I shall lay out your dinner clothes. We shall be dining shortly, sir."

"Oh, jolly good!" I was feeling rather bereft in the stomach region once again. I popped off and whisked away the whiskers. The stubble had been most annoying, a regular thicket of Jeevesian disapproval, and I was glad to have it off. The look on his face upon my return was the happiest I'd seen him since this whole mess began. "I say, Jeeves, let's have the old soup-and-fish, shall we?"

"I fear our available options are rather less suitable for the evening meal than they were at home, sir, but they are at least much more appropriate than the current state of affairs." He made quick work of my borrowed trousers and shirt, stuffing me into a rather stylishly cut and perfectly pressed dove-grey pinstripe suit with a far-too-sedate bit of blue neckwear.

I stepped back into the salle de bain to examine the results in the long mirror on the back of the door. "Well, I say, that's ever so much better," I said, "though I do think the tie could use a little more dash, what?"

"Regrettably not, sir." I could see a goodish bit of the glee of the valet well-pleased as he smoothed down the Wooster lapels one last time. It was almost like being back home in our flat. I was properly togged out, Jeeves was being peevish about my ties, and dinner was prancing forth on the immediate horizon like a swift and enthusiastic cheetah.

"What of Joan, Jeeves? I don't think I've heard her stirring about at all since we got back here." I proceeded into the tiny dining space, followed by my faithful man, where I found a distinct lack of blue-haired beazels, dressed for dinner or otherwise.

"She has not yet risen from her afternoon rest, sir." The sun was in the last twilighty bit of its setting, looking quite done with the day and willing to slip off and let the moon have a go at it. "I knocked on her door but received no response, sir. I was rather hesitant to look in upon her."

"Oh, well, yes. One doesn't pop into the room of a sleeping damsel without expecting a full-throated shriek and pillows being tossed at one's head."

"Indeed, sir."

The dinner setting looked a bit spare-ish. I could have sworn there were missing forks and spoons, but Jeeves would know more about such things. "What have we for the evening repast, old fruit?"

He brought forth a small selection of dishes from the open kitchen behind me. "I fear Miss Barr's stores are rather humble, sir. I have, however, produced a fettuccini alfredo and a bit of chicken primavera that I believe will serve." Jeeves presented them to me and poured out a glass of wine. "The chianti is of a moderate quality, sir. Miss Barr's selection was rather limited."

The whole thing smelled like heaven, though Italian wasn't the usual sort of thing Jeeves bunged in front of me. One made do, I supposed. I looked up at him. "Given how much luncheon cost today, I'm not sure this couldn't be considered extravagant," I said.

"That is entirely possible, sir." Jeeves shimmered back into the kitchen while I dined. I wondered if I shouldn't have Jeeves pop off to the markets tomorrow to replenish our hostess's pantry. I watched his reflected form in the large window as the night deepened over the city while I supped from the rather modest bounty before me. He flitted about doing valety things with dishes and pans.

Joan appeared when I was about midway through the repast. She was wearing exactly what she had been earlier in the day. "Hi Jeeves, Bertie." She still sounded a bit rough about the edges.

"Will you be having dinner, madam?"

She looked things over and nodded. "Looks fantastic. Thanks." When she took a plate and started to dish up her own, Jeeves gave her a horrified look.

"Will you be dressing for dinner, madam?" he enquired, soupiness of voice turned up to the highest setting.

She looked up at him with a blank expression on her face. "But I am dressed." She looked down at herself, obviously expecting to see some sort of offensive disarray.

I could see Jeeves struggling with the affront, much as he'd once wept at Rocky Todd's description of wearing pyjamas and a sweater to dinner. "Very good, madam," he murmured, in that tone that suggested good had nothing to do with it and had in fact scarpered off, taking the silver with it. "If you would be seated, I will prepare your service."

The look on her face was one of stunned confusion. "I can get my own," she said, though it sounded more like a question than a statement.

Jeeves hoisted an eyebrow a fraction of a hair. "If you please, madam." The confusion continued as might a show tune that goes on a bit longish before it's interrupted by an abrupt chorus line that then legs its way into the audience. Backing away slowly, she sat at the table with me. Jeeves, chuffed with the results, dished up for her and poured her a glass of the slightly-less-than-noble vintage.

"Thanks," she said, still watching Jeeves like a mongoose with a suspicion that the vine at its feet might suddenly trans-something into one of those cobra chappies. "Are you joining us?" she asked hesitantly.

I remembered the awkward conversation over luncheon and didn't want to see its reprise. "It's all right, Jeeves. Do come join us." I didn't want to trample his feudal spirit, but I wasn't eager to offend our hostess either. The invitation seemed like the lesser trespass.

Jeeves stiffened his spine a bit. "Thank you, sir. I shall join you directly." He set himself a place, but I could tell he was adamantly not going to enjoy the process. Miss Barr, on the other hand, relaxed a bit and tucked into her dinner like a professional trencherman.

"This is very good," she said, after sampling the fruitier bits of Jeeves's labors. "I really appreciate it." She smiled at Jeeves as he sat with us. "You're an outstanding cook, Jeeves."

"Thank you, madam." Though he was looking like he still wasn't sure he should be sitting with us, he did take a shine to the complement.

"Did you guys get a chance to get out at all?"

"No, madam. Mr. Wooster read and I did not have the time. It will be necessary to do so tomorrow when the shops open, however. If we are to remain here for more than a few days it would be wise to augment your stores." He lifted his wineglass to his lips.

She nodded. "If you want to go after dinner, the grocery store up at the corner is open twenty-four-seven."

"Madam?"

"It's open all night, every night. Capitol Hill's a busy neighborhood, at least as far as Seattle goes. There's not always a lot of nightlife around in terms of late-night restaurants, but you can buy a gallon of milk anytime you like."

"But why would someone need a gallon of milk in the middle of the night?" I asked, a bit flummoxed.

Joan swirled up a forkful of fettuccini. "Lots of people work during the day or an evening shift and don't have time to deal with it during so-called business hours. And then there are people like me who are natural night-owls and prefer to do the shopping at oh-god-thirty when there aren't that many people around. The selection's a little smaller in some of the sections because the day staff isn't there to deal with the bakery or the fish counter or whatever, but for the most part I can get what I need whenever I happen to need it." She chuckled. "It can be kind of awkward to run out of something when you're cooking dinner at three in the morning otherwise."

I'm afraid Jeeves and I both stared at her at that. Dinner at three in the morning? That's more the time for a quick nightcap after a rousing party at the Drones. "As for the staying with me thing, for the moment you'll sort of have to. Even if you could find a place that would take you in without identification or a steady income, I can guarantee you it would be a crappy little roach-infested hole in the basement of a rooming house with less space than you'll have here. You can't check into a hotel without identification and a credit card. The ones that'll let you in usually rent by the hour." She sighed. "When I first got here, I ended up couch-surfing for about six months before I could get a job and enough money for a place to stay."

"Couch-what-ing?" I wasn't certain I'd heard her at all correctly. And I'd never heard of hotels that rented by the hour before. Bally inconvenient, I was sure.

"I stayed with people I knew, or people they knew. Slept on couches and floors and in spare rooms until I saved enough money to get out on my own again." She shrugged. "A lot of people end up doing it at least once in their lives."

That was rather surprising. "Jeeves, is that true?"

He shuffled a bit uncomfortably at the table. "For persons without the resources of a family or an inheritance, sir, it is quite possible."

Joan's mouth tilted a bit. "That would be you guys, right at the moment." She sipped a bit of wine, a thoughtful look in her eyes. "I'll see if I can dig up Lissa. She might be able to help us get you boys some identification."

Jeeves's brows came together just a touch. "How would this Lissa person be able to assist us, madam?"

"She's a hacker. If she doesn't know how to work up something for you, she'll know somebody else who does. It might be a bit pricey, though." Joan stared out the window.

"She writes cheap novels?" I asked.

Joan made that horsey chuckle of hers again. "No, that's a hack, Bertie. A hacker is somebody who's an expert at finding holes in security systems and databases. I'm suggesting that we'll need to get you guys some fake identification so you'll be able to get jobs and a place of your own."

"She is a forger?" Jeeves asked, his eyebrows creeping skyward like mighty eagles mounting the heights.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," Joan said with a shrug. "But you guys are definitely in need of some help and the usual legal channels aren't going to be at all useful. I mean, really, even if you had identification with you, who the hell would buy a birthdate of like 1901 or whatever?"

I was once again feeling buffeted like some poor sparrow in a storm, and the bruises adorning the Wooster corpus suddenly ached a bit more intensely, reminding me rather too much of yesterday's unwanted adventure. "Actually," I answered, rather tenta-somethingly, "it was 1899." I took a moment to catch my breath as Joan turned a rather pasty shade. I knew Jeeves was somewhat older than me, but I suddenly felt like one of those bally bandage-wrapped mummy chaps in the British Museum. "I mean to say, I'm only twenty-five. But this whole time thingummy has really made me feel rather a fish lost at sea." Jeeves looked even more pale and wan than Joan at this point. I could see him struggling to compose himself, though I doubt Joan noticed anything.

"Yeah," she whispered, sounding a bit wobbly. "We're going to have to get you guys more believable birth years." With that, she drained her chianti and poured another. "That would put you at about... 1984," she added a few moments later in a still-hushed voice. "Gods, you're so young. I'd be amused by the ironic weirdness of it all if I wasn't so blown away by this whole thing."

I'm afraid all this thinking had put me in rather a sombre mood and Jeeves wasn't looking particularly himself either. We didn't talk very much through the rest of dinner, though afterward Joan said, "Since you cooked, Jeeves, I'll do the dishes." He gave her a rather odd look.

"There is no need for you to do so, madam. I prefer to have something to occupy myself."

I was rather expecting her to kick, as she didn't seem to much like Jeeves acting in his usual role of valet. She appeared to accept what he said though, and nodded. "Okay, can't argue with that. Have at it, and thank you again."

"I endeavor to give satisfaction, madam." That small victory seemed to put a bit of the stuffing back in him and he looked a touch more himself once again, shimmering about the place setting things to rights.

***

After dinner, Miss Barr seated herself at her desk and typed at a furious speed for several minutes, then bid us both good-night and went to her room. I was somewhat surprised, given her claim of being a 'night owl' during our meal, but she had still appeared quite worn and I did not know how her daily life was lived. I had not had an opportunity to ask her about the electrical devices in the sitting room.

Mr. Wooster rose from the table and leaned against one of the kitchen cabinets as I worked. "You know, I don't feel a hundred-ten years old, Jeeves," he said hesitantly.

"There is a very good reason for that, sir. You are not." I could not allow him to continue to think in that vein. We were dealing with enough trouble already and I had no wish to invite distress for my employer.

"Well, going by calendar dates, old top."

"Then I am one-hundred-sixteen, sir, and I do not feel any older than the same thirty-one years I had lived as of yesterday." I will admit that saying the words left a tight feeling in my chest. We had not aged. The world, however, had moved on without us.

Mr. Wooster's eyes opened wide. "Oh, I say. You're right, of course, We've neither of us actually aged at all that I've noticed. Though the bruised corpus does feel rather creakier than usual. Rather like one of those knights of old after a rough joust and a few kicks by a stroppy charger, I'd say." He twisted a bit at the waist, attempting to illustrate his point, and winced. "I do need a gasper, old thing, if you still have one."

"Of course, sir." I still had a few of them and did not know if Miss Barr could be persuaded to purchase more for him before those were consumed. "Miss Barr will insist, however, upon your smoking either upon the balcony or outside the building as you did this morning."

"Well, she has gone off for a kip, Jeeves. Do you think she'd really notice?" He gave me a hopeful look.

I had spent much of my day pondering exactly how far the money we had would go and I knew it would not help us in any way to upset Miss Barr. Her willingness to continue to shelter us, even temporarily, was crucial to our continued well-being at the moment. "I could not advise it, sir." I shook the dishwater from my hands.

"Dashed inconvenient," he complained.

Drying my hands, I reached into my pocket and retrieved his silver cigarette case, opening it for him. "We have very few left, sir. I would advise only indulging when you feel it is truly necessary."

He took one cigarette from the case. "It's always necessary, Jeeves."

"As you say, sir." I walked with him to the balcony door and opened it for him, following him outside into the cold night. Closing the door behind us, I lit his cigarette. He leaned against the balcony railing.

"It's a bit rickety, isn't it, Jeeves?" The structure did appear quite old and worn but did not feel like it was under threat of imminent collapse.

"It should be sufficient to hold our weight, sir."

Turning to me, he took a deep drag from his gasper. Before he could say whatever it was he'd intended, his entire body was shaken by a severe coughing spasm. I reached out, putting my arms about him to steady him, as I did not wish him to either fall over the railing or collapse to his knees, for the coughing was extremely intense. The fit lasted more than a minute and he was gasping and unsteady when it ended.

After he managed to catch enough breath to speak, he handed me the cigarette. "Not my best idea," he wheezed, panting a bit. I crushed the lit end from the cigarette, intending to save the rest of it for later.

"Perhaps not, sir," I responded. "It might be wise for you to refrain from smoking until your lungs have recovered from their ordeal of yesterday."

He nodded, leaning heavily against me, still wheezing quietly. "You know best, Jeeves. That did rather hurt." It took a moment before he was steady again. I led him inside and back to the library, exceedingly concerned for his health.

"I find your coughing a matter for some concern, sir," I said softly as he caught his breath, lowering himself gingerly to the bed. "Tomorrow we should summon a physician for you."

He nodded. "You could be right," he rasped. "That hurts, and it's dashed hard for me to get a good, deep breath. It's just bally odd."

"Please, sir, you should sleep." He looked up at me.

"I could sleep if you'll be here," he said, his tone making it a question. "You're not going to insist on the settee again, are you?"

I worried about the intimacy that was developing between us under our current circumstances. There were so many risks, so many dangers both internal and external that could shatter what was left of our lives, yet his request was understandable. "I will remain with you tonight, sir."

He grasped my wrist for a moment. "Thank you. Don't make me ask again tomorrow, what?"

Regardless of my own fears and the terrible temptation of it all, I could not refuse him. "Very good, sir." He smiled a tired, endearing smile.

We took only a few minutes to ready ourselves for bed, brushing our teeth and getting dressed in our pyjamas. I felt much more comfortable having nightclothes of my own that fit properly, and Mr. Wooster was much more suitably attired tonight in a set of royal blue flannel pyjamas with sky-blue piping.

Mr. Wooster lay down and held the covers up for me to join him beneath. I turned off the light and slipped in beside him. "Sleep well, sir."

He lowered the bedclothes over us and my heart pounded as I settled next to the warmth of his body. "Good night, Jeeves." It was a long time before I could finally sleep.

***

Mr. Wooster was extremely stiff and sore the next morning when he finally woke, complaining of the pain and having difficulty moving. After his bath, rather than dress for the day, he expressed a wish to rest and recover from his ordeal. I believed it would do him a great deal of good to spend the next day, or perhaps two, resting, though he adamantly refused my offer to find a physician for him. "It's just some bruises, Jeeves. There was a Wooster at Agincourt, remember. A few bruises wouldn't have put him off the saddle."

"Of course, sir," I responded. There was naturally a great deal of difference between Mr. Wooster's warrior ancestor and his own, more idle, generation but it would not be politic to mention this to him. My employer was a lithe, athletic man, but not suited to the rigors he had endured. I hoped that it was enough for him to simply rest and allow his body time to recuperate.

We both spent much of that day in the library, Mr. Wooster reading his Sherlock Holmes and I remaining close to attend to his needs. The time I did not spend with him, I spent in cleaning and tidying Miss Barr's flat. There was a great deal to do. Everything had a layer of dust on it, a large number of books were stacked in piles next to the settee and, though I had scrubbed the bath tub, the rest of the room required much more thorough attention.

Miss Barr also seemed quite subdued when I saw her. She moved as though she had sustained some painful bruising down her left side, which she favored and, recalling her frantic descent through the stones to the river, I would have been quite surprised had she not been injured. She refused my offers of assistance, however, seeming to prefer a silent and stubborn self-sufficiency. At several points I observed her leaning on her obviously battered and much-used cane as she moved about the flat. Its scars and wear led me to wonder if she injured herself frequently or if there were some other, underlying problem that required its regular use.

After a few somewhat difficult interactions, I decided that it would be the better part of valor to withdraw. It seemed likely that the pain she was experiencing had made her irritable, and I was equally so due to my own bruises and my concern for Mr. Wooster's well-being. Exacerbating the tension by prolonging our contact seemed unwise. Mr. Wooster welcomed my company for the remainder of the day and I read slowly through a small paper-bound volume of Spinoza's Ethics, attempting to comfort myself with the familiar rather than challenge my own stability with my overwhelming need to learn what had happened since 1924.

Feeling restless and wishing to make certain he was provided for, I offered to prepare luncheon, tea, and dinner for Mr. Wooster over the course of the day, though he was not terribly hungry and refused more than tea and toast. He tried several times to smoke a cigarette on the balcony, but coughing defeated him each time, stealing his breath and exhausting him. Each time, I would assist him in returning to the library, where he would then nap or read quietly.

Upon my suggestion, he retired early in the evening and so did I. My dreams that night were uneasy, filled with violently rushing water.

***

Yesterday had been a complete bally loss, aside from making my way through a few short mystery stories. I'd been quite the wastrel, fulfilling the role Aunt Agatha had so often assigned me. It weighed upon the mind as a bit of a millstone or perhaps an albatross, but it was dashed hard to get up when I ached so and the Wooster corpus didn't wish to cooperate by moving when I told it to. The gaspers had been a problem as well, those times I did take up my bed and walk.

Jeeves hadn't left the flat, and breakfast wasn't much, though I honestly wasn't that hungry today either. I was rather missing the old eggs and b., but it could wait another day, I thought. I did have the tea Jeeves bunged down in front of me and I actually dressed, though it was a bit more of a challenge than it had been since I was a wee nipper. The svelte Wooster waist was not inclined to bend terribly far without extracting a yelp, after all. It was nearly tea-time when I finally emerged from my bookish bower, pretending readiness for the day.

Joan was sprawled on the settee when I entered the sitting room, her feet up on the coffee table, much to Jeeves's visible dismay. She was watching some kind of motion picture show on the large box against one wall. Only this motion picture show was in brilliant color and was talking. The brightly colored talking things were animated rather than being actual actors, and jabbering away in some language that made no sense to me at all, though there were words running along the bottom of the screen, rather like the dialogue cards in a proper motion picture, but not cut in between the shots of the actors like I'd always seen.

I was really quite transfixed and sat down next to her to see what it was all about. "I say, Joan, old thing, what's this?" It was very exciting. Really just the cat's pyjamas.

"It's Japanese anime," she said, not bothering to look up. "This one's called 'Spirited Away'. It's all very Shinto."

"I say," I I-sayed again. In no time at all I was entirely captivated by the extraordinary creatures and the odd adventures. Some of it was dashed frightful, with monsters and wicked evildoers. I was somewhat nonplussed that the protago-whatsit was some young blister of a child, but eventually that didn't seem to matter. I'd never seen anything at all like it before, but I certainly wanted to see more. I think Jeeves was shimmering about doing whatever it is that Jeeves does when I'm not looking, but I couldn't be sure. Between the hypnotic quality of the moving picture and my feeling like someone had sucked the stuffing quite out of me, I didn't feel much like getting up when the show ended.

Joan toddled over and typed at her desk for a while, and I stayed on the settee, wondering if I should try having a gasper again. I was really starting to crave one. It was a bit desperate, like when you know there's a Christmas present for you under the tree but you can't do anything more than shake it a bit to try to figure out what's in it before Christmas actually arrives without enraging your aunt. Jeeves materialized next to me with a mug full of tea. "Are you feeling quite well, sir?" he asked. There was a hint of uneasiness in the set of his noble brow.

I took the proffered mug and nodded. "Just spiffing, Jeeves. Never better."

"Very good, sir." He shimmered away, but I could feel him watching me.

I spent a few more hours watching a couple of these other anime thingummies, then asked for something a bit more mysterious and crime-ridden. I was in need of a good detective story and Joan said that one called 'Blade Runner' was quite a modern science-fictional classic of the genre, with a feel of what she said was film noir, a bit of French babble describing dark, atmospheric films often involving detectives and gangsters, that we'd missed from the 1940s. I thought it would be just the thing to absorb the attention for a couple of hours, particularly since the sun was trickling out of the sky and kicking up a rosy tinge on the clouds over the city below us. These new moving pictures were really quite exciting and fast-paced, and I liked that I could hear the actors for a change, even if they'd been jabbering in Japanese all afternoon. I was rather looking forward to seeing something with actual people speaking the King's E.

Joan slipped the shiny little recording whatsit, which she called a DVD, into its machine and sat on the couch while I called Jeeves over to watch this one with me on the larger settee. I knew he liked more highbrow objets d'whatsit, given that his own brow was somewhere among the ascended angels, unlike mine, which could commonly be found skulking about in the shrubbery. He'd quite liked that German film 'Nosferatu' we'd seen a couple of years back. It had given me nightmares for days after and I'd insisted that Jeeves shine a light into the wardrobe to make sure one of the bally things wasn't lurking about therein to sip at the Wooster blood supply. I found detectives and gangsters much safer territory, really, as I read about them frequently, while dipping into the world of monsters and vampires wasn't the standard Woosterian daily fare and I found them somewhat unsettling, like mice under the duvet.

The opening scenes had me questioning the whole flying motorcar thing once again, it was so corkingly realistic. I was quite convinced that the huge buildings and flying vehicles must have been real, but Joan explained a bit about special effects and how computers made things look like they actually existed, though she said it was just a snippet of the way it worked because otherwise it might take hours. By the time we'd got through that, there had already been one bloody murder and we even knew who had done it! I wasn't sure whether I was more shaken by the graphic, bloody scene, or disappointed by already knowing our culprit.

As the movie clipped along, I found myself edging closer and closer to Jeeves in the gathering dark. He was sitting there just as wide-eyed in shock as I was, both of us quite unprepared for how terrifyingly violent the whole thing was. I will admit it was a corker of a story but there were three awful murders right before our eyes before I let out an exceedingly unmanly scream and buried my face in Jeeves's chest when that blond-haired replicant johnny poked the eyes out of the industrialist, Tyrell. It was the most awful thing I'd seen in my life and I was shaking like a leaf as Jeeves wrapped his arms about me. I think he was shaking too, really. Joan seemed more nonplussed at my scream than at the mayhem on the screen and stopped the film quite still.

"Are you okay, Bertie?" She came over to the settee and knelt by it, rubbing my back with a warm, gentle hand like mum did when I was very young. None of my aunts had ever bothered. It was the most curious sensation and strangely comforting, particularly with Jeeves wrapped around the willowy frame as well.

Jeeves's heart was hammering like a six-cylinder motorcar engine under my ear. It almost drowned out the sound of my own. "Madam," he said, and his voice was all wobbly and very un-Jeeves-like, "how can you watch an abomination like this and not be horrified?"

I peeked up at her from my safe haven in Jeeves's lap, where I'd landed when I tossed the Wooster corpus into his arms. She looked puzzled for a long moment.

"I'm not unaffected," she finally said. "I actually find the violence in it pretty disturbing, but I guess we get used to it because we see things a lot worse than this in the movies or on TV all the time." She shifted her weight and sat on the floor in front of us, her hand still on my back. "American film has historically been a lot more censorious of sex than violence. I kind of think it's partly our puritanical roots and partly the fact that being desensitized to violence makes people less likely to notice wars and the violence going on around them. I think it makes people less likely to care and less likely to object, more easy to manipulate, and that serves the government and big business fairly well. It's why I don't actually watch broadcast television, just movies I pick for myself. It's a lot less random. I get to choose what I stuff in my brainbox."

Now I could actually see some not-quite-describable emotion in her eyes and her face, and I do believe she really was upset, though I'm not sure if it was the movie or the fact that she'd frightened us that bothered her more. She was a very strange beazel on all counts and I knew even Jeeves hadn't got a hint about a psychology of her individual quite yet. "I'm sorry. I didn't even think about it and whether it might freak you out. I don't like the blood or the onscreen gore much either, but I've always found the plot strong enough to watch again. If you follow the ideas, it's actually a pretty profound meditation on the nature of memory, humanity, and mortality, and the possibility of love beyond recognized boundaries, though that doesn't make the violence any less jarring. We don't have to finish watching it."

"No, I'm all right," I said, and I could hear my voice shaking a bit as I sat up and partially untangled myself from Jeeves's arms. "It's a corking story. I do want to know what happens." And really, it was and I did, I just wished I didn't feel like I'd actually watched people being murdered in front of me. It was so hard to believe that none of it was real. I was gaining a bit of a new perspecti-something on the whole murder mystery thingummy.

She looked up at Jeeves. "You?"

He nodded. "If Mr. Wooster wishes to continue watching, then I will not object." He looked at me, one hand still resting, trembling slightly, on my side. "I would, however, remind you, sir, of the nightmares you had after watching 'Nosferatu.'"

"Oh. Well. There is that, but I suppose if I'm going to have them, they'll be stampeding through the Wooster onion from what I've already seen, what?" I couldn't bally well un-see what I'd just seen.

"This is true, sir," he agreed, though I knew he was taking the pip at it. I may have been a bit disentangled from his arms but, not knowing what would come next, I wasn't going to be moving far from his side. If it was making Jeeves a bit wobbly, I knew it required us to do cautiously, and look to the end.

Joan nodded and slapped herself back onto her couch, then started the movie again. The rest of it was just as violent, really, but as she'd said, it was a brilliant story. In the end, it really did seem to be quite like one of those improving books that Jeeves so likes, but I doubted very much he'd liked this particular improvement. We were both pressed up against each other's side again by the end of the beast, neither of us quite daring to move just yet.

After the movie, Joan showed us another animated cartoon concerning an extraordinarily dim blue super-hero called the Tick. He made me look almost Jeevesian by comparison and it was quite silly enough to take some of the sting out of the movie. She said she'd get me some musical comedies to watch; I thought that was a bally good idea because I did love musical theatre. A good chorus line can really put the lark on the wing and the snail on the thorn, after all.

"Oh," she said before we prepared for dinner, "just so you guys know, next Saturday I'm having a ceilidh here. I suspect you'll still be around, so you're more than welcome to join in."

I leaned into Jeeves and whispered in my man's ear, "What's a kay-thingummy, Jeeves?"

"The ceilidh is a rustic entertainment, sir," he answered, "commonly held in the rural areas of Ireland and Scotland. It involves the communal making of music and dance among friends and relations."

"Oh," I said, quite excited, "so she's having a party!" That sounded like a corking idea, even with the rummy lungs and the bruised corpus. I'd been rather missing a bit of society, and the prospect of music and dance seemed to promise a dash of the strong drink, as well. I was quite enjoying this lack of prohibition, though I did rather wish that tobacco was a bit easier to come by.

"It will be unlike the parties to which you are accustomed, sir," Jeeves said, solemn formality writ upon his countenance, washed with a slight tinge of disapproval. I had been to any number of costumed affairs and parties at the Drones and at the country estates of the friends and aged relations, of course. I'd also occasionally been implicated in the entertainments of the bohemian set in New York and knew those to be of a rather different character than what I'd had at home. I was quite looking forward to something new and interesting, particularly provided that no pinching of silver cow creamers was involved.

"It'll be fun," Joan said with an air of authoritative experience. "There'll probably be about thirty people in and out over the course of the evening."

I wasn't sure where they'd all fit, but it seemed she'd done this before, so one will trust the host. "I say, what day is it today, then?"

"Sunday," she answered. "It's almost week from now. You should be feeling enough better to handle it by then, I'd think, and you'll need to meet people if you're going to get along here."

Jeeves didn't seem certain whether he wanted to bristle like a fretful porpentine or simply hover over me protectively. "What sort of people will they be?" he asked pensively.

She smiled. "My friends. Kind of a counterculture cross-section of the city, really. I don't think there's a one of us you could quite classify as normal, but we're interesting at least." This didn't seem to settle Jeeves at all. I thought it might be time to get us out into the night air and explore a bit so as to avert ruffling the Jeeves further. I was feeling rather better from having spent most of the day planted on the settee, particularly with Jeeves's bracing presence nearby.

"I think I'd like a gasper," I told him.

He stood and produced my cigarette case. "Of course, sir," he said, sounding distinctly soupy.

***

Miss Barr retired to her room as I took Mr. Wooster out onto the balcony but, once again, he was only able to smoke a few puffs before he was overcome by a terrible cough that shook his entire body and required me to support his weight lest he collapse. I had been left extremely unsettled by the motion picture so to turn my attention to his needs assisted me in calming my mind. He leaned his body hard against me, panting to catch his breath. I was, naturally, quite worried. Mr. Wooster, however, continued in his usual optimistic manner.

"Perhaps we could just go for an ankle about the neighborhood, what?"

"Miss Barr has provided us with a key, sir. We could indeed venture out to explore our surroundings if you wish." We would both need our coats, for it was growing cold. He remained leaning against me for a few moments more before he moved away from me. I felt a brief pang of regret when he did so.

It was the matter of only a few minutes to ready ourselves. I made certain there was cash in the billfold but left the majority of it with our clothing in the library. I did not want a pickpocket to destroy what little we had gained. Miss Barr's spare key was in my inside coat pocket. We walked down the stairs and out the locked glass door onto the quiet, tree-lined street below the flat. "So where would anything interesting be, Jeeves?"

I took a brief look around. "Miss Barr said that there was a street called Broadway up the hill from here, sir. If she was using it as a reference, I would surmise it to be a local navigation point. She did note that there were many shops and restaurants there, sir."

"Well then," he said, "let's go and see if it has a patch on the Broadway in New York, what?"

"Very good, sir." I allowed him to lead the way down the street and around the corner. Broadway, as promised, was two streets up. Although Seattle had a very impressive set of sky-scrapers near the bay below us, Broadway was a much less busy street than I had anticipated, though it did have three lanes for traffic and had solid lines of parked cars on either side. It was after eight on a Sunday night and there was a lively crowd, but it was very small compared to Picadilly or anything in London or New York. This was, from what I could see, an active but still relatively small city, despite my initial impression. The people in the street were primarily young, of my age or younger. In our dress, Mr. Wooster and I were the ones who stood out as different as we walked along the boulevard, observing the people and looking into the windows.

There were so many people wearing black that I had a passing thought the entire city must be in mourning, but it was all decorated with metal or paint or printed pictures or slogans. Many of the young women were dressed in such a scandalous manner that even Miss Barr's appearance was rather staid in comparison. There were a great number of individuals of both sexes whose hair was dyed in unnatural colors. Black kilts appeared to be in fashion, though I found the idea unfathomable. It was often very difficult to tell whether any given individual was male or female at first glance; sometimes even a reexamination did not yield results. One tall, thin man sported hair and a shaggy beard of intense purple, with long purple fingernails, matched by an outlandish purple suit and top hat; he stood at a corner talking with several other people, all of them laughing as the man spoke, punctuating his conversation with grand, broad gestures. There were beggars and inebriates and young people trying to touch us for cigarettes, along with those who were simply out enjoying their Sunday night on the sidewalks or in the cafes. Music of varying types, most of it unbearable, poured into the street from different venues along the way.

Coffee seemed to be an obsession here. Every block had several places where one could purchase coffee, either as a caffe con leche, which they were calling a latte, or as espresso. We stopped at one tiny open-air cafe called Espresso Vivace so Mr. Wooster could have a cup. People ordered in an impenetrable jargon that even a glance at the menu board did little to decipher. While we waited in line to make our purchase, I noted that there was a small niche in an open corridor between the cafe and the building next to it in which a shrine to the goddess "Caffeina" had been constructed and preserved behind a plate of glass. Photos and coins had been left here, along with a bowl of roasted coffee beans. A small tealight candle was guttering on the pavement before it.

The coffee was horrendously expensive, costing nearly three dollars for a single cup, and I began to have significant doubts about our financial solvency. "I say, this is corking coffee, Jeeves. You really ought to try some." Mr. Wooster raised his paper cup to me as I paid for it. It was covered with a tight-fitting cap with a little drinking hole in it. The coffee smelled very strong, though quite good. "Here, old thing," he encouraged me. "Have a sip."

"That would not be proper, sir," I said as we moved away from the line and down the sidewalk.

"Pish-tosh. You'll love this." He thrust it into my hand and, hesitantly, I took a sip.

It was exquisite. It may have been the closest thing to a perfect cup of coffee that I have had in my life. "The composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, 'how sweet the coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, mellower than muscatel wine!'" I murmured reverentially.

Mr. Wooster grinned at me and took the cup back, sipping from it himself. His eyes sparkled over the rim of the cup, his lips where mine had been. "That's the stuff, Jeeves, the real tabasco." As we walked, I noticed that there were bronze dance instruction diagrams inlaid in the concrete before us; men's and women's footprints, with lines and numbers showing how the steps were to be executed. His eyes lit upon the sidewalk as we stepped into the diagram. "Oh, look, Jeeves; dance steps!" He followed them gracefully with a smile on his face, obviously enjoying himself. It was a heartening sight.

A young woman dressed in a shamefully short black skirt and black undervest, heavy boots, a spiked leather jacket, and disgracefully torn stockings spoke as she passed us on the sidewalk. Her eyes were very heavily lined with kohl and she sported a line of metal spikes along one eyebrow and one in her chin beneath the center of her black-stained lips. "Awesome moves. There's a bunch of 'em all up and down the street on both sides." A shy smile flickered on her face before she disappeared into the crowd.

"This is really quite extraordinary, Jeeves," Mr. Wooster mused, continuing to sip at his coffee as we walked. "Perfect coffee, dance steps in the streets. There's an amazing thingness to the night, Jeeves. I think I could get to like this place." We did not speak much beyond this, too absorbed in exploring our surroundings. Two blocks later, Mr. Wooster was almost run down by a rough-looking young man riding a wheeled board at a terribly dangerous speed down the middle of the sidewalk. I pulled him quickly out of the way, as we hadn't seen the ruffian coming. Two more followed in short order, swerving widely to avoid us. We both stood with our backs against the wall, staring after the youths.

"Are you unharmed, sir?" I did not believe he had been struck by the miscreant, but I knew he was still not feeling his best, and was concerned that pulling him out of the way might have uncomfortably strained a muscle or jostled one of his bruises.

"What was that thing?" he asked, an air of astonishment in his voice. "That would be just the bee's knees for pinching a policeman's helmet on Boat Race Night, don't you think?"

"I should not like to consider it, sir." The very thought of Mr. Wooster balancing on one of those contraptions caused a shiver to run down my spine. We continued on our way and my eye was caught by a brightly lit open park across the street from us. Even at this hour, almost nine in the evening, the park held strolling couples and small groups. We crossed with the traffic lights, walking around a large fenced-in construction site with its forest of rebar lit by a moving green light that created a strange and vivid show as we passed. The park itself was an open area with trees along its boundaries and paved paths. There was a fountain producing a flowing stream of water passing through a shallow aqueduct and a wider wading pool that formed the centerpiece for the area. There were well-lit tennis courts and playfields visible at the end of the park to the south of us, screened by a row of trees. Mr. Wooster spotted an empty park bench and seated himself. I sat with him, and we watched the inhabitants at their evening festivities for quite some time.

We were occasionally approached, as we had been in the street, by beggars asking for money or cigarettes. Fortunately, they were not terribly persistent. I was wary, keeping watch for anyone who might disturb Mr. Wooster's peace, but it was Mr. Wooster himself who pointed out the sight that caused my blood to freeze in my veins. "Jeeves," he said softly, his fingers tapping my elbow gently. He nodded his head toward the trees to the east of us. "I say, Jeeves, he whispered, "are those two chaps over there?" I followed the direction of his glance, only to see two slender, handsome young men kissing one another openly, their arms about each other, seemingly without a care in the world.

My chest tightened with fear. "Sir, I suggest we leave the area immediately." I swallowed hard, taking him by the arm, and brought him abruptly to his feet.

"I agree, old thing," he said, his voice stricken. Under the lights of the park I could see his eyes were wide. "Good Lord, I hope there are no policemen around." He looked about us quickly. "And I hope you remember where the flat is, because it's gone clean out of the Wooster onion." He abandoned his coffee cup on the bench in our haste.

"I do, sir. This way." I hurried back toward Broadway, neither looking back nor wanting to call attention to us by moving too quickly, my hand on Mr. Wooster's elbow to ensure we were not separated. Once we had cleared the park, I assumed a more normal pace, but we neither stopped nor spoke until we had returned to the flat and were safely locked inside. Even then, I hardly dared think what might have happened if we had been present when the police arrived. Merely being in the presence of such a display could be incriminating if we were unlucky.

The flat was still quiet and it was nearly ten at night. I took Mr. Wooster's coat and hung it with my own in the closet of the library, placing my bowler on the upper shelf. He sank to sit on the bed, clearly shaken, and looked up at me. "What have we got ourselves into, Jeeves?" His breathing was rough and I thought it only in part due to the pace of our return.

I had been quite unnerved by the experience but did not want to appear unsettled before him. "I am uncertain, sir." I spoke in a near-whisper, not wishing to disturb Miss Barr, nor wanting her to accidentally overhear anything should she be awake in the next room. "There are entirely too many things we have no knowledge of at the moment. It is a void I shall begin to rectify tomorrow."

"I must say, that sight left the Wooster ticker flipping like the wings of a distressed hummingbird with a cat giving it the weather eye." His voice was as quiet as my own. "Even Catsmeat wouldn't be that stupid in public."

I nodded, still standing before Mr. Wooster. "I believe, sir, that it would be wise if I were to sleep in the sitting room from this juncture." He reached up, quick and startled, and took hold of my wrist with surprising strength. There was a wild, frightened look in his eyes.

"No!" he whispered, his voice urgent. "No. Please. Don't." He shook his head nervously, still speaking soft and low. "I don't know what I'd do if you, I don't know, vanished like that cat from Worcestershire or Cheshire or wherever it was when I wasn't looking."

"The Cheshire Cat, sir, from--"

"Don't," Mr. Wooster snapped, his voice still soft but carrying a steel to it that he rarely displayed. "Don't, Jeeves." His hand tightened around my wrist, his fingers cold with his nervousness. "I don't want to hear any bally corrections right now, I just want you to be here with me. I've no idea what to make of any of this, and I was frightened out of what few wits I possess when I saw what was happening out there in the park."

"We cannot afford to have any shadow of impropriety about us, sir. It would not be wise--"

"Rubbish." He leaned over, not letting go of my wrist, and pulled a book from the bottom shelf. Flipping it open randomly with one hand and slapping it on the bed, he said, "No one who keeps a collection of these things is going to be bothered by us innocently sharing space for a kip." The book lay open on a page illustrated with an extremely graphic pencil drawing of two men engaged in an act of oral pleasuring. "I'd lay money she's as much of a sod as we are, like that poet beazel from Les-whatever," he continued, his voice strong but quiet. "Why would she turn us in if we're not doing anything for her to even suspect? This one book by itself is enough to get her put in chokey."

I shook my head forcefully. "First, sir, women cannot, by definition, be sodomites, lacking the proper anatomy for such activities. Secondly, not only did Miss Barr mention male lovers, sir, but I would note it is entirely too common for sexual deviants to virtuously persecute others of their kind to save their own skins and divert attention from their own activities." Even if she were of the Sapphic persuasion, which I doubted, it was no guarantee for our safety. "I will not put you at risk, sir. There is nothing that could make me do so." I returned his hard stare with my own.

"I know that, Jeeves." His eyes softened. "I just don't think she's like that. What harm at all has she done us since we dropped out of the sky on her? Tell me that, would you?" His grip on my wrist was still tight and cold but growing slick and damp with sweat.

"She has done nothing, sir," I was forced to concede.

"She hasn't even asked me to pinch anything for her. She's already doing better than my relatives and most of my friends." He stood, and we were so close already that we were nearly touching. "You're the brainiest cove I've ever met, Jeeves. If anyone can set this whole thing right, it's you, but just at this moment you're kicking about something that oughtn't be kicked." His eyes locked with mine. "We both know there are lines that can't be crossed, but that isn't one of them." He raised his hand from my wrist to my shoulder, squeezing it, then impulsively pulled me into a desperate embrace, his arms about my neck. His cheek rested against my own and he was trembling slightly. Slowly, I wrapped my arms about his waist much more loosely than he held me, holding him carefully, like something fragile and precious. I let one hand stray slowly up and down his spine, hoping to calm him. We stayed like that for several minutes until Mr. Wooster finally took a deep, shuddering breath. That set him coughing again and he braced his weight against me until the spasm stopped and he was gasping.

"Gently, sir," I said softly. "Breathe slowly. It will help." He shivered against me and then loosened his arms from that tight hold. I had no wish for it to end, but it could not continue or I would crumble. I steadied him as he sank to the bed, then readied his pyjamas and my own. He busied himself with the tasks of preparing himself for slumber. I placed Miss Barr's book back on the shelf, not looking at the illustration again. I did not trust my own reactions to such things with the prospect of spending the night once again in the same bed with my employer. I could not afford to have such things haunting my mind. I could not allow this to part us. I could not allow myself the luxury of such an unobtainable fantasy. "I do wish you would allow me to summon a doctor for you, sir."

"It will pass, Jeeves. Nothing to worry about, old top."

Once he was abed, I turned out the lights and donned my own pyjamas. With a silent sigh, I resigned myself to another night of barely-suppressed desire beside him and slipped beneath the covers. "You should sleep now, sir. You still have not sufficiently recovered and I am concerned for your health." I feared he might wake in the night with images from the horrifyingly realistic film in his mind, though I would not mention it lest his nightmares come upon a fearful summons. I turned to face him in the darkness, examining his features in what ambient light existed.

He lay on his side facing me, reaching out with one hand and resting it on my hip. Though his hand was still cold, I could feel his touch burn me. I did not allow myself to tremble from it. "Bertram will, no doubt, sleep like a resting babe despite that motion picture," he murmured. "Please don't fret too much, old fruit." Slowly, he pulled his hand away. I felt the trail of his fingers long after they had passed over me and Mr. Wooster had closed his eyes.

***

I woke to the sound of Mr. Wooster crying out, his limbs flailing uncontrolled, in a state of abject terror. I did not even think but threw myself atop him to keep him from hurting himself or me. "Sir!" I gasped. "Sir, wake up!" My heart thundered with the shock of the sound; I had been having evil dreams of my own, of blood in trenches and severed limbs and the sound of screams and explosions such as I had not experienced in years; I was perversely grateful to have been suddenly awakened from them.

His eyes shot open, wide and horrified, though for a moment he did not appear to recognize me. He lay beneath me gasping in huge breaths and then began to cough. He clung to me, all his limbs tangled with my own, his body burning with the night terror he'd had. I could feel the raised gooseflesh on his exposed skin and knew that his every hair had been standing on end from the fright. "Wake up, sir," I whispered urgently, "you're safe. I have you, you're safe."

"Jeeves," he squeaked, burying his face in my shoulder.

He shuddered violently and I nuzzled into his disheveled hair, trying to match my breathing to his and slow both of us into something resembling calm. "Shh, hush, it's all right. You're safe, you're not alone. It was just a nightmare." I could feel hot tears against my skin where the shirt of my pyjamas had fallen away in our struggle.

"Oh, dear God," he whispered. I could feel him making an effort to control himself, his body still trembling as he fought to slow his panicked breathing.

"Sir." I raised my hand to his face and ran my thumb over the curve of his cheekbone, wiping away the tears there as he finally looked up at me. "You're safe," I murmured, pressing my cheek to his.

"You're here, you're all right," he said, pressing my hand closer against his cheek with one shaking palm. "I was... you were..." He took a short, gasping breath. "Oh, God."

"It's all right, sir. Do you wish to tell me what happened?" I would not press the issue, but I knew it would help to speak of it if he could, to purge it from the spinning wheels within his mind. He nodded, his lips moving, but he was as yet unable to speak in any coherent manner. I knew the sharp agony of such moments and wished only to ease the pain I knew he was experiencing. "Just breathe slowly, sir. Follow my breathing." I held him close, slowing my own breathing gently and feeling him finally following along, his shudders dampening until he finally relaxed in my arms, his limbs still tangled with mine.

"You were right," he said, his voice still strained. "Oh, Lord, you were right. That was... Jeeves, it was awful." I nodded, waiting patiently in silence for him to continue. Eventually, he found his voice. "When we got... scooped up," he said, "you were..." He took a sharp breath. "I saw you get ripped apart by that blasted wind," he whispered, and my heart stuttered at the misery in his voice and on his face. "Th-there was blood everywhere. I couldn't do a damned thing. And... and when I fell out of the sky, there were..."

He choked back tears and I held him to me, rocking him slowly with my body. "It's all right, it was only a dream. I'm right here, sir."

"There were only parts of you left," he said, his voice rough. "You were dead and I was alone and there wasn't a bally thing I could do." He pressed his face to my shoulder again, sniffling, his fingers digging into my back with desperate strength. "I couldn't bear it." His voice was small and horrified.

"I'm here, I'm with you, sir. You're not alone and I'm unharmed, I promise you." I moved and took his face between my hands, making him gaze up at me. "Look at me. You can see me, you can feel me right here."

He nodded rapidly, getting his breathing under control once again. "Please, don't leave me, Jeeves. I don't know what I'd do without you."

With a sigh, I rested my forehead against his. "I swear to you by everything I hold sacred, I will always be with you. I am not planning to go anywhere without you." It broke my heart to see him like this and I wrapped my arms about him again, wishing I could take that pain and fear from him. "I will not leave you alone."

"You're here, you're all right," he said again, some measure of his fear finally relieved. He raised a hand to my face and touched me gently, his fingers trailing along my nose, tracing my eyebrows, my lips, the lines of cheekbone and jaw. "It was so awfully real." I shivered as his fingers slipped softly down the side of my neck to my clavicle in a far-too-sensual touch. I reached up and took his hand in mine to stop him before it went beyond what I could bear.

"Please, sir, try to sleep," I whispered, rolling carefully to one side so that I was no longer lying atop him. He nodded and, with a soft sigh, curled up under my arm, his back now loosely pressed against my chest. It was more bearable than it had been, but only a little.

"Jeeves."

"Yes, sir?"

"Thank you."

"I endeavor to give satisfaction, sir." I smiled into his hair as he settled against me and tucked my arm under his.

***
Waking after a nightmare is always a rummy feeling. I don't have them often, given the generally sunny Wooster aspect. I know I gave Jeeves quite a fright before he woke me. It was an entirely different thing, having him there with me when the e.s opened. He'd of course been in his lair in our flat when I'd had the nightmares after 'Nosferatu.' This time I'd been left feeling warm and secure as a chick beneath the maternal wings by the time he'd got me sorted. The rest of my dreams that night weren't nearly so awful and I was able to wake the next morning feeling relatively boomps-a-daisy, if one ignored the coughing and the bruises, which were still somewhat tender when I poked them. I was quite glad not to be so stiff, though.

With so much here to read, I wasn't likely to get bored, and Joan pointed out many of the less frightening movies in her collection, so I spent a bit of the day watching more of that curious blue Tick chappie. Joan wrote and Jeeves did Jeevesian things, as was his constant habit. I think at one point he'd biffed off to find food, but the Wooster e.s were fixed firmly upon the bright box that was providing me with quite extensive jollity.

There was rather a lot that didn't make much sense to me, but Joan was kind enough to explain some of the pop culture references while she was writing. It did help a bit with some of the things that made her laugh while zipping right past the Wooster onion. Apparently, comic drawings had become quite an industry and had eventually turned into comic books and graphic novels, and this particular blue chap was having some of them on. She disappeared into her boudoir at that point and returned bearing rather a stack of the things, with names like 'Sandman' and 'Wonder Woman' and 'Spider-Man' and 'V for Vendetta.' There was quite a bit of spiffing action and anarchy and magic and such, along with a goodish bit of violence, but the drawn pictures didn't disturb me nearly so much as yesterday's motion picture.

I spent the rest of the day with the beak buried in them, enjoying them quite thoroughly between my occasional trips to the balcony to attempt a gasper and end up coughing out my lungs. Jeeves initially seemed less than impressed with the concept but, once I'd showed him some of the 'Sandman' bits about the library of unwritten books, his soupy attitude improved.

Though I was a bit reluctant to catch the requisite number of winks that night, I did eventually sleep.

***

Coughing dragged me from the deep and dreamless several times over the course of the night, as did the occasional visit from the nocturnal Clydesdale taking a sprint through the brain as though it were the Ascot. Every time, Jeeves would wake up and ask me if I was all right, laying one hand on the Wooster chest. That one warm hand always seemed to help settle things a bit, though I was beginning to become quite annoyed by the whole treating the lungs like hairballs to be coughed up wheeze.

When I finally woke to Jeeves with the morning tray, I had a touch of a headache, which was dashed odd because I hadn't imbibed a single drop after wine with dinner the other night. The fact that the tray held the traditional eggs and b. cheered me immensely, though.

"Good morning, sir." He was his usual perfectly-put-together self this morning, though his hair still wasn't at all as shiny as it once was. It had kept a bit of that adorable poofyness about it.

"What sort of a day is it, Jeeves?" I asked as I tucked into the offered repast.

"There is a soft rain falling, sir, though the sky is lightening to the south of us. Miss Barr has not yet risen, but I shall ask her about finding a physician for you when she does so, sir." He opened the blinds to let the dim light of drizzle into the room.

After a few sips of tea, I looked up at him. "It's just a bit of coughing and a smallish headache, Jeeves. We Woosters are made of stern stuff, after all, so there's no need to worry. Bung a couple of aspirin tablets down the old pipes and everything will be oojah-cum-spiff before you know it."

Jeeves put on his stuffed frog expression and a soupy tone. "Sir, you did agree to this plan."

I shook my head and held up an admonishing hand. "Pish-tosh, Jeeves. I was just a bit out of sorts after everything that's been happening. There's really no need to go to all that trouble and drag some doctor in to tell us we should have let him tend to someone who was actually ill."

"Very good, sir," he intoned, in that very-not-good-sir way he has. It sounded more like a 'Go boil your head, Bertram,' with a dash of feudal spirit applied. "I shall draw your bath."

He beetled off to begin the inundation of the Wooster while I finished up my breakfast, shimmering back to sweep the tray away and lay out the day's goodly raiment. There wasn't a single tie of dubious aspect in the entire collection Jeeves had got me, much to my dismay. I would have liked to set that sitch to rights, but I didn't want to go anywhere without the steady company of my peerless valet. I was still unconvinced that the heavens wouldn't open again and snap him up like a particularly tasty dessert tray.

After the ablutions and having Jeeves stuff me into my suit and tie, I wandered into the sitting room with the Sherlock Holmes collection, which I'd almost finished. There were a few spiffing stories in the last section, but most just didn't have quite the same panache as the ones that had come before. It was like that Conan Doyle chappie had run out of steam and was just scribbling on the foolscap for no reason.

Jeeves had obviously been at the place with a duster again, because the flat was much more neatly arranged and shinier than it was when last I had ventured into it. He was wafting about doing something in the kitchen when Joan wandered in with her eyes half-closed to sit at her desk. There were some funny booping noises and she mumbled to herself as Jeeves brought her a cup of tea.

"I have prepared eggs and bacon for breakfast, if you would care to come to the table, madam," he said, giving her a soupy look. Today she was wearing solid black, with a brown and cream paisley throw over her shoulders.

She looked up, blinking, as if she was attempting to decipher a foreign language. "Eggs and bacon?" She sounded quite taken aback.

"Yes, madam."

"Oh." Joan's eyebrow twisted in that way eyebrows can when one isn't certain how to offer a suitable response to a vexing question. "Thank you, but I can't, really."

Jeeves drew himself up as a valet scorned. "Very good, madam."

She plucked at his sleeve as he turned kitchenward. This only served to make Jeeves imitate a fretful porpentine. "It's not that I don't appreciate it, Jeeves, but I'm allergic to eggs and the chemicals in preserved meat like bacon give me horrible headaches."

The man unstuffed immediately, seeing that he hadn't actually been rebuffed in his efforts. "I am sorry, madam. Is there something I could prepare for you instead?"

She shook her head as she let go of Jeeves's sleeve. "No, that's okay. I don't eat breakfast very often anyway. I'm usually only up for a brown cup of joy until about lunchtime." She raised the mug Jeeves had brought her. "This'll do. But I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop calling me 'madam.' It kind of weirds me out."

"Weirds you out," Jeeves repeated slowly.

"Makes me uncomfortable," she explained. "Nobody calls me madam. Please, just call me Joan, okay? You've been here for the better part of a week already. You can drop the whole über-politeness thing."

"That would be quite improper, Miss Barr," Jeeves responded, putting on his firmest taxidermied amphibian facade.

She squinted at him with a look of profound disbelief. "Why would it be improper to call me what I want to be called?"

"It is not my place as a servant, madam, to--"

"No!" Joan's squint turned into a full-on auntly glare of Aunt Agatha proportions. I cased the room for shelter in case a fight broke out. "Jesus Horatio Christ on a pogo stick, Jeeves, that's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. This, this servant thing you've got going is completely unnecessary. I don't care how you and Bertie arrange your lives, but I'm not going to have you playing that game with me. You know what, Jeeves? My mom was a maid for years; she cleaned houses for rich people. My dad was a sailor and he went and started driving a truck -- a lorry -- when he retired from that. I'm not one damned bit more socially classy than you, and probably a damned sight less if you're going by who has the biggest stack of formal manners and time hanging out with rich people. I'm just a kid from a poor family who managed to put a roof over her head, okay? There is no reason on the face of the planet why you should call me 'madam' if I'm asking you to call me something else."

Jeeves looked like a light had flicked on behind those brilliant blues. "My apologies, Miss Barr. I felt that because I was in doubt as to your social standing, I should err on the side of caution."

She deflated like a punctured hot water bottle. "Sorry. I shouldn't have shouted. It's just that my mom always took so much shit from the people she worked for, I hate to see anyone else in the same kind of situation."

"Mr. Wooster is a very satisfactory employer," Jeeves said, glancing over at me. "I have never had cause to complain about his treatment of me."

She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yeah, but it's not like he's employing you now."

"He has not dismissed me, and it is his money that has provided our clothing and that will continue to support us for some time," Jeeves countered.

"And what happens when that runs out?" She tilted her head and looked at him, steady and solemn, though her voice was suffused with the spirit of gentleness. The question dug a deep, empty pit in my chest, knocking at my ribs with a very large spade. It was, in fact, a terrifying question.

"Jeeves, old thing, you wouldn't desert the young master, would you?" I couldn't help feeling a bit of a panic at the idea, even after our words the other night. Would his feudal spirit, or his promise, override a supply of the ready? What would happen if he went off to seek his future elsewhere, leaving Bertram to fend for himself?

He looked at me, horrified at the very idea. "Never, sir." There was a reassuring thingness in his eyes, and I found myself feeling considerably less worried.

"It's a lovely sentiment, but at some point one or both of you guys will have to get a job. You can't sit around forever. From what I can tell, that's going to end up being you, Jeeves, and I don't think you're going to have time to follow Bertie around and pick up after him if that's the case." I had never considered the idea that I might actually not have money someday; I'd never had cause after Uncle Willoughby shuffled off his mortal c. and left me the Wooster wealth. "At any rate, all I really want is to just be called Joan. It's not that hard. I mean, I call people what they want to be called." She gave Jeeves a meaningful look. "I have friends who go by stuff like Moonbeam and Crow Feather and Hermanubis, okay?"

"Mr. Wooster has friends whose appellations include Oofy, Barmy, Catsmeat, and Stinker," Jeeves noted, frost edging his voice, "yet I have always referred to them as 'sir.'"

She sighed a resigned sigh like unto the sound of a somewhat disappointed lamb on a hillside. "Whatever. Can you just call me Joan, please?"

Jeeves shifted uncomfortably. "It would be... difficult for me to overcome a lifetime of habit in this regard, Miss Barr," he said.

She nodded. "Miss Barr is at least a little better than 'madam.' I'd appreciate it if you'd work on it, though."

"Very good, Miss Barr." Jeeves had about him the air of a man who had swallowed a pickle and washed it down with chocolate sauce.

"Speaking of names and such, I heard back from Lissa yesterday. She's actually in town today and says she can come by for dinner to talk to us about what you'll need for identity documents. You guys need to have appropriate birthdates for your age because nineteenth century dates are so not gonna fly." All the Aunt Agatha had entirely vanished from Joan's demeanor. It was a fascinating transformation, not unlike a crocodile suddenly discovering it was a dove. "You'll need a reasonable fake address in England, too."

"We shall provide those as requested, Miss Barr," Jeeves rumbled. I didn't care for any of it, being quite underhanded and thoroughly not-preux, but a chap does what he must in circs like these. If it meant I could finally replenish the supply of gaspers and have a b. and s. after dinner, it would be worth it.

Joan turned her attention back to her desk, then looked up in confusion. "And, ah, where did all my filing go? I was using that stuff."

"I replaced it in the filing cabinet next to your desk, Miss Barr, according to the categories I discovered therein." Jeeves had finally become his usual imperturba-whatsit self again, pointing out the obviousness of what should have been obvious. "It was unsightly."

She buried her face in her hands. This was becoming a very familiar gesture. "Jeeves," she said, through her palms, "I'm just going to have to get it all out again. I need that stuff on my desk so I can work on my book. If it goes away, I have to spend time digging through it again to find what I need." She looked up at him with a long-suffering expression on her face. "I have a system, dude. It's like archaeology. Excavation is the key to my timeline. You just ravaged it like a grave robber. You jumbled my potsherds!" She groaned softly and pulled her filing cabinet open, digging about in the Jeevesian order to find what she needed.

The potential disaster having been averted by minor annoyance, I turned my attention back to the Great Detective.

***

My unfortunate confrontation with Miss Barr had, as a side-effect, shed light on a number of things. Employing the psychology of the individual was much more fruitful when one had something upon which to base conjecture, and I now had a far better idea of where many of her attitudes had developed. I no longer had cause to believe she resented me, personally, as a servant; rather she appeared to resent the idea of domestic service occupations generally, due to her mother's mistreatment. I had certainly seen enough of it around me in the great houses, and in the house where my parents served during the years of my childhood. Yet my own experiences as a valet had most often been good ones, in large part because I could choose my employers and my situations, moving on if problems ever arose.

I had always felt that my situation with Mr. Wooster was an exceedingly serendipitous one. He is a pleasant, cheerful young man with a kind and generous personality. He cares deeply for his friends and is always ready to help them, even to his own disadvantage or when he would prefer not to. He is easily led, but I did not take advantage of this except in situations where it was necessary to produce an outcome that would ultimately benefit him and his friends. He has an immense sense of honor and duty, which he observes scrupulously. While he is by no means an intellectual, he managed his own financial affairs effectively before he handed them over to me, he is an accomplished writer and musician, and he does attempt to improve himself from time to time. His treatment of me since I have been in his employ has always manifested itself in his respect for my intelligence and capability, and with a genuine affection that I have never received from any of my other gentlemen; I would not have accepted it from another. Our mutual regard held a cherished place within me, particularly as it had grown in our time here.

With Mr. Wooster, my consideration of remuneration was of only secondary concern. I had been, truthfully, paid more than many other men in my position. There have been times when his friends have offered me more than even Mr. Wooster could afford, but I always refused them because I enjoy Mr. Wooster's company and had decided some time ago not to leave his employ, the incident of the banjolele notwithstanding. In that case, I had never intended to remain for any length of time in Chuffnell Hall and knew before I departed that I would be returning to the man I regarded as my own gentleman.

Miss Barr's questions had obviously unsettled Mr. Wooster. I did not believe that I would be able to convince Miss Barr that I stayed with him for reasons other than monetary, nor did I think it would be wise to attempt this lest she divine the true nature of our regard for one another. I did not believe she would accept friendship as reason enough, though I had not yet observed her around other people and did not know what her relationships with her friends were like. Her lower-class background left me with a stronger appreciation for her intellect and for the books with which she had chosen to surround herself; these factors supported my belief that she would likely see through any attempts I might make to prevaricate about the nature of my attachment to my employer. This left omission as the safest route regarding any necessary concealment.

Mr. Wooster's continuing cough concerned me deeply. He had attempted several times during the course of the afternoon to smoke a cigarette, each time triggering an uncomfortable coughing fit, which he would dismiss as minor. I knew better than to insist upon a physician at this juncture, as it would merely set his refusal in stone. He can, indeed, be extremely stubborn when he feels he is correct. In these cases, my best policy has been to wait and allow him to change his mind on his own through subtle suggestion and gentle, if unseen, guidance. If his cough continued to worsen, he would acquiesce eventually and we would both rest much more easily. I had no wish to see him suffer but I understood the value of choosing my battles wisely.

In addition to his coughing and his complaint of a mild headache, Mr. Wooster seemed less energetic than usual. I was uncertain whether its cause was boredom or incipient illness. He had requested more aspirin at the luncheon hour, but his extensive bruising could easily have accounted for all of this, as it had on previous days, though after almost a week I would have thought he would be recovering more quickly. I resolved to watch him more closely so that I could respond appropriately to his needs.

Having done all I could for Miss Barr's flat without disturbing her further and having seen to Mr. Wooster's immediate needs, I retired to the library for an hour and turned my attention to deciding where to begin my education regarding the time wherein we found ourselves. Miss Barr's history collection concentrated mostly upon ancient and medieval history, though there was a volume titled 'Modern Times, Modern Places' that looked promising. It purported to analyze the majority of the twentieth century through the lens of art in somewhat more than seven hundred pages. Between my duties and my concerns with other matters, it would likely take me nearly a week to read and would start, at least, in territory which I had myself experienced.

I had not got far in my reading when I began to hear the sounds of food preparation in the kitchen. There had been no opportunity to observe Miss Barr under those circumstances, nor did I know what she would be preparing for her guest this evening. I assumed that, since her dinner engagement concerned the forging of identification documents for myself and Mr. Wooster, we would be at table with her; it would not, however, go amiss to be certain of this.

Miss Barr was already preparing the kitchen for what looked like a more complex operation than she had previously undertaken. Mr. Wooster was sitting at the dining table watching, his eyes widened slightly. He rarely saw food being cooked and this was quite beyond the majority of those experiences. "I say, what is all that?" he asked.

With a few gestures indicating different clusters of ingredients, Miss Barr replied, "Bastilla with tofu instead of eggs, lamb tagine with lemon and olives, and a veggie couscous."

"Moroccan cuisine, Miss Barr?" I had seen a few of the necessary specialist ingredients, like the salted lemon pickle, when I had first perused the contents of the kitchen, but I had not expected to see these things in use.

She nodded. "I hope you guys are okay with that."

"I've never had Moroccan food, but I must say that looks interesting. Jeeves, what say you?"

Provided her skills matched her ambitions, and I had no reason to expect they did not, I anticipated a pleasant repast. "I find Moroccan cuisine to be exotic but highly satisfactory, sir." I did not see the necessary ingredients laid out for making the bread that traditionally accompanied such foods. "Will you also be preparing kesra, Miss Barr?"

She chuckled ruefully. "I'm afraid I'm the black death for yeast. It never cooperates with me. I do keep some on hand for when Coral comes by for a food porn session, but she's the one who always deals with risen bread. I stick to quickbreads because I won't mangle them."

"Food... porn?" Mr. Wooster inquired.

"We get together and have a cooking frenzy, then we eat until we're fit to burst." She grinned.

The situation at hand provided both an opportunity to do something useful, and to attempt a more harmonious situation with our hostess. "I have the necessary touch with yeast, Miss Barr, provided you have a recipe."

She nodded toward her shelves of cookbooks. "There's a Moroccan cookbook over there. I'm certainly not going to say no. It'll be much nicer than having to resort to forks."

Mr. Wooster pursed his lips for a moment, confused. "No forks? That doesn't seem quite on. Unless it's that chopsticks wheeze again?"

I was amused by this question, though Miss Barr was the one to answer. "You eat Moroccan food with your fingers, Bertie. The bread is for scooping stuff up with."

He still looked rather skeptical. "I assure you, sir, it is quite proper to do so, though one never uses one's left hand for this task." I retrieved the necessary cookbook and quickly found the recipe I required. I usually prefer to work alone in the kitchen. There is less complication and I can maintain full control over both the ingredients and the way in which the food is prepared and presented. This, however, was an unusual circumstance. With Miss Barr taking up the majority of the kitchen's counter surfaces, I would have to knead the dough on the dining table.

Miss Barr had music playing as we worked around one another. It was nothing I was familiar with, though the sound was dark and melodic with interesting percussion lines beneath. The lyrics tended to be melancholy or even entirely morbid, yet they were quite poetic. A deep baritone sang some of the songs, while a fine contralto with an obvious Persian influence to her style performed other pieces. The instrumental compositions offered exotic percussion with influences of classical and Persian themes, joined by instruments that gave a somewhat medieval feel to the proceedings. Miss Barr sang along with a good deal of it, though quietly enough that I could enjoy the recording without being distracted. I found myself quite intrigued. "What is this music, Miss Barr?"

"Dead Can Dance," she replied. "It's sort of gothic medieval world music."

None of what she had just said made any sense; I understood the individual words, but to place them in that combination resulted in a complete non sequitur. "I'm afraid I do not understand what you just said, Miss Barr."

"The name of the group is Dead Can Dance. The rest of it is a jumble of musical genres that are the core influences on the group."

I could not help raising an eyebrow. "Visigoths or Ostrogoths?" I asked, to clarify my confusion.

Miss Barr laughed heartily. "Not that kind of goth. Think of it as more influenced by Byron and Milton. The goth in this case comes from gothic romance and horror novels. It's all about existential angst, the inevitability of death, and the beauty of the macabre. This is the more lyrical, harmonious end of the genre. Some goth is really heavily industrial -- lots of grinding and noise and heavy electric guitar riffs with snarly, in your face vocals."

"I should prefer not to sample that portion of the genre, Miss Barr, though I do find myself quite intrigued with this particular music."

She nodded as she worked. "Yeah, one of my favorite groups. I can totally understand you not being into industrial noise. I can only take it in small doses myself."

"This does rather have a danceable beat to some of it," Mr. Wooster said. "I'm not sure I could take hours and hours of it, though. All that death and not a private detective to be found."

We worked on the various stages of each dinner dish with Mr. Wooster looking on and offering occasional comments. Miss Barr proved to be extremely organized as a cook, able to handle several tasks without losing the thread of any of them and, more importantly, able to share the kitchen with another cook without conflict. Each component found itself in the oven or on the stove top at the appropriate time, and it was a very smooth operation. I have often observed utter chaos in the kitchens of houses where Mr. Wooster has been a guest, though chef Anatole was a complete master of his domain. It was quite pleasant to work with Miss Barr as each part of the incipient meal was assembled.

Within ten minutes of all the dishes being finished, a buzzer sounded by the doorway. Miss Barr attended to a small speaker by the door. "Lissa?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," a female voice responded. Miss Barr pressed a button on the speaker and there was another buzz. A few moments later, a knock sounded at the door and Miss Barr opened it to a young woman dressed in the most peculiar clothes I had yet seen. She wore a top hat, a very old-fashioned frock coat, an extremely distressed brown leather waistcoat with multiple pockets, a frilled shirt, and jodphurs with knee-high boots. Under the open leather waistcoat, she was wearing a corset on the outside of her shirt. Mr. Wooster and I exchanged horrified glances. When the woman removed her hat, she exposed a shock of long magenta hair, her head shaved on either side, so that the hair was more like a horse's mane that drifted down to her waist. The exposed portion of her scalp bore abstract tattoos. She, like Miss Barr and many of the other people I had seen since my arrival in Seattle, had multiple ear piercings and facial piercings as well.

"Lissa!" Miss Barr exclaimed, throwing her arms around the woman. "How's the ninja business?"

The woman laughed and returned the embrace enthusiastically, kissing Miss Barr on the cheek. "If you see 'em, they're not ninjas." She handed Miss Barr her top hat and frock coat, which Miss Barr hung in her laundry closet. "Smells like Moroccan!" she exclaimed gleefully.

Miss Barr led her through the kitchen into the dining area. "Lissa, this is Bertie and his friend Jeeves. Gentleman, this is Lissa. If any of my friends can help you out of your pickle, she's the one."

"Hey guys." The woman held out one hand. Mr. Wooster shook it and she then offered it to me; I did so as well.

"Dinner just came out of the oven, so we can get right to it," Miss Barr said. I had set the table earlier, so we proceeded to our seats.

"Looks fabulous." Lissa smiled, her eyes glittering, as she sat at the table. "I was out 'shrooming this morning. The rain had the chanterelles popping out everywhere."

"And you didn't bring me any? You suck." Miss Barr shook her head as she brought hot dishes to the table. I assisted her in this while Mr. Wooster took his own seat.

Lissa laughed. "I told you, you have to get up before dawn so you can go with me."

Miss Barr scowled. "Like that'll happen. The only way I'm ever going to see the sunrise is if I'm heading for bed; you know that."

"Discipline is good for the soul." Lissa grinned as Miss Barr brought out a basin and a pitcher of warm, orange-blossom-scented water. She poured out water over everyone's hands to wash them before beginning the meal. Mr. Wooster observed the proceedings with interest.

The meal was lively and congenial; the women were obviously friends of long standing and had much to talk about. Mr. Wooster interjected from time to time and was welcomed into the conversation, though I preferred to observe. The food itself was excellent and, although Mr. Wooster burned his fingertips several times, he appeared to be enjoying himself immensely.

It was not until after dinner, with the table cleared and the sweet, minty tea favored in Morocco served, that we came to the actual business of the evening. Lissa broached the subject first. "I understand you guys are in need of identities," she said.

"Indeed, miss. We currently have none and this is causing a great deal of difficulty."

"It's dashed odd not being myself," Mr. Wooster added.

She looked at Miss Barr. "Can I ask where you found these guys? They're adorable."

Miss Barr shook her head. "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."

"But those are always the best stories," Lissa urged.

"They fell out of the sky," Miss Barr deadpanned. Lissa laughed. It was fine example of the use of truth in concealing the truth.

"Okay, you don't have to tell me, but that was a good one." Miss Barr simply proffered a weary smile. "Why do you always end up being the one picking up strays, anyway?"

"It's probably the 'sucker' sign in big neon letters hanging over my head."

"Lissa, old thing, how are we going to arrange these identification thingummies?" Mr. Wooster brought the conversation back to our predicament.

"Depends on what you're looking for, really." She pulled a small device from her pocket, much like Miss Barr's portable telephone. "With those accents, you're not likely to pass for US citizens unless we cook up some naturalization papers, but that would be a lot more effort than just going with British passports."

"How reliable would these documents be?" I asked.

"How much are you willing to pay? A really good set of ID -- passport with a hacked RFID, drivers license, green card, other necessities -- that'll run you upwards of five thousand apiece for the set." She spoke quite casually of the cost. We, of course, had nothing near that in our resources. Mr. Wooster's face had gone slightly pale at the statement.

"They're kind of limited in what they've got available," Miss Barr said.

Lissa sat back and tapped at her device with a small stylus. "I can probably find you passports that won't get you over a border but can serve for general purposes. If you're looking for work, you're going to have to have a green card, though. That's unavoidable. They catch you without, they'll deport your ass."

"One would be sufficient. Mr. Wooster is unlikely to require it." She gave us both a hard, assessing look.

"Right. So, two British passports and one green card." Skepticism fairly dripped from her voice.

"That would be correct, miss."

"I could probably find a way to do that for about a thousand if I can manage to sweet-talk somebody, but like I said, don't trust the passports for anything beyond a spot check. You could try crossing a border and you might get away with it, but not if the customs agent is on the ball. And if you get caught, that's a federal offense and you'll be locked up for quite a while."

It was still a considerable amount of money. "Can you cut 'em a little slack on the cost?" Miss Barr asked. "I know you might have to farm some of this out, but they really don't have much."

Lissa gave Miss Barr a sideways glance. She sighed. "I'll see what I can do, Joan, but only because it's you asking and dinner was made of win. I wouldn't do this for anybody else." She looked back at me. "Rock bottom would be about eight hundred, and I'm serious about that. This is way cheap for what you're asking. I may not even be able to pull it off at all."

Our money was not going to last very long; this was becoming more clear by the moment. I could see Mr. Wooster's eyes, wide and a bit overwhelmed, as he sat next to me at the table. "That would be acceptable, miss. I appreciate your generosity in this matter."

"Yeah, thank Joan. I'll need full names, birthdates, birthplaces, addresses, all the usual stuff. You'll both need passport photos, but you can get those just down the street for a couple of bucks."

"That will be no trouble," I said, writing down the information for her. I had already calculated the correct birth-year for our respective ages; Mr. Wooster in the year 1984 and myself in 1978. Writing these beside our actual dates of birth was jarring, serving only to remind me of how out of place we actually were. "I shall retrieve the money," I added, rising to procure it from its place in the library.

"We should go get the photos when we're done here," Lissa said, and Miss Barr nodded her agreement. "Because we're doing this on the cheap, I can't guarantee my source will be able to do it quickly. It may be a week turnaround if I light a fire under them."

"I am certain we can manage for a week," I said.

Once the money had changed hands, we all gathered our coats and walked up to Broadway to a shop that advertised passport photos. The process was remarkably quick and painless, and I gave these to Lissa as well. She departed immediately from there, extracting a promise of further meals with Miss Barr as the two exchanged an embrace, before she hurried off into the crowd and the heavy mist.

"Well," Mr. Wooster said as we walked back to Miss Barr's flat, "Lissa's a rather unusual filly, isn't she?"

"Lissa's her very own thing," Miss Barr agreed. "Smartest person I know, and I know quite a few geniuses. She amazes me."

"You are certain she is trustworthy," I inquired. Trustworthy was, unfortunately, quite relative when speaking of someone who was about to procure forged documents.

"If Lissa says something, you can be sure it's true. Unless she's being a ninja. In that case, obfuscation may be required." She smiled.

Mr. Wooster was coughing again by the time we returned to the flat. This one was persistent and deep and, once again, he was left lightheaded by the attack. I had to help him up the stairs as it subsided. "I really don't like the sound of that," Miss Barr said, echoing my own worries.

"It's nothing," Mr. Wooster insisted. "Just a little water left from my splashing entrance, what? One doesn't go flailing about in a river like that one without a little of it seeping into the innards."

As she opened the door to her flat, Miss Barr said, "No, Bertie, really. As soon as you guys have some ID in hand, you really need to go see a doctor. You've been coughing this whole time and it's just getting worse."

"Could we not summon one to attend him here?" It would be the most logical method and the easiest on Mr. Wooster himself.

She closed the door, staring at me. "A house call? Gods, I don't think I've seen anybody have one of those since, like, the 60s. Maybe if they're millionaires or something, but people without money? No. I can't take you guys to the veterans hospital where I get my medical treatment because that's just for vets. This is going to mean going over to Swedish or Harborview or something, filling out a shitload of paperwork, and waiting in the emergency room for a very long time. They do charity care, but you have to be able to show you have no income, and even that requires a certain amount of paperwork and jumping through hoops. We can give it a shot, but--"

"That's nonsense," Mr. Wooster said. "I won't do that. It wouldn't be at all preux."

"Sir," I began. The situation was sounding worse by the moment.

"No. Absolutely not. This Wooster has spoken and I will not be moved." I could see by the set of his jaw that he would, in fact, insist upon this. His tenacity often arose at the worst possible time.

"That's really not wise, Bertie. If that cough turns out to be something serious, this could eat what you have left. There might be a cheaper alternative, but I'll admit I haven't had to look before." She appeared extremely perturbed and, in this instance, I could not blame her. For all of Mr. Wooster's virtues, common sense was a rather more rare and exotic trait. He has always displayed more of it than his friends but, in comparison to the general populace, I have often wondered how the majority of them survived childhood.

Mr. Wooster refused to hear another word of it and seemed a bit short-tempered as well. I suspected this had been caused by his inability to enjoy a cigarette recently without triggering a serious bout of coughing. "Very good, sir." It would not profit any of us to continue the conversation.

"You've got to talk him out of this, Jeeves," she said, urgency apparent in her entire demeanor. Mr. Wooster turned a sour look on her.

Miss Barr hung her coat and I took mine and Mr. Wooster's into the library to hang there. He followed me in. "I'm sorry, old fruit. I'm not feeling terribly boomps-a-daisy at the mo. This inability to have a proper gasper without the lungs throwing a mutiny is quite frustrating. It's leaving me feeling rather like Aunt Agatha, ready to sharpen my teeth on whatever presents itself."

"Perhaps you would like to rest, sir," I suggested.

He thought for a long moment, then nodded. "Well, perhaps the young master could use a few extra winks tonight, what?"

"It might prove soothing, sir." I assisted him with his clothing and left him resting in the darkened library before I went to join Miss Barr in cleaning the kitchen. Regardless of his opinion, I would see to whatever paperwork might be necessary. I was neither going to allow Mr. Wooster to bankrupt himself, nor place us both in a position where food and shelter were an open question.

Chapter Text

Seductive Flame (Arcana)

Life is a rummy thing. One moment you're walking along in Hyde Park, hoping to dodge the matrimonial ball and chain, and the next you're lying in someone's library in bally Seattle, Washington, with a headache and your lungs not working quite up to spec. I'd not had a proper gasper or a decent drink in days. After Joan's friend Lissa extracted eight hundred dollars from my valet, she'd vanished into the night and I was left lying on my back feeling entirely flat. Jeeves treated me rather gingerly for the rest of the night and the next morning I woke with the headache still occupying the Wooster onion in the most annoying fashion, and the lungs continuing to make their displeasure known. I hadn't felt so dashed tired after an entire night's sleep since... well, ever, really. Everything felt a bit like moving through treacle. The bruises on the Wooster corpus were still turning utterly appalling colors and the Jeevesian disapproval was turned up to full steam. One would think they were fashionable ties, he expressed such dismay.

I didn't want Jeeves to worry. He was really doing more than enough of that for an entire army of distressed Bertrams already. I know my man has a marked tendency to see through any of my prevari-somethings, but I did hope to keep this particular problem under my hat, if I had one, which I didn't anymore due to the time-thingummy. With this in mind, I dragged myself out into the sitting room after food had been bunged into the tum and a wash had been sloshed. The red ducky wasn't quite as delightful as my yellow one at home, but at least it lent some air of festivity to the bath.

Once clad in the old form fitting, I repaired to the sitting room for a sit and a bit of light reading. Joan had been a champion and offered me more of those topping graphic novel thingummies, which kept me quite occupied and entertained on my settee perch.

There were two more mugs of tea and an attempt at smoking between the settee and luncheon. The gasper was not a success and left me gasping even harder than yesterday. Jeeves had to hold me up while I caught my breath again. He didn't say anything about it, just lurked in that unsettling way he sometimes has when he's upset about something.

After luncheon, Joan had some research thingummy she needed to do at the University. Jeeves expressed an interest and I didn't want him too far from reach, so we all bundled into her motorcar and took a short drive through the thick traffic, down and around and across a canal before she found a place to bung the beast. We got out and had to walk for several blocks, but eventually we found the University campus. Most of the buildings were a horrendously boring boxy style, all in bricks, but the library we were heading for, while not a patch on the libraries at Oxford, had a facade that positively dripped academia, complete with caps and gowns and the occasional collegiate prank. It had the look of one of those gothic cathedrals from the outside, and Joan said that the graduate reading room upstairs was, in fact, designed to be a small-scale cathedral. "The acoustics are fabulous," she said. "I've been to some great medieval music concerts there."

Once inside, the front part of the building did remind me very much of my old digs, though we approached it across a huge open expanse of red brick paving. There had been people everywhere, birds and beazels, and bicycles, and quite a few of those wheeled board thingummies as well, all galloping by at a snappy pace. Joan was still limping a bit, though she'd left her cane somewhere, but she was moving at a canter rather than the leisurely trot I was used to.

"Are you a student here?" Jeeves asked her, a bit of disbelief in his voice.

"Nah. It's open to the public. For a hundred bucks a year, you can even have a library card. It's the best research library in the state, so I shell it out every year because it's worth it."

When we actually entered the structure, Jeeves made a small sound of pleasure. When we climbed up the grand stone stairway just inside the entry to go up to the stacks on the third floor and Joan took us into the graduate reading room, the man nearly swooned with delight, by which I mean both corners of his mouth curved upward and his eyes got a dewy sheen to them. Were he a pup, he'd be wiggling uncontrollably with his tail flailing in every direction. Joan left us there after explaining where to find directories and the reference librarians, then scarpered off to unearth weighty tomes about whatever it was she was writing on.

We spent some time just wandering about the buildings of the two interconnected libraries. There were bally raven statues in the stacks everywhere. It was dashed odd. I kept expecting them to flutter about and quoth 'Nevermore'. Jeeves was obviously a valet in his element, master of all he surveyed. He wandered about here and there, caressing the occasional leather-spined book with reverential awe, or possibly reverential lust. The silence of the place seemed to make Jeeves even more Jeevesly, if such a thing were possible. "I cannot believe this is actually open to the public," he whispered, his face aglow. It looked as though there might even be a tear shimmering unshed in the Jeevesian e. and the continued upward twitch of the lips shouted his joy to the knowing Wooster. One doesn't make an intensive study of this marvel of a paragon without learning a few things.

I followed Jeeves about, my own terms of imprisonment in university libraries well-past, and just let him have his head. Eventually he found his way down to the reference librarians, who mostly looked like reference librarians the world over, stern and whispery and filled with eager troops of hissing serpents spitting venom at their every step for anyone daring to peep. He asked about how the library catalogue worked -- it was no longer in card files like the ones I'd learned to use but on one of those computer johnnies that everyone seemed to love so much -- about newspaper archives, and how one might acquire copies of articles from said archives. One of the younger acolytes of the library priesthood led us over to a computer and revealed unto Jeeves the mysteries, then took us to another section of the library and showed us 'microfiche readers'. These were a way to read old newspapers that had been filmed and recorded to store for posterity, without having to take up entire city blocks with agony columns and adverts.

"What is it you're looking for, Jeeves?" I asked, after the hench-librarian departed.

He turned to me and set one large hand on the Wooster shoulder. "Perhaps there is something in one of the London papers about the occurrences on the day of our... disappearance, sir."

"Oh, I say, that's brilliant, Jeeves. Carry on!" We both knew the date and put our backs into the work. I wanted to know what had happened just as badly as Jeeves did, and this finally gave both of us something to do that Bertram could understand and actively participate in. Jeeves told me to look not just for the day we'd been scooped up, but for the week or so afterwards as well. He was quite certain that the whole sky opening wheeze would have made for some confusion and following reports. I perused the rather intimidating archives from the 12th to the 20th of August, 1924, eventually digging up a couple of rolls of film for Jeeves to potter about with.

Jeeves had come up spades with his search as well, and we had about half a dozen rolls before he deposited himself in front of one of the readers to get a peep at the verbiage. Actually reading the bally things was harder than I'd imagined. It was one of those film-negative images where the background was black and the writing was in white, so it had a rather burning effect on the Wooster orbs. I read over his shoulder, leaning against him in a more or less casual manner that had very little casual about it. I mean to say, I rather wanted to lean on Jeeves in more than a meta-somethingish way. His broad shoulders were warm and treelike when it came to the ability to keep Bertram upright. Even if we learned nothing, it was a dashed pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, what?

After a blur of interminable white on black, Jeeves stopped for a moment and backed the reader up. "Look, sir." He pointed to the screen. There was a headline reading 'Sky Opens In Mystery Event: One Dead, Two Missing'.

We looked at each other and began reading. It seemed that rather a lot of people had been scooped up with us, but most had fallen back to e. quickly and without more than a few bruises or broken bones. One poor blighter, a woman named Annabelle Moss, had snapped her neck when she hit the ground and was dead as a nail right there in the park.

And there was an interview with Gussie, and one with Aunt Agatha.

Poor Gussie was obviously flustered beyond words, because the little they quoted of him didn't make much sense, all horrible colors and watching us be swirled up into the sky.

Aunt Agatha, on the other hand, had firmly blamed me for causing the ruckus, saying I'd done it just to get out of yet another engagement. I shivered, even at this vasty remove.

We looked further, finding bits and snippets about the incident, but by the 19th of August, the London Times had already run obituaries for Bertram Wilberforce Wooster and Reginald Jeeves, complete with photo portraits of us from our families. I sat down in the chair next to Jeeves, barely able to draw a breath. He looked equally unsteady. I couldn't even speak. This whole time, I'd rather been treating the whole thing as a bit of a lark, not quite believing it was real, but now -- now I was looking at the official notices of our deaths and funeral arrangements.

I was dead. Jeeves was dead.

But here we were, sitting in a library on the other side of the bally planet, safe as chicks under the wings of their broody mother, looking at the notices in the year 2009. We Woosters are made of stern stuff, having come over with the Conqueror and all that. Under these circs, though, I am not ashamed to say that I buried my face in my hands and wept. Jeeves rolled his chair over until he was right up against me and put his arms around me. Neither of us said a dashed word because, really, what can one say about such things? That only lasted a moment, though, because neither of us wanted to draw that sort of attention to ourselves.

Jeeves recovered before I did, but this is his way. He's always saying, 'I shall be better directly, sir,' and biffing off and being better directly. He took a deep breath and drew himself up and set the beastly reader thing up to print all the pages we'd found that recorded anything at all about the event or about us. I just sat in my chair and trembled a bit.

Neither of us moved for a while after that, just staring at the pages. I don't know how long that was, but eventually Joan materialized beside me. "I thought I might find you guys here," she said, setting a mountainous stack of books on the desk next to the readers. "Are you boys all right?"

Jeeves held out the printed page listing our obituaries. She took it and read for a moment. "Oh. Wow." Joan looked a bit rattled about the edges herself. "That's... I'm so sorry. I have no idea what to say." She leaned down and hugged me. I felt like I'd been dropping bits of myself for the last few days and there wasn't much left inside so, despite my usual aversion to beazels, I quite welcomed the moment.

"I'd really like to go home," I whispered. Except I didn't even have a home anymore. I had a borrowed fold-out bed in a half-mad blue-haired beazel's library. It was real and I wouldn't ever be waking up in the morning in my own bed again, or even in Colney Hatch under the frightfully stern eye of Sir Roderick Glossop.

"As you wish, sir," Jeeves murmured. He looked up at Joan and she nodded.

"No problem. I've got what I came for. I just need to check the books out and we can head back to my place."

Jeeves put the printed pages on top of the stack and picked it all up. "Allow me to carry these for you, Miss Barr."

She shook her head. "No, I'll take them. Bertie looks pretty wobbly. He might need to lean on you."

He gave me a piercing look over. I'd never thought to see him so out of sorts. When he spoke, his voice was displaying an entire bucket of soupy thingness that deeply disturbed me. "Indeed, Miss Barr, I believe you're correct." He handed her the books and papers, then took me by the elbow and helped me up. The pins weren't quite as steady as I would have liked, my knees knocking like a frantic telegraph delivery boy on a locked door instead. I leaned. It was really all I could do, for Jeeves was my comfort and succour in the troubles of my transi-whatsit life, making sure I managed to plant one foot before the other until we were back to the motorcar. I'd been doing a ripping good job of leaning on Jeeves far too regularly of late.

I couldn't bring myself to say a word before we got back to the flat. My head was a bit spinny, you see, doing a dashed good imitation of a carousel, only faster and without the benefit of brightly colored horses got up for the circus. Jeeves laid a hand on my shoulder and steered me into the library like a shepherd his flock and then sat with me on the bed. "It's not your fault, Jeeves," I told him. "We had to know."

"I know, sir." His whisper was rough with emotion and I'm afraid I couldn't help pressing the Wooster corpus to him, slinging the arms about his slightly larger frame, hoping for a little warmth in the midst of our fretful travails. Jeeves's arms were, in fact, warm and strong and reassuring as billy-o, which was causing a distinct defrosting within. I didn't let go, but neither did he, and we were quite as entangled as a couple of octopi in a jar. Or is it octopuses? Octopeese? I can never remember.

We both gave a guilty start when Joan knocked and came into the room with a tea tray, jerking away from each other quickly. She set the tray on the small bedside table, apparently entirely blind to our somewhat less than proper embrace. "I thought you guys might need a little additional fortitude," she said. "Tea helps. This batch has been adulterated with a hefty whack of Jameson."

"You are a tender goddess," I told her, figuring that if Bingo wasn't about, I could borrow his line just this once. I didn't think she'd take it in the matrimonial way, being more the Aunt Dahlia sort than anything else, if Aunt Dahlia were actually peculiar rather than just enthusiastic.

"Every man and every woman is a star," she replied. Jeeves got an odd look on his face at that, as if he'd heard it before, but I made for the goods with every intention of getting myself tight as an owl. "I'll be in the living room writing if you need anything."

"Thank you, Miss Barr." Jeeves still had that tightness about the eyes that betrayed bemused discontent, but I poured a cup of the hot and ready for him and thrust it into his hand as she limped out of the library.

"Cheers." I raised my mug to him and took a swallow of the brew. My eyes went wide for a mo., as Joan had bunged in half a bally bottle of the stuff and the inner depths weren't quite braced for impact.

Jeeves looked at me and down at his mug and back up at me. "I take it the infusion is of medicinal strength, sir?"

"Straight from the chemist's," I wheezed, and sent another shot into the i. d.'s. After that much of the juice I was slightly less conscious of the bruises and the headache at last.

"Very good, sir." He dashed back a large swig of his own, minus the eye-opening moment. The rest of the evening was one of those impressionist johnny's paintings, not quite in focus but dashed colorful.

***

I stayed with Mr. Wooster throughout the evening, neither of us hungry enough for dinner. I believe the whiskey had a more profound effect upon him than usual due to the problems he had been evidencing with his health. The coughing was slowly becoming more frequent and more draining, his face held an almost-constant pinched aspect of pain, and he seemed much more tired than his usual wont. The emotional blow of reading about our own funerals could not have helped his condition in any material sense. I found myself considerably more upset after this discovery than I had anticipated as well. It was not my habit to tipple with Mr. Wooster, but I had experienced far too many shocking and disturbing events in the last few days to stand entirely upon ceremony.

It was growing more and more difficult to simply take things in stride. I had lost the firm ground upon which I once stood; I was dependent here upon the knowledge and contacts of others, rather than my own. Even when Mr. Wooster and I had traveled, there was always the promise of England and home awaiting us at the end of our journey. In this time and place, those steadfast harbors were removed from our reach. It was difficult enough to be stranded in a time not our own, but to be denied entry to my home country because I could not conclusively demonstrate my identity was proving much more distressing to me than I had ever imagined. It was a loss more painful than all the others I had experienced thus far.

All of these things were compounded by my concern for Mr. Wooster's health and my knowledge that his money would not supply our needs for much longer. My walk to the grocers had left me with an even bleaker picture of life here. Although an almost unimaginable variety of items were available, the cost of it all was staggering. I had no wish for Mr. Wooster or Miss Barr to discern my faltering confidence; for Mr. Wooster it would be a blow to his confidence in me that would have a very deleterious effect on his psyche, and I had no wish for a stranger to see that deeply into my own psychology. I allowed the heavily whiskey-enhanced tea to dull my senses temporarily and simply kept Mr. Wooster company, watching over him lest his condition grow worse.

During the night my sleep was disturbed by the restless sounds of a troubled dream from Miss Barr's room. The walls seemed disconcertingly thin and this only fueled my concerns about sleeping in the same bed with Mr. Wooster. I would need to be more cautious about our conversations here. I did not at this point believe she would deliberately eavesdrop on us but discretion was always the better part of valor. I found it difficult to return to sleep after this.

When I woke the following morning, it was with Mr. Wooster's back pressed to my chest and my arm about his body. His arm covered mine, holding it against him as we were spooned together. I lay there for a very long time, knowing that at this juncture I was constrained to waiting for Miss Barr's friend to provide us with essential papers. There was a great deal to do, I knew, but there was an immense sense of weariness within me. There was so much I had to learn and, while I had always loved acquiring knowledge, the sheer mass of what I did not know about our situation and this time seemed overwhelming. I worried that I would not be able to assimilate enough of it swiftly enough to carry us forward. There were innumerable books to read, newspapers to be investigated and, I knew, I would also have to learn to use a computer in order to progress. Miss Barr, at least, had indicated her willingness to teach me what I needed to know in that realm.

This would be my task today, I decided. I had learned the use of the computerized library catalogue easily enough. I doubted that the other uses of computers would be any more difficult. I already knew how to type, of course, so the basic method of use would be quite simple. Miss Barr had made it sound like one could acquire many different kinds of information through the use of these machines without leaving one's sitting room so, if Mr. Wooster continued to insist on my immediate presence, I could still work on these quandaries without being away from him.

In truth, though I did not believe the sky would open again and snatch us up, I did feel more at ease when I was in Mr. Wooster's presence. This also made it easier for me to monitor his health, which was continuing to deteriorate. His breathing was rough this morning, even in his sleep. I hoped that he would be reasonable today and allow me to take him to a doctor, but Miss Barr had indicated that without identification papers this process would be extremely difficult. Everything would have been so much easier were we still in London. I was beginning to hate this American obsession with identity and documents. During the Great War I could understand taking such precautions, but Miss Barr would surely have mentioned if America were at war with anyone. If one had the money to pay for a physician, why could one not be summoned? At the very least, one should be able to enter a doctor's office without this kind of suspicion and inconvenience.

I would have found it a much more tolerable situation if I were the one falling ill. At least under those circumstances, Mr. Wooster would be well, and I would endure the conditions much more easily, for I had been ill and injured before. I pressed him close and he groaned quietly; I feared I had imposed painfully upon one of the bruises on his torso. The colors were becoming alarming, though I knew this was the normal course of such things and he had, thankfully, shown none of the signs of broken bones. He shifted restlessly and turned his face to me, opening his eyes.

"Jeeves." His voice was soft and gravelly.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to wake you."

He slid himself back slightly, moving more closely against my body. "No, it's all right, old thing. Waking like this is a dashed sight more pleasant than waking alone." He squeezed my arm for a moment. "I wish..." he whispered, and there was a plaintive tone of longing in his voice that tugged at my heart.

I rested my cheek against his, my heart pounding at his open admission of what was between us. "You know that's impossible," I whispered.

His eyes closed again. "I know, Jeeves, truly I do. It doesn't stop my wishing."

It could not stop my wishing either, though I could never voice that. It would only serve to make things more difficult. "How is your breathing this morning, sir?" I could hear a good part of my answer without his speaking a word, but I wished to ascertain his mood regarding his condition.

He drew in a cautious, guarded breath, not as deep as I knew he might under ordinary circumstances. I could feel him catch himself before a fit of coughing could ensue. "Just peachy, Jeeves. Never better." If he was going to lie to me, I would ensure that he would continue to rest today as much as he could in hopes that he would not aggravate the condition. "I'm achy and still tired, though," he admitted. "It's got to be earlier than this Wooster should ever put in an appearance."

"Sir," I said, hesitant. "I could, if you wish, offer a massage in the hope of easing some of your aches. Aspirin could also be forthcoming."

"I -- yes, Jeeves, I think that would be just the thing. Perhaps it would help me find my way back to the Land of Nod, do you think?"

I smiled at that. "Yes, sir, I do believe it might ease the road."

He nodded. "Well then, have at it, and don't spare the elbow grease."

"It will require a few moments to find some oil or lotion to make the massage smoother, sir." I found myself extremely reluctant to rise, but I would return with alacrity.

"Mmm-hmm," he hummed. Gently, I removed my arm and rose to examine the stores in the bathroom. I was fairly certain I had seen some lotion or skin cream there yesterday. Failing that, there was cooking oil that could be turned to the purpose.

Unable to find a sufficient quantity of lotion, I instead retrieved a small bowl of vegetable oil poured from the bottle in the kitchen and I returned with towels to spread beneath Mr. Wooster to avoid getting oil on the sheets. He was half asleep when I returned but awakened sufficiently to remove his pyjamas. I raised the blinds over the window to allow light into the room. It was dim and raining with some vigor, but it did provide enough light for me to see.

"Please lie on your back, sir." I would start there and finish with his back, the better to avoid potential embarrassment, or temptation. With a quiet, strained sound, he turned and lay flat, his head on the pillow.

"The Wooster corpus is in your hands," he murmured, and I warmed some of the oil in my palms before applying it to his nude body. The bruising had expanded somewhat as the discoloration had increased. I knew what to expect, having attended him in the bath for the past few days, but it was still distressing. I touched him as gently as I could while still being effective and he sighed with relief as I began to soothe his painful muscles. "That's lovely, old thing," he whispered as I worked.

As I had anticipated, he was slightly aroused by the time I asked him to turn and lie prone upon the bed. Neither of us said anything throughout the process. I was not unaffected by the situation myself, but it was incumbent upon me to maintain some semblance of professional distance. I could feel the heat of the bruises beneath his skin, warmer where the discoloration was most intense. It took all my willpower to focus only on my healing intent and not the sensuality of the act itself.

By the time I had finished with his torso and limbs, he was once again asleep, and this time some of the roughness in his breathing was eased as well. I carefully rubbed the oil from his skin with a towel, then removed the other towels laid beneath him, covering him gently with the bedclothes. I added an extra blanket to compensate for his nudity. Waking him to have him put his pyjamas back on would have been an act of cruelty that I could not perpetrate upon him. With one last soft caress to his cheek, I resigned myself to a cold shower to begin my day.

***

One would think that upon waking after a Jeevesian massage, Bertram would be the very picture of relaxed good nature. One would be wrong. Jeeves stood at the ready with the eggs and b., of course, slinging the tea tray before me, but that blasted headache still had not gone away. Rain was coming down outside with a mind to show Noah a few things about ark-floating and I was really in no mood for it. "Blast it, Jeeves," I said, "I'm desperate for a gasper. I've not had a proper smoke in what feels like forever and I'll have one after breakfast, spongy lungs or no!"

He stiffened into his stuffed frog stance. "I could not advise it, sir."

I waved my fork at him. "This will not do, Jeeves."

"I am sorry, sir, but between the rain--"

"Dash the rain, Jeeves!"

"Very good, sir," he souped in his soupiest voice.

"And while we're at it, dash Seattle! And dash bruises and spongy lungs and bally inconvenient holes in the firmament as well!" Jeeves regarded me with one eyebrow tilted about three degrees out of alignment, signifying a peevish amount of discontent on his part. I poked at the eggs and b. without being in a mood to actually eat the perishers. Eventually I gave it up as a bad idea and asked Jeeves to bung me into the bath. A craving had come upon me that would not be sated by anything other than an impassioned engagement with several Turkish cigs in their natural habitat and I would not wait.

Once clothed, I demanded my cigarette case from Jeeves and made for the balcony. Unfortunately, it was still coming down lions and dire wolves, seeing as cats and dogs would have been a vast understatement of the weather conditions. Jeeves's distant sheepy cough sounded as I stared out the glass door. "Might I suggest, sir, if you are going to insist upon this course of action, that you retire to the motorcar shelter beneath the flats."

"Right-ho," I said, and I meant it to sting. Jeeves followed me down the stairs and stood by as I leaned against Joan's car and opened the cigarette case. "Jeeves," I cried, "there's but one gasper here, withering on the whatsit thorn that grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness."

"Indeed, sir."

I plucked the gasper from its confines. "What's this 'indeed, sir'?" I demanded.

"Recently, sir, your unsuccessful attempts to enjoy your cigarettes resulted in the destruction of all but this one."

I leaned in as he lit it for me. "Well, I'm bally well having this one anyway." Unfortunately, the mutinous lungs gave out on me again and I coughed like drums in an echoing cavern. Woosters are, however, not to be trifled with, and I would not allow a mere bit of tobacco to raise its flag over me in victory. I leaned against that motorcar and smoked the entire bally thing, coughing and gasping and wheezing the whole way. Jeeves was not required to keep the corpus upright; Joan's car did a spiffing job of it and it didn't give me a snippy look like Jeeves was doing, either.

"That is the last one, sir," Jeeves noted, once again pointing out the obvious. "And, sir, we cannot purchase more until our identification papers arrive."

"Then I'll ask Joan to get some for me," I said. It would be simple enough. I had the money for it, after all, and although I was feeling a bit dizzy and the headache still knocked about within the Wooster onion, I did feel somewhat less in the rough than I had before gasper and lungs came to an accord.

"Perhaps, sir." He didn't sound particularly convinced. When he held out a hand to me, I let him take my elbow and help hoist the young master back up the stairs, still dry and in notably higher spirits.

"I could really go for another of those absolutely corking cups of coffee in a bit," I added, trying to ignore the delicate whisper of a wheeze at the edge of my breath.

"Of course, sir."

"Once the wet stuff stops coming down like the original deluge, mind."

"Naturally, sir."

Once again ensconced in the flat, I went to peruse the library whilst Jeeves biffed about, his wonders to perform. I had finished the Sherlock Holmes and tripped my way through a goodly number of those graphic novel thingummies and was eager to get cracking on something else. I avoided the shelf of obscene but tempting perversity and the tomes that no doubt encouraged the presence of legions of demonic shades simply by their existing. No sense in tempting fate, what? The complete works of Plato and Shakespeare were rather too improving for my taste. I saw that Jeeves had left a bookmark in some modern history thingummy; I would leave that to his fish-fed brain. No, Bertram required something that would refrain from aggravating a headache.

It was a pity that Joan's taste ran mostly to improving books and dead Greeks. There weren't many mysteries on her shelves, but I did find another Sherlock Holmes novel, this one written by some chappie other than Conan Doyle. It was titled 'Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Friend of Oscar Wilde.' A terribly scandalous thought, given what had happened to the poor unfortunate blighter, but entirely too fruity to pass up. I snapped it from the shelf with the eagerness of a hound for the hunt when it hears the horns of the Quorn or the Pytchley. Having thus secured my reading for the day, I popped into the sitting room and sprawled upon the settee with a pillow behind my head and my feet up on the arm, giving the old Wooster digits a wiggle. I would have sat in a rather more proper manner, but the tap dancing elves performing a sprightly 'Anvil Chorus' inside the skull were a bit much and I preferred to be in a slightly more recumbent posture for the nonce.

Jeeves was shimmering about, tidying up again, unable to resist the deeply rooted valetly impulse to at least neaten the piles of paper and books on Joan's desk, since she'd likely start into a serious bout of wailing and gnashing of teeth and possibly even breaking out the sackcloth and ashes should he actually try to file them again. I saw him giving a particularly exciting pink floral teacup in Joan's collection the same sort of soupy look usually reserved for fashionable neckwear or the occasional brightly colored cummerbund. I suspected a battle of wills with the p. f. porcelain might ensue at some point, but so far he was laying off with the feather duster.

When I opened the book to begin, Jeeves shimmered to my side. Rather than favoring me with a chastising glance for my breach of settee etiquette, he gently wafted a blanket over the Wooster corpus. "Are you comfortable, sir?"

I nodded and waved him off with one hand. "Never better." I must admit the blanket was just the perfect touch. The only thing lacking was some aspirin. "Thank you, Jeeves." He bent down to unlace the shod feet and gently tugged off the brogues.

"It would be best, sir, if you were not wearing your shoes with your feet in this position."

"Right-ho, old thing."

He biffed off again, only to return a moment later with a glass of water and a brace of aspirin tablets. "I thought you might appreciate these, sir."

I reached out, wondering yet again how he'd read my mind. "The old lemon is taking a bit of a pounding today, Jeeves, thank you." He then set off to make the sitting room windows squeaky clean whilst I dug back into the mystery.

It seemed I had fallen asleep with the book because the next thing I knew, Joan and Jeeves were sitting at the computer thingummy and I was hearing nonsensical phrases like "Boolean search terms" and "URL" and "website" and "google", at which point I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be related to goggle or to ogle or to sounds infants make, or something entirely different. The 'Anvil Chorus' had subsided slightly, which I regarded as a blessing from above. It was still raining with a vengeance, though. At this point I was in the grip not only of a desire for one of those corking cups of coffee but also for another gasper. I sat up a bit and addressed the floor.

"Joan, old thing, it seems I'm out of gaspers. I'd be ever so grateful if you'd get whatever you need from Jeeves and pop down to get some more for me."

She turned her chair around and gave me a puzzled glance. "What's a gasper?"

"A cigarette, Miss Barr," Jeeves offered.

An auntly expression of disapproval blossomed on her dial. "You know, Bertie, it's not my place to tell you what to do with your own lungs, but I'm not going to be a party to your slow suicide by tobacco."

"Excuse me, what?" There was very little there in the way of making sense. "What are you talking about? The stuff's harmless."

Disapproval shifted to bemusement. "You mean you don't... wow, that must have been after you guys got dumped here." Jeeves looked almost as much at a loss as I felt. "There's a ton of medical studies showing tobacco as a primary cause of lung cancer. Other cancers are linked to it as well, and emphysema, and a bunch of other really nasty stuff. That shit'll kill you, Bertie."

Jeeves's eyes had widened a bit, registering a good deal of alarm. "Could that be why he has been coughing so, Miss Barr?" he asked, and I could hear the worry in his voice. It was unsettling to see him like this.

She shook her head. "No, I kind of doubt that's specifically tobacco-related, unless he was coughing like that before you guys got here. My guess is that's just from taking a header into the river." With that she looked back at me. "But it sure as hell won't be helping if you're coming down with a cold or something. Putting smoke in your lungs is just going to make it take longer for you to get better."

"But if I don't have one every so often, old fruit, I get rather testy. Not on purpose, mind you, but I can't help it."

"It's because of the nicotine," she said, a slight twinge of sympathy creeping in at the edges. "It's really addictive. Withdrawal symptoms are pretty nasty. It can be hard to quit."

"I'm already feeling rather rummy. Won't that just make things worse?"

Jeeves's sheep-on-a-hillside cough rose on the zephyr wind. "If what Miss Barr says is correct, sir, it might be for the best if we do not purchase more tobacco."

"I can show you some websites with stats and some nasty pics of diseased lungs, but I doubt you really want to see what you're doing to yourself quite that graphically."

The thought was a bit horrifying. Mangled organs? It sounded distinctly like a Stilton Cheesewrightian threat, like broken spines and whatnot. I most certainly did not want to see internal organs, especially not after that movie we'd seen the other day. I was still having bad dreams from it. The bally things should stay internal. "Ah, no, you're quite right there. I do believe I'll pass."

Joan nodded. "No worries. You doing okay otherwise?"

"The lark is on the wing and the snail on the thorn--" And if the snail were not suddenly coughing its lungs onto the settee, I'm sure the statement would have had more veraci-something. Jeeves was by my side instantly, by some valet magic that allowed him to be there without crossing the intervening space. He knelt on one knee beside me, his hand on my shoulder as he sirred me, which I would have appreciated much more thoroughly had my world not just narrowed to aching lungs and spinning head.

By the time I was lying back on the settee gasping like a beached flounder, Joan was next to Jeeves with a little plastic cup of something dark green and noxious-looking. "Here, Bertie. Drink this. It tastes awful, so just knock it back and get it over with. It should help some." I took the thing from her and did as she said, Jeeves looking on with alarm clearly registering in the slight crinkle of his noble brow. She was quite right; the stuff was sharper than a serpent's tooth and likely twice as venomous.

"Good Lord," I gasped. If I hadn't already been reclining on the settee, I'd have been nose-down on the carpet in a trice, like Tuppy on a spree at the Drones. She took the little cup and handed me a glass of water.

"This should help clear up the taste a little." I went at it like the Ancient Mariner, with his shrinking boards and albatross. "If you're getting a cold, that should help kick it." She took the empty glass when I handed it to her.

"That stuff tastes like bally murder!"

Joan just nodded. "I know. It'll probably make you drowsy but I suspect you need that right now."

"What I need is a corking mystery," I squeaked manfully, waving the book at her. I still hadn't got my normal voice back after the shock to the system. Jeeves's eyebrows went up when he caught a glimpse of the title but he didn't express his obvious disapproval.

"Sir, would you be more comfortable in bed?" Jeeves looked like he wanted to bung me between the sheets right then and there.

I replied with a firm shake of the Wooster onion. Unfortunately, this resulted in additional dizziness with a bit of breathless wheezing as a decorative but not particularly palatable side-dish. Moving was not on my agenda. "I'm fine here, Jeeves, really. I'll just read for a bit, what?" I took his hand, which had been resting briefly on my chest, and gave it a quick application of the digits to reassure him. I can't say the reassurance worked, as the soupiness remained on the Jeevesian dial.

"If you should need assistance with anything, sir," he murmured.

"Of course. Thank you, old thing." And with that, he rose and shimmered back over to the desk. I think I managed to read through another whole page before Morpheus tackled me by the ankles and dragged me down.

***

It did not take long for Mr. Wooster to fall asleep under the influence of the medication Miss Barr had administered. "I am growing quite concerned about him, Miss Barr." I had never seen him in this condition before. She sighed and nodded.

"It's probably a cold, but I really don't know. If he's not getting better at all in the next day or so, or if he starts developing a fever, then we'll have to make a contingency plan. For now, he's coughing a lot but he seems to be breathing okay. I'll admit I don't like the sound of that wheeze he's getting, though." She appeared troubled by the situation just as I was.

"I take it there is nothing further that could be done at the moment?" My inability to act in a concrete and constructive fashion frustrated me immensely.

"I wish we could take him to a doctor, but we can't. Sleep's the best thing for him right now. When he wakes up we should get something hot into him, though."

I nodded my agreement. "He did not eat his breakfast this morning, Miss Barr."

She glanced back over at Mr. Wooster. "Poor kid," she murmured. At that, she looked back up at me. "You hanging in there?"

While I had not heard the phrase before, its meaning was obvious enough. "There is no need to ask after me, miss." In truth, when I was in Mr. Wooster's company, it was a rare thing for anyone to even acknowledge my presence, much less ask after me, unless my expertise was needed. Miss Barr had done so quite deliberately on a number of occasions and I was finding this somewhat disconcerting.

"Why not?" She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, one ankle on the opposite knee in a very masculine gesture. "Because you're his... his servant?" She said the word with a hint of mixed confusion and distaste. "I can't treat you like you're not even here. I mean, I could understand if it was some kink thing, but it just seems so weird that you're always redirecting everything toward him."

I did not know what she meant by 'some kink thing' and was not certain I wished to ask. "A valet should always be in the background, Miss Barr. If I am performing my job properly, I should be unnoticed unless my presence is necessary."

"Pesky ninjas," she said, chuckling for a moment. Then her demeanor turned serious again. "Why would you want to do a job like that, Jeeves? You've got brains enough to fill the Grand Canyon, from what I can tell. It just seems like such a waste, following somebody around who apparently can't even make toast without help."

I would not stand to see Mr. Wooster slighted. "He is considerably more competent than the vast majority of his friends," I began.

She raised a hand as she interrupted. "And see? You're doing it again -- back to Bertie as a diversionary tactic. I'm not trying to diss him, okay? I'm just talking about you."

I sat silent for a long moment. "Why does it matter?" I finally asked, my eyes resting on Mr. Wooster's sleeping form.

Miss Barr gave me a long, searching look. "I have two total strangers under my roof, Jeeves, and that's a problem. Hell, it might not even be safe. You guys seem okay, but what do I really know about you? You're from England, you were wandering around one day in 1924 and you fell out of the sky here. Bertie used to have a lot of money and now he doesn't and he hasn't got the first clue about what to do to get by."

"I shall continue to see to him, Miss Barr," I replied sternly. Her desire to understand us was fathomable, at least, and her concern for her own safety was natural. Two strange men residing in an unrelated single woman's flat would have been questionable, if not entirely scandalous, back in our London.

"You care about him a lot, don't you?" It was said with great sympathy, but I feared she was coming too close to the truth.

"He has always been very kind to me. I... I consider him my friend as much as my employer." Every word was true. It revealed nothing. She nodded.

"But why pick being a valet instead of something more on your level?" She seemed genuinely puzzled and I was uncertain that I could explain in a way that she would understand. The chasm of time and culture between us gaped like an abyss that I did not know how to surmount.

"I was raised below stairs," I said, finally. "My ambitions, however, were for something less constraining despite my status as a servant. In making this choice, I was able to travel, I could choose whom I would serve, and I would answer only to my master, not to any other household staff. That degree of freedom is not ordinarily available to individuals of my social class."

She thought about this and I could see her turning it about in her mind. "I grew up as a Navy brat," she said. "We moved around all the time, wherever the Navy sent us, never really spent more than a couple of years in any one place. Then my dad retired to this miserable small town in the middle of nowhere, filled with small-minded people whose families had been there since before the revolution. I hated it." She sighed. "So, when I was old enough that my parents could sign the papers, I went into the Navy myself. It wasn't that I wanted to be in the military, but all the men in my family had served for generations. It was the only way I could see to get out of there. It was the only thing I knew." She paused, a pained expression on her face. "It was a horrible mistake, but at least it got me out of that podunk shithole." Looking up at me, she said, "I guess I can understand you wanting to get out; to have a little control over your own life after growing up like that."

"You... were in the military, Miss Barr?" I had known a few women who served in the Great War, but it was a rarity.

"Yeah. Messed me up something fierce, but I lived through it. I guess that's really all that matters, eh?" She shrugged dismissively. She had mentioned in passing being a veteran, being on a pension, but I had given it little thought, considering that it had very likely meant something different. The swift change in my perspective was striking. Of all the things I might have had in common with her, military service was the last thing I would have expected.

"I fought in the Great War," I said.

Miss Barr nodded. "I wondered. You seemed about the right age. Some of my relatives did. It must have been horrific."

"It was." Some memories were far better left buried.

"I take it Bertie didn't." She raised an eyebrow.

"No, miss; thankfully, he was too young at the time." It was a blessing. We had lost so many young men in those years, the better part of a whole generation, and he is far too blithe a spirit for me to believe he would have survived the war intact. My curiosity had got the better of my discretion now, though. "Did you serve during a war, Miss Barr?"

She shook her head. "Yes and no. I was in between Viet Nam and the Gulf Wars. We called it the Cold War because nobody was actually shooting for the most part. The US and the Soviet Union were staring each other down over a pile of nuclear weapons that could snuff everything on the planet. Brinksmanship at its finest." There was a sharp, angry sarcasm in her words. She shuddered, a haunted, faraway look suddenly in her eyes, not unlike that thousand-yard stare I'd seen in the men I'd known who suffered from shell shock. Many of them had never been the same after they returned home from the trenches. I wondered what she had seen, what she had done. I did not know what a nuclear weapon was, but the phrase 'snuff everything on the planet' sent a spike of ice down my spine. "My brother's still in. Thankfully he's not in any of the war zones."

"America is at war?" I had not seen any indication on the streets. There should have been recruitment posters; there should have been men in uniform; there should have been some sign of the privations a nation suffered when it was at war; there should have been any number of the things I saw in England after the Great War began. Instead, all I had seen was an indecipherable chaos and an appearance of savage and disillusioned bohemian decadence.

"Afghanistan and Iraq. I think Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire then, yes?"

"Until the Armistice." I had been lying in a hospital bed that day.

"Hm. Okay. I'm not as up on early twentieth century history as I should be, I'm afraid." She sighed again, still looking unsettled. "It's all a huge mess. If you had to fall into some other time, you really picked a screwed one. Wish I had better news for you than that."

"I should not have wished to be removed from my own time, but I did not have a choice."

"At least you missed World War Two."

My breath caught. "There was another?" The thought was mind-numbing. The war in which I fought was supposed to end all wars. It seemed, however, that human nature was immutable. I wondered how my beloved England had fared in that conflict, what life was like there now.

"Yeah. It was even uglier than the first one." She uncrossed her legs and stood abruptly. "I need some tea. You want some?"

I nodded, overcome by the idea that anything could have been uglier than what I had seen. "Yes, please," I murmured. Miss Barr had left so much unsaid; there were vast catacombs beneath her words and that look in her eyes.

"Sorry, Jeeves," she said softly as she put the kettle on. Her hands were shaking as she set it on the burner. "I didn't mean to dredge up any bad memories for you."

"I will admit, miss, that I am feeling somewhat out of my depth." It was a difficult admission, but this was a difficult conversation and she had offered a good deal of insight, even in the little she said. She deserved some fragment of the truth from me.

"You'll want to take this whole thing in tiny bits, my friend. Everyone you're going to meet here is living in the shadow of that past, and it's immense. It's left its mark, and it's bigger and more horrifying than you can possibly imagine. I think we're all just a little insane anymore." I considered her words carefully, despite the gnawing fear they left within me. "We've done some incredible things, Jeeves, miraculous things, and sometimes it's like living in a myth, but we've also made some terrible mistakes. All I can really say beyond that is, we're trying." She looked back at me from the kitchen. "You're going to learn some things you'd really rather not know, and I know you're going to want to protect Bertie from it, but you can't. He hasn't got enough money now to keep him safe and insulated from it like he used to be. He's going to have to learn to swim with the rest of us and the best thing you can do for him is help him learn to do that." She smiled a little. "On the other hand, I suspect he's going to love the technology and the toys. He seemed really into the idea of carrying music in his pocket." The smile broadened into a grin. "And I know a lot of musicians. Once we get you guys your ID, we can go to some live shows and he can have some fun there."

"Mr. Wooster is an accomplished musician himself," I offered. "He has a fine light baritone voice and is an excellent pianist."

This seemed to interest her a great deal. "Hey, maybe there's something he can do after all. Bands are always looking for good keyboards." She pulled mugs down from the cabinet. "Vocalists are a dime a dozen. Everybody and their brother is a vocalist and they usually want to front for the band. A good keyboard artist, though? Much better prospects there. And most small-time bands play under the table anyway, so documentation isn't as much of an issue."

I had extremely mixed feelings about the idea of Mr. Wooster performing in a band. I had socialized with musicians in New York and knew the life was often a difficult one, but I also knew Mr. Wooster was quite talented and that it was unlikely I could support both of us under our current circumstances. Our situation would necessitate some very painful changes in both of our lives. Miss Barr poured the tea and I went to the table rather than allowing her to bring the tea to her desk; some standards did have to be maintained.

"Are you a musician yourself, Miss Barr? I noted the guitar and the percussion instruments."

A shadow passed over her eyes as she sat with me. "Used to be. I can't anymore; my arms and hands hurt too much to play. I can still sing, though, thankfully. I used to do some performance stuff, played with friends at the Folklife festival and such. I really loved it."

"Forgive me, miss, I did not mean to touch upon painful memories."

She poured cream into her mug and held it between her palms. "It's okay. You? Anything musical?"

I fought back a smile. "Mr. Wooster has occasionally insisted that I accompany him for four-hand compositions."

"Did you enjoy it?" Her eyes sparkled with suppressed humor.

With a quick glance back at Mr. Wooster, I nodded. "I think he enjoyed it more."

"That must have been something to see." She smiled and sipped her tea. I thought of the joy I had seen in him when we had played together, our bodies close on the bench, arms brushing as we moved.

"It was quite satisfactory."

"I hope I'll have a chance to hear you guys play."

There was no chance of that. Miss Barr did not possess a piano. "It is unlikely under the current circumstances, miss." I found myself longing for that small piece of familiar happiness. Things that had once seemed miniscule and unimportant now left aching empty places within me. With each passing hour it seemed that my life became more disjointed. I gazed back at Mr. Wooster's sleeping form again, sipping my own tea from the thick coffee mug. Somehow, it did not taste quite right when it was not served in a proper china cup.

"He'll be okay," she said gently. I hoped she was correct.

***

I woke to the sound of some chappie playing piano and singing about poisoning pigeons. The lyrics were disturbing but really quite funny and I didn't think Jeeves would particularly approve of it, but it was a corking tune and I thought I might learn it anyway. When I opened the baby blues, Joan was hunched over a sprawl of open books on her desk making notes and flipping pages, though Jeeves was nowhere to be seen. I was feeling rather less knackered than I had been previously, but that insidious craving for a gasper was upon me again and there wasn't a single one to be had. One of those corking coffee thingummies would make the Wooster heart raise its voice as a choir of angels though, and that seemed singularly possible.

The sky had not seen fit to clear up any, though the rain was less cats and dogs and more of kittens and pups at the mo. The Wooster lemon was still twingeing a bit and it was just easier to keep lying there staring out at the afternoon's drizzly demise than to get up. I listened to more of Joan's music, which leaped about between different types of songs and tunes like an excitable kangaroo with its feet on fire. I had no idea what to expect and the contrasts left me reeling a bit. I'm not sure how long I lay there listening before the mystery of the missing Jeeves came up foremost. I thought he might be in the library; without his usual lair to retreat to, he must have been feeling a need for some privacy. We were a bit cheek by jowl here, after all, and that wasn't something he ever seemed to care for. I know my man well, but he has always kept most of his life to himself, like that poet johnny with his self-sufficing power of solitude thingummy. Aside from improving books and fishing, I wasn't certain what he did when he wasn't shimmering about the flat cleaning and keeping me out of the soup. That is to say, I was missing Jeeves like billy-o and so I put the pins beneath me and rose up from my pallet to go find him.

Joan flicked a quick glance at me and nodded but was back to her books without a word. I nearly tripped on my shoes where Jeeves had left them so, rather than leave them as a sand trap on the back nine, I bunged the feet back into them and ankled to the library. The door was half-closed, so I poked the snout around it and saw that Jeeves was reading, togged out in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. It was a rather pleasing sight. The man really is something that Michaelangelo bird would have liked to immortalize in marble, crooked nose and all.

"What ho, Jeeves? Would you mind if I bung the Wooster corpus onto the bed there with you, old thing?" He looked a bit frayed about the edges until I spoke, at which point the stuffed frog facade popped onto his dial and he looked up at me.

"Of course, sir." He put a bookmark in the weighty tome he'd been perusing and set it aside as I entered.

"I didn't want to be a bother if you wanted to be alone," I told him.

He shook his head. "How are you feeling, sir?" There was a hint of soupiness in his voice.

"Oh, topping. That vile green whatsit Joan gave me really helped." It had, but not as much as I was telling him. No need to worry the fish-fed marvel, after all. I slapped myself down on the duvet next to my man. "I'm in desperate need of a gasper, Jeeves, just desperate."

"Unfortunately, Miss Barr has declined to purchase any for you, sir. Perhaps a caffe latte might be to your taste?" There was a tone in the normally-dulcet Jeevesian voice which suggested quite strongly that said gaspers would not be forthcoming and, perhaps, the young master might like to go boil his head. I think the blue-haired beazel's comments about tobacco being unhealthy had lodged in that great brain and scrambled it a bit.

"Jeeves, has that blue-haired beazel scrambled your brain a bit regarding gaspers?" I asked sharply.

"No, sir. It is merely that we cannot presently purchase them for ourselves and Miss Barr seems disinclined to waver in her stance on the matter."

"Firm as a fortress from which the enemy pours down hot oil upon the heads of the besiegers?"

"Quite, sir."

I sighed unhappily. "Ah well. I suppose in that case, a cup of the caffeinated elixir would be just the thing." I looked down at his hands, folded in his lap. "I must say, Jeeves you're looking a bit of not-all-right. What is it that weighs upon your brow? Perhaps sharing your burden with Bertram might help send a gentle waft of fresh air through the old cranium, what?"

"It is nothing of import, sir. I shall be better directly."

I didn't believe him, of course, but one doesn't challenge one's valet when he's in quite that state. "Right ho. Is that the improving book you've been at?"

"Indeed, sir." He looked at the book where it lay next to him on the bed, then up at me. "Did you wish to venture out to procure your caffe latte now, or at some point in the near future?"

"Well, the rain's let up a bit, so we might as well ankle out before Noah decides to build an ark, what?" I smiled at him, hoping the change of scenery might do him a bit of good.

"Very good, sir." He rose from the bed and took up his jacket. I was still having a bit of a hard time with how informal he looked; it just didn't seem very Jeevesian if you know what I mean. He was dashing and proper as ever, but the lines of his suit were a bit wrong and his hair was still rather fluffier than I was used to. It looked all soft and a bit in his eyes instead of shiny, and lent a bit of the waif-like and dreamy to his appearance, leading me to inappropriate thoughts about running my fingers through it. I popped up after him and Jeeves procured our coats from the closet.

"Do you think Joan might have an umbrella, old thing?" I hadn't yet seen one.

"I do not know, sir. I shall ask her."

"Oh, jolly good." He shimmered out of the library and into the sitting room, where Joan was still sitting at her desk, though she was staring out the window now in thoughtful mien.

Jeeves coughed gently as a lamb on a distant hillside, just loud enough to be heard over the music, and Joan startled a bit. "Hm? Oh, sorry. Hey guys."

"Miss Barr, we were going out to procure a caffe latte for Mr. Wooster. Do you have an umbrella, by chance?"

She shook her head. "No, don't think so. Most folks around here don't use them unless it's coming down buckets. That's what hats are for."

Jeeves's demeanor fell a molecule or so. "I see."

"You guys mind some company? I need to get away from the desk for a bit and wanted to wander over to Travelers for a chai. I can introduce you around to some of my friends who usually hang out there and, if you really want, you can pick up an umbrella on the way. They do have them in the stores." She gave me a hopeful glance.

"Chai; isn't that the spicy Indian stuff we had, Jeeves? Not the curry, the tea, I mean."

"Indeed, sir. Chai is a traditional mix of spices and herbs believed to encourage good health in the imbiber."

"Godlike stuff," Joan said, smiling. "Best in town, even. Good for what ails you."

"Well then," I replied, "that sounds like just the thing. I can have a caffe latte later, I suppose." Given that I was feeling a bit ailing, it seemed very much what I needed. Jeeves looked a bit uncertain, but Joan knew where and what things were, and we did need a native guide. One can't simply hire a Sherpa to traverse the hills of Seattle, after all.

She got up and rummaged about in her closet, pulling out her battered olive green jacket and slipping the arms within, then topping the blue streak with her fisherman's cap. She dug a bit more and finally came forth with a small black bundle. "I have a folding umbrella," she said. "Somebody probably left it here. It should do." She handed it to Jeeves, who examined it as one might examine a particularly dangerous viper.

"This should prove satisfactory, Miss Barr," Jeeves said, after examining it.

"Don't open it until we get outside. It's bigger than it looks," she cautioned.

I stepped back a bit to remove myself from the potential region of impalement and followed Joan and Jeeves out into the hallway and down to the street. Jeeves opened the umbrella up and it did prove to be rather larger than one might expect from such a small package, popping up with a quite satisfying floompy sound. Everything seemed extraordinarily small these days. It would, however, provide just enough shelter from the storm for both Jeeves and myself if we stood close to one another. Joan simply stepped out into the rain and ankled along the sidewalk with her hands in her pockets as though she hadn't a care in the world. We trailed after her like ducklings in pursuit of their mother. She led us up to Broadway, where we'd had our rather shocking experience the other night, then off in the direction of the park.

After we'd been walking a bit, I began to notice that there were a great number of people on the street talking to themselves. It was like a colloquy at Colney Hatch, complete with hands waving in the air and silent other-halves-of-conversations to which we were not privy. Jeeves was quite pointedly trying not to stare but I'm afraid I didn't have quite the same amount of self-control. "Joan, old thing," I said softly, hoping no one would notice, "does Seattle have an overpopulation of loonies, by chance? Something in the water, perhaps, or just too much rain trickling into the ears and sprouting a crop of moss on the grey matter?"

She followed my glance to one young man who was shouting at an invisible companion, and burst out laughing. "No, Bertie, they're talking on the phone."

"The telephone? But none of them has anything in their hands!" I glanced around, not seeing a bally thing where one might expect even one of those tiny wireless phone thingummies.

Joan tapped her ear. "Wireless headsets. They connect to the phone so you don't need your hands. People use them when they're driving to minimize the attention drain." I took a much closer look and, after a few moments, saw that one young woman had a whatsit in her ear that was blinking every so often with a blue light.

"They can do that?" I asked, utterly astonished. Jeeves looked just as surprised. "I say. That's bally mar-" Unfortunately, at this juncture, the already put-upon lungs decided that the air was a bit dampish and not suitable for inhalation. Jeeves had a hand on my elbow in a flash and we paused somewhat abruptly in our voyage. Joan sidled up too, a hand on my other elbow.

"Sir, I really must insist that you see a doctor." There was worry in his voice, but I shook my head and waved a hand while I tried to catch my breath through the coughing.

"No, no. Absolutely not. It'll pass, Jeeves." He fixed upon me a stern and withering gaze, which I resolutely ignored, largely because I was busy being a bit dizzy. It was annoying, certainly, but this Wooster was not about to let a thing like mere soupy lungs and a splash of lost equilibrium defeat him. Jeeves and Joan exchanged a meaning-filled glance and then turned their eyes on me. The sudden air of superior minds in conspiracy unsettled me a bit.

Joan rubbed a reassuring hand up my arm to my shoulder, gave it a bit of a squeeze, and let go. "Come on, Bertie. You'll feel a little better once we're inside, and the chai will warm you right up. It's nice and cozy there, and the lunch crowd will be long gone, so we'll be able to grab a table."

Jeeves hovered over me as we walked, closer than the umbrella would have suggested. I hoped no one would think anything of it. The warmth of his shoulder brushing against mine was worth the risk, but it did leave me a little uneasy for both our sakes. At least the umbrella was small enough that it might be some small bit of a defense.

Joan had been quite correct when she said most people here didn't use umbrellas. Almost everyone had some sort of topper pushed down over the brow, carrying on as though nothing at all was falling from the sky. Some weren't even wearing hats at all. It rained rather a bit in the old metrop, but we all carried umbrellas like civilized men and this state of affairs was something of a puzzle.

The walk to this Travelers place took about fifteen minutes. I took the opportunity to observe the local wildlife in the light of something resembling day, though it was rather grey and dimmish. The sartorial chaos was actually quite fascinating, though I could see Jeeves flinch every so often when something particularly garish wandered by. There were people of every color and description on the streets, which was rather different than what I knew of London, or at least on the streets I had wandered regularly. Women walked alone here far more often than I was used to seeing; it was just another thing that kept my mind on how very different things were now.

I actually smelled the place before we turned into it. There was a waft of incense as Joan pointed out the entry. We were greeted with a cheery "Namaste!" from the chap behind the counter. He was tall and lanky, with long, grey hair tied back, wearing colorful Indian clothing, though he was obviously American.

"Afternoon, Gary," Joan said. "Got a couple of guests in from out of town. They need a chai."

"Well, I hope you're enjoying your visit," Gary said.

"This is Jeeves and Bertie," Joan continued. Jeeves looked a bit put out at being introduced before me. I'm sure it irritated his feudal spirit terribly. Joan seemed quite determined to tumble the walls of Jericho, as it were, though I found the whole issue rather curious. "Gary owns the place."

"Delighted, I'm sure," I said, offering a hand. Gary shook it like a proper gentleman, despite his odd appearance. I looked around while Joan ordered our drinks in an incomprehensible jargon not unlike that of the caffe latte stands. There were bags and jars and cans of food thingummies, presumably from India, and half a dozen tiny tables. What dominated the place, though, was a larger-than-life stone statue of some dancing Indian god and a big flat square surface in front of it covered with flowers laid out in colorful patterns. There were bronze statues and paintings and bottles of herbs and perfumes and packets of teas and racks of colorful clothing cheek by jowl everywhere, and there was odd, rather danceable music in some strange language playing. Several tables were occupied and one woman rose and hurried over to Joan, tootling out her name in a chummy manner.

"Oh, hey, Coral." They hugged, which seemed to be rather the thing around here instead of handshakes. "Bertie, Jeeves, this is Coral."

"The food-person?" I asked, for I was sure I remembered hearing her mentioned. She was tallish, or at least taller than Joan, with long, curly brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a great deal of purple, which caused Jeeves to blanch, and her undervest was printed with a painting of a large bear and some feathers. Like many of the other people I'd seen, she had more earrings in strange places than was strictly proper.

"The same," Joan agreed.

"Hi guys." Coral looked us up and down with a curious e. "Tourists, eh?"

"A little longer-term," Joan said. "They're staying at my place for a bit."

Chai was produced as they spoke, a bit of the ready changed hands, and Coral led us all to her small table, pulling up extra chairs so that the four of us sat closely in a space that was almost-too-small. It left Jeeves and I with our knees bumping under the table, a state of affairs that I didn't find at all disagreeable. He sat quite stiffly, still not comfortable with the idea of sharing a table with me in public. It was yet another violation of his feudal spirit and I worried that they might be coming rather too rapidly for him to adjust. Moving a mountain like Jeeves was known to take a bit of time. "Is the ceilidh still on for Saturday, then, if you've got company?" Coral asked.

"Oh, yeah, of course. The more, the merrier, you know?" Joan sipped at her chai. I sipped likewise and determined that she was quite right. This was topping stuff. Joan had mentioned this ceilidh thing before and I found myself rather looking forward to it. Feeling a bit of the chummy glow of impending jollity, I sat back and let the je ne sais whatsit of the place wash over me while Joan and Coral waggled the jaws. The place was warm and friendly, though quite different than anything I'd seen before. It wasn't quite a restaurant, nor was it a cafe, nor was it strictly an art gallery or a grocers, but some odd combination of the lot. People passed in and out, mixing at tables and sharing in conversation. Joan and Coral appeared to know quite a few of the denizens, and their society washed about us in a more comforting manner than I had expected. We were introduced to at least a dozen people, and not a one of the lot seemed to have a last name. None of them inquired after mine, either, though they seemed happy enough to talk to me and Jeeves.

I let my knee rest against Jeeves's under the table, glad to be that close with a good excuse. Even Jeeves let a tiny bit of the starch out of his posture as the conversation continued. Joan seemed quite expert at nudging the talk away from exactly where we'd come from and how long we were staying, as Coral's favored conversational topics appeared to involve food, handicrafts, gossip, and animal spirits of some sort. I didn't really understand the animal spirits bit, but Jeeves seemed a touch uneasy about it. Joan just breezed right along as though talk of hearing voices and seeing ghostly things was entirely normal. Their other friends chattered about music and politics and art and travel and books and any number of other improving things of which Jeeves normally approved. Rather than joining in, though, he seemed more interested in listening, and I could see that great brain working behind those dark blue e.s of his.

Before I knew it, we'd spent three hours there and I was starting to feel a bit like I'd sprung a leak amidships due to a slight misunderstanding with an iceberg. Jeeves noted the Wooster corpus's miniscule sag and coughed gently, as he was so often wont. "Miss Barr, I believe it might behoove us to remove back to your residence." He gave a subtle tilt of his head in my direction and Joan slipped the eyes up and down my frame.

"Yeah, I have writing to get back to," she said. "See you Saturday, Coral?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Coral opined. "I'll be by about two to help with the food."

Joan gave her a dose of the bright and cheery. "Awesome."

They tangled the arms about one another with a brace of girlish giggles and Joan commenced with a round of hugs for half the fraternity in attendance as we made our way to the door. "She's rather popular," I noted, watching the whole thing.

"Indeed, sir." I shook hands with the people we'd been introduced to that were still in situ, while Jeeves faded, silent, into the background as a valet will. He managed to leave the fray unassailed by the time we finally made it out the door, looking much like he'd escaped the notice of a large and famished pride of lions in search of a gazelle.

He maintained his sombre and rather stand-offish mien during the walk back and once again retired to the library when we arrived at the flat, hanging our coats. "Would you mind, sir, if I continued reading?"

"Well," I said, sitting on the bed and looking up at him, "I don't see why not. But our brief escape into the wild doesn't appear to have lifted the Jeevesian spirits very much. Your sang seems to have lost its froid, old thing. I am a bit concerned."

He remained standing, looking uncertain as to whether he should sit next to me. "It's unimportant, sir. There is no need to concern yourself," he said softly.

I reached up and took his hand, pulling him down to sit with me. "Tchah!" I said. "Jeeves, you have the look of that chappie who was named after the map-books, with the world all on your shoulders. If you can't unburden yourself to Bertram then who can you talk to?"

Rather than retreating behind the taxidermied amphibian mask as I expected, his face darkened a bit. "I know that you have the best of intentions, sir, but I fear that what weighs upon me is not a matter regarding which you could provide insight or answers."

I'm afraid I deflated a bit at that. "Some philosophical conun-thingummy? I know I'm not particularly useful for those sorts of things."

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose." He paused, just looking at me. I waited, his hand still and warm in mine. Finally, he spoke again, much more hesitant than I'd ever seen him. "There is just a great deal here that I am failing to comprehend, sir. It has been... difficult."

Well, I must say I was quite gobsmacked. Jeeves was rarely at a loss for anything in the fish-fed-brain department, and when he was, he never admitted it. "If it's about all this here and now stuff, Jeeves, why can't you just ask Joan? She seems to be a filly of rare good sense. I mean, she hasn't once suggested I marry any of her friends."

"I am never entirely certain what to say to her, sir," he confessed. I could see the admission had been hard for him and I proceeded along the narrow, winding path from concerned to genuinely worried. My man has never been at a loss for the right words and that he would say so meant that he was far more frayed than I'd realized. I gave his hand a quick press 'twixt the Wooster fingers. His brow wrinkled. "I shouldn't burden you with this, sir," he murmured.

"I think you should, old fruit. If things keep fizzing up there and you don't talk to me and you can't talk to Joan, I'm afraid you might go off like a champagne cork."

"I shall be better directly, sir."

I settled a sharp look upon my man. "You said that this afternoon. I haven't noticed any improvement, Jeeves." The stuffed frog expression returned with reinforcements and several bits of heavy artillery. "That look, Jeeves. It's extraordinarily soupy. I don't like it."

"No, sir." The frogginess remained, accompanied by a distinct starching of the spine.

"I mean to say, this worries me." I didn't get a response to that because the Wooster lungs rebelled again. Blasted things were getting extremely annoying, really, and the coughing brought back the dizziness and the headache like a band of avenging angels equipped with lances and pikes and a halberd or two. I got one of Jeeves's arms about my shoulders for my troubles, but by the time the coughing ceased, I was wheezing a bit and that had thoroughly knocked the stuffing out of Jeeves's frog face.

He laid me back on the bed, which was helpful, because I was quite sure I was about to drop on my own otherwise. "You need to rest, sir. I shall see if Miss Barr has more of the medication she provided for you earlier this afternoon."

I nodded and waved him away, still trying to catch my breath. Jeeves shimmered out and I heard a brief conversation, followed by Jeeves and Joan appearing at the bedside. "Are you sure he doesn't have a fever?" Joan asked as she handed me the little cup of bilious green horror. I downed it like a champ and chased it with the glass of water Jeeves offered. It still had the same bally kick.

"I do not believe so, Miss Barr." He sat next to me and placed a hand on my brow, gracing me with a piercing look. After a moment, he shook his head. "No, there does not appear to be any fever."

She held the little empty cup in one hand as she crossed her arms, regarding us both as one might regard a recalcitrant bit of plumbing. There was a dashed uncanny aura of auntness about her and I hoped it would lean Dahlia-ward. "I'm going to see if I can talk to Lissa. The sooner we get you boys some ID, the sooner we can get Bertie to a doctor."

"I would be most grateful, Miss Barr," Jeeves replied.

"I'm fine," I insisted, not wanting to worry Jeeves or put Joan to any trouble. She'd already held out longer than most of my friends and relations, who would have been standing with train schedules in hand, eager to see the back of me after a weekend of the Wooster presence. Even a half-witted, mentally negligible blighter like me knew when he'd got lucky.

Joan snorted, sounding rather like a thoroughbred at the starting gate. "Of course you are." I could almost hear the 'you lying blister' tacked onto the end of it. "I'll talk to her anyway. You, my dear, are going to stay here for the rest of the evening and sleep, and maybe we'll let you out for dinner if you've been cooperative." She affixed the statement to my chest with a dagger of a glare. I just nodded. It wouldn't do to send her careening into Aunt Agatha territory. When I ventured to gaze up at Jeeves, he looked equally steely. I could obviously expect no support from that traitorous quarter, even if I applied a sizeable dose of sorrowful countenance.

Once she had departed, closing the door behind her, I gathered enough nerve to speak. "Jeeves, does she seem at all aunt-ish to you?"

At that, his eyes lightened and one corner of his lips quirked up into a smile. "Occasionally, sir."

"Right-ho. Jolly good to know I'm not imagining things."

"She was, however, quite correct in insisting that you rest, sir. I would most emphatically recommend following that advice." There was an expression on the Jeevesian map suggesting he would brook no nonsense from me, not even the smallest stream or trickle. I was feeling considerably outnumbered at the mo.

"I don't suppose I could be bunged into the bath before I have to don the sleepwear?"

"Of course, sir. I shall see to it directly." He brushed a stray lock of hair from my forehead with gentle fingers before he stood and shimmered off.

***

Between his coughing and the occasional disturbing dream, Mr. Wooster slept very restlessly that night. The next day he remained in tenacious denial regarding his condition. I continued to read the history book I had chosen from Miss Barr's library, attempting to understand what I was seeing, but from the very beginning of the tome there were references to individuals and incidents of which I had little or no knowledge. Names like Hitler, with which I had been only vaguely familiar and the more recognizable Stalin appeared several times, along with a political party called the Nazis. There were hints at terrible violence and horrifying crimes against humanity that were vague on a level that implied common knowledge on the widest scale.

Miss Barr had been astute in her advice to absorb these things in small pieces. Her own vagueness regarding these matters in light of what I had read was extremely unsettling and I now saw it as an absolute indication that she had been speaking of something unspeakable. I knew so little. She had also been quite correct that I did not want to burden my light-hearted gentleman -- my friend -- with this fragmentary knowledge I had gained. I could not talk to him and I was hesitant about talking to her due to the occasional unintentional misunderstandings that weighed upon us.

In the afternoon, while Mr. Wooster was watching another moving picture, Miss Barr departed to procure supplies for her ceilidh the next day and I set out to spend some of that time attempting to gain information using her computer. I began by searching for references to "Nazi" and within less than half an hour found myself completely overwhelmed by what I discovered. One link led to another and I became sickened, confused, and horrified. The unimaginable scale of deliberate civilian death inflicted by their regime dizzied me and left me at the brink of numbness. They numbered in the millions, though I had not dared to look at the actual death tolls. Even the outline of it was entirely too much to bear and I retreated silently to the library in a cold sweat, speechless, physically shaking, and barely able to breathe.

Miss Barr had said that the people of this new century lived under the shadow of the old and only now could I even begin to comprehend what that meant. Not even the horrors of the trenches and poison gas of the Great War compared to that pestilence that walketh in darkness I had just encountered, and I knew I had barely touched the surface of it.

I had only partly managed to compose myself when Mr. Wooster entered. "Jeeves?" he said. "I saw you trickle off a moment ago and..." He paused when he got closer. "Good Lord, Jeeves, you look positively pole-axed." He sat next to me before I could formulate a response and rested a hand on my knee. "And don't try to tell me this time that it's nothing and you'll be better directly because that's absolute rot."

"It is not nothing, sir," I finally replied, my voice far rougher than I would like, "but I fear I am as yet entirely unable to speak regarding the subject."

"Oh." He blinked, somewhat surprised by my admission. His fingers tightened on my knee. "Might biffing off to find a cup of caffe latte help banish the blighter from your mind?"

If it would distract Mr. Wooster from asking further questions and allow me time to struggle privately with my own reactions, I could find no objections. "Perhaps, sir."

"Well, then, let's ankle off!" He favored me with a brilliant smile that warmed some of the chill sunk into my bones.

We walked out into the light drizzle of the dim afternoon and made our way up to the latte stand where Mr. Wooster had purchased his coffee the last time, spending perhaps a half-hour at one of the tiny sheltered tables on the sidewalk watching the people passing by. Mr. Wooster chattered aimlessly about the films he had been viewing, occasionally interrupted by a mild coughing spell. I found it a comforting diversion from my thoughts.

As we returned to the flat, Mr. Wooster expressed a deep desire for a cigarette. "It's getting bally awful, Jeeves," he groaned. "I don't like feeling like a grizzly disturbed from its rightful winter slumber. Almost everything is dashed irritating and this interferes with the sunny Wooster disposish in a most disagreeable fashion." I could hear frustration growing in his voice and see it in the angle of his shoulders.

"There is little we can do at this juncture, sir, and even if we could, I would not advise it."

"It's that blasted coughing you don't like." His face pinched into a frown and he growled, "Dash it all."

Miss Barr had returned by the time we arrived and she greeted us with a rather fond-sounding, "Hey, guys."

"What ho, Joan?" Mr. Wooster still sounded somewhat out of sorts, but it was me that her eyes fell upon and she gave me a very strange look. I believe she wanted to inquire after me but I nodded politely and removed myself to the library with Mr. Wooster's coat and my own. I felt far too exposed when both Mr. Wooster and Miss Barr were able to discern my disturbed state with nothing more than a glance.

I heard a soft, short conversation between them as I collected myself and placed myself very firmly back into my role of valet. It was currently the only thing I could depend upon and I would not allow it to slip away. With one final, deep breath, I returned to the sitting room to join them. "Do you require any assistance in preparing for your entertainment tomorrow, Miss Barr?" She looked me up and down quite critically but appeared to decide not to pursue the questions obviously on her mind for the moment.

"Yeah, actually. That would be great. I have some prep to do so things will be ready when I get started tomorrow, and if we move the couches tonight, I won't have to worry about it first thing in the morning when I get up. I also have a stack of folding chairs down in one of the storage lockers in the parking lot." She reached into her pocket and produced her key ring, sorting one key from the others and handing the lot to me. "It's the one marked 3-B."

"Very good, miss." I excused myself and went below to bring up the furniture. The locker was approximately the size of a large wardrobe. There were a number of cardboard boxes within, stacked on a rack of shelves. Several bundles and a large backpack occupied the top shelf; I assumed it was camping gear. Ten folding chairs occupied a good bit of the remaining space, from about a foot inside along to the back wall. They were light enough that I was able to carry all of them up to the flat without needing to return below. Like the majority of Miss Barr's things, they would require some cleaning before they met the required standard.

The rest of the evening passed in productive quiet as Miss Barr and I dealt with preparatory work and Mr. Wooster hovered somewhat anxiously, watching the proceedings. He had, as so many of his peers, been raised in an extraordinarily sheltered environment and he had never actually observed the lives of the working class. He had never needed to concern himself with the activities of kitchen or laundry; for him, all that he needed appeared when it was required and vanished once it was not. It had been my duty to maintain that state of affairs in his life and so he regarded the proceedings with curiosity and a moderate amount of uncertainty.

Working in this manner allowed me to set aside the fearful things I had learned, at least temporarily. Miss Barr would glance at me from time to time with some concern in her demeanor, but blessedly refrained from asking me any questions. Our conversations were focused on the tasks at hand, from vacuuming the carpet to the necessity of folding up the bed in the library in the morning so that the space could be used for conversation by her guests.

I was not sure if I was more amused or appalled when Miss Barr set Mr. Wooster to dicing onions. He had volunteered, which surprised me, but I hoped perhaps he had taken some of her words to heart and was attempting to adjust to our circumstances. She was watchful enough to keep him from hurting himself, but his efforts ended with him shedding bitter tears from the onion fumes and attempting to rub his eyes without first washing his hands. It was at that point that she seated him quite firmly at the table and washed his eyes with a wet towel, much as a mother might deal with a recalcitrant toddler.

"That was dashed unpleasant, old thing," he said to her. "I had no idea this onion chopping wheeze was so bally dangerous."

She did take it with reasonable good humor, chuckling and shaking her head. "It's okay, Bertie. I probably should have started you with something a little less complicated, like getting the pinto beans soaking." I could not help but think with some fondness of the morning when Mr. Wooster attempted to make tea by consulting a housekeeping tome and created something of a disaster in the kitchen of our flat.

"What is it you're making, then?"

"Chili," she said. "It'll go in the slow-cooker overnight. Other stuff too, but that I can start tomorrow when Coral's here."

"How do you manage to keep all those different thingummies galloping in the same direction? I mean to say, it seems so complicated."

She smiled. "I learned to cook in self-defense, Bertie. Mom's cooking wasn't fit for human consumption. I got most of it from books." She pointed to the collection of recipe books on her kitchen bookshelf.

"I tried that once," he admitted, looking up at me sheepishly. "Tea turned out to be considerably more complicated than I'd thought." She laughed, and the tone of woe in his voice brought the hint of a smile back to my lips. He brightened at the sight and this cheered me considerably.

Our work in the kitchen evolved into preparations for dinner. This evening it was fried noodles with vegetables and the cube of the 'tofu' I had seen, cut into small slices. The substance had little flavor of its own, but apparently easily carried the flavors of condiments or sauces. Miss Barr marinated it briefly in a strong fermented soy sauce. Mr. Wooster was a bit disconcerted by the whole thing.

"I say, don't you ever have any, well, ordinary food? You know, the sort of thing one might find in London or New York?" His query was plaintive, though I do not believe he actually disliked what Miss Barr had prepared. I knew he had been out of sorts due to both his illness and his inability to have a cigarette. "I mean to say, I rather miss a bit of the usual."

"I thought London and New York were huge and cosmopolitan," Miss Barr replied. "What have we had here that you wouldn't find there?"

I still felt awkward joining them at table, but I did understand the nature Mr. Wooster's request. "Perhaps if you would allow me to prepare something over the next few days, Miss Barr," I suggested.

"Okay. I'm down with that." She tilted her head as she looked with me. "You're not going to do something with kidneys, are you?" she asked suspiciously, her eyes narrowing.

"No, miss, but I am well acquainted with Mr. Wooster's usual preferences and I believe that something familiar might be comforting at this juncture." Mr. Wooster nodded enthusiastically, then pressed his eyes closed and braced his forehead briefly in one hand, his elbow on the table. "Are you quite well, sir?" I asked, somewhat alarmed.

"Yes, yes, just a bit of the old room spinning about again. Nothing to worry about." He opened his eyes cautiously. "I think I'll trickle off to bed after this if you don't mind, though."

"Of course," Miss Barr replied, an expression of concern once again manifesting itself upon her countenance. "I talked to Lissa while I was out this afternoon. She'll see if she can have your docs by Sunday. Are you sure you'll be up for tomorrow, Bertie?"

"A Wooster has never quailed from an approaching festivity, Joan, old fruit. We do not shy from the revels but embrace them with fervent jollity. I'm quite looking forward to it, actually." He managed a smile, but I could see that it had taken some effort. I suspect Miss Barr also perceived this; there seemed to be very little that escaped her attention.

After dinner, I saw Mr. Wooster to bed. He was exhausted but again dismissed my concerns, insisting it was of no import. I resigned myself to hearing this from him until things had progressed to the point where he could no longer deny his condition. Upon turning out the lights, I returned to the kitchen to assist Miss Barr with the cleaning up.

"You mentioned that your friend might be able to procure our identification papers by Sunday, Miss Barr." I took over the cleaning of the dishes from her and she stepped away and sat at the table, apparently satisfied that my assistance was in some measure a return for her continued shelter.

Miss Barr nodded. "I didn't actually see her. I had to get her by text, so we couldn't discuss it openly. You never know who's listening in. I did tell her Bertie was getting worse and was going to need a doctor soon."

"I believe she was aware that he was ill when we spoke to her initially."

"She was, but I kind of emphasized the getting worse part." Her demeanor suggested this was not the only thing said.

"There was something else, no doubt."

She shifted uneasily in her seat, folding her hands on the table and looking away from me. "Nothing important."

"I believe otherwise, Miss Barr."

She considered for several moments before speaking again. "I had to grease the wheels a little," she admitted.

"You paid her, Miss Barr?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "You stated you had not seen her."

"Face to face isn't the only way to transfer money these days," she said, giving me the distinct impression she did not wish to reveal any more. I could not allow it to pass, however.

"Miss Barr, how much did you pay her?" I asked quietly.

She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, withdrawing considerably. "I'm not asking you to pay me back, Jeeves. You guys are in enough trouble as it is."

I forgot myself for a moment and stared at her openly. "Miss Barr--"

"No. Not talking about it. Consider it a selfish act on my part. The sooner you guys have ID, the sooner Bertie will get a doctor. That leads to you guys being able to find a job without having yet another thing to worry about, and getting out on your own again. I get my apartment back. It's an investment in my own privacy."

Having finished the dishes, I dried my hands and sat at the table with her. "I am not at all ungrateful, Miss Barr, but we must bear the responsibility for our own expenses."

"Doctors are expensive." She appeared unmoved by my argument. "If Bertie's just got a cold and he gets better within the week, we can worry about it then. I'm not so sure it's just a cold."

"Miss?"

"Besides, what kind of human being would I be if I put you two out on the street in the state you're in?" she said. "I just don't want to see you get hurt, okay? Is that a good enough reason for you?"

Chastened, I nodded. "You have already been far more generous than we have any right to expect."

"A lot of people have helped me over the years when I've needed it. I'm just passing it along. Maybe someday you'll do the same."

"Then please, Miss Barr, if you will not accept money from us, allow me to contribute more fully to the maintenance of your household while we reside with you. It is, after all, what I have spent my life doing. I dislike being idle and I have contributed very little so far."

"That's more than reasonable," she agreed. "People usually pitch in when they come to see me, and tomorrow the place is going to be full to the rafters most of the day and into the evening. It's a lot for me to coordinate myself. It would be nice to have somebody else help keep an eye on things."

"It seems like a great deal of work for one person, yet it sounds like you do this frequently." I understood the scale of the soiree, though the flat seemed quite small for such a thing.

She smiled, her attitude warming again. "Three or four times a year. I have a lot of friends and they're all talented, interesting people. It's fun to get a bunch of them together and introduce them to each other if they haven't met before. Most places these days, music comes from a box. People don't really talk about ideas and ideals much anymore, they just trade soundbites. Tomorrow, this place will be filled with people making music, having good conversations, and sharing food with each other. It's something really special to me, being able to share that with them, being able to share them with each other. You know what I mean?"

"I believe I do, Miss Barr." I had initially been somewhat skeptical regarding the situation, but hearing her speak of it, I could feel some of the emotion she attached to it. I had seen that she was intelligent and rational, if extremely vulgar at times. Such people tend to congregate with one another by preference. "It is as the Bard said, 'to business that we love we rise betime, and go to 't with delight.'"

"That would be the one," she said with a chuckle. "I only have one request for tomorrow," she added.

"And what is that, Miss Barr?"

"If you're going to help out, please don't hide behind the valet thing. It's okay to talk to people and not be invisible. I really think you could find some people you resonate with here. You guys need some friends."

Her turn of phrase was curious, but I quite understood the gist. "I shall do my best to, er, mingle, Miss Barr," I said. It was a skill I did possess, though I was uncertain of the exact social rules of Miss Barr's peers. It would take time to discern them so that I could negotiate the territory without committing any faux pas. "The hour, however, is growing late and I should retire for the night."

With a nod, she said, "Okay. Sleep well."

Mr. Wooster was already slumbering when I entered the room. He did not stir when I lay beside him, so I had some hope that he might have a less restless night. As for myself, my dreams dwelt in places tinged with dread.

***

When I woke to the scent of a savory chili and baking scones permeating the atmosphere, I could hear Miss Barr already moving about the flat; it was something of a surprise, as she had tended to agree more with Mr. Wooster's idea of times for rising than my own. I prepared for the day and joined her in the sitting room, where candles had been lit on the various surfaces she had designated altars. A light, woody incense was burning and the door to the balcony was slightly open, allowing for a change of air in the brightening room.

"Morning, Jeeves," she said, greeting me with a mug of tea, which she handed to me. "Did you sleep okay last night? You seemed kind of out of sorts." Her eyes were still only half-open, but she was of cheerful aspect and appeared to be very much looking forward to the day.

"I am well, Miss Barr, thank you." I sipped at the tea, not wishing yet to delve into the matter of yesterday's research. Were I to broach the subject today, I did not believe I would be fit company for anyone, much less able to assist with the ceilidh. "It appears that it will be a pleasant, sunny day."

Thankfully, she did not pursue her query but nodded. "Forecast says it should be sunny and warm until early evening at least. There won't be much of that left this year, so it's good to have the party on a day when we can take advantage of it. Folks can be out on the balcony and that'll give us a little more room in here too."

After I finished my tea, we both worked at cleaning and neatening the flat, taking up where we had left off the night before. Miss Barr left me to the majority of the flat while she dealt with her own bedchamber, changing the sheets and actually making the bed neatly. I found myself vaguely surprised that she was capable of it, though one would assume military training had instilled the skill at some point. Within two hours the entire place seemed to meet my required standards for hosting an entertainment and I found myself quite pleased with the results.

By this time, I was ready to prepare Mr. Wooster's breakfast as Miss Barr continued to deal with food preparation. Mr. Wooster was once again more tired and groggy than was his usual upon arising, and his breathing had more of a wheeze to it today than yesterday. Neither was he particularly hungry, though I did persuade him to eat something. It was a cause for concern, but I knew that it would not stop him from enjoying himself, nor would he listen if I suggested he rest today. He is a very sociable individual and thrives in the company of others. I knew that he would be likely to charm many of Miss Barr's friends, though I also knew he would not make much of an effort to follow the more intellectual conversations. He was quite aware of his limits in that regard and it did not seem to bother him overly much. I did anticipate he would be quite exhausted by the end of the day, however, and worried that it might push his condition into a marked deterioration.

When Mr. Wooster was finally ready to face the world, he asked to assist us, surprising me once again. Miss Barr set him to slicing cheese. It was a rather safer occupation than chopping onions had been and he managed to carry it out without mishap, though the slices were quite uneven. I opened several of the designated bottles of red wine to allow them time to breathe properly. Their origins ranged from Washington and California to Australia, none of them in the least familiar to me; the winery names were often tongue-in-cheek or quite absurd, making me doubt the vintages. I would give them each a chance to make an impression but I did not hold high hopes.

It was not long before Coral arrived bearing an ice chest and three bags of supplies including paper plates and plastic cups. I despaired of an entertainment where wine would be imbibed in such vessels and it deeply offended my sense of propriety, but Miss Barr simply did not have enough proper wineglasses, or even water glasses, to serve the number of people she anticipated. Coral marked cups with each of our names and noted that we should use these throughout the day to prevent an unnecessary waste of resources.

Cheeses and cut raw vegetables of many varieties were laid out upon the dining table and Miss Barr's cleared desktop. A number of dips and condiments were also provided. People began to arrive shortly thereafter, bringing instrument cases and gifts of food or drink for the assembled. They were greeted at the door with hugs or a kiss upon the cheek; I had found Miss Barr's propensity to touch people often and easily somewhat disconcerting, but this appeared to be the norm within her social group. It made me uneasy and I did not believe I could fit into this pattern without a great deal of work. I was not certain I wished to, truthfully. Mr. Wooster and I were introduced to everyone as they arrived, often by only a first name or a sobriquet. This was another factor I found discomfiting.

When Miss Barr had stated this would a ceilidh, I had expected the music to be the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland. I was quite surprised when the first song of the afternoon was the Latin Gaudete, performed a capella to a spritely tempo. Miss Barr joined in, full voiced, with the three who had begun the song; they stretched their voices in well-performed harmonies that bore little resemblance to anything I had ever heard in a church. Mr. Wooster, standing with me at the dining table as this occurred, leaned in and murmured, "I say, that's really quite topping!" His eyes were alight and I knew that he understood himself to be among others who loved music as he did.

Over the next few hours, I heard performances of sea chanties, satirical songs, traditional instrumentals, and vocals in at least half a dozen languages and from many historical periods. I recognized a surprising number of the compositions, though there was also much that was obviously modern. Miss Barr's percussion instruments were taken down from the walls and the tops of shelves and brought out of cabinets; there were a larger number than I had originally noted. Her guitar was also taken down and tuned, passed from hand to hand by those wishing to perform. Individuals joined in when they knew the words and, at several points, even Mr. Wooster was able to participate, though I could see he was breathless after he sang due to the wheezing that had become more pronounced as the afternoon wore on. I kept glasses filled with the wines that were, surprisingly, much better than I had anticipated, cleared away emptied and no-longer-needed paper plates, and attended to the comforts of Miss Barr's guests. Being able to act unconstrained in my familiar role was a great comfort to me after the trials of the last week. I found myself growing somewhat more comfortable in this strange new world into which I had fallen.

Miss Barr's friends seemed to encompass a wide variety of communities and age groups, from young people in their early twenties to grey-haired men and women in their fifties and, perhaps, older. Their manner of dress varied from a strange version of Victorian costume accompanied by odd anachronistic touches to people in informal and distressingly random rainbow-dyed tee-shirts and blue jeans. One young, exceedingly blond gentleman was dressed in a very well-made suit; his eyes were strikingly blue, like glacial ice. Of her guests, he was the most formally dressed. Her neighbors, a professor of English at the University who lived across the hall and two young men who occupied the downstairs flat, were also in attendance. Miss Barr noted that loud parties were often more easily accepted when those most likely to be affected by the noise were included in the festivities. It seemed quite prudent, and her neighbors did seem to be greatly enjoying themselves.

Conversation and wine flowed freely around me, not just in the sitting room but in the library and Miss Barr's bedchamber, where an ever-changing collection of individuals sprawled upon the bed for conversation and easy banter. While many of the conversations were seasoned with profanities as one might use salt at table, they were otherwise congenial, erudite, and wide-ranging. People occupied the settees and chairs, some sitting in the laps of friends or cross-legged on the floor, leaning against the legs of those behind them. Mr. Wooster was as surprised as I was at this bohemian and overly-familiar behavior, but found himself easily accepted by the group simply on the strength of being a guest under Miss Barr's roof, and I was delighted and greatly heartened to see him laughing and talking with a wide variety of individuals.

The musical performances we heard ranged from competent to extraordinary. One later arrival brought with him a piano keyboard, sans piano, which he plugged into a wall outlet and an audio amplifier. Mr. Wooster was extremely excited by this development and spent some twenty minutes with the young man, asking questions as the music flowed about them. I watched in delight as Mr. Wooster was allowed to play the unusual keyboard; it apparently had the capacity to produce the tones and timbres of many different instruments. Miss Barr explained that it, too, was a computer of a sort. After a bit of experimentation to familiarize himself with the instrument, Mr. Wooster chose to perform Handel's Largo "Ombra mai fù," which I had heard most recently in Miss Barr's musical collection, performed by the band she referred to as Dead Can Dance. As he played, his eyes closed and his lips curved in the barest hint of a smile. It was a very different choice than his usually preferred popular songs, but his rendition was striking, heartfelt, and beautiful; the conversation in the sitting room stilled as he played, leaving the group breathless with the final, fading notes.

There was a long, silent moment after the last note had vanished, then the assembly burst into applause and delighted exclamations. Mr. Wooster turned an eye to me and smiled, brilliant, for a fraction of a second before he returned his attention to the group. My heart stood still in my breast as I recovered from my astonishment. He knew that it was one of my favorite short pieces and his smile told me with certainty that he had played it for me. The warmth and regard that realization evoked was literally breathtaking. When I remembered where I was, Miss Barr was standing next to me, her shoulder pressed against my arm. "When you said he was good, I had no idea you meant he was that good," she said softly. "That was amazing." She smiled up at me, her face relaxed and more at ease than I had yet seen her. She placed a gentle hand on my elbow. "Jeeves, you've been on your feet for about four hours now. I've been keeping an eye on you, so don't try to tell me you haven't. Go take a break. Talk to people. Have something to eat and a glass of wine, and tell Bertie he's fabulous." Her grey eyes sparkled behind her spectacles as she patted my arm and took herself back into the ever-changing crowd of her guests.

***

I'd never seen a piano like the one young Taliesin brought with him; he wouldn't let me call him Tally, which was a pity, really. The whatsit had keys but there wasn't a bally piano attached to it. Once I got my hands on it, though, I was dashed excited. It was like nothing I could have imagined, even if I'd been about four too many sheets to the wind in an orchestra pit. After I'd played that Handel chappie's tune that Jeeves likes so much, everyone asked me to do a bit more, so I tickled the old ivories along with several of the tunes going about the room. Joan's friends were a corking crowd. Peculiar, the lot of them, but good eggs from what I could see. Though I was enjoying myself immensely, I did note Jeeves lurking about at the edge of the crowd with a cup of wine in his hand and an absolute glow on his countenance. He was looking happy and there was even a hint of the relaxed about him, and I felt a rather insistent need to take a few private moments with my man in this state. When I finished playing along with the fiddles and the stick thingummy somebody had called an electric cello, I excused myself and ankled over to Jeeves in order to bask a bit in his tall and solid presence.

"What ho, Jeeves, old fruit!" I hauled him by the elbow out to the balcony, which was devoid of birds and beazels at the moment. It had been in almost constant use since the party started and I was glad to get a moment alone with him under the clouds and stars.

He leaned against the wall and stood there, quiet as Gussie at the edge of a pond when casting about for newts. Jeeves looked dashed handsome. I stood in front of him, rather closer than I ought, though not actually leaning the Wooster corpus into his, and took in the look in his eyes. I would swear it was one of those soul's awakening thingummies, like I'd seen on Bingo Little's dial entirely too many times. I'd never seen anything like it on Jeeves's. "Sir," he said, his voice all low and breathy; it sent tingles from the ends of my hair down to the tips of the Wooster toes. "That... that was breathtaking."

Something in that voice set the entire corpus to vibrating, like I'd plugged my finger into a light socket and flipped the switch. It crackled in the air between us and I couldn't breathe. He reached up with his empty hand and touched my cheek, listing slightly in my direction, and suddenly Bertram's brain leapt up and howled in alarm, slapping me about the head with a cricket bat. "No," I whispered. I couldn't breathe enough to say it louder. "We can't."

His hand snapped back to his side in a flash, the moment and that bally gorgeous thingness in his eyes vanishing as though they had never been. There was a sudden cold lump in the pit of my stomach. He took a sharp breath and swallowed. "Forgive me, sir," he whispered back, nearly shaking. "The lapse was inexcusable."

"You know I--"

"I know." I hated the pain I heard in those two words. I'd have given anything, done anything at all, to kill that pain until it was dustier than Egyptian mummies and ten times as extinct. I hated the law. I hated that I was a gentleman and he was a valet despite that he was a hundred times the man I'd ever be, and that our stations in life and his feudal spirit were so damned inflexible. I hated that I could never have him, and it was eating me alive.

"I'm so bally sorry," I said miserably.

He closed his eyes and the back of his head thumped against the wall. "I know." He sighed and looked back at me. "We should return to the party, sir." I couldn't understand how he kept his voice so steady. My own voice's knees were knocking, or they would have been if voices had knees.

When we stepped back into the room, people were singing about how the great god Pan was alive. I wasn't entirely certain that I was. They bally well sounded like a great lot of happily Godless heathens and I wished for a moment I could be more like that myself. Maybe in a world like that, things would be different. Jeeves shimmered off toward the library and I spent more time in the sitting room, dashing back a couple of glasses of wine and listening to the music before I wandered off to see what was up in the back of the flat.

The door to Joan's room was mostly closed, but there was the smell of something odd burning in there and the sound of several voices. I tapped on the door and peeped in. "Hey, come on in. Close the door." A small blond chappie about my age, wearing a rather sharp suit, was sprawled on the bed with a couple of other young lads of similar willowy build, though possessed of somewhat less sartorial chic. They were passing a remarkably tiny pipe between them, taking a gasp and sending it along.

I dropped myself onto the bed next to them. "What's that?" I asked.

"Weed," the ginger-haired one said, letting a puff of smoke out slowly. "Want a hit?"

"Is that like tobacco?" I asked. They all laughed.

The blond one said, "No, but it's damned fine stuff all the same." He poked a paw Wooster-ward. "Harry," he said. "You look really familiar for some reason. Did we meet somewhere before the party?"

"Bertie," I answered, shaking the proffered hand, "and I don't really think that's possible."

The ginger one passed me the pipe and offered me a light. He had an odd stripe of ginger beard down the middle of his chin, but no other facial follicles, and it looked bally strange. Hoping whatever was in the pipe might ease the nagging craving I'd been having since the last of my gaspers, I took a cautious puff as the chap introduced himself. "Jeff," he said. I think he was one of Joan's downstairs neighbors, along with the dark-haired bird lying next to him. The smoke was rougher than tobacco and it set me coughing.

They all laughed again, but Harry thumped me on the back a few times to help settle the old air bags and the dark-haired bird handed me a cup of water. "I'm Dave," he said.

The water did help, and Jeff lit up the pipe again for me. I managed to actually deal with that one without losing a lung in the process. "You need to hold it in a little longer if you want to get high," Dave said. "Give it one more before you pass it along."

I did as he said, and held my breath for a bit while I handed the pipe to Harry. "You are a totally killer keyboardist, dude," Jeff said. "That Largo was awesome with awesomesauce. You play anywhere?" I started to get a little dizzy so I let the smoke trickle out the nose as I shook my head in a slow negative. "Well, you ought to," Jeff told me. Dave poured wine from a mostly-empty bottle into my cup and I tossed a bit of it back to soothe the burn in the throat. For all the wine Joan's friends were drinking, I wasn't seeing nearly as much lively debauchery as I'd come to expect among the Drones under similar circs. There may have been a touch of dancing in the sitting room, but there seemed to be very little passing out going on. Well, none at all so far, really.

"Thanks," I wheezed. "I thought Joan didn't want anyone smoking indoors?"

Harry nodded. The bloke's hair was so blond his eyelashes were almost invisible. He had the most peculiarly blue eyes I'd ever seen; they were quite captivating. "Yeah, that's just tobacco. Cannabis is illegal, so we do it in here to keep it quiet. She doesn't mind; she was in here toking up a little earlier." He pointed to the window, which was open a few inches and wafting most of the little bit of smoke outside by way of a tiny fan on the windowsill. "Mostly the city cops don't care. It's a really low priority. They pretty much have to trip over you smoking it these days before they'll haul you in, but you still really don't want to get caught."

I could still hear the music and laughter from the sitting room. "How long you been in Seattle?" Jeff asked.

"Er, about a week-ish," I said. It wasn't really something I could talk about. Anyone who heard the tale would think I was a looney. "Jeeves and I have been staying here with Joan. Quite the decent beazel."

They all gave me a rather oddish look, but let whatever it was pass. Harry, though, was giving me more of an odd look than the others. "You mean tall, dark, and imposing, in the suit?" he asked.

I nodded. "That would answer the general description, old thing."

He squinted as though he were trying to remember something. "I could swear I've seen you guys somewhere."

The pipe got passed around to me again and I took another gasp at it. This one was a little easier. "Well, we've been out on Broadway a couple of times, and Joan took us by some traveling place or other on Thursday. We did meet rather a few people, but I think I'd have remembered you." He was quite singularly striking.

"Eh, it'll come to me. You guys going to be around for a while?"

"I think so, rather."

Dave blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. "You one of Joan's pagan pals?"

I blinked. "Er, no. I'm not entirely sure what that is." There was more quiet chuckling. My head was starting to feel distinctly je ne sais whatsit. It was a bit like being drunk, but more like oozing into the mattress and dissolving about the edges. "I say, is this stuff supposed to make you feel like you're oozing into mattresses?"

There was more laughter and Jeff said, "I think you've had enough, honey."

"That would be a yes," Dave added.

"He's cute when he's stoned," Jeff chuckled, leaning over toward where I was currently oozing. "You think his boyfriend shares?"

The Wooster eyes snapped wide and the heart nearly expired. I started coughing and couldn't draw a bally breath to save my life. When it was finally over, I managed to squeak, "What?"

"Jeff just wants to know if you're available, sweetheart," Dave purred. It was a most disturbing sound.

"What? Wait! No!" I gasped, trying to stay quiet. "What are you--"

"Hey, hey, calm down! Nobody here bites without permission," Jeff said. He had a predatory smile on his face and I felt like a slab of prime rib being dangled in front of a lion who'd been on a reducing diet for three weeks or so.

"It's -- we're not--" Breathing was suddenly immensely more difficult and my head was spinning like a motorized top. How in bloody hell had they known? What had we done? It had to have been me. Jeeves would never have let a single hair out of place in public.

Jeff and Dave looked at one another, shook their heads in unison and looked back at me. The whole act rather reminded me of my cousins Claude and Eustace, if one of them had been a ginger. "Oh honey," Jeff chided, "do you really think nobody sees the way you guys look at each other?"

"For God's sake, don't tell anyone," I begged in a terrified whisper, and my hand fastened to his wrist tight enough that I could feel my knuckles creak.

"Back off, guys," Harry said, coming all over serious. He turned to me. "Why are you freaking out, Bertie?" he asked slowly. I let go of Jeff's wrist.

"Why -- Good Lord, aren't you afraid of the police?"

All of them had the strangest look on their faces. "What rock have you been hiding under your entire life, girlfriend?" Jeff asked, his voice terribly and unexpectedly gentle.

I stared back at them, trying to breathe, my heart thundering away like an entire blasted stable of racehorses. My mouth had gone dry as the whole bally Sahara, with parts of the Gobi bunged in, and quite possibly Death Valley as well. I leaned up from where I'd oozed and held out my cup for more wine. Harry poured it and I swallowed down the whole thing in one go. "Gibraltar, I expect," I answered, once I could speak again. I could hear myself wheezing. It hurt.

"You need an inhaler?" Dave asked.

"A what?"

"Do you have asthma? Your breathing doesn't sound too good." Dave's brow was wrinkled with concern. "I've got one if you need it."

I shook my head. "No, no. I'm not asthmatic. I had a rather nasty dunk in a river last week," I explained. "The old air bags haven't been quite the same since."

Harry took up the convo. "Bertie, I can't even imagine why you don't know this, but there aren't any cops lurking around the corners here. It's legal to be gay. Has been for years."

"Well, of course it's legal to be cheerful," I said, confused and still dizzy. "Don't be daft."

He blinked. "Gay," he said. "Queer, homosexual, of the Greek persuasion, a lover of other men."

I stared at him in complete, spine-jellying shock. They all stared back at me. "That can't be true." I shook my head. "That's just not possible." I had to be halluci-something. This couldn't possibly be real. The canni-whatsit had scrambled what few brain cells Bertram possessed.

The three of them put their heads together and conspired while I flopped onto my back and the head-spinning oozing-into-the-mattress process speeded up. Some rather indeterminate time later, Dave and Jeff departed and Harry sat with me, holding my hand and keeping me company while my brain leaked out my ears. "It's okay," he said. "I don't know what's going on here, but it's all okay."

Joan appeared at the door a moment later, entering and closing it behind her. "You all right, Bertie?" she asked, sitting next to me. I shook my head, feeling floaty and numb. She looked over at Harry.

"We need to talk," he said to her.

"Harry, dude, you got the poor kid stoned. I don't think he's ever even seen the stuff before." She sounded somewhat disappointed, though I wasn't sure if she was disappointed in me or in him.

"What's really going on here?" Harry asked, letting the Wooster digits slip from his own.

Joan gave him a long look. She petted my hair in a rather soothing way and I couldn't help but relax a bit. Then again, that may have been the dizziness. "You're probably the only person I know who would believe me if I told you, but not here and not now. If you want to talk about it, come back Monday and ask, okay?"

Harry nodded. "He didn't know."

"Doesn't surprise me in the least," she said. I wanted to say I was right here thank you very much but I couldn't quite form any words. I felt tighter than an entire flock of owls that had been soaked in a bathtub full of gin, splashed with vermouth, and topped with an olive. "Like I said, we'll talk later. Right now, I need to deal with Bertie. Why don't you get back to the party."

He gave her a look, as though he wanted to argue, but just handed her the little pipe. "Okay," he said. "Monday, though. I'll be by after work. I'm holding you to it."

"You got it. Get." He scarpered off and Joan looked down at me, her hand still moving in my hair. "Oh, Bertie," she sighed. "You two are such innocents. I didn't know, so I didn't say anything. I thought it was all that gentleman and valet thing you guys have going."

"Is it true?" I asked. My face felt numb. Number, maybe. I poked it with a finger. Definitely numb. Or perhaps it was my finger that was numb.

She nodded and smiled a little. "Yeah. Yeah, it's true."

"Well, bugger me sideways," I muttered, astonished. Bertram is not prone to using such language, particularly in the presence of a beazel, but this sitch seemed to call for it. She laughed and set the pipe on her side table.

"Come on, let's get you up here on the bed properly. I doubt you'll be able to move for a couple of hours at least, and you really are wheezing pretty badly. You should probably just get some sleep." She knelt behind me on the bed and tucked her hands under my arms to help me wiggle back into a properly restful posish. Once the Wooster onion was laid upon a pillow, she tugged off my shoes and dropped them at the foot of the bed. It was a dashed cozy bed, much nicer than the one in the library and quite a bit more roomy. A moment later, she loosened my tie and pulled it off, then opened the top button of my shirt. Nobody did that for me but Jeeves, and it felt entirely wrong to have anyone else's hands there.

"What about the party?" I asked.

Joan laughed, dropping my tie on the bedside table. "Oh, it'll keep going for a few hours yet. Things are kicking and everyone's having a good time. Even Jeeves is loosening up a little. You should see him. He's in the library talking history with a couple of medievalists, a blacksmith, and a professional dominatrix. Seems to be getting along really well, too."

I blinked up at her, owl-eyed. "Buh?"

That just made her laugh harder. "You are so adorable, dear." She dug into her closet, pulled out a blue paisley down comforter that I would ordinarily have found quite topping but which currently just left me queasy, and spread it over me. It was soft and warm and quite cloud-like on top of the willowy frame. "Go to sleep, Bertie." She leaned down and pecked me on the forehead in a fondly matronish manner. Rising from the bed, she rummaged about in her drawer for a moment, pulling out a pen and paper and a little roll of tape. She scribbled something on it, ripped off a small strip of the tape, and dropped the roll back in the drawer, along with the pen and pipe. "I have to see to my other guests. I'll be back later," she said. "You. Sleep."

"Right-ho," I murmured, thinking that might just be the ticket. I let the baby blues slip closed and heard Joan close the door behind her.

***

When Mr. Wooster said 'no' on the balcony, my mind snapped back and I damned myself a thousand times for a fool. I had never in my life come so close to losing control, and never in such a dangerous situation. Anyone could have seen us, from the street or by walking out onto the balcony with us.

We could not. We could never, and there were entirely too many reasons for it. I had forgotten myself and nearly condemned both of us. It was sleeping next to him every night that had weakened my resolve, I knew. The constant proximity, waking with our bodies tangled together every morning; it was agonizing to walk away, but we had no choice and both of us knew it. After the shocks of the past week, the beauty of Mr. Wooster's playing and the knowledge that it had been a gift to me had stolen my wits entirely.

I was utterly unworthy of him.

With the whole flat occupied, I locked myself into the bathroom for several minutes to regain my sanity. I barely recognized the face that looked back at me in the mirror; my eyes were wide and my face entirely too pale. There were darkening circles under my eyes from the stresses I had recently been subject to and my hair was in a distressing state of disarray that I could do little to remedy.

I ran cold water into the sink and leaned heavily on the counter, my head low and my shoulders bowed from the weight of misery in my heart. I had to regain my control. I had to find some way to isolate and contain the longing that was consuming me. It had been Mr. Wooster's instinct for self-preservation, usually not particularly strong, that had saved us tonight, not anything I had done. I was shamed and humbled by my weakness as I scrubbed cold water over my face with both hands.

Although I knew I could not eliminate the emotions that were wreaking such havoc within me, I could ruthlessly deny them expression. I had done so before and I could again for the remainder of the time we would be forced to share a bed under Miss Barr's roof. Once we had identities, once we were able to secure enough of an income to acquire shelter without assistance, I could have a room of my own again. I knew that if even that small separation were available, I could maintain my control, for I had done so in my service to Mr. Wooster for nearly three years now.

The cold water was bracing and I took several slow, deep breaths to focus my mind before I toweled my face dry. When I looked up again, I was far more composed and looked much more my usual self. It was not enough, but it would serve for the remainder of the evening so long as I was not in close contact with Mr. Wooster. I passed a damp comb through my hair to attempt to tame it once again, took a final deep breath, and returned to the festivities.

I could hear Mr. Wooster still in the sitting room, so I took myself into the library, where I found several individuals involved in a discussion of aspects of medieval European history and royal houses. This was a topic I knew well and had always found of interest. It was something in which I could easily lose myself for several hours if given the chance and I joined in the conversation with a will. I was very pleased to be welcomed and included; I found the discourse of one muscular young woman particularly fascinating, as she was a blacksmith and a student of medieval forging methods. She introduced herself as Alisande and said that she was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a concept that, once explained to me, I found unusual but intriguing.

Eventually I found myself relaxing and very much enjoying the company of these people. Two of them, Sandra and Rob, were academic medievalists. Sandra was writing a doctoral dissertation on sea monsters in the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, while Rob had completed his doctorate and was in search of an academic position. Abhisri was an exquisitely beautiful Indian woman with a powerful and extremely graceful presence, who sat upon the settee with a handsome young man at her feet as though she were royalty upon a throne. She offered commentary on what she referred to as the sexual politics of medieval Europe. This was a topic about which I knew little, but her knowledge seemed more than adequate if the discourse of the medievalists were a scale by which to judge.

The young man did not introduce himself and his participation in the conversation was minimal, though he listened intently. He addressed Abhisri as 'mistress' when he spoke to her, and procured drinks and tidbits for her at some silent signal between them. Her hand often rested in his hair, moving slowly and with a sensual fondness. I had a sudden realization that Miss Barr may have been referring to something of this nature when she had mentioned 'a kink thing' in one of our discussions of my relationship with Mr. Wooster and found myself profoundly unsettled at the frighteningly astute implication. I put it from my mind, choosing to approach it with the detachment that allowed a professional valet to ignore the indiscretions of his employer that would occasionally occur in his presence. It neither personally concerned me, nor did it appear to perturb any of the others in any way, therefore it was of no consequence.

I did not know how long I had been conversing with Miss Barr's friends before Miss Barr herself came to the door. She caught my eye and, with a motion of her head, signaled me to come with her. I assumed it had something to do with Mr. Wooster, or she would most likely have simply entered the room and joined the conversation herself, as she had at one point earlier in the evening. I hoped Mr. Wooster's health had not significantly worsened, though I feared it likely.

Entering the hallway, I noted that the crowd had thinned considerably. In consulting my watch, I saw that it was nearly ten-thirty in the evening, the stated time when things would begin to move toward closure. Miss Barr was bidding several people farewell as I awaited her attention.

"Yes, Miss Barr?" I asked, once she had seen them out the door.

"In here," she said, indicating the door to her room. A handwritten sign had been taped upon the closed door, reading Do Not Disturb.

"Is Mr. Wooster all right?" I asked. She opened the door and I followed her inside to find Mr. Wooster asleep on her bed, covered with a blue paisley down comforter that made my eyes ache. She closed the door behind us.

"He's okay." She spoke softly so as not to disturb him. "Harry and the guys from downstairs got him stoned; it's not a problem, he'll be fine. The wheezing is worse, though. I don't think we want to move him tonight, so you guys can crash in here once everybody else has gone. I'm guessing that'll be maybe another twenty minutes. Things are wrapping out in the living room. We can do a cursory cleanup tonight and leave the majority of it for tomorrow."

"What do you mean by 'stoned'?" I asked, apprehensive.

"He smoked a little marijuana. Compared to tobacco, it's relatively harmless. You don't need very much to get an effect and unless you're allergic or have an anomalous reaction, you just get mellow and suddenly every snack in the world is the best thing ever. Bertie just mellowed out and went to sleep before he got to the munchies reaction. It's pretty similar to getting drunk, really, but there's a lot smaller chance of getting belligerent."

I nodded. "I am somewhat familiar with the effects of the plant," I said. "A number of the musicians I knew in Harlem would partake of it. There was some risk due to its illegality, but none of my acquaintances ever fell afoul of that particular law when I knew them." This, at least, I had no cause to worry over. The increased severity of the wheezing, on the other hand, would need to be watched carefully.

She picked up an envelope from the bedside table and handed it to me. "Lissa dropped by for a few minutes to drop off your docs. She said she got them as fast as she could. She understands the issues of being sick without ID or insurance and she didn't want to see Bertie suffer any longer than he had to."

"Thank you, Miss Barr. I am extremely grateful." I did not know how much of her own money she had spent to ensure that we could take Mr. Wooster to a doctor sooner, but I would find some way to repay her. I would, however, examine the documents later.

"I'm going to go out and get folks started towards the door. If you want to stay here with Bertie for a few, I can come get you when the place is cleared out and we can do the superficial cleanup before we get some sleep."

I looked at him pensively. In the quiet of the room, I could hear his now somewhat labored breathing. For a moment, I was uncertain of my ability to maintain my resolve. Mr. Wooster shifted in his sleep and coughed a few times before settling again with a slight moan. "That will be quite acceptable, miss. I shall await your summons." She nodded and returned to her guests. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched him. I was torn between a half-panicked desire to sleep anywhere but by his side and a deep need to keep him safe; that need won with very little struggle. I reached out to lay a hand gently on his forehead, only to find him warmer than he should have been. He was, as I'd feared, finally developing a fever and my priority became absolute. He would see a doctor tomorrow and I would accept no more objections. We had identification papers and money; there could be no further excuses.

There was movement in the hallway as the library cleared. About fifteen minutes later, I heard voices raised in the sitting room, singing a traditional Irish song, one I knew, to close the night. My lips moved with the words of the chorus beyond the door.

Here's a health to the company and one to my lass
Let us drink and be merry all out of one glass
Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain
For we may and might never all meet here again

I heard the sounds of instruments being packed, of goodbyes being said, of plans being made for friends to meet again elsewhere and promises to return for the next ceilidh. The door to the flat finally closed for the last time and a few moments later, Miss Barr tapped softly on the bedroom door. I rose to join her, sparing Mr. Wooster one final glance.

"He has developed a fever," I told her as we picked up stray cups and plates, stacking them on the dining table.

She sighed unhappily. "Shit. He didn't have one when I checked on him earlier. We're hauling his ass into the emergency room tomorrow whether he likes it or not."

"I most emphatically concur, Miss Barr."

She looked tired and troubled, though I knew the ceilidh had been a rousing success. Aside from my realization and the ensuing internal struggle, I had genuinely enjoyed myself and had been grateful for the opportunity to meet such an interesting group of individuals. Miss Barr collected the folding chairs and leaned them against one of the bookshelves while I tidied as much as possible. We left the settees where they were so that the rug could be vacuumed once again tomorrow, after we had taken Mr. Wooster to a doctor.

When we finished the designated tasks for the night, Miss Barr asked to speak with me for a few moments. We sat together on the larger settee. She appeared to be formulating her statement and I awaited uneasily, not knowing what to expect. After a moment, she took a deep breath and looked up at me.

"Jeeves," she said, reaching out and laying her hand over one of mine, "I'm going to say a couple of things that are probably going to come as a bit of a shock. I don't want you to worry -- nothing is wrong and no one is in any trouble or any danger." This preface left me puzzled, but I would hear what she had to say before reacting. "It's just that this is probably going to come totally out of the blue," she continued. "I feel kind of weird talking to you about this because I know it's a really private thing, but I'm... I'm aware that you and Bertie have feelings for each other that go beyond friendship."

I stiffened, my heart quickening with fear. "There is nothing wrong," she insisted. "I'm saying this because you need to know that these relationships are legal now. You have got nothing to be afraid of from the law." She looked into my eyes as she said these words, the intensity of her expression driving her point. "No one will arrest you. You will not go to prison. In a few states in the US and in several countries you could even get married if you wanted to."

I felt myself blanch and was nearly overcome with dizziness. My mouth opened but I simply did not know what to say. "Bertie found out some of this tonight when he was talking to Harry and the guys from downstairs. He was a little too stoned to cope with it. What you do with this information is entirely up to you, but I want you to know that I'm completely okay with all of this. At least half the folks who were at the party tonight are like us. You have nothing to be afraid of here."

I could only blink in astonishment. Us? "But, you mentioned men..."

She shrugged. "I have a girlfriend too," she said. "They all know about each other. Nobody gets bent out of shape. But that's not important. What is important is that you're safe and you don't have to hide anymore if you don't want to. I know it's a lot to take in and that it's going to take a while for you guys to figure out how to deal with it. You spent your entire lives hiding because you had to. Fear like that doesn't just go away."

"No," I whispered, my heart still beating far too quickly. "No, it does not."

"You guys have way too much to cope with and I know that. Bertie's sick and your entire lives have changed and that has got to be the hardest damned thing in the world. But if either of you needs to talk, don't be afraid to come to me. I'll do my best to listen and try to understand."

"Miss Barr, I have no idea what to say."

"That's okay. You don't have to say anything at all. You're tired and overwhelmed and we're going to have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. The wait at the hospital is going to take hours and if Bertie's feverish and in nicotine withdrawal then he'll be cranky and miserable and he's likely not going to deal with it very well."

I nodded, my head still whirling.

"Go to bed, Jeeves. I'm just going to grab a blanket and sleep on the couch in the library. If you think Bertie's fever is getting worse, come wake me up." She stood and I stood with her. I stared numbly after her as she began to walk away, so she returned and took me by the hand, leading me back to the bedroom as she turned out the lights of the flat. She opened the door for me. "Go on. It'll be okay. You're safe here."

She entered the library and closed the door. I paused before I stepped into the bedroom.

Closing the door behind me, I removed my shoes and my outer clothing; I did not have my pyjamas and I was not going to disturb Miss Barr at this juncture. I saw that Miss Barr had removed Mr. Wooster's shoes and his tie but had otherwise left him dressed, respecting the privacy of his person. I removed his suit and shirt carefully so as not to wake him, though he stirred and coughed again, a harsh and rasping sound. This done, I turned off the bedside lamp and slipped beneath the comforter. Mr. Wooster turned toward me in his sleep, his hand seeking me. Helpless, I reached out and took him into my arms, pulling him close until his head rested on my shoulder with my cheek pressed into his soft, disarrayed hair. My will regarding this whole matter was far too weak to do anything else.

Chapter Text

Nightmare (Rumors of the Big Wave)

I was awakened by Mr. Wooster's shivering. His fever had gone to chills and he was in a cold, slick sweat despite the warmth of the down and my arms about him. "Sir," I said gently, brushing wet hair from his forehead. I was unpleasantly damp where our bodies were in contact, but he required attention. "Sir, please wake up." He moaned softly and tried to wriggle closer, burying his face against my neck. "Wake up, Mr. Wooster."

He moaned again and moved his head slightly, his eyes opening into narrow slits. His breathing was raspy and sounded uncomfortable. "Jeeves?" His shivers became a shudder for a moment and he tucked his arms between our bodies, trying to find warmth. "Cold."

"I know, sir. You developed a fever last night and are now experiencing chills. I shall draw a hot bath for you directly." He nodded against me, beginning to curl himself into a tight ball. "I will be only a moment, sir." I reluctantly withdrew. My dressing gown was in the library, where Miss Barr was sleeping, and I did not want to don last night's attire over my now-damp underclothes. I compromised by slipping my shirt back on until I could decide how to negotiate the matter.

When I had Mr. Wooster's bath begun, the library door opened slightly. "Jeeves?"

"Yes, Miss Barr?" I stepped back, expecting her to open the door; instead her arm emerged and she held out my dressing gown.

"Thought you might want this."

I smiled and took it from her hand, wrapping it about myself. "Thank you, Miss Barr. I am now somewhat more presentable."

The door opened now, with Miss Barr standing in the aperture, still dressed in her clothing from last night; it was considerably wrinkled and she had obviously slept in it as a precaution. "How's Bertie?"

"The fever has turned to a chill, miss. I will be assisting him into a hot bath in a moment."

She nodded, her eyes somewhat puffy, and I could see the beginnings of dark arcs below them. "Good idea. I'll start some tea."

"Very good, miss." She passed me in the hallway, moving stiffly, as I entered the library for Mr. Wooster's robe and then returned to her room to gather up Mr. Wooster himself. He had curled into a foetal ball under the comforter, shivering violently now that my own body heat had been removed. His physical responses were sluggish and he required assistance to don his robe and walk to the salle de bain. When I removed his dressing gown and damp underclothing and eased him into the hot water, he gasped and began coughing sharply. I knelt beside the tub and steadied him until the fit passed and he was once again able to breathe.

"My head, Jeeves," he murmured, looking up at me as he wrapped his arms about himself and continued shivering. "Bally thing's thumping like a conga."

"When you are a bit warmer, sir, we are taking you to the doctor. Our identification papers arrived last night and there is no further reason to postpone this visit." Bracing him with one arm, I helped him slip further down into the tub until his torso was submerged to cover his shoulders. This meant that his knees were above the surface, but there was no helping the situation.

"Feel awful," he complained.

"I know, sir."

He looked up at me with a plaintive expression as he shivered. "Why do I feel so awful?"

"You are quite ill, sir. This is one of the effects of illness."

"Make it stop," he pleaded, squeezing his eyes closed in pain.

I placed a warm, wet hand on his cheek and turned his face to me. "I'm sorry, sir. That's beyond my power, but the doctor will no doubt be able to help." His entire affect was one of abject misery and as he opened his eyes, tears shimmered in them, unshed. His shivering continued unabated, his breathing rough and harsh.

As he lay in the tub, I took up a cloth and bathed him, wiping away the sweat that streaked his face and dampened his hair. He paid little attention to me as I tended to him, washing his hair and finally rinsing the soap away and helping him rise. He shuddered violently as I helped him step from the tub, the heat of the water having been removed. I toweled him off quickly and wrapped him in his dressing gown, then aided him into the library, where two hot cups of tea awaited on the side table. I heard Miss Barr in her room, most likely dressing to prepare for the day.

It was an effort to get Mr. Wooster clothed. He did not object or overtly resist, but he kept his arms curled tightly about himself in an effort to get warm. "Please, sir, you must let me put your arms into your undervest and shirt. It will take only a moment." He nodded miserably and complied, though it obviously pained him. The bruises, after more than a week, were finally beginning to fade, but their presence was still notable. They had started turning to bilious yellows and greens on his pale skin. Once I had clothed him and wrapped a blanket about his shoulders, I handed him one of the mugs and insisted that he drink. I took my own, as well, needing the help it would give me to maintain my energy and attention.

"I must leave you briefly, sir, to have my own shower. I will return momentarily."

"Right," he murmured, huddled with both hands cupping the mug.

I hurried with my shower, glad to finally be able to strip the cold, clammy underclothes away and take a few moments under the hot water for myself.

When I returned to the library to dress, Mr. Wooster was leaning into the corner of the settee with nothing more than his nose visible from beneath the blanket. His mug was empty, sitting on the side table; I was pleased that he had finished it. I dressed swiftly and then assisted him out into the sitting room, where Miss Barr awaited us, looking somewhat harried and uncomfortable. I seated Mr. Wooster on the larger settee and sat beside him, putting an arm about him to support him and, I hoped, to help keep him warm.

"What must we do to get Mr. Wooster to a doctor, Miss Barr?" I asked.

"Bring a book," she told me. "We're probably going to be there most of the day." She held out her small music player, with a wire plugged into it. "This is for you to use, Bertie. It's got some music on it that you liked. It'll help keep you from being bored even if you're too tired to focus enough to read or to talk to us." I took it from her and examined it briefly. The wire split into two wires with small speakers that would fit into one's ears attached to the ends.

"Thank you, Miss Barr," I said.

"They'll probably ask about Bertie's bruising. Domestic violence is an issue they're aware of. If they seem at all suspicious, have them talk to me."

I raised an eyebrow at this; they might think someone had beaten him? It beggared my imagination. "Very good, miss."

"There's more, though." She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "When we get to the hospital, there are several things you need to know. First, they're going to want to see Bertie's identification. They'll ask if you have any insurance and you're going to have to tell them no. We'll need to fill out a bunch of paperwork dealing with symptoms, his medical history, and probably with your financial state. For a residence, you'll need to use my address. I'm not too sure about the financial state thing because I go to the veterans hospital and the government pays for it."

I nodded. "Of course. I shall endeavor to deal with the forms."

"If you need any help, ask me," she said. "One thing you need to know, though. Under most circumstances, the docs are only going to want to deal with the patient and immediate family. That means they're going to want to see Bertie alone. It's a privacy thing."

"I have no wish to leave him alone with strangers," I said, stiffening.

Mr. Wooster stirred weakly within the blanket. "Don't want to be alone," he said.

"I know," Miss Barr replied. "So we're going to have to lie to them." She looked at me. "You're probably not going to like this too much, Jeeves, but I promise you it'll work." She sipped at the mug of tea in her hand. "We're going to tell them that I'm Bertie's aunt and that you're his partner."

"I came all this way," Mr. Wooster muttered, "and I still can't get away from aunts."

"Partner, Miss Barr?" I asked. 'Partner' seemed more a business associate than a family member.

"You're not going to pass for a brother either physically or with the name on your identification. Partner in this context implies that you're lovers," she said. My heart began pounding and I felt Mr. Wooster stiffen beside me. "List yourself as his next of kin on the form and me as the emergency contact."

"I cannot--"

"If you want to be able to see the doctor with him to help him out, you have to." I felt panic rising at the assertion, and Mr. Wooster's shivering grew more marked; I suspected he was trembling. "I told you last night, it's legal. I know this is a problem for you right now, but you're going to have to at least act the part. I'm not sure 'Miss Barr' is going to fly very well but it'll be marginally acceptable. The big problem is that whole 'sir' and 'Mr. Wooster' thing. You're going to have to call him by his name, Jeeves, and you're going to have to tolerate both of us using your first name, at least while we're dealing with this."

I could feel myself blanch and my chest tighten. It was a vast breach of etiquette that distressed me immensely, but I understood the necessity. "The idea of playing such a role in public is... exceedingly difficult," I replied. "Everything in me rebels at the idea. Even a hint of this would have placed Mr. Wooster and myself under an extreme risk of a sentence of two years of hard labor." I had known men who were sentenced and had no wish to suffer the same fate.

"I know. I'm sorry. If I could think of another way, I'd share it with you." She sighed.

Mr. Wooster looked up at me, fear quite apparent in his eyes. "We can't do that, can we?" he asked. "I mean, with it going against your feudal spirit and all." His voice was weak but he seemed more cognizant than he had in the bath.

I swallowed and braced myself to speak. "I have played several roles in the course of my service to you, sir. If I can impersonate an American authoress, I believe I can portray your... your 'partner' for the necessary period of time." My female impersonation had been somewhat awkward but not impossible. This, however, was only a breath short of terrifying.

"But, but what will they expect us to do?" Mr. Wooster asked, worried.

"Nobody's going to expect you guys to swap tonsils. Bertie's sick and we're there to take care of him. It's just a matter of using first names or familiar forms of address instead of 'sir' and 'Jeeves.' You've already got the physically close thing down." She gave me a long, penetrating look. "Do you think you can do it?"

I nodded hesitantly, suddenly extremely conscious of how I held Mr. Wooster close under one arm. "It is necessary, so I shall do it," I answered.

"What would you prefer to be called?" she asked.

"I... my family calls -- called me Reggie," I said, stumbling over the idea that I no longer had a family. It only added to my distress.

Mr. Wooster leaned against me, resting his head upon my shoulder. "Reggie," he said softly, experimenting with the sound. My heart stuttered at my name on his lips.

"I shall have to call you by your name, sir." He slipped one hand from beneath the blanket and traced it across my torso to embrace me. I shivered in response.

"I think I'd rather like it," he whispered.

"You really should call me Joan for the duration, though I know it bothers you," she said. "It'll lend a little veracity to the whole thing."

"Very well, Joan," I answered. I felt like I was losing myself; this raged against my every instinct. I could feel my stomach churning with rising fear.

"It's only until we get done at the hospital," she said gently.

Mr. Wooster gazed over at her. "Are you really old enough to be an aunt, old thing?" he asked.

"Bertie, honey, I'm old enough to be Jeeves's... ah, Reggie's mom, if I'd got a bit of an early start." I tried not to react to her familiarity and gave her a lengthy, assessing examination. "I'm closing in on fifty real fast." I had suspected she might be in her late forties but one does not ask such questions of a lady, regardless of her circumstances.

"I say," Mr. Wooster murmured. "Aunt Dahlia's about that vintage." He looked back up at her from his pensive moment of thought. "Aunt Joan," he whispered, trying it out. "Aunt Joan," he said in a more normal tone of voice.

"At any rate, if anyone asks, you're my sister's kid and you're here visiting for a few months."

"You did not mention a sister, Mi-- Joan," I said.

She shrugged. "That's because I don't have one, but Bertie and I don't share a last name, so it's logical that I'd be a maternal aunt."

"Very well," I said.

"They may want to know his parent's names on the forms. Use whatever you like, but tell them the truth about his medical history. They won't be asking me any questions."

"My parents died when I was very young," Mr. Wooster said, still shivering, his arm tightening about my waist.

"Then tell them that," she said. "It's best to give them as much of the truth as we can so that they'll miss the lie."

It was necessary, I told myself. I could do this, if only for a few hours. I could pretend to be Mr. Wooster's lover. His lover. The word sent a shock through me and I shuddered. He was an aristocrat and I was a commoner, a servant. I could not allow myself to dwell on the idea, no matter how much I wanted it to be true. Regardless of the alleged legality of such relationships between men, I was only playing a part. Our class difference was too high a barrier for me to cross.

"We should prepare to depart," I said.

"Do you have your ID, Reggie?" she asked. The familiarity jarred me again, unpleasant and unwanted. I had to discipline myself and not react. It must seem ordinary.

I nodded. "Yes, Joan. I have both passports in my pocket." I was playing a part. I was merely an actor. I could do this -- I had to if I wanted to accompany him and keep him safe. I turned to Mr. Wooster. "Are you ready for this, Bertie?"

I was unprepared for my own reaction to speaking his name so casually. A spike of desperate desire, filled and surrounded by fear, pierced me. His own eyes widened and he nodded.

"I -- yes, Reggie."

This was going to be nothing short of torture for both of us.

***

He called me Bertie. Admittedly, his voice shook a bit when he did it, but he managed to bung it past his feudal spirit somehow. Until he said it, I'd had no idea just how bally much I had wanted to hear it, nor for how long. What we were about to do ran against everything I'd learned about keeping myself safe; one never spoke of such things, never offered so much as a hint where anyone else might be lurking about. That isn't to say I didn't know other perverted degenerates like myself, but we kept it close, you see. We had to.

I felt utterly horrid as far as the Wooster corpus was concerned. My head was dancing a can-can, I was shaking with cold, and my lungs were brimming with soupy thingness, but hearing him actually say my name put the snail on the thorn for me. I'll admit I was afraid, but Joan and that Harry bird had said it was legal and there was no reason for either of them to lie to me.

Legal! I didn't know how it had happened and frankly I didn't care. It was like seeing the sun after having lived my entire life in some cave with shadows like that Greek philosopher johnnie rattled on about. You could keep all that music in tiny boxes and pianos that were only a keyboard and dinner at four in the ack emma and full-colored talkies and even those bally not-flying-motorcars for all I cared -- what I was and how I felt were legal. No prisons. No worrying about saying the wrong thing. No being afraid that a touch or a look might linger too long or that a friend might rat me out if he got into the soup himself.

It was enough to bring a tear to the Wooster e. and, in fact, it did, though I think Jeeves just thought it was because I felt so awful. There might have been a bit of that in it as well, of course. The stiff upper lip was being somewhat challenged at the mo.

Joan and Jeeves bundled me off to hospital as I shivered and tried not to think too hard about how cold I was or how much coughing hurt. The emergency room was filled with people, most of whom looked considerably worse off than I was. Kids were wailing and making my head hurt more than it did when we walked in. There were people with bloody bandages wrapped about their various parts. I saw several wearing masks over their nose and mouth, coughing much like I was. Some of the people were quite filthy or maybe drunk, or both, and stank like low tide on a very hot summer's day. There was one of those television thingummies playing up on the wall as well and it was horribly loud and distracting. It was all quite distressing and just served to make me feel worse.

When we walked up to the desk and they heard me coughing, the beazel there handed Jeeves a little paper mask and told me to wear it. We were asked some of the questions Joan said they would ask, and got handed a stack of papers. We had to go sit down on miserably uncomfortable plastic chairs amid the unwashed masses to fill out the forms.

"Isn't there somewhere private we can wait?" I asked.

Joan shook her head. "No. This is what it is, Bertie, I'm sorry. You're just like everyone else now. The best we can do is be patient and try to ignore the whole mess."

"What is a social security number, mi- er, Joan?" Jeeves asked.

"Nothing you need to worry about," Joan said. "It's a tax identification number for US citizens."

"Ah." He went back to scribbling on the forms while I leaned against him, wrapped in my blanket and shivering. Joan sat on my other side. Between them, I felt somewhat insulated from the chaos dashing about chasing its tail. Sirens sounded outside and numbers were called and every so often someone got up to leave with some hospitally person in a white coat. I tucked my head under the blanket because the lights felt too bright. Jeeves slipped an arm about the willowy shoulders and kept writing on the little board he balanced on his lap.

The forms seemed to take forever. They wanted to know if I'd ever been sick before, which I hadn't, and if I was allergic to anything, which I didn't think I was, and what kinds of health thingummies my family may have had. I wasn't really that sure. I knew Uncle Willoughby had finally dropped dead of some heart whatsit, but that was the sum of it.

Finally, Jeeves got up and took the papers back to the desk and he came back with a little slip of paper with a number on it. "We shall have to wait for quite some time, Bertie," he said. I could see how hard it was for him not to say 'sir' right then. He showed me the number; it was 744. There was a little box on the wall near the ceiling with a number on it. That one read 703. Bertram was not heartened. In fact, I rather shrank under my blanket and wished I were anywhere else. Even Aunt Agatha's presence would be more tolerable than this.

For the next I-don't-know-how-long, we sat there, surrounded by utter misery. I'd never seen so much suffering in one place in my entire bally life. The longer I sat, the more it weighed on me, and even Joan's little music box didn't help that much. I was tired and eventually the shivering turned to being too hot. I lay my head on Jeeves's shoulder and closed my eyes because the heat just made my headache worse. Joan read a thickish improving book and Jeeves just fretted silently, his face all froggy and his arm secure around me.

I couldn't help coughing now and again. It exhausted me every time, not to mention making my chest ache. Bertram's usually cheerful mood was nowhere to be found and I was having horrible cravings for a gasper. There wasn't much to say and there was nothing to do and by the time they'd called number 744, entire civilizations had grown and fallen. Jeeves and Joan stood up and helped hoist me to my feet, as I was feeling a bit dizzy. We stumbled over to the white-coated filly who'd called us up. She looked at me.

"Patient only," she said, "or immediate family."

Jeeves took a bracing breath. "I am his... his partner," he said, and I could feel him shaking a little.

"I'm his aunt," Joan added.

The filly nodded. "Only room for one of you," she said.

"Go ahead, Reggie," Joan told him. And that was that. No one had even blinked. Jeeves was a bit pale and I was shocked but relieved as she led us along a corridor into a small room, where I was hooked up to beeping things that took my temperature and my pulse and my blood pressure and probably half a dozen other things I'd had no idea they could tell without popping the corpus open for a peek. I stood on a scale and got my height measured and then we got shuffled on down another corridor to another waiting room, where we found Joan waiting.

"Joan, old thing, how did you get here?" I asked as Jeeves eased me down into a slightly more comfortable seat.

"I asked where they'd have you waiting after they took your vitals," she answered. I was just relieved that she wasn't having to wait any longer in that horrible open waiting area we'd just come from. "Now we get to hurry up and wait some more."

"We will have to wait longer?" Jeeves asked, in that soupy tone he took when things were not going spiffingly. I can't say I was chuffed with the idea either.

Joan just opened her book again. "Welcome to the American health care system."

Jeeves and I had managed to find ourselves an upholstered settee, though it had wooden arms. Joan was in the chair next to us while I curled into a miserable little ball next to Jeeves and leaned on him because I was feeling less energetic than an aged and arthritic sloth. "Why do we have to wait?" I grumbled.

"Because everyone here has to, Bertie," Joan said. She patted my arm but I was feeling pipped and pulled it away from her. The only hands I wanted on me right now were attached to my valet, who was currently pretending to be my lover. The fact that it was only an act just pipped me even further. I wanted to be back home, or at least back in bed at Joan's flat, with Jeeves curled around me and a cold cloth on my head. I was hot and thirsty and dashed unpleasantly damp and really quite unhappy. I wiggled about until Jeeves shifted and snugged me up in both his arms so I could bury my face in his chest. It was a lovely chest; broad and strong, and it smelled good, too. I could hear his heart pounding like billy-o.

People got called from around us every so often and new people came in to fill up the seats they'd taken. Eventually someone called my name, and Jeeves and I got up and followed the beazel. There wasn't so much as a raised eyebrow at Jeeves accompanying me or his arm about me. She was short and Oriental and turned out to be the doctor. She handed me a little bit of cloth and told me to take off my shirt and put that on instead, then stepped out for a few minutes. Jeeves helped me with the whole thing, but the bit of cloth was thin and open in a large number of places that shouldn't be open on a properly clothed gentleman. By the time she came back to see us, I was shivering again.

Once she'd introduced herself, she sat down and said, "Okay, so what do we have here?"

I let Jeeves talk, as he was rather better at that sort of thing and I was too preoccupied with feeling like a blight on the landscape. "A week ago Thursday, we were with Joan on Mount Rainier, when... when Bertie fell into a river. He was caught in the current and battered by it; he also inhaled a good deal of water. He has been coughing since. The cough has been accompanied by wheezing during the last three or four days. Last night he developed a fever and has been alternating fever and chills since that time."

I got that little frisson of wonder at Jeeves saying my name again, though I think both he and the doctor thought it was just shivering. She looked at me and poked at my bruises and listened to my chest with an ice-cold stethe-whatsit. I swear she must have kept it in an icebox before she applied it to the Wooster corpus.

"I'm going to need to order some blood work and chest x-rays," she said, scribbling on a sheet of paper. "Go to the lab first for the blood draw, then up to radiology. Once they've seen you, come back down here and wait."

I wasn't too keen on the idea of blood being sucked out of the old veins. It was far too much like that Nosferatu chap for my taste, and I rather needed it myself, what. "Have you any idea what might be the problem?" Jeeves asked.

"I think we're looking at pneumonia, but we need to be sure," the doctor said. Jeeves seemed quite shaken by that. I could see his eyes widen.

"It's not serious, is it?" I asked.

She poked at one of those computer things. "That's what the blood tests and x-rays will tell us," she said. "If it's a bacterial pneumonia, it's treatable with antibiotics, we just need to know how advanced the case is. I can't say much else until I've seen the results."

"Approximately how long should this process take?" Jeeves asked, not sounding any less worried.

"It'll be a while," the doctor admitted. "You might want to stop by the cafeteria and get something while you wait, if you're feeling hungry at all."

Jeeves nodded. "I believe we shall," he said. He asked for directions to the places she'd named and we went wandering off along the corridors, following lines painted on the floors. Joan came along with us, looking tired and bored despite her book. I wasn't pleased to have a hole poked into my arm by any means, though the x-ray thingummies were interesting. They didn't let Jeeves into the room for that, and they covered bits of me with a heavy apron the gent running the machine said was lead-lined to protect me from too much radi-whatsit. It was rather difficult to not cough when he told me to hold still for the picture.

After that we went to the cafeteria. Nothing looked very good to me, though Jeeves insisted I eat and drink something, and Joan glowered like a proper aunt when I tried to object to food. She was doing a dashed good auntly imitation, if I might say so. I had tea and the two of them had sandwiches and tea. Then we went back to the waiting area where we'd seen the doctor. The settee was occupied and we had to take separate chairs again. By that time, I was almost too tired to move. My chest hurt, my head hurt, and I was snarling like an alligator who'd been asked to donate a large strip of skin for shoes and a matching handbag.

"I want to go home, Reggie," I snapped. "I'm sick of this. I just want to lie down and have a kip."

"We shall return to Joan's flat when you have been seen to, and not before," he said, digging the stuffed frog facade out of his bag and slapping it on his dial. Well, I didn't like that!

"I feel awful. I just want to lie down. I want to take this bally mask off. I want--"

"Bertie," Joan said, derailing the train of my rant, "it's going to be all right. I know you feel awful. We'll get you home as soon as we can."

This Wooster is not given to overly emotive displays, but I'm afraid the lower lip trembled and tears filled the e.s at that point. Even reminding myself about the Wooster at Agincourt didn't help much. He'd no doubt have been terribly disappointed in me. Jeeves bundled me up in his lap, because he couldn't bundle me otherwise if we were in separate chairs, and I sniffled rather pitifully.

I've no idea how long it was before the doctor called us in again. I wasn't able to pay much attention by that time, truthfully. My head was a blaze of misery, I felt like I was being turned on a spit like one of those missionary chaps in a jungle, and whatever it was she was saying was galloping right past the Wooster onion anyway. She handed Jeeves some more slips of paper and sent us away to see a druggist on another floor, where we waited even longer until Jeeves picked up a bag full of pills and such, and then we trudged down yet more corridors to an office where we dealt with some officious-looking young sprout, who extorted what looked like rather a largeish pile of money from Jeeves.

When we finally got outside again, it looked like most of the day had passed. It seemed well into the late afternoon; it definitely felt like it was past tea time. The air was freezing and I was roasting and the instant we got inside the flat Jeeves bunged a handful of pills down my throat with a large tumbler of water. I don't really even remember being shuffled off to bed.

***

It was verging into evening when we returned from the hospital. Mr. Wooster had been difficult because he was in pain. Miss Barr had been somewhat irritable, apparently because of the surroundings and the noise, and I had been half-terrified at playing the part I was assigned. It was a very bad combination and had led to a bit of friction between us. Once we had Mr. Wooster medicated and in bed, Miss Barr left, saying she needed a walk to clear her head, and that she would return with dinner for us, so I would not have to prepare a meal.

This was a relief, both because I was not certain I could tolerate anyone's company for very much longer, and because I was in no condition to deal with sharp objects or hot burners. I had done my best to care for Mr. Wooster during our ordeal, shepherding him where we needed to go, accompanying him and answering questions on his behalf, and dealing with his temperamental behavior when he did feel well enough to speak.

The absolute lack of reaction to the assertion that I was Mr. Wooster's lover had shocked me. There had been nothing; not a harsh word or a cold stare or even so much as a raised eyebrow. It had been unnerving, and every instinct I had shouted that we were in danger despite the lack of response; the irrational part of my mind insisted they were hiding some ill intent. My entire body had felt drawn tight as a bow the whole time we were there. It was not until Mr. Wooster was abed and Miss Barr had vacated the premises that I noticed how stiffly I had been holding myself. I felt carved of stone and most of my body ached because of it.

Our expedition had cost nearly half of what we had; our funds had been reduced to one thousand twelve dollars and sixteen cents. I had been purchasing food for us from our funds rather than relying on Miss Barr's somewhat unusual selection, and it had cost a great deal more than I liked, however we'd had no alternative. If Mr. Wooster's health grew worse and required a second visit of this nature, we would have nothing left at all. I was angry and extremely upset, neither of which were emotions I cared to experience. Lacking the ability to take myself out to the Junior Ganymede, which I would have done under similar circumstances were we still at home in London, I poured myself a generous glass of Laphraoig from Miss Barr's bottle and sat at the dining table, staring out over the city as it lit in the growing twilight.

Once again, I was feeling out of my depth. Distressing information and experiences were coming too fast to assimilate, much as they had during the war, when only instinct and motion had kept me alive. In creating for myself an extremely orderly life, I had been able to leave those memories behind and bring myself a measure of peace. Here, there had only been serried ranks of chaos and a complete lack of control. Mr. Wooster's familiar presence was my anchor in all of it, and now he had become very seriously ill. Pneumonia could kill and, at the very least, Mr. Wooster would be very ill for several weeks. It might take months for him to regain his previous health and vitality.

I had failed him. I should have insisted on finding a way to have him seen to days ago. I had not been able to protect him or care for him as I ought, and I excoriated myself for it. I drank the whisky I had poured, barely noticing it as I did; I poured a second glass without thought. That was likewise dispatched with alacrity and I was feeling it by the time it was full dark.

I rose at that point, only slightly unsteady, and went into the library to check on Mr. Wooster. The cool cloths I had laid upon his forehead and chest needed changing. He still felt feverish but was, at last, asleep. He stirred slightly as I worked, but did not wake. I was grateful for this; not only did he require sleep, but I needed the quiet and solitude to try to gather myself again. When I had finished my task, I sat on the bed beside him, his hand in mine, listening to him breathe. Even asleep, his visage reflected the pain he was suffering. His face was lined with it.

Miss Barr had been gone for nearly two hours before I heard the door open. She came in quietly and I listened as she made her way through the flat. I heard her put away her jacket and rustle about in the kitchen for several minutes before she approached the library. There was a soft tapping on the door. "Jeeves," she said quietly, "are you awake?"

"I am," I answered, gently laying Mr. Wooster's hand on his chest and rising. "I shall be out directly." I changed the cool cloths again and caressed his cheek with my fingers. His eyes opened slightly.

"Jeeves?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Head hurts," he murmured.

"I know, sir. It will be two more hours before I can give you more medication."

His eyes closed again. "But it hurts now." He took my sleeve and tugged at it, pulling me toward him and reaching out to me. I sat again and took him into my arms, holding him close and letting him rest his head on my shoulder. He sighed but then began coughing, and I held him through it, tightening my arms about him. He was shaking when the fit passed. I let my hand move slowly up and down his back until he was breathing again, slowly and calmly.

"Are you hungry, sir?"

He shook his head. "No, but I could use something to drink. I'm dry as an abandoned well in the desert."

"I shall bring you some water, then, sir." I was reluctant to release him, but he needed liquid and I needed food.

I settled him back onto his pillow. "Come back soon," he whispered. I nodded and went to the kitchen, where Miss Barr was preparing two plates.

"Do you know if Bertie wants anything?" The food she had brought for us was Indian once again. "I got him some chicken soup if he thinks he can eat it." She gestured to a quart container of hot broth.

"He had asked for something to drink, madam, but I suspect this would be better for him," I said, pouring some of the soup into a large mug and taking it back in to him. He was awake enough now to sit in bed and take the mug, though I would need to return soon to check on him again. "I will return as soon as I have had dinner, sir," I told him. I could see that he did not wish me to leave, but I could not continue without some sustenance.

Miss Barr was seated at the table when I returned, already eating. She had poured herself a small glass of whisky. "I see you got a head start on the Laphroaig," she said. "I'm sorry today sucked so much."

I inferred that she meant the day had gone badly. "It was unavoidable, madam."

She gave me a sharp look as I sat at the table with her. "We're back to that again?" She sounded exhausted and bitter.

"It was a very... difficult day, madam," I admitted softly. I had no energy at all and no real desire to discuss the matter.

She nodded without enthusiasm. "I wish things were different," she said quietly. At that she picked up her glass of whisky and drank the entirety without pause.

We ate in silence and she collected the dishes and put them in the sink. The flat was still in a most unfortunate state from the party the night before and I found it quite disturbing, but I hadn't the strength to deal with it either. "We can take care of this tomorrow," she said, looking about the place. "Days like this just take it all out of me and I can't keep up." She took off her spectacles and ran a hand roughly over her face before replacing them on her nose. "I'm hitting the sack early tonight. Don't worry about anything but Bertie right now, and make sure you get some sleep." She did not wait for my response, but vanished into her room.

When I sat beside Mr. Wooster and leaned against the soft back of the sofa-bed, he handed me his mostly-empty mug. "Thank you, old thing." I placed the mug on the side table and he rolled onto his side to lay his head on my lap. I removed the damp cloths from him, noting that the fever had gone down slightly. I wondered if he would pass into another round of chills soon. I let my hand rest with my fingers in his sweat-damp hair and he sighed quietly, staring off into space. After a long period of stillness, he asked, "How do people do this, Jeeves? This lying about feeling gutted, I mean."

"I cannot think of anyone who enjoys it, sir. It is simply something that must be borne with as much patience as one can muster."

His weight shifted and he wrapped one arm about my leg, tucking the other behind my hips in an awkward embrace. "I'm sorry if I was a complete blister today," he murmured.

"Sir," I said quietly, "illness often inclines one to somewhat... petulant behavior."

"We Woosters have always prided ourselves on our stiff upper lips, Jeeves. This just will not do." Disappointment was apparent in his voice, and he moved the arm wrapped about my leg so that his hand rested under his cheek upon my thigh. The physical proximity was too intimate and, after the harrowing day I'd had, it was difficult for me to allow. It took an effort of will to refrain from asking him to move; I did not because I understood that he needed this reassurance from me.

My self-control had taken a terrible battering today; it lay in tatters around me and my greatly conflicting emotions ached in my chest. If we were at home in London, I would know how to act, what to expect, what my place was in his life and in society. All of the lines that had delineated my previous existence had been violated in greater or lesser measure since our arrival in this time and place. Without them, I no longer knew who I was. I had felt safe and in control of myself and my life when those lines were clear, and I moved smoothly within them. Now, the only safe line remaining encompassed my social status and that of Mr. Wooster; regardless of when and where we were, he remained a gentleman and I remained his faithful servant. I would remain so while there was breath in my body. It was no longer an issue of employment, but an issue of blood and loyalty. He needed me and, more than I had ever thought possible, I needed him.

He slept the restless, broken sleep of the ill and exhausted. I kept watch over him as the night slipped by.

***

I'd never felt so bally awful in all my life. For a while I thought I wasn't sleeping at all, but I would keep waking up either burning in my skin or shivering like a penguin lounging about on an iceberg without its feathers when its nephew-crushing aunt comes to call. Jeeves always seemed to be awake and right there for me with some pills or a cool cloth or a warm arm to wrap about the Wooster corpus. By morning I was starting to feel queasy on top of everything else. It wasn't the kind of queasy one gets after a night spent in overly festive activities, as one might on Boat Race night. It was really more of an innards-twisting kind of queasy that leaves you a bit short of breath and panting. This wasn't helped at all by the coughing and the unpleasant sticky slime coming out of the old air bags.

Jeeves grew more per-something each time I woke, but I was too tired and achy to care very much by the time the sky began to lighten. All I really wanted to do was curl up in his arms and have him make it all go away. He'd pulled me out of the soup so many times before; it was inconceivable that he couldn't do his magic on this as well. When I was too hot, his fingers running through my hair gave me something to think about instead of the fire in my bones. When I was too cold, his arms held me through the shivering in the most comforting manner.

I rather lost track of time during the whole thing. I remembered Joan coming in with more hot broth for me and having a tiff with Jeeves over him not getting any sleep. Eventually she chased him into her own room for a kip while she promised to keep an eye on me. He grumbled but I think he was too tired to really fight with her about it and he had that look in his eye that said he knew she was right. He was looking distinctly disheveled by the time he got up and left me. She didn't stay with me like he had, but I knew she was in and out rather a lot and she bunged her share of pills down the Wooster gullet as well. It just wasn't the same as having Jeeves there though, and I missed him terribly.

When I wasn't sleeping, I was dashed bored. There wasn't much to do; I had a hard time reading. Because of my headache, the words kept swimming about on the page like those shrimp Jeeves goes off to catch every year. I was too tired to go anywhere but the loo by myself, and even that took more out of me than I would have imagined. I wished I felt well enough to go out into the sitting room so I could watch a movie or something, but the settee out there just wasn't as comfortable as being able to lie out full length on the bed in a nest of feathery pillows.

By afternoon, I woke again to find Jeeves back with me. I sat up a bit and propped myself against the warm wall of his chest to rest my head on his shoulder. Being up a bit like that did seem to help a little with my breathing, and I was just more comfortable with Jeeves as a pillow. It was quite topping to have him close like that. We talked a little about nothing in particular for a while, and he read a bit to me from a comic novel by some chap named Tom Robbins; it was amusing stuff, though I'll admit I didn't get all the jokes. I suppose one must need a certain amount of familiarity with modern things to really follow it all. That and a few more brain cells than I currently had, which were jolly well fewer than Bertram's usual already-scarce lot. I have been described as mentally negligible, after all. I most definitely felt it by then, and the feeling was absolutely not oojah-cum-spiff.

When tea time galloped by, I was feeling well enough to get out of bed for a bit, so Jeeves made sure I didn't plant the Wooster face on the rug as we walked into the sitting room. I dropped myself on the settee and Jeeves wrapped me in enough blankets to warm a dozen beds in a blizzard. He bunged another mug of soup into my hands and tucked himself onto the settee with me so I could rest against him. This one had some noodles and long, crunchy, white things in it. Joan said it was pho, though it sounded more like fuh to me. It was quite tasty, even though the tum was a bit disagreeable. There were basil leaves in it and bits of chicken, too, and it settled reasonably well.

About the time I'd finished, Joan's door buzzer went off. She got up from her dining table, where she'd had a great pile of books spread open and was making notes, and over to her door. "What's the password?"

"Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law, baby."

Joan chuckled. "I suppose my true will is to let you in." There was a buzz and, a few moments later, a knock on the door. Joan opened it and there was the rustle of a coat being hung in the closet.

Joan entered the sitting room with Harry behind her, a satchel over his shoulder. "Hey, Bertie," he said. "You okay?" He sat on the smaller settee while Joan perched in the chair at her desk and turned it toward the rest of us, pulling it close enough to be companionable.

"Just a touch of pneumonia," I told him.

"Oh, damn. Sorry to hear it. You were kind of wheezy the other night but I didn't realize it was anything serious." He nodded to Jeeves. "Hi, Jeeves."

"Good afternoon, sir." Just like Jeeves to avoid using somebody's given moniker.

Harry opened his satchel and spoke to Joan as he reached inside. "I knew I'd seen them recently." He held out a magazine to her. "July's 'Fortean Times.' Retrospective on atmospheric phenomena. Page twenty."

Joan opened the magazine and blinked. "Holy shit." She flipped through a couple more pages, shaking her head, and then handed the magazine to Jeeves. "That's them all right. I mean, I knew that before, but I should have suspected you'd know something about this."

I looked at the magazine in Jeeves's hands. There was an article about strange happenings in the sky, and we were mentioned. Copies of the same photos that had been printed in the London papers shortly after our disappearance adorned a corner of one page. Jeeves and I looked at each other. He looked about as pale as I felt. After a moment, he looked over at Harry. "This magazine reports on phenomena like those investigated by Mr. Charles Fort?" he asked.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Weird shit, but I always knew at least some of it was true. What I want to know is, how the hell did you guys get here?"

Joan leaned back in her chair and laughed. "They fell out of the sky."

Harry's mouth opened for a very long moment and then he laughed with her. "Hallelujah, it's raining men!" he gasped through his laughter. "Oh, girl, why can't that shit happen to me?"

Jeeves and I just sat there, stunned. People were still talking about what happened to us? "I attribute it to my peerless purity of soul," Joan said with a snort.

"Pure as the driven slush," Harry agreed. Joan just gave him a smug look, the chump. Harry pulled an old-looking book from his bag. "Turns out I also had this." He handed it to me.

It was definitely an old book. The red cloth cover was battered and chipped, the gilded print on it worn and faded with time. The almost-illegible lettering on the spine read 'Tally-Ho, Jeeves' and the author's name was my own: B. W. Wooster. "Good Lord," I whispered, suddenly light-headed and dizzy.

I opened the volume. It had been my second -- my last -- book, printed in May of 1924. The paper was yellowed and fragile, crumbling a bit at the edges. I had signed this one to Rocky Todd on May 7th, 1924, and posted it off to him because I wasn't going to be in New York again for another year. Flipping through the pages, I found a note here and there in his familiar handwriting. My hands were shaking. So was the rest of me. Jeeves set the magazine on the arm of the settee and put his arms around me. "Oh, sir," he murmured.

"Where did you get this?" My voice was a shaky croak, like a frog in a barrel going over Niagara Falls.

"I've been collecting things related to Fortean phenomena since I was a kid," he said. "I've got books by UFO abductees, and biographies of people who've had strange things happen to them -- pretty much anything by folks who were involved in weird events, like you were. It's the curiosity factor; I'm really into high weirdness. The book dealer I got this one from said it came from the estate of a poet on Long Island who died sometime back in the 70s. I was pretty excited because it was autographed; it's hard to find author inscriptions in stuff this old, to say nothing of an autograph of someone who'd vanished like that. When I read your name in the article again, I thought I'd seen it before, so I went to look at what I had on my shelves."

"Rocky. Oh, my God." It hit me so hard that I couldn't help curling into a little ball around the book and weeping.

Joan was up and kneeling next to the settee before I knew it, while Jeeves held me and rubbed my back. "Bertie?" she asked, one hand on my shoulder.

I shook my head. I couldn't speak. I couldn't think. All I could do was cry. "The poet in question, Mr. Rockmetteller Todd, was a good friend of Mr. Wooster's," Jeeves said softly. "This volume is inscribed to him." Rocky -- he'd been so young, a year or two younger than me, and he was gone. He was dead. The book had come from his bloody estate sale from thirty-ish years ago when he must have been old and grey, and he was dead, and everyone I had ever known was dead except for Jeeves. My family. Every one of my friends. Every person I had ever walked past on the street or sat next to on a train or rowed against at the Boat Race. Everyone. It hadn't got into the Wooster onion until that very moment. I felt so unbelievably sick.

"Oh, wow," Harry said, sounding quite subdued. "Gods, I'm sorry, Bertie. I had no idea." Joan tossed him a look fraught with thingness and dragged him off to the kitchen.

It was different than reading my own obituary. I knew I was still alive, even if no one else had known these past eighty-five years. That had been a shock, but not like this. Not like holding something I'd held in my own hand hot off the press only a few months ago, something I'd signed and sent to a friend, something that was now crumbling with age and fading ink. It was several minutes before I could collect myself again, sniffling and wiping my nose on the handkerchief that Jeeves proffered.

"Are you all right, sir?" Jeeves looked a bit peaked himself.

I nodded. "I just... I never really thought about what it all meant," I said. "I had this book in my hands three months ago, bright and new and... and now it smells like dust and old libraries and Rocky's been gone for thirty years or more. They're all gone, Jeeves, everyone."

"I know, sir," he whispered.

I rested my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. It was quick, birdlike. "Of course, you probably had that figured out right away when we got here. Are... are you all right?"

His pulse speeded up beneath my ear, but I wouldn't have been able to tell by his voice. "I shall be better directly, sir." I could barely hear him speak and I knew he was lying. He'd never admit anything in front of strangers and I should have remembered that, but the Wooster onion was not doing well even before all this hit me. I wished he didn't feel he had to always be in such tight control of everything; it only seemed to be making things worse for him through all of this.

I wished there was a way that I could help him, that I could give him some way to just let go of it all for a while. He'd spent the last three years of his life making sure that my life was happy and comfortable. I'd taken that for granted because that was what I paid him for. I didn't realize how much I had been taking him for granted as well. That had to stop. It all had to stop and, as soon as I could think again, I'd find a way to make him happy and comfortable. I had to; my man was tearing himself apart.

A few moments later, Joan was standing by with a cup of tea for me, and Harry was looking quite apologetic and concerned. I stiffened my u. l. a bit so as not to embarrass Jeeves.

"There was one thing I learned in looking into this," Harry said, when we'd got ourselves a bit calmer. "There's this group called the Fink-Nottle Trust that's had an open-ended reward of five thousand pounds for anyone who could prove what happened to you guys."

"Gussie had a trust?" I asked, looking back at Harry. I was rather confused now, but considering I felt so awful, that wasn't entirely surprising.

"This old guy, Augustus Fink-Nottle, he was some famous amphibian biologist. Set up a trust fund the year after you guys disappeared."

"He got famous for his newts?" Well, I suppose if he was going to be famous for anything, newts would be just the thing for it. "Why would he set up a trust fund?"

Jeeves shifted his weight under me a bit and I looked up at him. "Perhaps, sir, he felt a need to know what had happened to you. He was there with you that day, after all, and witnessed the occurrence. Although he was, admittedly, obsessed with salamandridae, I know that he also considered himself one of your close friends."

"Well, I suppose that might be the case," I admitted. I had rather liked the chump, even though he never had a conversation that didn't involve newts. Gussie was dead, too. I brushed away tears that were still creeping down my face.

"So how do they go about getting their hands on this reward?" Joan asked.

Harry leaned back on the settee. "Well, first we have to find a way to prove they're themselves. Just looking like the guys in the photos won't really do it. That could be coincidence or makeup or photoshopping or something, you know?"

"Doesn't leave much."

Harry got a peculiar look on his face. "We can do science on it!" he said. "They've got to have relatives around somewhere. Maybe these Fink-Nottle people can do a DNA test. That would prove it for certain."

"Oh, hey, that's an idea!" Joan looked chuffed.

"What is a DNA test?" Jeeves asked.

"DNA is your genetic structure; it determines a lot about what your body looks like, the diseases you might be susceptible to, and other factors like that." Harry said. "Each individual has a unique DNA signature, but certain aspects of it run in families. You can use DNA testing to determine paternity, for instance, or to establish identity in courts of law in some places."

"And how will this help us?" Jeeves sounded curious.

Harry continued. "Well, if the Fink-Nottle people can find any of your male relatives, they can do a comparison and that should prove your identities. Unfortunately, for something like this the male line is the one that's most useful, so if there aren't any surviving male relatives, it might be an issue. But unless your fathers and grandfathers were the only male children in their families and neither of you had any brothers, you must have male relatives alive today, somewhere. Cousins, nephews, a generation or two removed, you know?"

"So how does this DNA thingummy work? I mean, how does one do one of these tests?" I asked.

"We're going to see if we can talk the Fink-Nottle Trust into footing the bill for it, because it's expensive, but it's a non-intrusive procedure. Basically, they just scrape some cells from the inside of your mouth. You shed cells like that every time you brush your teeth, so it's not painful or anything."

Joan nodded. "Okay, yeah, but talking them into it may take some doing. You know as well as I do just how bugfuck nuts all this sounds. I'm sure at this point they're just coasting, never expecting to have to cough up the money. Who the hell is gonna believe us?"

"No worries," Harry said to her, then turned to us, raising a finger in a theatrical gesture. "I don't even care about the trust money. If we can prove you guys are who you say you are, all of us are going to be ridiculously famous. And famous, my friends, means talk show circuits and book contracts and interviews, and that adds up to the big bucks. Hell, there could even be a movie deal in it." He seemed quite enthusiastic about the whole idea. I was still swimming too deeply in the soup to feel at all jolly about it, but at least proving who we were might make things easier for us if we tried to go back to England.

Jeeves's head tilted. "It is quite true that we are in need of funds. We have very little left and, if Mr. Wooster requires another visit to the hospital for any reason, we may end up with nothing at all. We have been presuming upon Miss Barr's hospitality without any compensation to her since we arrived here."

She shook her head. "I'm really not worried about it, guys. I'm more concerned about getting you on your feet so that you can go live your lives the way you want to."

Harry snorted. "Good gods, woman, what happened to a righteous sense of greed and entitlement? You're sounding un-American!"

Joan smiled, with a bit of the sard-something twist to her lips. "I'll leave that to you, my dear." She turned back to us. "What do you guys think. Should we give it a shot? After all, it's your lives we're talking about here."

I nodded. "I think it would be a good idea. I do want to know what happened to Gussie, after all, and if there's some way to... to find a piece of our lives again, I'd like that very much." It was as much for Jeeves as for myself that I wanted to do this.

"I concur," Jeeves said. "If there is a way to establish our identities, then that means there must be a way to find our families again and..." He paused, and I think he was a bit overcome. "I would very much like to find what family might remain to me," he finished quietly.

"Okay," Joan said. "This is your baby, Harry. I'm going to leave this in your capable hands. You're the one who figured it out, and if you can pull it off, more power to you."

Harry nodded. "I'm thinking this is going to take a while; months maybe. I'll need to get a photo of you two at some point, after Bertie's doing better. Like Joan said, though, I have no idea if the Fink-Nottle folks actually have any interest in this at all, and I can't imagine it's going to be easy to convince them to even do a DNA test or that they'll be eager to part with the cash if they do. It's sure as hell not going to happen next week."

"Skepticism would only be reasonable," Jeeves agreed.

"Right, then," Harry said. "Look, I know you're feeling like crap, Bertie, so I'm gonna get out of you guys' hair." He stood and slung his satchel over his shoulder again, picking up the magazine he'd brought. "I -- you go ahead and keep the book. I'm sure I can find another copy somewhere. A net search will probably turn one up someplace, and you can sign it for me. I wouldn't feel right keeping this one after everything you said."

I looked down at the book that I still had clutched to the Wooster breast. "Harry, old thing, I... thank you. This is..." I took a deep breath, trying to head off more tears, but that just sent me into a frantic bout of coughing. Jeeves held me steady, but it took quite a while to pass. By the time it was done, I was gasping for breath.

Harry regarded me sympathetically. "It's okay, Bertie. Just get better, all right? I'll take care of this."

"Thank you, sir," Jeeves said, the very image of solemn dignity. "It is very generous of you."

"Thanks, Harry," Joan added, leading him off to the door. "Keep us posted."

"Yeah, no problem. Don't expect anything soon, though."

I held the book in both hands as I lay curled in Jeeves's lap. I couldn't help the tears that came.

***

Our meeting with Miss Barr's friend had been quite remarkable and had offered an unlikely and unexpected moment of hope, but I was much more concerned with Mr. Wooster's reaction to the copy of his book that he had been given. It had affected him deeply, and I believe for the first time he had truly begun to understand precisely how isolated we were, and how far from everything we had ever known. It was an artifact that had intimately personalized our plight; I remembered the day he had signed the volume quite clearly. He had been happy and excited, cheerfully directing me where to send the packages we had prepared for several of his friends that he would not see for six months or more. Mr. Todd's was one among several we sent to New York; he had also sent copies to his artist friend, Mr. Corcoran, and his cousin Miss Mannering-Phipps, who had emigrated to America. Even Mr. Coneybear, the lift operator at our New York flat, had received one.

Mr. Wooster's cheerful nature had always delighted me, and rarely more than when he was dealing with the results of his writing. Seeing him so happy always warmed my heart, and I shared in his joy on such occasions. To see one of his own books causing him such pain struck at something deep within me. That Miss Barr and her friend had been witness to his pain concerned me; I did not wish to see him so exposed in his grief. At my suggestion, he allowed me to help him return to bed, where he would have some measure of privacy. Miss Barr cast a sympathetic glance in our direction as we departed but, blessedly, did not comment. By this time I was genuinely beginning to understand that she did care about what happened to us, though she expressed that concern in ways that often confused me.

Once Mr. Wooster was reclining, he reached out to me and I was unable to refuse his need for my presence. I lay next to him and held him as he clutched the book to himself, his body curled against mine within the circle of my arms. I could feel his fever rising again and knew he would be exhausted soon. I felt so terribly helpless as he wept. There was nothing I could do to ease his grief; I was carrying my own, unable to bear the intensity of it all. We had both lost everyone and everything we had ever known, yet I could not allow myself even that simple release of tears. It was in moments like these that I envied his ability to follow his heart and his instincts wherever they might lead. More than anything, I wanted to relieve his pain, to cure his illness, to be certain that he would be safe and happy and comfortable. None of this was within my power.

After a time, he managed to collect himself again, though it took obvious effort. "I-I'm sorry, Jeeves," he said, his voice rough with emotion. "It's not at all like me to... well..." He did not look up at me or try to meet my eyes. "The stiff u. l. hasn't been so stiff of late."

"I know, sir," I said gently. "You're not feeling well, and this was a significant emotional shock. You have no need to apologize for your reaction."

"Every time I think I'm getting used to all of this, something new comes along and knocks me off my pins," he murmured. "Is it ever going to get better?"

This was a question to which I had no answer. I considered lying to him, telling him it would, just to try to comfort him, but I could not bring myself to do so. "I don't know, sir," I finally whispered. "I wish I did."

He looked up at me then, his face flushed and his eyes bright with fever. "At least you're here with me," he said, raising a hand to rest it against my face. He traced my cheekbone with his thumb in an unconsciously soft, sensual movement. I made a desperate effort to keep my body from reacting to his touch.

I raised my hand to his, covering it for a moment and then gently removing it and resting it back on his chest. "Your fever has returned, sir," I told him, and he nodded.

"My headache's getting worse," he admitted. I consulted the small clock I had purchased for the bedside table.

"You may have more medication in half an hour, sir. Do you think, perhaps, you might be able to sleep until then?"

He nodded and rested his head against my chest again. "I worry about you, Jeeves," he whispered. "There's this... this thingness about you lately that's bothering me and I don't know how to make it better. I wish I could think." His fingers twined with mine and he held my hand to his breast next to the book still clutched in his other hand. "We're neither of us doing very well right now, are we?" The sadness in his eyes was painful to behold, and I was appalled that he had seen so clearly through all my defenses. He should not have to worry about me, especially not when he was so ill and out of sorts himself.

"There is nothing for you to worry about," I replied. "Please, sir, don't concern yourself. You require all your energy to recover from your pneumonia. What you see is merely my concern for your health."

The look on his face suggested he did not believe me, but he said nothing. He did not let go of my hand until he fell asleep, at which point I took the book carefully from his grasp and set it upon the bedside table next to the clock.

***

I lay awake next to Mr. Wooster for much of the night, listening to Miss Barr's quiet movements in the rest of the flat. Her music played softly and sometimes she would sing with it. None of it would have been loud enough to wake me had I actually been asleep, but some of the songs had extremely disturbing lyrics. There were entirely too many inappropriately cheerful songs about death and dismemberment, necrophilia, and murder among them. I was finding it impossible to reconcile Miss Barr the kind and generous woman who gave us shelter with Miss Barr the tattooed and multiply-pierced savage who sang of mailing body parts to mailboxes all over the planet. A few days ago she had said that everyone here was a bit mad, and I was certainly able to believe it. She did not retire until nearly dawn.

My reading continued between short naps and tending to Mr. Wooster's needs. By mid-afternoon he had begun to complain of stomach and intestinal pain and was having trouble keeping anything down. I hoped it was a passing symptom and that the medications he was taking would alleviate the problem. In the late afternoon he expressed a desire to go into the sitting room for a while. "For a change of scenery, old top," he noted, his voice rough from coughing. I took him to the settee. Miss Barr was absorbed in producing some kind of translation at the dining table, dictionaries and grammars close at hand for consultation.

Mr. Wooster curled himself up against me when I sat next to him and I slipped an arm about him to help keep him warm in the blanket he was wrapped within. He was shivering slightly from a chill again, though this one was of less severity than several of his previous bouts and I foolishly wondered if it might mean he was beginning to recover despite the doctor's prognosis of several weeks of illness. He was not feeling well enough to actually participate in conversation or even to watch one of the humorous movies he had found so appealing. I knew he had simply been bored and wanted to be somewhere other than in bed; I was grateful for the 'change of scenery' myself. When he fell asleep in my lap I was relieved, for he needed the rest and the pain he was in had been making it difficult for him. I did consider rising to prepare food for myself but did not wish to risk waking him.

I sat in silence for a long time while he slept, trying to understand the things I had read and the things I had heard in conversations at Miss Barr's ceilidh. Overarching themes had included fears of being unable to find or keep work, lack of health care, the wars that were in progress and the apparently extremely complex politics surrounding them, and concerns about global weather patterns that seemed much more intense than the topic would warrant based upon my own experience. The subtext of uneasiness contrasted greatly with the immediate sense of joy and celebration among the assembled as they made music, and shared food and conversation. There had been a sense of community among these people that I had only experienced in my own life among the members of my club and with my family. I had no impression that Miss Barr's friends were ignoring their difficulties and sorrows, yet they were capable of deep thought, and of happiness in the midst of their trials. There had been laughter and hope despite the undercurrent of their own and society's larger troubles.

When Miss Barr rose from the table to stretch and take a break from her endeavors, she came to sit for a moment on the arm of the settee at the opposite end from me. "I'm thinking about making dinner. Do you have any preferences?"

"I would be quite content with whatever you have, madam," I answered. "Mr. Wooster, however, has been complaining of nausea and has been having a difficult day."

"I think I'll do some tilapia fillets with rice," she murmured, thinking aloud. "Maybe some salsa verde for a little flavor."

"That would be pleasant, I think." She rose and entered the kitchen to begin meal preparations, which took only a few minutes. She seemed to favor methods that involved as little effort as possible when not cooking for guests. Once she had put everything in the oven, she returned to the sitting room and sat on the smaller settee, leaning back against one arm while putting her feet up on the other.

"How are you holding up?" she asked. "Have you been getting any sleep at all? You're looking a little rough."

"It has been sufficient, madam, thank you." Mr. Wooster shifted slightly under my arm and I moved a bit so that he could lie closer against me. "I have had a considerable amount of time to think, however, and I find there is a great deal I don't understand. Would you mind if I asked you about some of these things?"

She tugged a quilt over her legs and crossed her arms over herself, settling back comfortably. "Of course. I may not have the answers you're looking for, but I'll try. If I don't, I can at least point you in the right direction to find them for yourself."

It was a reasonable response. I had known far too many people in my life who would have pretended more knowledge than they actually had. Miss Barr's sometimes brash honesty was reassuring. "I have been reading a history of the twentieth century as expressed in its artistic movements," I began. "There are threads running through the analysis of which the author assumes everyone would be aware. It appears to be related to this... this second world war you mentioned when we talked last week."

Miss Barr nodded and gestured for me to continue. "As you are aware, madam, I know nothing of this conflict beyond what I have read. I used your computer while you were out recently to research some of this and --" Uneasy, I took a deep breath. What little I had read was horrifying and it was extremely difficult to approach the topic. "I hardly know how to begin."

"None of this is going to be easy," she warned me. "The world changed then." I sat, waiting nervously for her to continue. "You have to understand first that this was the war my grandfather's generation fought. My understanding of the war is biased by time and the aftermath of the whole thing. There was so much happening beneath the surface that nobody knew about until it was over, and that's where a lot of the horror of it lies."

"England," I asked. "What happened there?" It was my primary concern.

"The United Kingdom came through. It wasn't actually invaded, but there was a lot of aerial bombardment. About a third of London was flattened during the Blitz; the Germans bombed for almost two solid months."

"A third of the city?" I asked in disbelief.

She nodded. "A lot of other cities in Great Britain were seriously damaged as well, but the Brits stood up to it. Way fewer people died than anyone expected, thankfully, and I suspect that had a lot to do with it. England certainly survived the war, but by the end of it all, the British Empire was gone. Their global power base was broken."

I was still attempting to accept the idea that a third of London, one of the greatest cities in the world, had been destroyed. She spoke of the fall of the empire with a casual acceptance that left me breathless. "The... the empire is gone?" It was inconceivable. I knew that the Great War had weakened us, but this?

"Yeah. Like I said, the war changed everything. There's just no easy way to tell you any of this. The collapse of the British Empire was only one effect of the whole thing."

"How did Germany dare to make war again after the close of the Great War?" They had been utterly humiliated by the armistice, their economy devastated and their political structure in ruins. There had been a revolution and a new empire by 1919.

"I'm not clear on the mechanics of the whole thing, but a guy named Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in the 30s and established a dictatorship under his National Socialist party, the Nazis you've probably seen references to."

I nodded. "Yes, madam. There are many passing references in the book I've been reading."

"Hitler told the Germans that they were a superior master race who were destined to rule the world. There was a lot of overt racism at the time, and Hitler hated the Jews. He wanted to see all of them dead. By the mid-30s he was making plans for invading Europe, and he started with Poland. It only took about three years for most of Europe to fall under his armies."

"And England?" She had said we'd survived the war without an invasion, but the damage sustained seemed incredible.

"England held out for quite a while with its allies before the United States joined the war. We were being really isolationist, so it wasn't until after Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941 that we got into it. One of my great-uncles died in that attack when the Oklahoma went down." She paused for a few moments, lost in her own thoughts. "I was stationed there for a while myself. I walked around Ford Island one day -- it's the island in the middle of the harbor where a big chunk of the Pacific Fleet was anchored. The hangars there are still standing or at least they were when I was there; I saw the bullet holes in them left from that day. Parts of the place just gave me the willies." Her entire demeanor told me that she had been profoundly affected by her grandfather's war, even at this distance.

"The fighting itself wasn't the worst of the war, Jeeves," she continued after a long, painful hesitation. "It was the civilian casualties and the shift in weapons technologies that..." She took an unsteady breath. "The Germans under Hitler carried out a genocidal extermination of six million Jews," she said softly. "Maybe another four and a half million other people were exterminated along with them -- ethnic Poles, Romany people, homosexuals, communists, political dissidents, the disabled -- anyone that didn't fit into the German master race ideal. To this day, nobody's entirely sure of how many people were murdered. Upper end estimates are about ten and a half million civilians killed in extermination camps and work camps." She snorted. "There were signs over the gates at Auschwitz and some of the other camps that said 'Arbeit Macht Frei' -- 'Work makes you free.' As if anyone there was going to be leaving. The Nazis were so bad that they've become everybody's cliché stock villains."

I was shocked into nauseated disbelief. I could say nothing at all, sickened beyond comprehension. Beneath my arm, Mr. Wooster shifted and looked up at me. I hadn't realized he was awake. His eyes were wide in an expression of horror. "I can't even imagine that many people," he whispered.

"The London metropolis, sir, had a population of just over seven and a half million when we lived there." I could barely speak. He shivered and wrapped his arms around me, burying his face in my chest. I held him tightly, shaking and dizzy, attempting to imagine the entire population of London exterminated, with millions more besides. The idea of an utterly empty London, of empty homes and shops and offices, of that many people dead...

Miss Barr was solemn and quiet as she continued. "The war finally ended in 1945. Berlin was bombed with conventional weapons, but it was Japan that suffered the most horrifying bombing. In early August, the US dropped two nuclear bombs, one on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki. Each of them pretty much vaporized a square mile around where they struck. I think about a quarter of a million people died when the bombs went off. Nothing was left. Nothing." She shook her head. "There were places where all that was left of people were their shadows, burnt into the sidewalk or a fragment of a wall. The aftereffects of the radiation were even more horrible."

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust," I whispered; Eliot's poem had been prescient.

"I think I might be sick," Mr. Wooster quavered, not letting go of me.

"And we were the good guys," Miss Barr said, a spike of bitter anger in her soft words. "We've lived with that ever since. The Cold War, the one I served during while I was in the Navy, was a forty-five year stretch of insanity with the US and the Soviet Union pointing nuclear weapons at each other, complete with twitchy trigger fingers and computer glitches that almost launched the damned things. We called it 'Mutually Assured Destruction' -- a deterrent based on a fear of the complete and utter destruction of life on Earth."

I could only sit and stare at her as I clung to Mr. Wooster. There were absolutely no words. I could not fathom it; there was nothing at all in my experience that could allow me to grasp an entire square mile of city being vaporized.

She rose and came to the settee, sitting on the arm next to me and enfolding Mr. Wooster and myself in her arms. It was a measure of my complete and utter horror to realize that I found this comforting. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "This is not the world you left. I grew up terrified of the world ending in a flash of light. It still gives me nightmares sometimes."

Miss Barr had not understated her case when she said the world was insane. It was utter, incomprehensible madness. "How do you people live with this?" I asked, my voice shaking.

She rested her forehead gently against my temple. "With love and fear and hope and despair," she said, her breath warm on my cheek. "I don't know any other way."

"I want to go home," Mr. Wooster said, his own voice breaking. It was his distress that finally reached through my own oblivious horror. I slid my hand up his back and into his hair, tucking his head beneath my chin, wishing I could protect him and knowing I could not. Both of us were still trembling. I shared his impossible desire, wanting entirely irrationally to go back to the moment we left and warn my country, my beloved England, of what lay ahead.

Miss Barr answered him for me. "This is home now, Bertie -- this insane, fucked up, beautiful world."

It was so hard to maintain my composure. I could barely breathe. Miss Barr loosed her arms from around us and sat up. "You want a drink, Jeeves?" she asked. I nodded silently, wondering if it would help. "I'd offer you one, Bertie, but it might mess you up really badly with all the meds you're on, and I don't want to see you get any worse."

"I think I'll risk it," he answered, though she shook her head, refusing him.

Miss Barr rose and poured drinks for me and herself. She returned and handed me a glass containing a fairly significant portion of straight vodka. "There's not enough whisky in the house to deal with this," she said. "This kind of thing calls for getting totally shitfaced," she said, utterly serious. I looked up at her. "L'chaim," she offered, raising her glass to me.

"Cheers," I replied, entirely by reflex. Our glasses met briefly and I drained the entire portion of clear, burning liquid, pausing afterward to gasp for breath, my eyes tearing up from the intensity of it. Mr. Wooster stared at me in astonishment. I found I could not blame him; this was entirely out of character for me, particularly in front of him. Miss Barr had been quite correct. The only way to cope with this was to get blind, stinking drunk. I already felt slightly more human.

"Jeeves?" His face was pale and his eyes were still wide and shocked.

"Sir?"

"I really must insist." We both looked to Miss Barr, who sighed and brought a third glass and the bottle of vodka. She poured a smaller amount for Mr. Wooster; she was likely right that it would not be good for him, but there were extenuating circumstances. He drank it quickly, shuddering at the taste. Vodka was not his normal preference. "Ugh. That's awful," he gasped.

Miss Barr sat on the floor, leaning against my legs, and poured me another glass. I drank it without hesitation, wondering if I could manage to forget this entire, heinous afternoon and every word I'd heard. How could I live in a world like this? How could I live among people like this? This place was a nightmare. They walked around living as though the world hadn't ended, as though sanity still existed somewhere, as though it were normal to know you might be vaporized in an instant, but still rise every morning and worry about having a job or getting sick or paying your bills. How could people live such a meaningless, nihilistic existence? I had never felt such despair in my life. I had no idea what to do, absolutely none.

I held out my glass for another pour. I knew abstractly that I would be miserably sick once I got over being blind drunk. I didn't care in the least. The ingredients for my restorative were available in the kitchen and I could make it in my sleep if necessary. I was quite certain it would be necessary. I believe Miss Barr poured less vodka into my glass this time, but I could not be positive. Things had become somewhat blurry and I was growing blessedly numb. That numbness was the only thing standing between me and oblivion.

***

The entire thing was bally unbelievable. I'd never heard such horrible things in my life, never even imagined such things could be possible in the worst of my nightmares. Beyond that, I'd never seen Jeeves get himself so far under the surface before and it frightened me. I'd never even seen him mildly tipsy. He was always in such control of himself and everything around him.

He'd got himself sozzled with the same kind of absolute deliberation he applies to everything else which, I think, made it even more frightening. Worse, he looked quite on the verge of tears despite being tighter than every owl on the bally planet. The very idea of a Jeeves in tears set my entire world off its axis.

Joan yelped and bolted to her feet a few drinks later, when we started smelling smoke in the kitchen; dinner was burnt beyond eating, not that we were in any shape to be eating it. The vodka had stirred up my nausea again and I wasn't sure if I'd make it through the night without a mad dash for the loo. She staggered back into the sitting room on wobbly pins after opening one of the windows, and dropped in front of the settee again, looking up at both of us. "Sorry about that," she said, looking a bit ashamed of herself.

"Joan, old fruit," I said, none too certain my mouth was working properly, "I... I rather think I need a lie down." I peered at Jeeves, who looked back down at me with confused, horrified, hollow blue eyes. "So does Jeeves." I wanted to be in bed with a pillow over my head to blot out the world. I wanted to do something to take that look out of his eyes. I wanted to go home. I wanted Jeeves to fix everything. I didn't know what I wanted. Nothing made any bally sense. I wanted things to make sense again.

Joan nodded. "Right." She wedged herself upright and took a deep breath, blowing it out sharply. "Shit. I really shouldn't have done that." I wasn't sure if she meant standing up in general, or getting drunk in the first place. I'd heard almost all of their conversation and I could see it had been nearly as hard for her to tell as it was for Jeeves to hear. As it had been for me to hear. I'd seen the bits of the Great War that had come to England, like everyone else my age, but even then it had seemed distant and ab-whatsit, because I'd been too young to worry about whether I should become an officer and go to fight. I suppose I would have, had I been a few years older. One didn't ignore the fact that there had been a Wooster at Agincourt, after all. Not doing my part would have been a stain on the name and I would never have allowed that. Nor would my family, I suspect.

Joan held out a hand to me and helped me to my feet. I wrapped my blanket about the willowy frame so that I could use my arms. I was dizzy and queasy and feverish and entirely out of sorts, but Jeeves looked completely devastated. "Come on, old thing. Up you get." I laid a hand on one of his arms and Joan took the other and we heaved him to his feet. He came up willingly enough, but it was like trying to ride a unicycle -- every move we made got overbalanced. Eventually we both got a shoulder under a Jeevesian arm and the three of us stumbled back to the library. Jeeves kept apologizing for being so tight, but I didn't care. Nothing made sense anymore, so why should I blame him for turning his fish-fed brain to mush this once?

We managed to ease him down on the bed without either of us falling over while we did it. It was a feat of coordination I was surprised we could perform. I had rather expected all of us to be nose-down on the mattress, but Joan proved to have sea legs, or whatever it is people have when they're inebri-whatsit and still on their feet after you'd think they would have fallen off the edge of the earth. I have to say, I was impressed. We tugged Jeeves's shoes off and he tried to roll up onto one elbow but didn't make it quite that far. She left us alone once his shoes were off, saying she had to try to scrape the burnt food out of the pan. I watched her wobble away before I turned my somewhat unsteady attention to my man.

I knelt on the bed next to him without falling over. He was removing his tie, though it was slow going. I started on his buttons, with somewhat less success. "Please, sir, there's no need for you to... to..." He shook his head sharply and tried to make his eyes focus. "I can do this myself, sir."

With a sigh, I sat back on my heels, leaning on one arm and looking down at him as he slowly undressed down to his pants and put his pyjamas on. I wouldn't have taken odds on him completing the task, but he managed it somehow. "Jeeves," I said, "I never thought you had this in you."

"I don't, sir, actually," he said mournfully. "I expect it won't stay." He did look a bit green about the gills and I hoped he wouldn't be sick. "I hope you'll forgive me," he murmured, his bleary eyes on mine.

I lay down next to him and pulled the covers over us, putting an arm about him. "If there was ever a day for you to get blind drunk, it was today," I told him. It wasn't like I hadn't poured my own share of Joan's Russian battery acid down my gullet. He blinked a few times and, to my horror, I realized that there were tears in his eyes.

"Jeeves?" He sniffled and closed his eyes, turning his face away, as if to hide it. I raised a hand and cupped his cheek, turning his face back to me. His lashes were wet and tears had begun trickling slowly down. "Dear Lord," I whispered, very afraid. I thought I might be imagining things but when I ran a thumb over the glimmer it came away warm and wet. It was like being stabbed in the gut. I wiggled myself nearer, feeling for a moment absurdly like one of Gussie's newts, and held him close. He opened his eyes again, just looking at me. I brushed his tears away with the tips of my fingers and he sniffled again.

"Can you talk to me, old thing?" I traced the line of his cheekbone with damp fingertips. He shook his head no and rolled onto his side, curling up around me. I had no idea what to do. "Jeeves." No, that wouldn't do -- not here, not now. Not after everything that had happened to us in the past week. "Reggie," I said, hesitant. He flinched.

"Please, sir, don't." The pain in his broken voice ripped through me. I couldn't understand why he wanted to keep this distance between us. It wasn't necessary anymore, we knew that now. Yes, I was sick and I felt like a rug that had been trampled by enraged oxen in a rush to make the train, but that didn't mean we had to remain a gentleman and his valet. We could be friends, finally. We could be...

"Why? Why, Reggie? The entire world's fallen apart. The only thing we have left is each other."

He shook his head again, tears still falling. "I'm in no condition to have this conversation, sir," he slurred. "Please, just accept that this is not something I can do."

"I won't argue with you," I said. "I just have no idea what to do, and you're so awfully unhappy, and I've had the tender pash for you for such a long time." Something in him seemed to break at that, and he held me tightly enough to squeeze the breath from me, burying his face against my neck and sobbing silently. I'll admit I nearly panicked, but even I knew that was a very bad idea. I threaded my fingers in his soft, black hair, moving them in a slow, gentle caress. "I love you, Reggie," I whispered, my heart galloping like billy-o. I was short of breath and frightened and miserable, but I was so terribly worried about him. "Please don't cry. I hate to see you hurting like this and I don't know how to make it stop. I just want to make it stop." Of course, that didn't help a bit, but I suppose I hadn't expected it to. Bertram is not known for his graceful handling of emotional thingummies. I could feel his hot, wet tears trickling down my neck; if anything, his quiet sobs grew more ragged and intense. All I could do was hold him. I kissed him behind his ear, which was about the only bit I could reach with his face buried like that. He shivered and his fingers tightened in my pyjama shirt.

I wasn't going to let go. I wasn't going to let him go. I needed him and I wanted him and I loved him and I knew he felt the same. I couldn't understand why he was denying it. Even tight as an owl, the man was easily ten times smarter than I'd ever be. He had to have known. We'd hinted around it, even before we'd fallen out of the world. Here in Seattle, in the midst of this whole waking nightmare, Joan had said she lived with love and fear and hope and despair and, good Christ, I felt all of those things right now in one horrid jumble, and at the center of all of it was Reginald Jeeves.

A very drunk and confused Reginald Jeeves.

I gave up trying to think. It was really dashed useless, given my mental negligi-somethingness. I wasn't as drunk as he was, but my brains were pre-scrambled with fever and a headache and a feeling like broken glass in my tum. I sighed and just held him as he soaked my shoulder. It took a while, but he eventually exhausted himself and fell asleep, or perhaps passed out, I couldn't tell. I kissed him again, just because I could, my nose in his hair and my arms around him.

"I love you, Reggie," I murmured as he snored against my chest. It had to be said again, you see.

***

Both of us ended up bolting for the loo more than once during the night. I didn't hear Joan going at it, but I think she'd had less than Jeeves did, and my inward bits had been rather a horrid mess of red-hot broken glass before I had the vodka, so I'd been a sure bet for it even without the battery acid. When morning came, Jeeves was at the bedside with one of his brilliant restoratives for me. I looked up at him and took it from the tray. "Thank you, Reggie," I croaked. I was determined that things were going to change between us after everything that had happened, and I was going to use his given name, because I didn't know where else to start.

Jeeves put on his stuffed frog face and wrapped it in plate armor buried in a dungeon several hundred feet beneath the center of a huge stone castle located behind a wide and impassible crocodile-filled moat. "Sir," he said. I could barely find him in there at all. The only thing I could see gleaming behind those blue e.s of his was the demon hangover. He was going to be horribly stubborn, I could tell. But I didn't want him to be my valet anymore; I wanted us to be something entirely different, involving some rather soppy feelings and a goodish bit of the tender pash. I wasn't sure he could bring himself to it, though, what with the feudal spirit that seemed to be burned into his bones. I had to make him talk to me somehow.

I took the restorative he offered and got myself outside it, but it didn't stay long. Jeeves helped me into the bathroom and, after I'd once again emptied myself down to the toes, he drew a bath for me. While he was absolutely as attentive as ever, he barely said a word. I wasn't sure if it was the hangover or if he was still in a state from yesterday. By the time I'd been toweled off and bunged back into bed all shivering with chills, I'd decided it was something of both.

Jeeves was tight-lipped as a clam with laryngitis. I don't think he spoke more than five sentences that day, and most of them ended with a very firm and proper 'sir.' Joan came by to look in on me quite a few times. She looked a bit run over herself and, when I asked why she hadn't taken one of Jeeves's miracle potions, she reminded me that she was allergic to eggs, which were apparently a rather important component of the whatsit. She kept eyeing Jeeves and I'm fairly certain she knew something was wrong. I don't think she quite knew what to do about it just yet, though. I certainly didn't.

I tried a few times over the course of the day to eat or drink something when Jeeves brought it, but none of it stayed. I couldn't even keep the pills down with a little water or broth; it was one of those bally pills that was turning my stomach into a fiery crater filled with ground glass in the first place. I managed to pull a muscle in my side that afternoon because of the coughing and retching, and I felt dashed awful. Jeeves's stuffiness slipped a bit when that happened, and I could see he was worried, but he still couldn't seem to bring himself to talk to me. He might have been nearly silent, but he was also hovering like a pensive guardian angel whose performance was under review. I was afraid he'd take himself off to the sitting room to sleep for the night, but he did get into bed with me again and let me curl up around him. That was the only good thing at all about the day.

***

My strength and my resolve had entirely deserted me. Yesterday I had barely been able to speak, and it was not the result of my inexcusable bout of drunkenness. I was still wavering madly between numbness and horror, overlain by my concern for Mr. Wooster's deteriorating condition. That he had begun to address me by my given name only intensified my overly-emotional reactions to our situation. Silence had been my only refuge.

That he desperately wished to speak of what lay between us was obvious, but I could not -- not now, not while I was in this state. My reason had departed and I could not trust myself in the least measure. He was far too ill for us to have this impossible conversation, and I was abandoned in mid-air, falling. I felt myself, as Joyce wrote, a cracked lookingglass of a servant. I no longer recognized myself at all.

Miss Barr watched me with open worry on her countenance and Mr. Wooster, despite his misery, kept attempting to draw me out. His continuing failure to do so frustrated him immensely. Because he was unable to keep anything in his stomach, he was becoming dehydrated and his pneumonia was progressing in an alarming manner. The irony of Mr. Wooster vomiting up the medication intended to relieve his nausea was not lost on me. If this did not end soon we would need to take him back to the hospital and I did not know what we would do then.

By late afternoon, I was unable to maintain the silence behind which I had retreated. Mr. Wooster was sleeping restlessly, so I ventured into the sitting room, where Miss Barr was reading. "Miss Barr," I said, standing at the arm of the settee upon which she sat.

She looked up at me. "Yes?"

"I am extremely concerned about Mr. Wooster." I was finding it difficult to stand still because of my distress, and shifted my weight nervously from foot to foot as I clasped my hands behind me.

"Yeah," she said with a sigh. "Me too. Has he been able to keep anything down at all?"

I shook my head. "Not since early yesterday, madam."

She placed a bookmark in the volume she was perusing and rose. "How is he right now?"

"Feverish but sleeping." I followed her into the library, where she opened the blind to let in the lowering western light. Sitting beside Mr. Wooster on the bed, she removed the cool cloth from his forehead and rested the inside of her wrist at his temple. He groaned softly, and she replaced the cloth.

Rising, she went into the salle de bain and returned with a thermometer, which she gently placed into Mr. Wooster's ear. Pressing a small button on it, she waited until it beeped and removed the device. "A hundred and two point six," she said quietly. "And I don't like the sound of his breathing."

He was very pale as he lay on the bed, his breathing more shallow than it should have been. "Nor do I, madam."

She handed me the thermometer. "If the fever goes to a hundred and three or his breathing gets worse, we're taking him in," she said. "We need to get some kind of liquid down him. This dehydration is dangerous."

"I concur." I looked down at him, slipping the thermometer into my pocket.

"I'm going down to the store to pick up something with electrolytes. If he can keep that down, it'll help more than water." I nodded, feeling worthless in my inability to do anything but worry over him. She touched my elbow and I turned my head to look at her. "We'll take care of him," she assured me. A moment later, she was gone and I was alone with him again.

I sat with him on the bed, stroking his hair with one hand. He stirred slightly, moaning, but did not wake. I had noted previously that his breathing seemed to improve somewhat if his torso were elevated, so I carefully slid my arms beneath him and lifted him so that he was resting on my chest with his head on my shoulder. After a few minutes' observation, I was relieved to perceive that his respiration had eased somewhat.

Miss Barr returned after about fifteen minutes and brought a bottle of liquid and a cup into the room. She poured a small amount into the cup and handed it to me. It was a rather vile color. "Let's see if this will do any good," she said.

I nodded. "Sir. Sir, please wake up." He made a small, pained sound and turned his head away from me. Miss Barr sat on the other side of the bed and gently jostled Mr. Wooster's elbow.

"Come on, Bertie, we need you here for a few minutes."

He moaned again and his eyes fluttered open. One hand came up to the arm I had around him and rested there as he looked up at me. "Reggie."

"Please try to drink this, sir." I held the cup to his lips, but he reached up and tried to push it away.

"Can't," he said. "The tum's on fire."

"You must try, sir. You're becoming dehydrated. If you are unable to drink anything or take your medication, we will need to take you to back to the hospital." He grimaced but nodded and sipped a bit of the vaguely orange liquid. After a second sip, he pushed it away again with a queasy expression on his face.

"I can't," he whispered. He shuddered when I offered it to him again. I looked up at Miss Barr.

"Keep trying," she said softly. "I suspect we're going to be taking him in tonight, though."

"Not again," he groaned quietly, his entire being a portrait of misery.

I held the cup up to him again as Miss Barr departed. "If you are able to drink something, sir, perhaps you will be able to take your medication."

"Bally stuff rips up my stomach, Reggie. It's horrid." I set the cup down, not wanting to force it on him, and he turned and slid his arms around me. "It hurts so awfully. Everything hurts. I wish it would stop."

I took the cloth from his forehead; it had begun to slip when he turned toward me. Laying it aside, I held him carefully, resting my cheek against his damp hair. "I would end all of it if I could, sir," I told him. I didn't have the heart to ask him not to call me Reggie; if we took him back to the hospital he would need to do so anyway and I would be faced with the same conflicts it sparked within me, regardless. If it gave him even some small measure of comfort, I could not begrudge him.

I dared not leave him while his condition seemed so precarious, but Miss Barr brought something for me to eat late that evening. While I did eat, I had no idea what it was. I couldn't taste it, I knew only that it was hot and filling. Mr. Wooster slept fitfully, leaning against me to ease his breathing. By eleven that night, I could stand it no longer and asked Miss Barr to help me take him to the hospital. His breathing was too shallow, and quickening. When she turned on the light to the library, I noted with alarm that his lips had started tingeing faintly blue.

"Will they make us wait for hours again, with him like this?" I asked, fearing what might happen if they did.

"No," she said, helping me bundle him in a blanket. "Problems breathing and heart trouble are two things that'll bump you to the front of the line. Looking like this they'll take him in right away. It looks really bad if they let people die in the waiting room." I picked him up in my arms as Miss Barr pulled her jacket on and opened the door for me. For once, her cynicism seemed entirely appropriate.

It was only about ten minutes to the hospital, and Miss Barr dropped me at the emergency room door with Mr. Wooster. "I'll meet you in there," she said. "You know the drill. Tell them the same things you told them last time. I'll be back as soon as I find a parking spot."

Just as Miss Barr said, when I arrived at the desk and explained the situation, the young man there looked at Mr. Wooster briefly and immediately called someone to escort us back into the treatment area. I was very nearly frantic but unwilling to let these people see my distress. As I lay Mr. Wooster's limp body on one of the examination tables, someone placed a clear plastic mask with a tube leading from it over his nose and mouth. "We'll get him on some oxygen, then deal with the rest of it." Everything went by in a blur. By the time Miss Barr joined me, there was a tube in Mr. Wooster's hand and several clear plastic bags dripping liquid into him. I had been handed papers on a clipboard and instructed to fill them out back in the waiting area, but I was reluctant to leave Mr. Wooster. He was awake but confused and disoriented.

"Come on, Reggie," Miss Barr said, tugging gently at my arm. "We're in the way here. Let's go sit and fill out the forms."

"But--" I looked back at Mr. Wooster, who looked lost and frightened.

"It'll be okay," she insisted. Lowering her voice she added, "You don't want to make them have to remove you, okay? Come on, let's go." I followed her reluctantly and she led me to a pair of chairs near the door we had just passed through. "Here, have a seat," she said.

I looked back at the door, half tempted to ignore her and the people who had told me to leave. "What will happen to him?" I asked, afraid they would not let me see him again.

"He's in good hands, Reggie." She sat and tugged me down into the seat next to her. "Once we have the paperwork filled out, we might be able to find out what's happening."

The papers in my hands made very little sense. I knew I had filled out an identical set only two days ago, but I was quite irrational and frightened. "What am I going to do?" I whispered.

Miss Barr leaned toward me and put her hands on my shoulders, making me look at her. "You're going to take a few deep breaths and calm down a little," she said. "Panicking is not going to help. They're taking care of him, so now we need to do our part, okay?" I nodded and took a few deep, shuddering breaths, my fingers clutching the board tightly. "It's going to be okay," she said quietly.

When I looked down at the board again, I could see my hands trembling, but at least the words were legible. I picked up the pen and attempted to focus on my task. When my attention wandered or my fear threatened to get the better of me, Miss Barr brought me gently back to my responsibilities. It was about twenty minutes after I had turned in the papers at the desk before an elderly, grey haired woman in a white coat approached us.

"You're with Bertie Wooster?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "How is he? What's happening?" Miss Barr put a hand on my elbow, anchoring me and keeping me from becoming too agitated.

"We've got him stabilized and we'll be admitting him as soon as a bed is open," she said. "That should be an hour or so."

Miss Barr nodded. "How's he looking, doc?" she asked.

"We're going to want to keep him at least overnight," the woman told us, "possibly tomorrow night as well, though we can't be sure right now. His inability to keep down the antibiotics allowed the pneumonia to progress, so we have to make sure he's able to take them again before we can release him."

"Right," Miss Barr said. She turned to me. "Erythromycin is nasty stuff. I had a really similar reaction the last time they had me on it and I ended up in the ER too. He's going to be okay."

"We'll call you once he's settled," the doctor said. "Meanwhile, you can wait in the seventh floor waiting area over on the south wing. That's where we'll be moving him."

Miss Barr asked for directions and thanked the woman, then started to lead me away. "But he's still here," I objected.

"I know, but they won't let us see him until they've admitted him. We'd just be in the way."

I followed her down a long corridor and into a lift, too busy worrying to say anything. As the lift rose, I asked, "How serious is this?"

"If they're putting him in a regular ward," she answered, "then they don't think it's too bad. If they thought it was really serious, like life-threatening, they'd have admitted him to the intensive care unit. I don't think we have too much to worry about. They just want to make sure that Bertie's well enough for us to take care of him at home again before they release him."

When the lift opened again, I followed Miss Barr along another series of corridors and we eventually came to a desk, where a nurse asked if we required assistance. "We're supposed to wait for my nephew to be admitted here on the ward overnight," she answered. Hearing her refer to Mr. Wooster as her nephew felt as strange as having myself referred to as his partner. Miss Barr sounded entirely convincing.

"Right," the nurse said. "You'll need visitor badges for after hours." She rummaged in a drawer and drew out two stiff plastic badges on clips that read 'VISITOR' and had us sign our names on a list. "The waiting area is just beyond that door," she added, pointing with her pen.

"Thank you," I said, clipping the badge to the edge of my waistcoat. Miss Barr and I entered the quiet, deserted room. There were a dozen chairs with a few tables separating them into small groups. Magazines and newspapers lay on the tables. A television was mounted on the wall, but Miss Barr made no move to turn it on, for which I was grateful. I had found them noisy and pernicious when they were set to the broadcast channels. We took seats next to one another.

"How are you doing?" Miss Barr asked me.

"I..." I had intended to tell her I was fine, but we both knew I was not. "Very poorly," I admitted.

"Thank you for actually admitting it." She took my hand in hers. "Is there anything I can do?"

"I don't know. This is..." I took a deep breath. "It frightens me."

"It's not a sin to be worried or afraid," she said. "It's a perfectly rational reaction to all of this."

"I don't feel rational at all, Joan," I said. It was still extremely awkward, using her given name, but I had no desire to have anyone question our story. I could not bear the thought of anyone separating me from Mr. Wooster. "I feel like everything is falling apart. I'm... I'm beginning to doubt my own sanity."

She shook her head and squeezed my hand. "Trust me on this, Reggie -- you're not insane. You're stressed out and maybe not handling some of these things very well, but you're also dealing with some really hard situations right now, not to mention the pure culture shock of everything that's changed around you. I'd say you're doing better than a lot of other people might under these circumstances. I mean, can you seriously imagine me stuck in 1924?"

Miss Barr spread her hands and invited an examination. I looked at her, with her bizarre appearance, knowing her general speech patterns and attitudes, and I realized that she would find it impossible to blend in, even in London, were she to find herself in my time. I could think of no prevarication that would prevent her from being seen as dangerously disturbed and, very likely, involuntarily committed to an asylum. "It does not bear thinking about," I said.

She gave me a wry look. "I might get away with telling people I was a tattooed lady from a circus, but beyond that? They'd think I was crazy, and I'd hate to think about what would happen when I went into withdrawal from my meds. I'm seriously messed up without them, as in totally non-functional. I know this is hard, but you're going to get through this, Reggie, okay? Bertie seems to be taking the whole thing a little more in stride but I think that's because you're more aware of what all these things really mean. Gods bless him, and I don't mean any slight to him, but he's not as smart as you are and some of the details are a little lost on him. It's insulating him a bit and it's probably better that way."

I understood what she meant. Mr. Wooster is usually a cheerful, pleasant man. He has a way with words and a great deal of musical talent, but analysis is not one of his strengths. I nodded, still quite beside myself. "How am I going to pay for this?" If a visit to the emergency room had been so expensive, how much more so would one or two nights in hospital be? It was likely to be far more than we possessed.

Miss Barr leaned back in her chair. "You give them some of what you have and tell them to send a bill for the rest," she said. "Even if you gave them every penny you had, it won't cover this." She looked out the door into the corridor. "It's not like they can take what you don't have," she said. "We'll find a way to deal with it; it may take a while but it can be done. They'll take installment payments if it's the only way they can get the money."

I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and buried my face in my hands. She sounded so matter-of-fact about it. How were we going to afford to eat? It was never a question I'd had to confront and certainly Mr. Wooster had never lacked for funds in his life. The prospect was terrifying. Miss Barr rubbed my back with one hand. "Don't worry so much," she said. "We'll deal with it. I've been in worse situations." I looked at her and realized that I believed it, and that I also believed she had found a way to surpass those troubles. The only time I had ever been in a worse situation than this was during the war, and there were no comparisons to be drawn that would be useful. There is a vast difference between facing poison gas and facing abject poverty.

"Thank you," I said. "I have no idea what we would do without your help." I had no idea what we would be doing right now, had we even managed to survive our arrival.

"It's okay," she answered. "I'm sure you would have figured something out. Bertie's resilient, you're smarter than the average bear, and both of you are stubborn as hell. Those are all sterling qualities for times like these." I sat quietly and contemplated her words, though foremost in my mind was always Mr. Wooster, whether he was recovering at all, and when I would be permitted to see him again. Miss Barr rustled about in the pile of magazines, looking for something to read, but I could not. Though I was calmer than I had been in the emergency room, I was still quite agitated. It was an extremely uncomfortable sensation for me.

Time seemed to slow nearly to a halt as we waited. Eventually I could stand it no more and got up to pace the room. Miss Barr merely looked up to note the activity and went back to reading. It was hard to understand how she could be so serene. While she had no particular reason to have an investment in our welfare, she was obviously concerned for our well-being and had put herself to a great deal of inconvenience and trouble for us.

I was startled when the nurse from the desk entered the room. "Mr. Wooster's settled in room 714," she said. "It's this way." She led us down the corridor and around a corner, past a number of open doors. Long curtains were drawn in each of them, apparently dividing the rooms into sections. When she we arrived at Mr. Wooster's room, she ushered us in and I was surprised and dismayed to find there were three other patients in the room, all asleep in small, curtained-off areas. We would have no privacy at all beyond the barely-adequate visual screen afforded by the thin cloth curtains and I realized I would have to carry on the charade that allowed me to be here with him. The nurse offered a brief orientation regarding the rules and schedules of the establishment and left us with Mr. Wooster.

He was awake but very drowzy, the clear mask still over his mouth and nose. The intravenous tube was still taped to the back of his hand, though now there was only one bag connected to it. His eyes brightened slightly when we entered and a weak smile touched his lips. "Reggie," he said, his voice soft and exhausted. He reached out to me and I took his hand.

"Bertie, I--" It was still so very difficult for me to call him by name like that, and every time I did something in my chest tightened. I could hear the rough emotion in my voice, almost overwhelming. "Are you feeling at all better?" Miss Barr hovered nearby as I took in the weariness of his features. His color had improved and the blue cast to his lips was gone, replaced with a very pale but much less alarming approximation of his usual complexion. This lifted an immense weight from my heart and I could feel my shoulders relax; I had not realized I was holding them so tightly.

Mr. Wooster nodded, a slow, slight motion. He looked, as he might say, 'foxed to the tonsils.' "Just topping." He tugged weakly on my hand and pulled me closer to the bed. It was narrow, with metal railings raised on each side. The head of the bed was elevated somewhat. "Look, the bed moves if you push the buttons." He held up a box with a thick cord attached that ran down the opposite side of the bed. There were several buttons on it. He pushed one that raised the head a bit, then pushed another that lowered it to its original position. His tired smile widened a bit.

"Reggie, Bertie," Miss Barr said, "I can head home for the night if you want and leave you two on your own to give you a little bit more privacy."

I was uncertain. What if an emergency arose that required her presence? "When would you be back?" Mr. Wooster asked.

She reached into one of her jacket pockets and pulled out a small card, handing it to me. "Here's my phone number. You can call with the phone here if you need me for anything and I'll be right over. I'm only about ten minutes away." There was, in fact, a telephone sitting on his bedside table. It bore enough resemblance to the telephones I had known that it was recognizable. I would not have to ask for instructions in its use, thankfully. "There's no real reason for me to be here unless you guys actually want me around, and I wouldn't mind getting a little sleep tonight. I can come back after breakfast tomorrow and maybe by then they'll know what they want to do." She approached and lay a hand on Mr. Wooster's chest.

"That would be acceptable, Joan," I said. Mr. Wooster nodded in agreement, covering her hand with his for a moment, though he said nothing. It was apparent that he would sleep soon if given the opportunity, and I honestly preferred the option of being alone with Mr. Wooster for my vigil.

"Okay, guys. I'll see you tomorrow." She leaned down and gave Mr. Wooster a gentle hug and a peck on the cheek then gave me an inquiring look. I hesitated for a moment then allowed her to hug me as well, though she refrained from the kiss on the cheek, much to my relief. "Call if you need anything," she insisted, and then she was gone.

I pulled a chair close to the bed and lowered the metal railing on the side that separated us, then sat, taking his hand again. "Are you still in pain?" I asked.

He shook his head. "No, old fruit, they put something bally marvelous in the thingummy they jammed into my hand. I can't feel a dashed thing. It's all rather pleasantly floaty, actually." He met my eyes briefly, not able to focus with any clarity. "Well, that's not quite true. I think I actually hurt like the dickens, but I can't say as I care at all. It's like standing beside myself, you know?"

"Oh, Bertie," I whispered.

His eyes fluttered as he struggled to keep them open. "I'm so dreadfully in love with you, Reggie," he murmured, losing the battle. He was asleep a moment later and I held his hand to my cheek, unable to keep tears from falling once again.

***

When I woke, my head was resting on the edge of the bed, Mr. Wooster's hand still held in my own. The dim, grey light coming in through the window suggested it was quite early and the clock on the wall confirmed that it was barely six in the morning. Mr. Wooster slept peacefully, which I found a distinct relief. His breathing sounded less troubled than it had last night, though it was still shallow and rough. He looked exceedingly pale against the bleached white sheets and I could see that he had lost weight, even in the few days he had been so ill. Although I did not remember falling asleep, I felt considerably better for having done so.

I sat up and reached out to caress his too-pale cheek with the back of my fingers. He still had a fever. He stirred slightly, turning his face to my touch. His eyes opened slightly and the barest hint of a smile touched his lips. "You're here," he whispered.

"Always," I said softly. His fingers curled between mine and he drew my hand slowly to his breast.

"Where are we?"

"You were admitted to hospital last night, s- Bertie." It was hard to overcome so many years of habit when I was barely awake.

He looked around. "I don't remember it," he murmured.

"You were very ill." He was still far too ill for my comfort. Mr. Wooster nodded. "How do you feel?"

"Tired. Awful. Too warm." His other hand rose to the clear mask on his face. "What's this?"

"An oxygen supply. You were having great difficulty breathing last night."

"Still hurts to breathe."

"Please, Bertie, you shouldn't try to talk. Just rest." I wished fervently that there was something -- anything -- I could do.

"I can't." His hand tightened about mine. "Talk to me?"

I would have far preferred that he rest, for I knew he needed it. "What shall we talk about, Bertie?"

A troubled look passed over his pain-shadowed face. "You've hardly said a bally word since all that vodka," he said softly. "Did... did I do something wrong?"

My chest tightened. I'd had no idea he might interpret my silence in such a way. "No, sir," I whispered urgently, "no. Not at all."

"You just... sometimes you go all-over icy when I've done something you don't like--"

I moved to sit facing him on the bed, taking both his hands in my own, careful of the needle embedded in his vein. "No," I said again. "It was nothing you've done, Bertie, nothing at all like that."

"Then why, Reggie?" There was a plaintive note in his quiet question.

I didn't know how to answer him. Everything was entirely too complicated. "I... I had to think," I finally told him. "So much has happened. I didn't know what to say." I was still at a loss, overwhelmed by nearly everything.

His head tilted slightly, worry in his eyes. "You've never been at a loss for words."

"I am far more flawed than you have wished to believe," I whispered, bowing my head. I had always taken a certain pride in how highly he regarded me, but now all I could see in myself was my hubris in taking his far-too-high opinion of me to heart. I had never allowed him to see my flaws, my errors, my human frailties. I had always relied on my intelligence as a sort of legerdemain, a sleight of hand that covered any mistakes or miscalculations on my part, believing that his confidence in me was reason enough to wear a mask of false perfection. A servant does not show his weaknesses to his employer, but everything was shifting beneath me now, a foundation of sand that was steadily slipping away. "Nothing here makes any sense to me, Bertie." Making these admissions to him tore away at everything I had been, everything I had tried to be for him. "I have failed you in so many ways. Please forgive me."

Confusion clouded his tired blue eyes. "But you've never failed me, Reggie, ever," he said with disbelief. "Even when I thought you'd made some kind of mistake, I was wrong and you'd fished me out of the soup again."

"I've done nothing to improve our situation here," I insisted.

His lips twisted into a disapproving frown. "Even I know you don't have a magic wand, old thing." He paused, coughing harshly. I leaned in and pressed my hand into his side over the muscle he'd pulled, trying to brace it in order to spare him some pain. He was breathless and gasping when he finished, his eyes closed tightly. It seemed to take forever for him to catch his breath. When he could speak again, he looked up at me. "I'm all right," he said, his voice weak and frail.

My hand trailed up his side and over his chest, coming to rest over his heart. I could feel it beating much too rapidly under my palm. I hated not being able to do anything for him. "You must rest," I told him.

He took my wrist and tugged at it, pulling me toward him, pain and a hint of fear in his eyes. With a soft, frustrated sigh, I took him carefully into my arms. His own moved slowly until they lay loose about my waist. His body was trembling with his exhaustion as he rested his chin on my shoulder and I could feel the fever in him. He sniffled and turned his face into my neck, the cold plastic making me shiver slightly. I could feel his tears burning against my skin. "I hate feeling so afraid," he mumbled.

"I'm right here," I said, rubbing his back and holding him close. I hoped that would be enough; my presence was all I had to offer him now.

"I -- Reggie, do... do you love me?" His voice was the merest whisper, fearful and hesitant. The question sent a jolt through me, my heart hammering as I nodded with my cheek pressed against his hair. His fingers tightened in the cloth of my waistcoat. "Please," he said, his voice soft and hollow, "I need to hear you say it."

"Yes," I rasped, fear spiking within me. "God, yes, Bertie, I love you." Saying the words aloud was terrifying, even in my ragged whisper. There were three other people asleep in the room and, even though I had been told it was legal, a lifetime of fear and wariness screamed that I was putting us both at risk. What I wanted was utterly impossible; he was so far above my station and beyond my aspirations. He brought his arms up around my body in a shaking embrace.

"Oh, thank God." He sniffled and coughed again and I lay him back gently onto his pillow. How could he have doubted my regard? He had to know I would do anything for him, that I stayed with him because I cared for him despite the risk it had always been.

I pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table and wiped away his tears, pulling the mask aside for a moment so he could blow his nose. "Please," I begged, "please rest, Bertie. I'll be right here." He took my hand and squeezed it, nodding.

"I'm so tired, Reggie. I hurt so much." I ran my fingers through his hair and bent down to lean my forehead against his for a moment.

"Just sleep," I whispered.

He gave me a tiny, crooked smile, despite his pain. "Right-ho."

***

Joan was in the room sitting with Jeeves when I woke. Curtains had been opened partway and I saw that there were three other beds in the room. Only one of them was occupied, but the chap had the television on rather loudly and it was quite bothersome, being some parson or other going on about the sinful ways of the world. Joan asked the chap to turn down the sound, but he was being rather snippy about it. Jeeves looked absolutely ragged, with dark arcs under his eyes, and slumped shoulders. I reached out and lay my hand over his arm where it rested on the bed near me. Startled, he looked over at me. "Bertie?" He took my hand in his.

"Look," Joan said to the chap, "you woke him up. If you won't turn it down I'll talk to the nurse at the desk and have it turned down for you." She looked about three inches from breathing fire.

"I can't hear it otherwise," he snapped at her. He looked about middle-ish aged, with a balding pate and watery little eyes.

"Then use the damned closed captioning. That's what it's for." He made what appeared to be a rude gesture at her and she stormed out of the room.

"Why won't he turn it down?" I asked Jeeves.

He sighed, managing somehow to look even more tired and put-upon than he had a moment ago. "He does not wish to."

"Gotta be in a room with a couple of goddamned queers," the man said, glaring at us. "You're going to burn in hell with all your faggot friends. A decent, God-fearing Christian shouldn't have to share a room with the likes of you." Jeeves flinched. Before I could say anything, though, Joan came back in. She had a rather beefy young lad with her who then had a quiet chat the the chap in the other bed. The television did get turned down and the curtains were drawn about his bed and my own, but he continued to complain rather vociferously.

"I will be so glad when we can get you out of here," Joan said, sitting heavily in the chair next to Jeeves.

"What's going on?" I still had that plastic thingummy over my face and it was getting dashed uncomfortable. It made the inside of my nose dry as a bally desert, and my lips were all dry and cracked. It didn't help at all that my head hurt and my chest hurt and I was too warm and Jeeves wasn't snuggled up next to me like he properly ought to be.

Jeeves pressed a gentle caress to my cheek with one hand. "Mr. Carlyle has been abusive since he woke late this morning," he said quietly.

I looked over at Joan. "Why is he being that way?"

She still had a frighteningly unpleasant look on her face and she glared over her shoulder. I worried she might set the curtains on fire with her eyes. "I'd love to be charitable and say it's because he's in pain and alone, but," she raised her voice considerably, "I think he's just a fucking homophobic dickwad."

"God hates filth like you!" the man shouted.

Well, I must say I was quite alarmed, and Jeeves blanched at the vehemence, leaning over me a bit as though he could deliver me from the snare of the hunter and from the noisome pestilence by keeping his body between us. Joan closed her eyes and grit her teeth and didn't respond. She took a couple of deep breaths before she opened her eyes again. "The duty nurse says they're checking him out in about two hours," she said, quiet as a churchmouse. "We just have to deal with it until then. I'm really sorry, guys. You so don't need this right now. I'd ask them to move you to a different room, Bertie, if I didn't think it would take longer than waiting for him to leave."

I wasn't sure what homophobic meant, but I certainly got the idea that this blister was upset about the idea that Jeeves and I might share a tender pash. The sentiment was entirely too familiar to me, and the disgust with which he expressed it was rather frightening. I hoped he wasn't mobile enough to e. it on the currently-quite-helpless Wooster corpus. "I thought you said that this... that it was legal?" I asked.

Joan nodded. "It is, Bertie. That doesn't mean that everyone likes it." She shot another curtain-incinerating glare over her shoulder. "Jerks like that keep trying to make it illegal again, but that won't happen." She sounded just as furious as she looked. "There are too many of us now who won't take it anymore." Upon further consideration, I thought Joan might well thrash the blighter herself if he tried anything.

"Do you think you could go back to sleep, Bertie?" Jeeves asked. His hand was trembling slightly as he brushed hair back from my forehead. I shook my head no.

"I hurt too much to sleep," I told him. "Can I have some water, old fruit?" At least I didn't have that burning broken glass feeling in my tum anymore. I thought maybe the water would stay for a change, instead of just popping by for a visit. He reached over onto the bedside table and picked up a cup with a straw in it from next to a couple of empty take-away containers and a small pile of books. The books looked rather familiar; Joan must have brought them for him. Jeeves eased the mask back a little so that he could get the straw under it, and I took a few sips. I would never have thought plain water could taste that good, but I don't think I'd had any in far too long. I was so dashed thirsty.

Jeeves looked relieved when I kept sipping. I thought I might be hungry in a bit as well, though I wasn't right then. When I was done, Jeeves read a chapter to me from that comic novel we'd started, and it helped distract all of us from the unpleasant bloke behind the curtain. It wasn't long, though, before a doctor came to have a look at the willowy Wooster form.

The doctor was a pleasantish motherly-looking sort, with short blond hair and glasses. She poked and prodded and listened to the lungs and said they were going to keep me another night, but that they'd swap out the oxygen mask for a cannu-whatsit -- a little tube to go in my nose, not one of those stuffed Italian dessert thingummies -- instead. I thought that would be a considerable relief, except for the staying another night bit.

"You're still not where we'd like to see you before we send you home," she said. "Your blood oxygen is a little lower than we'd like. We've changed the antibiotic we were giving you to something that's less likely to cause so much stomach pain." That, in fact, brightened my spirits considerably. Not feeling like my stomach was playing host to a volcano, complete with virgins for sacrifice, had been a relief and I wasn't keen on feeling that way again.

Not long after that, the pugnacious chump's relatives showed up in force, all of them looking equally unpleasant. His wife and several frothy, drooling spawn were all cut of the same watery-eyed mold. After a few moments with the p. c., they started sounding snippy as well, but I took their arrival as a blessed sign that he would soon be departing. We kept everything quiet on the Wooster side of the curtain, not wanting to aggravate the sitch further. I suppose I should note that Bertram was not very much up to making a fuss regardless, what with my still being in the way of feeling miserable and short of breath and terribly tired.

When the p. c. was finally excavated, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Joan turned the television off the instant they were out the door and, in the ensuing quiet, I suddenly realized just how physically painful the sound had been. I felt like somebody had lifted a wall off of me after I'd been lying under it for a week or two. It didn't take long for me to drift back into sleep to the plummy tones of Jeeves's voice reading to me.

***

Mr. Carlyle began his complaints and abuse almost as soon as he woke, becoming more irate as the day wore on. Two of the room's inhabitants were released in the morning and I found myself desperately wishing he had been one of them. As promised, Miss Barr arrived shortly after the breakfast hour, bringing me food, tea, and several books to read. She spoke to the staff on the ward several times about Mr. Carlyle's behavior but was repeatedly assured that he would be released by mid-afternoon and that Mr. Wooster could not be moved before then because of a lack of available beds.

I found the day extremely wearing for a number of reasons, foremost among them the nature of Mr. Carlyle's abuses. He was quite vociferous about being 'forced' to share a room with what he referred to as 'abominations,' by which he meant men like myself and Mr. Wooster. His abuse only served to intensify my discomfort with the public nature of my charade in pretending to be Mr. Wooster's lover. I was thankful that he had no legal recourse against us and that his complaints and abuse could go no further. The lifetime I had spent justifiably afraid of exactly such public confrontations was taking its toll.

When he turned the television on to religious services, it was obvious he intended the volume to offend and discomfit. I had been concerned it would wake Mr. Wooster, who had been sleeping restlessly through the night. He had been feverish until shortly after our early morning conversation. While the fever had abated for a few hours, it was back again by mid-morning and I despaired of his getting adequate rest under these circumstances.

I was terribly upset that Mr. Wooster woke to be subject to Mr. Carlyle's abuses. I had been hoping he might stay asleep until that vile individual had departed. It was a great relief when the man was finally released and quiet had returned. I was even more thankful that Mr. Wooster slept more easily after the man left. The change from an oxygen mask to a cannula also eased his discomfort.

Less than half an hour after Mr. Carlyle's departure, two more individuals were installed in our room, though thankfully neither of them were in the least unpleasant. Miss Barr offered to stay with Mr. Wooster so that I could procure dinner for myself, but I wished very much to stay with him. She was kind enough to bring food for me and stayed until some time after one last individual was brought into the room in the early evening. I had been extremely grateful for her company, though we spoke very little. Her vigorous advocacy on our behalf in the matter of Mr. Carlyle had allowed me to maintain a hold on what little sanity I had left.

Our second night in hospital was somewhat easier than the first due to Mr. Wooster's slowly improving condition, but I was exhausted and barely able to function. Miss Barr left not long after dinner, once again advising me to call if we required anything. What I required -- Mr. Wooster's return to full health -- was not something she could provide. I was balanced on the raw edge of my endurance and I knew it. I desperately needed sleep, preferably on a flat surface with a locked door between myself and the rest of the world. It was not something I would be able to have until Mr. Wooster was released the next day and, even then, it would necessitate my sharing a bed with him. Although I knew I would find it comforting to hold him and hear him breathing, I had been far too intensely subjected to the unwelcome and unasked company of others for entirely too long, and only several hours of solitude and sleep would remedy my distress.

Mr. Wooster woke a few times during the course of the night and, though he was doing somewhat better, did not stay awake for long. He attempted twice to speak to me about the changing nature of our association, but I could not. Whatever its outcome, that conversation had to be carried out in private or I would not, could not, have it.

I dozed fitfully in my chair until morning came and, along with it, doctors and Miss Barr. Mr. Wooster's release just before noontime was a great relief. Miss Barr brought clothing for him so that he would not have to pass through the corridors in his pyjamas and a blanket. He was still quite weak and tired very quickly; Miss Barr requested a wheelchair for him. My stop at the billing office, however, was an expected but very unwelcome shock. I found myself taking Miss Barr's advice and holding back two hundred dollars from the money we had left so that we would at least be able to pay for our food for a little longer. The debt we had incurred left me feeling ill, but it had been our only choice. I suspect that, had I any energy at all, I would have been frantic at the amount of the bill. As it was, I felt numb and nauseated as we left the building.

I had never thought I would be so glad to see Miss Barr's small, book-cluttered flat. It was blessedly quiet and the slight scent of sandalwood incense had come, quite unexpectedly, to be a thing redolent of home and safety to me. I could see that Mr. Wooster was equally relieved to be back. At least the library offered privacy and rest for him. I had him in the bath and then in bed in short order. He insisted upon my presence, and I lay with him and held him until he once again fell asleep, but immediately thereafter I showered and requested Miss Barr's permission to use her room to sleep for a few hours until I had regained some sense of myself again.

She was entirely sympathetic and even changed the sheets for me, assuring me she would watch over Mr. Wooster while I slept. I was unconscious by the time my head touched the pillow.

***

When I woke, I was entirely Jeevesless. I was alone in Joan's library, still feeling like the Hesperus on somebody-or-other's reef, but considerably better than I had in hospital. I wondered if he'd got up and shimmered off to the sitting room, even though it was the middle of the night. With some effort, I rose and wrapped a robe about the Wooster corpus and wobbled out to said s. r. to find my wayward valet. Rather than turning up said object of my affections, I found Joan quite asleep curled up on the larger settee, tangled in a blanket and snoring softly. From this, I surmised that Jeeves must actually be gamboling like a gazelle in the arms of that Morpheus chappie behind closed doors in Joan's room. Admittedly, I hadn't been entirely present through most of it, but I knew Jeeves had taken the whole hospital visit very badly and had looked entirely knackered every time I'd been awake enough to notice.

I wasn't feeling quite up to the walk back to the library just yet, so I plopped the Wooster corpus onto the smaller settee and eased myself back against one of the arms to gaze out the window at the shadowy tops of trees and the stars beyond. The sky had a bit of an orangey glow from the metrop below, reflected on a few wispy clouds. I couldn't see very many stars because of the city lights, but it was still a spiffing sight.

This Wooster is not known for his deep thoughts, but I could certainly manage a few shallow ones and it was these s. t.'s that began to occupy my mind. Jeeves off sleeping somewhere other than with me was just the slightest bit alarming. I knew he'd been used to having his own lair back in our Berkeley Mansions flat and that he'd been sore pressed for anything even slightly resembling privacy lately. I supposed that having to deal with so many people in our room at the hospital had finally pushed him over the edge. He's a very quiet, solitary type by nature; I think that and the fish are what have developed that dashed amazing brain of his. I found myself hoping that he hadn't changed his mind in re. sharing a tender pash with me as a result of everything that had happened. I wasn't sure what I'd do if he had. The idea of the Jeevesian mind, not to mention the Jeevesian heart, removing itself from my general vicinity was quite distressing.

What I needed was a cunning plan to ensure his continuing enamoredness -- if that's even a word -- with Bertram. Unfortunately, I was dashed short on cunning at the mo. I couldn't guarantee that a sickly cough and a sorrowful countenance would keep him with me. I was sure he'd had his fill of me by now, what with hospitals and viciously vituperative patients and my own general uselessness. He'd promised me he would stay with me even if I was no longer the young master and he'd even uttered an admission of love, which I knew had taken rather a bit of wind from his sails to manage. I feared him retreating back behind the well-armored stuffed frog mask again when he woke; it seemed to be his refuge of choice lately. What worried me most was his absolute refusal to discuss the idea of coming to an understanding, as they say, when I brought the topic before him. Had his feudal spirit permanently barred the gates to keep the vikings of Bertram's adoration from invading? He'd always been rather old fashioned and formal, even when he wasn't valeting or buttling or doing any of those other servantly things whilst biffing about earning his keep.

It was with these thoughts buzzing about the Wooster onion like angry bees muttering about a honey-thieving bear in their midst that I slipped once again into the dark and dreamless.

My coughing woke me, only to find Jeeves crouching by the settee with water and an inordinate number of pills to bung down the Wooster gullet. Daylight made its dimly-overcast way in through the window and I realized I'd had a rather lengthy kip there. Jeeves still looked tired and rumpled, though his clothing was impeccable as it had ever been. I took the proffered pills and Jeeves said, "Would you care for breakfast, sir?"

I hadn't been terribly peckish of late, but I nodded to him. "Just something easy on the tum, old thing." He shimmered off to the kitchen while I snuggled myself under the blanket that had been laid over the willowy form. Tea and toast made a swift appearance and I felt rather better for having some. "Where's Joan, Reggie? Has she gone to commune with her pillow?"

"No, sir. One of her friends telephoned and invited her to dim sum. She said she is unlikely to return before nightfall."

"Dim what?"

"Dim sum, sir. It is a southern Chinese service of light dishes with tea, such as dumplings, bao--"

"Oh, all right then." Well, if that didn't provide a little time for effecting a cunning plan, I wasn't sure what did. "Do you think you might have a seat and talk with me, then, Reggie?" A pained look flitted over his noble brow, but he began to pull Joan's rolling chair over to the settee. "I'd rather if you sat here," I said, patting the cushion at my hip. I wiggled about a bit until my back was up against the back of the settee. He looked at the space then at me and then, with a resigned air about him, he finally sat and brushed his fingers over my forehead, no doubt checking for a fever.

"Sir," he began, but I wasn't going to let him dash off with the conversation before I got a thought into it.

"You're not sick of me, are you?" I asked. "Ready to toss me overboard and move on to greener pastures?"

His eyes widened. "No, sir!" he insisted, "If I have given you any reason to have such an impression, I will correct that this instant. As I have already promised you, I do not intend to leave you. Please believe me, sir."

I confess I felt a dash of relief at that. "You haven't, erm, reconsidered the idea that you might... well... fancy me?"

Jeeves seemed to crumple at that, his eyes closing with an expression of pain on his face. "Sir, what I said to you then remains true."

"Then why have you kept refusing to talk to me about it, Reggie?" I fear I sounded a bit plaintive, but I needed to understand how things stood between us.

Opening his eyes, he took a slow, deep breath and then took my hands in his, resting them on his lap. "Sir, it... it was not an appropriate place for such a private topic." He still looked quite out of sorts, made more so by the dark circles under his eyes and the way his hair fell over them without its shiny bit of brilliantine to keep it disciplined. "I have been very much aware of how much you wished to have this conversation."

"But if you do still have the tender pash for me and you've no intention of deserting me, why is it still sir and not Bertie? Things are so different now; we don't need to be master and servant to stay together anymore."

He would not meet my eyes, which I found quite unnerving. "Regardless of our circumstances, sir, you remain a gentleman and I am not and can never be your equal. You would have eventually become Lord Yaxley and--"

"Do you think that's ever really mattered to me?" I couldn't help feeling frustrated by the whole thing. "Uncle George married a barmaid, Reggie, and your own niece married Biffy! It's not like he wasn't a gentleman. Even back then that whole thing was starting to get blurry. And really, we're in America -- no one would ever know about our different stations in life; even if they did, they wouldn't care a whit. I mean, really, once I vanished, that whole title thingummy would have ended up with Claude anyway once Uncle George shuffled off his mortal c. I'm certainly not lord anything now, and never will be."

"Whether or not you ever held that title, sir, you are still entirely above my station and I -- why would you ever wish to take up with someone so far beneath you?" Jeeves was looking terribly upset while still attempting to project an air of feudal spirit that was failing quite miserably.

I glowered with what little glower I could muster. "Because you're a hundred times the man I've ever been? Because you're brilliant and wonderful and a specific dream rabbit? Because you're a paragon?" I took one of my hands out of his and turned his face to me. "Because I love you, Reggie, and I simply can't imagine any kind of life that doesn't have you in it."

"Sir," he whispered, and he sounded terribly choked up. "Sir, I don't know how to move beyond a lifetime of service to be what you would require."

Well, that was just rot. I sat up and wrapped an arm about the man. "That's just rot. You've always been of the opinion that people can change if they try, haven't you?"

He nodded. "Yes, sir, but--"

"But nothing! Are you a person, Reggie, or have I been valeted by a marmoset these last three years?" I'm afraid I was rather pipped at the whole sitch. He blinked several times. "Really, now. If you say you're a marmoset, I'm going to be horribly disappointed in you."

"I... I am a man, like any other, sir." He looked a bit flushed about the cheeks. I found it rather charming.

"So if we're in agreement that we love each other and we're in agreement that you're not a marmoset in a bowler, couldn't you just try a bit before abandoning the idea like an unwanted paisley tie?" I wouldn't let him look away from me, though he tried.

Finally, something in his eyes shifted and he raised his hand to my cheek. "I shall try, sir," he whispered.

"Bertie," I said softly, putting myself somewhat closer to the Jeevesian lips. "Just Bertie."

I could feel his mouth brush mine as he whispered, "Bertie."

***

His lips were dry and cracked when I kissed him. Our arms slipped around one another and I was trembling as I kissed him again, our touches soft and terribly gentle. I had never believed I could have this -- have him -- and I still doubted its reality, even as my fingers tangled in his hair, our mouths ghosting over each other in a reverent caress. My heart thundered loudly enough that I wondered if he could hear it. I could hardly breathe in my disbelief and my longing.

We kissed like that, tenderly and holding one another close, until he was flushed and panting. He was still extremely ill and his breathlessness concerned me. We sat for long moments, resting our foreheads against one another, our noses brushing, as he caught his breath. I ran my thumb slowly along his cheek, savoring the mere fact that I could, even as I fought my own irrational fear of discovery. "You should rest, sir," I whispered.

He raised his head. "Bertie," he insisted quietly.

"Bertie," I agreed. "You are not nearly well enough right now to pursue this."

"I know," he said, regret coloring his voice. I let him lie back on the settee, tracing my hand over his chest to feel it rise and fall. "But could we, perhaps, toddle back to the library so you could lie down with me?" His eyes were lit with hope.

"Of course, Bertie." He smiled at my use of his name. I could not help but smile in response. When he took my hand, I helped him rise and let him lean on me as we walked back to our bed. I closed the door behind us as he lay down and raised the covers to invite me to lie with him. I removed my shoes and my jacket and waistcoat before I joined him, loosening my tie a bit. He lay on his side and I moved until my body was flush against his back, enfolding him in my arms as I nuzzled the nape of his neck. His soft hair tickled my nose.

He sighed happily, then coughed harshly for a few moments. When he could breathe again, he covered my arm with his own, twining his fingers with mine. "I wish we could have done this ages ago," he said quietly. I marveled at his ability to set aside his fears and embrace his desire for us to truly become lovers. He turned his head to look at me. "Just think of all the engagements I could have avoided." He grinned briefly but then his demeanor became serious. "I would have married you then, you know, if I'd ever had the choice. Maybe... maybe someday we can do that, Reggie. She said in some places we could."

My chest tightened at his words, my breath constricting in my throat, and I held him to me tightly as tears threatened to fall from my eyes. I nodded with my cheek against his and drew in a shaky breath. "It would be my honor to be yours, sir," I whispered, my voice harsh and ragged.

"You dear thing." He rolled over to face me and pulled me into his arms. Pushing one knee between my thighs, he kissed me again, taking my breath away. "Don't think for a moment the honor wouldn't be entirely mine," he panted when our lips parted. "How a paragon like you came to love a dim-witted blighter like myself is a mystery not even Sherlock Holmes could solve." I started to protest but he shook his head and laid a finger over my lips. "I won't hear a word of disagreement on this, Reggie. I'd be entirely lost without you and it brings a tear of joy to the Wooster e. to know that you'll have me. I couldn't ask for a greater gift."

I kissed his finger where it lay. "Sir -- Bertie -- I am... quite overcome. I have loved you most ardently and I find myself nearly unable to believe that these words can even be said." When he moved his hand, I buried my face in the arc of his neck, kissing his shoulder and the long curve of his clavicle as we held each other tightly, our limbs tangled in a warm and welcome knot. There were many things that remained to be negotiated about our understanding but I thought that, with enough courage, I could come to terms with being Mr. Wooster's lover.

"We have a lifetime to get used to it, old fruit," he said, and I could hear him smile.

Chapter Text

The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)

Jeeves was having a bit of a time of calling me Bertie instead of sir; I know it was hard for him to bung it past the old feudal spirit out of habit if nothing else. I thought it might take a few weeks for him to actually get used to it, but I knew he was trying, and that warmed the cockles of the Wooster heart. He stayed quite close most of the time, and I knew all that hospital business had shaken him very badly. As for myself, it still hurt like the dickens to breathe, my lungs still thought they were second-cousins to hairballs, and I was still wobbling between fevers and chills, but at least what little I put in my tum tended to stay there for a change. I was quite chuffed we'd come to an understanding but was entirely too miserable from being sick to take any advantage of it.

I spent two solid days too fagged out to do more than stumble to the sitting room and back into the library a few times a day to get a change of scenery and move about as the doctor insisted. I slept more than not and, since the doctor had told me being propped up a bit would help me breathe, I had a lovely excuse to lean on Jeeves as often as possible. When I was awake and he wasn't hovering about, I spent a bit of time exploring the forbidden fruits of that lower library shelf, ogling some of the pictures and reading a bit when I wasn't too exhausted for the words to make sense. I learned rather an eyeful about the now-entirely-legal ways two chaps could get up to things sans the outer wrappings, but I found the idea of actually bringing those things up to Jeeves quite embarrassing and a bit intimidating, and the thought of trying them utterly exhausting.

At one point I'd fallen asleep with one of those dashed books open on the bed beside me and woke to find Jeeves giving me, and it, a rather discombobulated look. I suppose it only made sense because the d. b. in question was one involving some rather fascinating pictures of people a bit tied up. I thought perhaps he didn't approve at all, though it did tend to produce sparks in certain less-than-polite regions of the Wooster anatomy, particularly when contemplating Jeeves in combination with that whole tied-up thingummy. Needless to say, I blushed like billy-o when I realized what was up. So did he. I quickly closed the book and popped it back on the shelf. "Sorry about that, old thing."

He sat close on the bed facing me and reached out, slowly caressing the damask cheek. If I'd had enough breath I would have purred like an overly-large and miserably ill cat. As it was I just closed my eyes and leaned into his hand.

"How are you feeling, Bertie?"

I still couldn't help smiling a little when he said my name. "I wish this would just go away already." His hand was cool against my skin as his fingers trailed back into my hair. It was a spiffing feeling.

"You have a fever again." I could hear the concern in his voice and I looked up at him as I leaned against my pillows. He tilted in a bit and wafted a lovely, soft kiss over my lips. I was quite convinced that would never get old.

"Come sit with me?" He nodded and performed the necessary contortionist tricks to slip behind me and prop me up against him with his arms about me, resting his cheek against my temple. He pressed a kiss there as well. "It always feels better when you're here, Reggie."

He bent his head a bit and trailed a few slow kisses down my neck. "I endeavor to give satisfaction, sir," he whispered, and I could feel him smile against my skin. I liked that he actually smiled sometimes now; it used to be that I'd only see a bit of a curve to the lip and a certain thingness in his eyes, but one's beloved is allowed -- nay, encouraged -- to smile where one's valet might prefer not to do so. I couldn't wait until I felt hale enough to see him well and truly improper for once.

I lifted a hand and let my fingers wander in his hair and down the back of his neck. He shivered a bit and made a pleased sound. "Reggie, what are we going to do once I'm feeling better? I haven't the first idea, and I don't think we can depend on this wheeze of Harry's at all."

Jeeves stilled for a mo., then tightened his arms around me. "I have been investigating some options," he said, all taxidermied amphibian, "though at the moment I am much more concerned that you recover from your illness." When he used that tone of voice, I kept expecting a 'sir' to be flung at me. "It may well be several more weeks before you are well enough to contemplate our next steps."

"And how long is Joan going to put up with us decorating her library, after all?" She didn't appear to be eager hand me the train timetables, but the whole thing had to be a bit wearing.

"She assured me that we have nothing to worry about for the moment."

"So you've asked, then."

He sighed quietly. "Please, Bertie, don't worry right now." He opened one broad palm over my heart. "I have no desire to see you return to the hospital because you've not allowed yourself sufficient rest." I retrieved the hand I'd been mussing his hair with and covered his with it.

"Maybe I could play piano somewhere," I mused. "I don't mind playing in front of people, it's just having to talk in front of them that leaves me all twitching and sweaty."

"Perhaps, but not right now." His tone had hints of a wall of ice behind it that didn't bear unearthing.

"Well, I'll leave it for now, but Bertram does intend to be more than a useless blot on the landscape at some point."

His voice gentled a bit. "You've never been a useless blot," he assured me. "Imperceptive, occasionally, but never useless." I could feel him smile again.

I sighed sadly. "I certainly feel utterly useless right now."

He nibbled a bit at the soft and shell-like, causing a lovely tingle down my spine. "I could, possibly, distract you from this train of thought." There was a touch of intriguing rumble in his voice that made the Wooster spirit do a bit of a Charleston. His hand trailed from the middle of my chest off to one side with a shiver-inducing caress and he nibbled more at the curve of my jaw.

"Is -- where's Joan?" If Jeeves was suggesting what I thought he was suggesting, I didn't think it would be quite sporting with someone else in the flat.

"She has gone out for a walk. Based on her previous perambulations, I suspect she will not be back for a least another two hours." The nibbles continued on down my neck in the most enticing way and his hands were doing delicious things to my mid-region.

"Reggie, I -- well, the spirit is willing but the flesh might be a bit of an impedi-something." Willing was a dashed understatement. Had I any oomf at all, I'd have tossed myself on his person already and the devil take any consequences.

He kissed my cheek. "If the flesh is weak due to your condition, then so be it," he said. "I would, however, offer that even if you are not up to a full and enthusiastic participatory role, you might still enjoy the distraction. What I have in mind would not require any vigorous activity on your part, Bertie. I am entirely mindful of your pneumonia."

Oh, I definitely liked the sound of that. "I say, that does sound rather enjoyable, old fruit. Rather like one of those lovely massage thingummies, then?"

"Very much," he purred, his fingers tugging at one of the buttons on my pyjama top.

I smiled and let myself entirely relax in his arms. "If you can get the old todger interested, I certainly won't object. Well, rather, I don't think I'd object in any case."

Jeeves gave a rumbling chuckle and turned my face to him, kissing me with a soft and gentle attention that sped the ticker up a bit as his other hand slowly and almost imperceptibly disposed of my buttons. After a few moments, his hands were moving on bare skin and his tongue and mine had been properly introduced and were considering engaging in a bit of a wrestle. It was all quite corking, and much more interesting than the occasional chaste press of the lips I'd had with one or another of the various fillies who'd tried to marry me.

My shortness of breath was as much a product of the air bags not cooperating as it was of excitement. I was breathing fast and shallow but quite enjoying the whole thing anyway when he pulled back a bit and returned to the caress of Bertram's lips. His fingers teased a bit at my nipples, sending sparks through my body in the most delightful way. "Do you enjoy this, Bertie?" he whispered, his lips moving against mine.

A breathless, "Oh, yes," was all I could manage. He kissed me again, more deeply and with a controlled ferocity that set something in me ablaze. His hands caressed me, exploring my chest and sides and up to my shoulders with a sure touch. I pulled away from the kiss and let my head fall to rest on his shoulder, panting for breath, my eyes closed so I could concentrate on what his hands were doing and the warm, solid wall of his chest against my back. The headache that so often followed my fever was receding a bit into the background so, as distractions went, this was already shaping up to be a spiffing success.

"I have wanted for so long to touch you like this," he murmured, nibbling at my ear again. His breath there sent a shiver along my spine and I moaned softly. "Tell me what you desire," he said, "what you wish me to do. You have only to name it."

"Mmm. If you might see your way to moving your hands a bit lower?" I asked, my voice a bit rough and wobbly. Much to my surprise, previously un-heard-from bits of the Wooster anatomy were making themselves known, but Jeeves has always been able to work miracles. I'd thought raising the dead beyond him, but apparently I was mistaken.

He kissed and nibbled at my neck as one hand slipped down my body to the waistband of my pyjamas. "Like this, sir?" His other hand teased at a nipple as his arm held me secure against his body.

"Ohhh, absolutely." I would have nodded, but his lips on my neck were much too lovely to ignore and I had no wish to dislodge them. When his hand slipped into my pyjamas and his fingers traced along the length of me, I gasped, soft and excited. I could feel the little Wooster sit up and take notice, and Jeeves's devilishly clever fingers took their time exploring. With a quiet groan, I lifted one knee, pushing myself back a bit against his body. I ran one hand lazily along his arm, every bit of me reveling in how marvelous it all felt. It was only a moment's work for him to push the covers and my pyjamas down a little, exposing me to his gaze.

He wrapped his hand around me and gave a friendly squeeze as he pinched my nipple tight and I couldn't help it as my back arched and I groaned again. He drew in a long, heavy breath with his nose buried in the curve of my neck and I could tell he was quite affected by the whole thing as well. "You feel wonderful," he whispered, stroking me slowly as I found myself growing entirely hard in his hand.

"Faster," I begged, fearing I might pass out before we got to the best bit if I couldn't catch my breath. It was so completely astonishing to be in his hands like this, to feel how much he wanted this as well. He did precisely as I asked and I knew I was too exhausted for it to last long, but it was so good I never wanted it to end.

"I would love to watch you finish," he said, and his voice was all husky and dark. I nodded because by that time speech was quite impossible beyond a few thoroughly meaningless sounds of pleasure. He stroked me harder, adding a bit of a twist to his wrist that pulled me to the edge; it was his other hand doing astonishing things to my nipple as he growled into my ear that tossed me over. I gave a sharp, quiet cry as I came off, my entire body tensed and shaking in his arms. He held me so very close as I gasped breathlessly. I still hurt and my lungs still ached, but underneath everything was a wash of the most incredible peace and pleasure that left me adrift in a tide of dizzy wonder. As I relaxed into a near-stupor, his hand moved in a wet, sticky trail from my lap up to my chest. He hugged me and nuzzled in my hair, whispering, "How can my muse want subject to invent, while thou dost breathe?"

My head was spinning but I turned in his arms and kissed him. "Oh, Reggie." He slid down the bed to lie beside me, holding me, tangled in each other's arms. "Oh, my dear old thing, that was lovely." I lay my head on his chest. "I'm just so dashed tired and out of breath."

"It's all right, Bertie," he murmured. He kissed me again, pressing me to him. "I know you're not well. My only wish was to offer you some pleasure in the midst of this."

"I just wish I could do something for you," I said, meeting his eyes.

He smiled, soft and slow. "You have," he answered. "You have given me a gift I have desired for a very long time."

When he kissed me again, I found I couldn't argue with that at all.

***

The vision of him there in my arms, head thrown back, his mouth open in ecstasy, was a prize well worth every fear I had ever felt. To give him that pleasure satisfied something I could hear in the deep heart's core, as Yeats once wrote. While I had been quite aroused, I had come nowhere near my own physical release, yet I found a great emotional gratification in bringing his, particularly in the midst of the pain and exhaustion he was suffering. That he fell deeply asleep almost immediately only added to this sense of rightness.

While I could not describe him as beautiful, his slender form possessed strength and grace when he chose to exercise them. I found both his face and his body quite attractive, made more so by the light he had within. His good cheer had often lifted my own spirits, though it had never been my place to remark upon that fact. To me, the ability to hold him without the condemnation of law or that of the majority of society, to love him as though such things were ordinary, was a thing I was still trying to believe had actually happened. The swiftness of his acceptance and his obvious joy in it were breathtaking. I could not help but admire the courage that his innate optimism gave him. I was still trying to find my own. While he often found himself rushing in where angels fear to tread, I found his willingness to do so quite endearing and, once in a great while, he seemed able to fly.

To think of him as Bertie rather than Mr. Wooster was a thing that would take time. It was not just years of habit I had to overcome, but my own nature; I had chosen to become a valet as much because I genuinely enjoyed providing service to someone I felt I could truly admire as because I had been raised to expect that service would be my appropriate occupation. With Mr. Wooster, while I had often manipulated events behind the scenes, it had been done with a closely-guarded hint of adoration on my part, for I found after a short time in his employ that his strengths and weaknesses complimented my own and that there was a sense of something more to both of us when we were together. I had always very sincerely desired his happiness because seeing him happy nurtured that emotion within me.

That we had been thrown into a time and place beyond my understanding had, quite unexpectedly, been as much a blessing as a curse for both of us. There were things here and now that horrified me, but the gift of his unabashed love was my pearl beyond price. For that love, I would endure whatever this strange event had cast upon us. I was under no illusion that it would be easy. Very little worth having ever is. Yet a life together was now possible -- a thing I had never even been able to imagine before without seeing the shadow of prison bars before me.

The course of events had also seemed to give him a desire for a sense of purpose that had previously been lacking in his life. He had not particularly needed one, though his aunts were constantly attempting to instill purpose -- preferably one of their own -- within his breast. I will admit I now felt that such a thing would be good for him and allow him to stretch himself to become more than he might have had we remained in our former lives. Becoming Lord Yaxley had never risen high on his list of aspirations and I had the sense that he was pleased he no longer had to worry about the title or maintaining the properties that would inevitably have come with it.

In admitting this, I also knew that there was no need for him to pursue such a goal until he was back on his feet again in a substantive way. Miss Barr had relieved me of considerable anxiety when we brought Mr. Wooster home from the hospital by informing me that, until he was well again, she had no expectation of my seeking employment. I was extremely grateful and had no desire to look a proverbial gift horse in the mouth. This did not mean I was not spending some of my time examining my options.

After I had spent time holding him in his sleep, I rose and cleaned his release from him and refreshed my clothing as well, for there had been a bit of a mess when he rolled over to face me. I did not mind in the least; rather I found it another reminder of what was possible for us now. I supposed I might at some point become used to it and find it a minor affront to my usually fastidious appearance, but it was a price I could easily bear paying for the ability to see that look on his face and know that I had put it there.

***

"Oh, hey, Jeeves."

I turned toward the voice as I stood in line awaiting the barista at Caffe Vita -- a coffee shop on the other end of the park from Miss Barr's flat -- only to see Miss Barr's friend Harry entering the establishment. "Good evening, sir," I replied. He joined me, as the line was quite short and I had been at the end of it.

"How's Bertie doing?" Harry was once again dressed in an impeccable suit, though his trilby hat had a bizarre print on the crown that depicted a palmistry diagram. I did my best not to cringe.

"Somewhat better," I told him as we stepped forward when the person at the head of the line was served. "He was in hospital for two nights last weekend because of his pneumonia, but his fever finally abated this morning and has yet to return."

His brow wrinkled in concern. "I'm glad he's doing better, but I'm really sorry to hear he was hospitalized. I was kind of surprised to see you here without him, actually." We moved forward again, finally at the counter, and ordered our coffee. I began to pay for mine when Harry stopped me and said, "I'll get this one."

I was surprised, but given our financial state and the cost of the coffee, it was a relief. I had intended to purchase the coffee primarily because I wished to find a place indoors to sit and think; I had spent far too much time in the flat lately and needed some time away. "Thank you, sir. I am quite grateful for your generosity."

He shrugged and led me up a narrow flight of stairs lined with theatrical posters of recent performances and into a large first storey, with broad windows looking out upon the street life below. The scent of roasting coffee was much less strong up here. We took a small table near one of the windows. Many of the tables were occupied by individuals or groups, most of whom were engrossed in their computers; I had discovered that the machines were ubiquitous and that most cafes offered wireless connections for them. Music was playing at a moderate volume and there were a few conversations in progress around us. "So what's up?" he asked.

"Mr. Wooster is sleeping and Miss Barr is at home. Since he is feeling somewhat better, I thought I might take some time to explore our surroundings." In truth, I felt I required a short respite from Mr. Wooster's care, and Miss Barr was more than competent to watch over him during what I assumed would be a short absence. Even when the invalid is one's beloved, it can be extremely draining to spend all one's time with them. I did not mind Harry's company, and I did have a few questions for him. I had to begin gathering acquaintances and, eventually, to find friends here if I was to begin to make a life for myself and Mr. Wooster. "Have you contacted the Fink-Nottle Trust?"

"Yeah." He nodded, sipping his latte. "I got an autoresponder saying that they were out of the office for some family emergency thing and weren't expecting to be back until late this month." I found this news somewhat distressing, not only because of the delay, but out of concern for what surely must be an ailing member of the Fink-Nottle family. The month had just turned to October yesterday, so the situation must have been quite serious for such a delay.

"Did they remark at all upon what was wrong?"

Harry shook his head. "No, just 'family emergency,' but that's usually a euphemism for somebody in really poor health."

"So I had surmised." I held the paper cup between my palms, warming them, as the evening was cold and there was a slight chill coming through the windows. I looked out the window at the lights and the people below. It was a Friday evening and there were many pedestrians in this busy stretch of street, despite the rain. I could see Harry's reflection in the window, watching me curiously. "Have you learned anything else about the Trust aside from this?"

"Definitely a family operation," he replied. "It's being run by some woman named Amanda Fink-Nottle-Parsington. That's a lot of hyphens." He seemed amused.

"It was not terribly uncommon among Mr. Wooster's friends," I noted.

Harry nodded. "How are you doing in all this?"

I stared down into my cup for a moment, weighing everything that had been happening. "I believe I am beginning to become accustomed to life here. I will need to look for employment soon, though," I said. "How does one go about doing that here?" I was uncertain that my own experience in seeking positions would be of any use, given the ways society had changed, and Miss Barr had obviously not been employed for many years so I doubted that asking her would result in useful advice. This question begat a long conversation on the economy, both national and local, and the availability of jobs in Seattle that I might potentially qualify for. It seemed that without a university education or a verifiable work history, unskilled labor was one of the few types of employment available. I found this disheartening, but the situation was not impossible.

"I know a lot of people," Harry noted. "I'll keep an eye out for things that seem like they might suit you. Have you learned how to use a computer and a word processing program yet?"

"Miss Barr has proved a competent instructor in that matter," I replied.

"That's good. Might be able to get you into some kind of secretarial thing, since you can type. It'll pay better than slinging fast food or sweeping floors. You could probably get on at a temp agency somewhere for office work. It wouldn't be permanent, but it could be a start."

I nodded. "Thank you, sir. I would be most grateful for your assistance." I was certainly able to answer telephones, type, and file. It was not ideal, but if I were to be able to take care of Mr. Wooster, I would have to take what I found and adapt as best I could.

"De nada. You guys need something until we can get the Fink-Nottle Trust on board." I was quite in agreement with his assessment of the situation.

***

Harry heard from the Fink-Nottle thingummy in mid-October. I'd been slowly improving enough that I was back on my feet most of the time now. I still got tired and out of breath entirely too easily, but that awful feeling in my lungs was gone and I wasn't coughing anymore. I do think that was the best part, not coughing. Jeeves was still treating me like something made of overly-fragile bisque -- the tea cup stuff, not the soup -- so although he'd seen to it that I was getting some regular personal attention, if you will, I hadn't yet been able to reciprocate. I found this inequity bally frustrating and was planning on putting the Wooster foot down on that later in the evening, when Joan was popping out to a show with some friends.

Harry came by the flat late in the afternoon with an email he'd got from one of the Fink-Nottle brood that morning, apologizing for the delay and asking for us to tell them about things only Jeeves or I would actually know about Gussie. Clever, that. If I'd been trying to prove someone was Gussie, I'd have just expected him to go on about newts for hours. Gussie was the only person I knew who would have cared enough to keep on about it like that.

"How am I going to think of anything to prove we're who we are that nobody knows?" I asked Jeeves. So many of the things we'd done together had involved some of my other friends as well. We were perched on Joan's long couch, with Harry on the smaller one and Joan occupying the chair at her desk. I was slouched comfortably into Jeeves's lap with my feet up on the arm of the couch and Jeeves's fingers in my hair, his other arm resting across my chest. My fingers were all tangled in his in a corkingly cozy way.

"No one who was present for any of those incidents is still alive, Bertie," he said. "Any incident that you did not publish in one of your books and which he related to his family would do. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington also did ask several leading questions." Of course Jeeves would think of something like that.

"Of course you would think of something like that, Reggie," I said. "Do we need to talk to them through Harry, here?"

"I did acquire an email address last week," Jeeves said. "We could communicate with them directly." I'd forgotten that bit. I suspect it had happened when I wasn't paying attention. A lot of things had happened when I was ill and thus not paying attention, and I was dashed glad to be done with that. I knew that one of Joan's friends had given Jeeves one of those wireless phone thingummies she didn't need anymore, though it wasn't nearly so fancy as Joan's, and you only paid for when you actually used it. He'd needed it to look for a job and had been talking to several people recently about just that. Yesterday he said he thought he might have an interview somewhere next Tuesday. He'd seemed quite chuffed, as we were getting rather desperate. I hoped something would happen soon, because he had been very distracted and not sleeping well lately and I knew the lack of money had a lot to do with it.

"That's fine with me," Harry said. "But you have to keep me in the loop. I really want to know what happens." He threw a lop-sided grin at Jeeves. "I want my fifteen minutes of fame for helping get this in motion!"

"Of course, sir," Jeeves answered. We all chatted for a bit longer before Harry left; he said he had a 'hot date' that night. Jeeves and I talked about what we should say to the Fink-Nottle-Parsing-whatsit and got a start on a letter before Joan left for her show. He sat at the desk and I leaned on him with my arms wrapped around his shoulders from behind him, my chin resting atop his head. We'd both started to get used to the whole being able to touch each other with other people around wheeze. It had been a hard shift for Jeeves at first, given his feudal spirit, which still kicked like a stroppy camel now and again. He'd been better at calling me Bertie, though, and generally only bunged a sir at me when he was particularly out of sorts or when I was being a pill.

Joan launched herself out into the night, dressed in a plaid kilt and riding boots and a really corking frock coat, surmounted by a rather nice top hat that was equipped with very peculiar goggles. The whole ensemble left Jeeves twitching; he'd always been something of a delicate flower when it came to such things. She said the show was a steampunk band and had something to do with airship pirates, whatever those were; apparently quite a few of her friends we'd seen who were dressed in oddly Victorian-ish styles were involved with the whole thing, and it was rather popular in Seattle these days. I had no idea what it was all about, but it seemed to make Joan quite excited.

Once she was out the door with a cheery assurance that she'd be back about two in the morning and a song on her lips, I decided it was time to put my cunning plan for taking care of my man into action. The initial leaning down and nuzzling Jeeves's ear was easy enough. He smiled but didn't stop typing.

I tried another tack and went for a licking and nibbling of the soft and shell-like, which drew a tiny shiver from him. I counted that a success and went in for another pass. That one caused him to take a long, deep breath, then turn his head to kiss me. It was a slow, sweet kiss with lips and tongue and a little happy sound from him of the sort that I very much appreciated. A few moments later, his hand came up and he slipped his fingers into my hair, holding the back of my head gently as he sucked on my tongue. By that time, sparks were zipping about within the Wooster corpus and things were looking quite spiffing for Bertram's plans.

With the Jeevesian lips thus engaged, I let my hands move slowly down his lovely, broad chest, taking my time just touching him. It was really quite topping, the texture of the cloth under my hands now rough, now soft as I passed over shirt and waistcoat and tie. The sensation was almost hypnotic, particularly combined with the quiet sounds of his breath and the movement of our lips and tongues; slight, wet sounds and the soft sussur-something of my hands on cloth. After a few minutes, he turned toward me more fully, reaching up to run both hands through my hair. I tugged him to his feet and pulled him into a warm embrace, relishing the feel of his body along the length of my own. I liked that he was just a bit taller and broader than me; it was a comfortable feeling, like I was safe when I was in his arms. I'd never felt anything like that with anyone else and I knew it wasn't really the taller-and-broader wheeze; it's just that Jeeves had an intense thingness about him that had always made me believe nothing truly bad could happen if he were with me.

He pressed his body against mine and I could feel that he was beginning to get the idea I'd intended to plant. I was getting quite stirred up myself and our kisses grew deeper and warmer. I pulled back from the kiss slowly, until my lips were just tracing his in a damp and slightly ticklish way. "Bertie," he whispered, nearly breathless, "I would like very much to continue this elsewhere." I couldn't help smiling against his lips before I kissed him again.

"I have just the thing in mind," I told him. I had a rather specific something in mind, though I was a bit uneasy when I thought of suggesting it. I wanted to soften him up a bit more, at least in the willingness sense; I had no intention of letting other bits of him go soft! Taking his hand, I tugged gently and he came along with me, following me into our room. I sat on the bed and he smiled, a smoldering look in his very very blue eyes. I lay back and brought him with me, encouraging him to lay beside me. When he tried to reach out and touch me -- a thing I usually adored with every adoring thing in me -- I took his hand and whispered, "No."

He raised an eyebrow and gave me a curious look. I kissed him again, his hand still in mine, and said, "All this time, you've been taking care of me. I'd like to return a little of that, if you'll let me, Reggie."

"I believe I would enjoy that," he said, with a nod. "You appear to have something specific in mind." I could see the curiosity in his face.

"I do, rather," I said, though I was feeling a bit wobbly and nervous in bringing it up. I headed off some of that nervousness by kissing him again; I found the activity quite soothing. I was slightly surprised but pleased when he followed my previous request and didn't try to touch me again. I wondered what it might mean, but that sort of deep thought was a bit beyond me, particularly with the way our tongues were inspecting one another quite closely. I leaned down over him, our chests pressed together, holding my weight up with my arms on either side of him. He didn't move his own hands; one was up near his shoulder, his fingers curled loosely into his palm, the other resting high on his belly near where I covered him. It was a spiffing feeling, Jeeves under me like that, obviously aroused but doing as I'd asked without a whisper of a question. "We'll get to descriptions in a bit," I said, ducking in for more kisses.

Things began warming up when I let one of my hands start wandering. I tugged at his tie, pulling it loose, and then started at the top couple of buttons on his shirt. He reached up to try to help and I swatted his hand away, not bothering to stop kissing him. I kept tugging at shirt and tie and waistcoat and he kept trying to get his hands into it and I kept trying to get him to just let me do it. After a few minutes, I was kneeling over him and our hands where tangling together and I finally got a few of his buttons undone, but he wouldn't let things lie so I started tickling him. He yelped and tickled back and the next thing I knew we were wrestling and tickling and then the most astonishing thing happened -- Jeeves started laughing.

I swear that I had never once heard the man laugh in the entire time I'd known him. Smiles were rare enough, chuckles almost nonexistent, but laughter? It was utterly irresistible because I had thought all this time that it was absolutely impossible. His eyes were alight and I thought his face might split with the smile on it; I wanted to keep hearing that sound, because it was bally wonderful. His waistcoat went over the edge of the bed and I had his shirt mostly unbuttoned before I could think. I was starting to get breathless and, though I was having a dashed good time with this, it was getting a little off of Bertram's master plan. We tumbled again and I grabbed his tie in one hand and one of his wrists in the other. "Really, Reggie," I panted, "if you won't keep your hands still, I'll find a way to do it for you!" and, quick as thought, I got his one wrist wrapped in the tie and then the other, turning out a swift if not particularly proper knot to keep them together, and leaned on his arms so his bound wrists were caught up above his head.

Suddenly the laughter stopped and we were both still and looking at each other, nose to nose, gasping for breath. His cheeks were flushed and pink and his eyes were open, wide and startled, with the oddest look in them. He bit his bottom lip for a moment, just looking at me. It was like the entire room was crackling, and time just seemed to stop. I was nervous but gave a little swallow and leaned in to kiss him. I was cautious at first, but it turned into something wild and desperate before I knew it; Jeeves whimpered into my mouth and he pressed his hips up between my legs. I could feel how hard he was, and the heat of him, even through all those layers of cloth between us.

I felt... all kinds of things. Amazed. Possessive. Powerful. That last wasn't something I was used to at all, but I liked it immensely. When I pulled back a bit to catch my breath, I asked, "Is this--"

"Oh, yes, sir," he whispered, very emphatic, and it was the rummiest sound -- all dark and astonished and desperate. It sent a bolt of something delicious through me.

I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. "Oh, thank God," I murmured, and threw myself into another kiss. This hadn't worked out anything like I'd imagined, but I wasn't going to argue with success. Bertram might bumble occasionally, but he is not an idiot, all auntly opinions aside. I held Jeeves's wrists down with one hand as I kissed him, my fingers tracing along the edges of the tie and the soft skin of his wrists, and it was the most incredible feeling. After a bit of that, I sat up, straddling his chest, still holding his wrists in one hand. With the other, I tugged my own tie off. Our eyes were locked to each other's; it was as if neither of us could look away, and I ran my tie between his wrists to make a quick loop around the tie that held them. Slowly, so that he could tell me no if he wanted to, I leaned down and wrapped the other end of the tie into the frame of the bed, securing it so that his hands were held in place over his head, and then knotted it so it wouldn't come loose.

Slowly, I traced my fingers over his, wondering if this was real. I let them run down into his palms and over his bound wrists. He shivered as I moved, his breath quickening. I could feel his breathing, his ribs moving between my thighs. I leaned down and kissed the naked skin of his wrists where his cuffs were opened and had fallen away, and he gasped beneath me. My mouth moved down one white-clad arm, nipping here and there between my kisses. When I got to his shoulder, I turned my face and buried it in his hair; it smelled clean and warm and slightly salty with his sweat. I could taste the barest tinge of salt on my lips from the skin at his temple, my fingers at the pulse-point of his throat, resting there gently. His heart was beating like a bird's wings and he made a soft sound and turned his face to me, tilting it up, eyes closed, his mouth open for a kiss.

With his face between my hands, I took his invitation and kissed him, deep and slow. He moaned softly and so did I. His lips were soft and wet and warm under mine. I leaned back, finally, resting my weight over his hips. I could feel the hard line of his prick against me; my own was just as hard, and I ached with wanting him, but I wasn't ready to do anything about it just yet. He opened his eyes to look at me; they were just a little glazed, as though he couldn't quite believe what was happening either. "Do you trust me?" I whispered.

Jeeves regarded me for a moment, his lips moving soundlessly. "Sir," he said finally, his voice rough and absolutely intent, "you are the lord of my love, to whom in vassalage thy merit hath my duty strongly knit. My body, like my heart, belongs entirely to you."

I didn't know how I'd managed to earn that kind of trust, but I swore right then I would never do anything to betray it. I wrapped myself around him, my face tucked against his shoulder, and I barely managed to avoid a tear falling from the Wooster e. "You deserve so much better than me," I said, "and I don't want to hear you say I'm wrong. I swear to you, I'll try to be worthy of you, old thing." I kissed him then, partly because I wanted to stop him before he tried to argue with me, but mostly because I was thoroughly overcome by what he'd said. I thought I would burst because I loved him so.

When I finally sat back and looked down into his face, he looked quite as overcome as I felt. I set about slowly finishing the job of unbuttoning his shirt, feeling like I was opening the most perfect gift in the world. We watched each other, Jeeves silent and motionless but for a bit of trembling now and again, myself moving with slow delibe-whatsit. I tugged the tails of his shirt from his trousers and lay it open, then pushed his undervest up, my fingers taking in the smoothness of his skin and the rough bit of dark hair on his chest. He raised his back up a little to let me pull the thing up his body and I lifted the front of it off over his head, getting it off him enough to tuck it behind his neck. I couldn't get it all the way off because his wrists were tied, but it looked rather appealing, trapping his shoulders like that. His broad, bare chest was an amazing bit of work and I wasted no time letting the Wooster hands and lips get acquainted with it. There was, after all, rather a lot of it that required kissing and licking and nibbling.

Jeeves didn't have to say anything to let me know that he appreciated the attention I was lavishing on him. A nip here or a suck there would get me a shiver or a soft moan. My tongue in his navel produced a giggle; I thought that was quite delightful. I particularly enjoyed his reactions to my sucking and nipping at his dark nipples. The left seemed a bit more sensitive than the right and he arched his back beneath me and shivered, gasping, "Yes, yes," wriggling like one of Gussie's newts. Drawing my nails down his sides in a long stroke drew a loud groan and raised gooseflesh all over his body; his head went back and he tensed everywhere. He'd never looked so dashed edible. I leaned up again and grazed on his neck a bit, doing that scratching wheeze again. It seemed near foolproof for pushing my man to the edge. He was gasping for breath by the time I decided to move things along a bit.

I nibbled my way down his body to the waistband of his trousers and he shivered as I moved. It was only a moment's work to rid him of shoes and socks. Even his feet looked good. I gave each of them a bit of a massage, just to get acquainted, and sucked on one of his ankles. That brought another unexpected giggle and some wiggling toes.

I nipped and nuzzled my way up his still-clothed legs after that, exploring with my hands as well. As I moved upward, I wrapped his legs about my waist and he tightened them around me. That felt absolutely corking. I held him by the hips and ground myself against him, kneeling between his thighs. The heat and pressure on my hard prick felt fantastic as I pushed my weight into him; he groaned and pulled me closer with his legs, his head rolling back and forth between his raised arms. "Oh, God, please sir," he begged, "I need you."

One doesn't refuse an engraved invitation like that, particularly when uttered with such urgency. I tugged at the button and zip of his trousers, pulling them off, leaving him only in his shorts. The hard, thick line of his shaft was straining against the cloth and there was a damp spot at the tip of it. I pressed my thumb along the vein just under the head of it, rubbing upward over the little ridge and into the dampness; Jeeves thrust up into the pressure with a deep moan. It was the work of only a moment to divest him of his shorts -- though perhaps the word should be dishort, because they're not a vest, after all. I tossed them over my shoulder and gazed down at him, all hard and dark and thick.

When my eyes moved away from his prick, they stopped suddenly at the sight of three pale scars, two low on his abdomen and one on his thigh. Startled, I reached down and touched him. "Reggie?"

It seemed an effort for him to open his eyes, he was so far gone in his pleasure, but he answered. "Sir?" He was breathless, his chest heaving.

I traced the edge of one of the scars with the tips of my fingers. It was roundish and puckered. "Reggie, what happened to you?" I whispered.

He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Please, sir, it was a long time ago, during the war. Ask me later." His legs drew me closer. "Please," he begged, his voice rough as a gravel pit. I don't think I'd even known he had fought in the war, but he was older than me so of course he would have. I raised my eyes and looked into his, seeing only need and desire there. The sight of him, wanting me so much, his hair in disarray, his prick hard and slick with his fluid, his arms bound above his head -- it was far too much. I leaned forward on one hand and kissed him, taking his thick, hot shaft into my other hand, and squeezed him. He groaned loudly and thrust up into my closed fist. His skin under my hand was so soft, almost velvety, but his prick was hard as oak. I shivered and squeezed harder, giving him a moan of my own.

I sat back on my heels after I'd kissed him senseless, and stroked him slowly. He kept trying to thrust into my hand, so I leaned my weight onto his hip with one hand, holding him still. "Like this," I said softly. "Just let me." Panting, he nodded, his eyes squeezed shut. It was an effort for him to be still; his hips would twitch and he'd fight the urge to thrust as my hand moved on him. I watched him, absolutely enchanted, as he moaned and shivered. It was so easy to bring him to the edge, but I wasn't going to let him finish anytime soon. I hadn't even got my own clothes off yet, and I had plans that involved Bertram being absolutely as naked as Jeeves was. Moreso, really, because I wouldn't be wearing a tie.

When I'd teased him thoroughly, I slipped my fingers down around the base of his shaft and squeezed, using my other to gently pull his eggs back a little. I knew from my own experience that it would help ease the desperate need. He shuddered and gasped. "Oh, God, Bertie," he moaned, breathless. I let go of him and got myself stripped down in a trice; I didn't want to waste any time on the boring bits. Fishing around under the bed for a mo., I came up with a little squeeze bottle of something slick that Jeeves had been using when he was giving me all that one-sided pleasure while I'd been sick. I dropped it next to his hip and tucked back between his legs, taking his prick in hand again. I slid one hand under him, getting a lovely handful of his absolutely corking bottom and giving it a grope. He groaned his appreciation and thrust upward. When I took the head of his prick into my mouth, he nearly shouted, throwing his head back, and all his muscles tightened. "Oh," he gasped.

He was salty and slick and a little bitter but I thought he tasted lovely. The feel of him in my mouth was absolute heaven. I used every trick of tongue and lips I'd ever learned when I was a schoolboy, and tried a few I'd read about recently as well, savoring the feeling of Jeeves coming unglued under me. I sucked him in deep, holding his hips down with both hands and slipping up and down his hard, thick shaft with an enthusiasm born of adoration. Jeeves wasn't able to speak actual words now; I'd have been terribly disappointed if he could still talk at this point, and taken several marks off my tally for poor style. I was a bit concerned for my own self-control at the mo., actually. Panting, I let him slip from my mouth, and I reached for the little bottle. I squeezed out some of the cool, slick goop onto my fingers and warmed it up a bit before I slipped them down into the valley between his cheeks. He made a soft sound, desperate and astonished. His voice was broken when he spoke. "Yes, oh, n-need you, oh!"

I don't think I have to tell you, I took that as enthusiastic and heartfelt approval for my plan, and the sound of it made the little Wooster leap with excitement. I teased and massaged a bit at the small, puckered opening there, making sure everything was slick as billy-o before I pressed one fingertip inside. Jeeves shivered and groaned softly, tightening a bit before he opened to me. He was so incredibly hot inside, and he pushed down onto my finger, trying to take me in more deeply. I thought a worldly type like Jeeves would have done this before; he knew entirely too many things for me to ever believe he'd be a blushing virgin, and I was glad this wouldn't be a surprise to him. I twisted and wiggled my finger inside him, slipping in a second after a few minutes. He was sweating now, shivering and quite obviously desperate for more as he panted and groaned. I added more slippery goop and a third finger, stretching him open further and watching him with delight as he thrust his hips against me, pressing my fingers into himself with each motion of his body.

Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. My own breath was coming rough and fast and my prick ached and throbbed with my want of him. The goop was cold on my skin, but it tempered the heat of my desire enough that I didn't think I'd burst the moment I entered him. I tucked an arm under one Jeevesian knee and he wrapped the other leg about my hip as I got myself into the proper place for a slick thrust inside. We both groaned when I pressed into him, the head of my prick penetrating only a couple of inches before I stopped, gasping. He was so tight around me. "Bertie -- sir! Oh!"

I squeezed my eyes shut, holding myself as still as I could so I wouldn't finish right then. He was so hot and tight and gloriously je ne sais oh-my-God around me. I moved a little, slipping in and out slowly as we got used to each other. He moaned and tugged at his bound wrists, fighting to reach out to me. I leaned down over his body, kissing his chest and teasing his nipples; as I moved I pressed into him even more deeply and he cried out, pulling me hard against him with his legs. I shifted my hips back one more time and thrust hard into him, grunting with the force of it as my hips met his. He gasped and bucked into me, putting his back into it. Something in me snapped at that, and I began pounding into him, one arm under his knee, the other tucked under his back so I could get a grip on his shoulder, holding him tight as I thrust.

It was the most glorious feeling in the world. We moved in a rough rhythm, kissing and biting at each other's lips, thrusting desperately against each other. Neither of us could speak, but we groaned and gasped, urging each other on with wordless sounds of pleasure. I let my hand slip from where I held him in a bruising grip and ran my nails down the back of his shoulder and along his side and Jeeves shuddered, coming with a sharp cry, his seed spurting between our bodies. It set me afire and I leaned into him, biting his shoulder as I kept pounding into his body. He was shivering, panting for breath as I moved, thrusting hard enough to push his body up the bed. I needed him so, loved him so; he was the finest thing that had ever happened to me, and having him like this filled me with absolute wonder until I thought my chest would burst. I was so very close, my body tingling and trembling, and there was an incredible pressure building at the base of my prick. I shifted my weight again, dragging his other leg up with my free arm, opening him and thrusting in deeper and harder, finally coming off with a harsh sound that rattled in my chest like a deep, bass drum. My entire body tightened and I ground into him, unable to catch my breath as I felt myself empty into my lover in an endless rush of pleasure.

Slowly, my body loosened and I let his legs slip out of my grasp. I lowered myself onto him, holding him gently as I panted and kissed him again and again. His chest was heaving under me and he lay there, as limp as I felt. My legs were shaking and I couldn't believe what we'd just done. I was still hard inside him and, though I felt tender and sensitive after all that, I didn't want to move. Being in him like that brought me so close to him and I didn't want to give up that feeling just yet. Jeeves shivered and took a deep, gasping breath, letting it out slowly. He let his head fall to one side, his cheek resting against my forehead. "I love you so very much," he whispered, his voice rough and breathless. The only thing I could do was grin like a bally baboon.

***

I believe we were both surprised at the turn things had taken. While I had seen Mr. Wooster express an unspoken an interest in books illustrated with such things, I had not actually believed he would attempt to bring about such a scenario. I must say I was intensely gratified that he did; my own reaction to it shocked me in the best possible way. He lay upon me now, both of us sweating and gasping for breath. Even in the aftermath of our lovemaking, I had no wish to be physically parted from him; there was incredible pleasure for me in simply lying beneath him with him inside me, though I knew he was exhausted and this state could not last.

He reached up and began to tug at the knots at my wrists, his body still trembling with his exertions. Fortunately, they were easily undone and he slipped the silk tie slowly away from my wrists before he collapsed with half his body over mine, his softening phallus slipping out of me in the process. I stretched my arms and flexed my hands into fists a few times to be certain everything was still in working order. My shoulders were slightly sore when I removed my shirt and undervest, but that soreness was quite short-lived. I dropped my remaining clothing on the floor next to the bed and took my beloved into my arms. He was still panting and short of breath but he was beaming with utter joy and contentment as he lay with me. It did not take him long to slip into slumber. He was still entirely too easily exhausted after his illness, and I suspected he would sleep until morning so long as I did not disturb him.

I rose and cleaned myself up, then brought in a warm, damp cloth and tended to Mr. Wooster as well, covering him carefully with sheet and duvet to let him sleep. It was still quite early in the evening and I did not wish to sleep, so I donned my pyjamas and dressing gown, turning off the lights in the library and proceeding to the sitting room to think for a while about what had just happened.

It was the work of only a few minutes to make myself a cup of tea and a light supper from what was in the refrigerator. As I sat at the table gazing out over the city lights, I could see myself reflected in the window glass. So very much had changed since we had arrived in this place. It had only been a month, but it felt much more like a lifetime. It would be inaccurate to say that the man looking back at me from the reflection was no longer Reginald Jeeves, yet I had changed. There had been moments when I believed I had lost myself, but I had been wrong. While I had changed in a number of significant ways, at the core I was essentially the same man; I still believed in the same ideals, still had many of the same attitudes I'd held in 1924, and I still retained the memories of all the experiences I'd had which made me who I was.

Necessity had obligated me to become more tolerant of eccentricity and to accept a certain level of apparent insanity in those around me as normal. I had become used to casually obscene speech, extremely dark humor, and aggressive informality in the behavior of the otherwise sterling individuals I met. Unnaturally colored hair, obvious tattooing, and even multiple facial piercings were no longer causing me to look away out of distress. While I still often longed for polite society, I found the frequent intelligent conversations here much more engaging than the often inane discourse in that same polite society whose loss I mourned. That I no longer had to fear the law coming between Mr. Wooster and myself had been difficult to accept initially, though it had wrought a change in our relations that I would willingly fight for if it became necessary. This one change had made the entire bizarre situation not just bearable but joyous. While I was still hesitant to display my affections for him publicly due to a lifetime of wariness, the great pleasure that this intimacy brought both of us was worth my struggle.

What happened this evening had given me a glimpse of something within myself that was entirely new and unexpected. I had also seen a side of Mr. Wooster tonight that I had neither known nor anticipated. While he has a strong will and can be extraordinarily stubborn on occasion, I had never before seen him so powerful. It had brought out something from deep within him that I found compelling and immensely arousing. When he had bound my wrists and pressed them to the mattress above my head, I had been shocked by the intensity of my response. My desire to be possessed by him had been utterly visceral and beyond any rational thought. Such a response would ordinarily have made me extremely uncomfortable; I prefer to be in control of my body and my thoughts and have often gone to great lengths to maintain that control. My reaction to Mr. Wooster's act had somehow completely bypassed that need and touched upon something primal within me. I realized that it was only the trust I have in him that made my reaction possible. I knew beyond question that he would never deliberately hurt me or do anything that truly violated my person or abused my devotion to him.

To allow him that kind of control over me had driven nearly all coherent thought from my mind. The pure sensuality of his touch left traces on my soul that were deeper and far more significant than the slight bruising on my shoulder where he'd held me so tightly. I had, perhaps perversely, enjoyed the feeling of being restrained by him, of struggling against the bonds about my wrists, of completely surrendering myself to my own and my lover's pleasure. I did not know what this said about me as a man, but I found myself caught up, even now, in remembering the physical ecstasy of it. Even during the roughest moments of our lovemaking, when he had been thrusting into me with the full strength of his body, I had the uncanny sensation of being treated as something immeasurably precious and irreplaceable. This feeling, and the warm glow that still suffused my being, convinced me that I very much desired to repeat the experience. I wondered if expecting it, anticipating it, would rob the experience of its pleasure or intensify it.

Knowing that I could not immediately resolve this issue, I returned to Miss Barr's computer and the missive we had been composing to Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington when our evening plans had been abruptly revised. I had been in the midst of relating an incident that took place during one of Mr. Fink-Nottle's visits to London wherein he had turned Mr. Wooster's bathtub into a newt breeding pond. Resolving the issue had required three days and, by the end of this mishap, desiccated members of the family salamandridae had been found in a number of unfortunate locations about the flat, Mr. Glossop had almost consumed several of said desiccated creatures in a sandwich, and Mr. Wooster had once again been rescued from impending matrimony to a most unsuitable young lady with an irrational fear of amphibians. I will admit that I had counted it as a job well done. I fear my account did not have the same charming linguistic facility as Mr. Wooster's would have, but the details were conveyed with efficiency and verve nonetheless.

***

I heard Miss Barr return to the flat in good cheer late that night, after I had gone to bed. Over the next two days, however, she once again seemed in a great deal of obvious discomfort, resorting to her cane when she left the flat. Mr. Wooster asked after her but, as was her habit, she gently deflected the conversation onto other avenues. I simply observed silently, offering assistance when she seemed too tired or in too much pain to do more than sit huddled in the corner of her settee, wrapped in a blanket and gazing out the window. I had seen enough in the past month to note that after any unusual exertion on her part, it seemed to take several days before she regained her equilibrium again. I suspected it was related in some way to the reason she had been pensioned off, but one does not ask such questions.

The missive to Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington that Mr. Wooster and I were working on took three days to finish to our mutual satisfaction. "Do you think this will be enough, old thing?" he asked, when I had declared it finished.

"With the digital photographs that Miss Barr took, I do believe it should be sufficient," I told him. She had shown me how to affix the photographs to an email. They were of each of us singly and of Mr. Wooster and I together. Although we were certainly clothed quite differently than we had been in any photographs that would have been available to the Fink-Nottle family, we were quite unmistakably ourselves. Both of us had somewhat longer hair now, and Mr. Wooster was considerably thinner after his pneumonia, leaving his face looking slightly hollow. I had been exerting some effort toward getting him to eat a bit more to regain the weight. His normal energy had not yet returned and I did not think it would for some time; he was still rather too pale, as well.

I was uncertain how long a response would take once I sent the message. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington had returned Harry's message earlier than we had expected, but I did not know if her family emergency had resolved or if she had merely taken some time during the difficulty to attend to business. Later that day I received a message like the one Harry had mentioned, noting that she would be away and likely unable to answer messages until the end of the month. Given this, I did not expect to hear from her before the beginning of November.

There were other things on my mind, however, that I regarded as being of more import. Of those, the most important was seeking employment. We had only fifty dollars left, and that I was reserving for transportation to interviews. Miss Barr was taking the situation in a spirit of equanimity, though I was becoming progressively more aware that her funds did not actually extend much beyond taking care of her own needs and an occasional moment of luxury, such as the show she had attended last week. I disliked putting a strain on what had to be a very small margin in her budget; Mr. Wooster was not entirely aware of how precarious the situation was, but I knew he was uncomfortable relying on someone else after having been well-off his entire life.

By October 22nd, I had been to four interviews and signed up with six temp agencies, but had not received a second call from any of them. Getting those four interviews had required thirty-two employment applications, an entirely unacceptable number in my opinion. I fear I had not entirely believed Harry when he had told me how difficult it would be; I'd had what might well have been an inordinate amount of confidence in my own competence. I was beginning to believe that he had, perhaps, been rather more optimistic than my situation actually deserved. My lack of either a driving license or a university degree had resulted in a number of flat rejections without a further word. My lack of citizenship had disqualified me from several others, despite the forged work permit.

Mr. Wooster rose late that night to find me sitting at the dining table in the dark, my face in my hands. Miss Barr had gone to bed early for once -- and by this I mean approximately one in the morning -- but I had been unable to quiet my mind enough to sleep. I heard him approach but was, I'm afraid, too deeply enmeshed in my own thoughts to respond until he spoke.

"Reggie," he said, then hesitated, laying a gentle hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him, his face pale in the ambient light from the street below. "I don't suppose I could talk you into coming to bed," he finally sighed. "It's not the same without you there."

"I'm afraid I wouldn't be fit company," I told him.

He frowned and gazed at me thoughtfully. "Could we at least sit on the couch, then?" he asked. "If you won't come to bed, I'd like to sit with you." I nodded and rose to follow him to the settee. He leaned back into one corner of it, one of his legs up against the back, and patted the cushion before him. I sat and let myself sink back against his body, letting my head recline on his shoulder. With a bit of rustling, he tugged a blanket around both of us and put his arms around me. "That's better," he murmured, nuzzling my hair. I wrapped an arm around his where it lay across my waist and sighed, too worried to allow myself to enjoy it. His fingers rubbed slow circles where they lay on my chest and my arm. "How bad is it?" he asked. "Don't think you're protecting me by not saying anything. I can see how much you're worrying."

"There's nothing you can do, Bertie. Things are simply progressing much more slowly than I had anticipated." He rested his cheek against mine.

"Don't count this Wooster out just yet, old fruit," he said. I could feel the hint of a smile on his lips. "A couple of Joan's friends were here while you were out today, asking me about the whole piano-playing wheeze."

I turned my head a bit to look at him. "You are not well enough to pursue such a course yet, and even if you were, you don't have a piano."

He nodded. "I know," he said. "But I'll be better enough soon to at least be out and about a little, and Ingmar said they might be able to arrange the loan of a keyboard until I could get one myself." His arms tightened about me for a moment. "I'll admit I haven't the first idea of the type of music they want me to play, but he and Umbra seemed rather keen on the idea that I could." He seemed quite pleased, but I was still uneasy.

"A musician's life can be a difficult one, sir."

His expression soured. "You're sirring me again, Reggie." He lay a finger on my chin and turned my face closer to his own, kissing me softly. It was a comforting gesture, and I kissed him back. "Are you upset because I might be able to find something before you do? Because, really, that would be rather silly if it were the case."

I stopped the objection at the tip of my tongue and hesitated for a moment. "Perhaps," I finally admitted. I felt vaguely ashamed of the thought.

He rested his forehead against mine. "Does it really matter who comes up with something first?" he asked, concern in his voice. "We're in this together, after all. It's not like this is a contest."

"I... No, it shouldn't matter." I sighed, closing my eyes. "I feel like I'm failing you," I whispered.

"Why?" he asked. He sounded genuinely confused.

I opened my eyes and raised my hand to cup his cheek. "I should be able to take care of you. I've never been without employment for more than three days before unless it was my own choice," I said. "You're still not well and--"

He lay a finger over my lips. "Don't, Reggie." There was a solemnity in his eyes that I found vaguely disturbing. "Do you think you're the only one who feels that way? Not the employment thing, but the other bit -- I've been sitting here thinking I'm the one who should be able to take care of you. All that money I used to have, well, it took care of both of us, didn't it?" His voice had a tremor to it as he spoke. "We used to be able to do things without having to think about them. We didn't have to worry about anything if I wanted to pop onto a ship and go to New York to get away from another of Aunt Agatha's beazels, or if you wanted your two weeks to go off fishing, or... or..." He took a shaky breath. "We didn't have to worry," he whispered, "and now we do, and I hate seeing how you're not sleeping and how quiet you get and how bally upset you are when you think I'm not looking." He pulled me to him and held me and I turned and wrapped my arms around him, holding him tight.

"I love you, Bertie," I murmured against his neck.

"I love you, too, Reggie," he replied, "but I'd love you more if you came to bed."

I couldn't help but smile. "Of course," I said. I rose and offered him a hand, which he took. He led me back to our room and lay back on the bed while I changed into my pyjamas. I turned out the light and lay with him, turning to him in the dark. The warmth of his body tangled with mine finally soothed me into sleep.

***

Seeing Jeeves sitting alone in the dark with his head in his hands had shaken me, I'll admit. I wanted more than anything for him to stop looking so afraid. He didn't think I knew how badly off we were, but I wasn't entirely a dolt. Just the way he'd been holding himself lately was shouting frightful things to someone who knew him as well as I did; the sitch was taking the stuffing right out of him. So Bertram was worried about one Reginald Jeeves; paragon, paramour, and this Wooster's idea of paradise, when one got right to it. I'm sure he was any number of other para-thingummies, but I was rather satisfied with the three already named. It wasn't just his mood I was worried about. There was the matter of those scars as well, but how did one ask about such things when not in the heat of suddenly discovering them?

Now, there are awkward questions and there are awkward questions. "How in the name of God did you get those scars?" fell into the latter awkward questions category, being rather more awkward than, say, "I'm sorry, was that your tea I just had?" which was a question I've had the misfortune to have to ask once or twice in my time as a ravager of conveniently unescorted tea trays. I'd never had reason to know about the scars before that night, having never actually had a reason to see Jeeves sans the outer wrapping until then. It's not like such questions are part of one's general repertoire in hiring a valet -- "By the way, old chap, any frightening scars from old war wounds I should know about?" No, that just wouldn't do at all.

On the other hand, one might ask one's lover questions of that sort, particularly when one has been told to do so when less in the thick of things, as it were. I also wondered if it might distract him at least a little from everything else weighing on him. Usually he's awake many hours before I am, but I hadn't slept much last night after finally getting him to come to bed, so I lay there in the grey dawn light coming through the window, observing Jeeves as I rarely saw him -- asleep in the morning. Actually, I rarely saw him asleep regardless of the hour, because he tended to fall asleep later than I did and get up far earlier, so Jeeves asleep in the morning was a rare beast indeed. Unfortunately, the r. b. looked troubled, even in his sleep. I didn't want to wake him, but I did rather want to re-ravel that sleeve of care he'd been wearing, so I gently slung an arm about him and tucked the Wooster corpus closer than it had been.

Jeeves made a little sound and wiggled a bit nearer, still entirely asleep. It was all quite adorable, if one can use a word like that in re. the household paragon. One leg joined my arm and that brought a Jeevesian arm up and around my waist as he tucked his nose under my chin. With his brow pressed up against my lips I could hardly refuse to kiss him; it wouldn't have been at all appropriate, or resistible. He sighed at that. He also opened his eyes. That led to a rather pleasing little upward quirk of his lips and the Wooster corpus being pulled into a warm embrace. "You should be sleeping," he grumbled, though it wasn't a particularly grumpy grumble. More like a fondly bemused grumble with a touch of not-quite-awake to it.

"I'm sure I will be eventually," I said. "I was rather more concerned that you weren't, last night, old fruit."

He rubbed his rough, sandpapery cheek against mine; it was rather more stimulating than one might think. "There was no need for concern, Bertie," he said softly, nibbling his way from my ear to my mouth. Well! His fingers stole down my back from shoulder to waist and slipped rather cleverly up under my pyjama shirt. It was quite corking, the way he touched me; one's initial impression of the man and his imposing exterior would never lead one to the conclusion that he was actually a gentle and passionate lover. One's i. i. of the i. e., however, would be blissfully incorrect. Since we had come to our understanding, Jeeves had proved absolutely adoring and his tender pash was, in fact, quite tender indeed.

Unfortunately, I was entirely too aware that Joan was sleeping the sleep of the just in the next room. "I say, Reggie," I said, "you do know Joan is sleeping the sleep of the just right next door, don't you?"

He trailed soft kisses along the curvy bone that runs from my shoulder down to the hollow of my throat. "I dare say she will continue to do so," he whispered against my skin.

"Really, old thing," I murmured. "It wouldn't be preux." My body was very much at odds with my conscience, but one just doesn't do such things with a potential audience on the other side of a rather-too-thin wall. This isn't to say I wasn't tempted -- on the contrary, had we been alone in the flat I'd have already been in mid-ravish without so much as a quibble. I had entirely too many well-pondered ideas about things to do with him for my own good, quite a number of them involving a repeat appearance of those ties that he had, shockingly, seemed to enjoy as much as I did.

Thankfully, he agreed with me and he nodded, letting loose a tiny sigh as he relaxed next to me and let his hands still. "Why are you awake?" he asked. "It has never been your habit to rise at this hour, Bertie."

"I haven't exactly risen," I said. "In fact I still appear to be quite horizontal." I smiled. I could see a little spark of humor in his eyes.

"Shall I go and prepare our morning tea?"

I shook my head. "Not just yet, I think." I paused a moment, collecting the thoughts for an attempt at conversation. "Could I, well, ask a question, Reggie?" I was never very good at leading up gently to things, being the sort instead to trip over them and do a double-gainer into the soup when I tried, but he was rather more patient and understanding than any of my friends and relations had ever been, so I hoped he wouldn't leave me flailing.

One eyebrow twitched up a molecule. "Of course."

I let my hand move from his shoulder down his body to his hip and gently moved aside the cloth of his pyjamas, getting a bit of a peep at the uppermost of the affronts to his person. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, Reggie," I said, quiet and a bit hesitant, "but the other day..."

He looked down and his hand covered mine. "You want to know what happened," he whispered. I nodded. His face clouded, not like an impending storm but like one of those steel-grey days I'd seen so many of in Seattle recently; dim and sad and flat. My chest tightened and I knew I shouldn't have said anything.

"No, it's all right. You don't have to tell me," I told him, moving my hand and wrapping my arm around him again. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."

"I really should have anticipated the question, once you saw me without my clothing," he murmured. "You, of all people, have every right to ask."

"No, I don't. It's just, I don't know anything about you before you showed up at my door that day. There's so much I don't know, and those scars, they..." I rested my head on his shoulder. "Well, they're a bit frightening, really. I just want to know you, Reggie. Who you really are, I mean. Now that we're... since we're lovers now." Saying it still felt forbidden. It felt so right, though, like it should have always been that way.

Jeeves nodded. He threaded his fingers into my hair. "When I joined the Army," he said, "I followed in the tradition of the family and entered the service of a young officer. My duties included acting as his valet, carrying messages and classified documents for him and, when such things were necessary, I acted as his bodyguard." I could hear an undercurrent of discomfort in the whole thing, but I couldn't see how talking about being in a war would ever be comfortable.

"His bodyguard?" Jeeves had always seemed a capable sort, and he did have a streak of practical bravery to him that extended to things like accosting attack swans, but I hadn't ever thought of him as the bodyguard type. In all those thriller novels I'd read, bodyguards always seemed rather thuggish, and there was nothing at all of the thug about my man. Admittedly, he'd occasionally been known to cosh someone in the service of my best interests, but he wasn't a thug about it by any means!

He was looking up at the ceiling, his gaze very far away, as though he could see through the building and off into infinity. "Yes." He was silent for a long time, but I didn't say anything. I listened to his heart beating. It was faster than I would have thought, just looking at him, so I knew something was going on. "Over the course of the war, we had grown quite close," he finally said.

"Close." The word had a thingness about it that I recognized.

"We... had an understanding."

"Did you love him, Reggie?" I couldn't describe my feelings about it as jealousy -- he was mine now, after all, and that sort of thing would be just terribly petty -- but it was something of who he had been before he'd met me and that was important. There was rather a large chasm of missing information that Bertram was simply trying to toss a few pebbles into. At the moment I felt like I was staring into the Grand Canyon, that l. c. of m. i. being my gaping ignorance regarding the history of a chap I happened to be madly in love with.

He turned his face to me and looked into my eyes. "I thought at the time I did but, looking back on it, I don't know anymore. From the perspective of several years in retrospect, I think we were young and afraid and we looked to each other when we had no one else. He was married, and we both knew what we were doing was both illegal and improper, but we didn't know from day to day if we'd live to see the next morning. Under those circumstances, people sometimes do things that they otherwise would not. It is not a past that I am proud to recall." He rolled so his body faced me. "I know beyond any question that I love you, Bertie. I did before we came here, even if I could never have acted upon it."

"I know, old thing." Hearing it didn't hurt, of course. I still had no idea why he did, but I wasn't going to argue with miracles. I wasn't going to judge him for trying to find some comfort in the middle of all that horror, either. Trying to imagine myself in the midst of something like that left me in a very fretful muddle. Despite my Agincourt ancestor, I rather doubt I'd have lasted very long in the trenches. I'd likely have tripped over a rifle and impaled myself on barbed wire before tea on the first day and that would have been the tragically messy end of this Wooster.

He tilted his head and kissed me, soft and thoughtful. "In the last days of the war," he said, "we were pressing the enemy as they retreated. My unit fell victim to an ambush. I... I was wounded in the ensuing battle and was unable to protect the captain. He perished in the fighting. I was unable to get to him. I should have been closer to him; I should have--"

I didn't like where that was going or the thingness that was bubbling up in his voice, so I rolled on top of him and took his hands in mine, twining our fingers together. "You could have been killed." And didn't that thought send a shudder through me. "Good Lord, you could have died, Reggie. I mean, so many chaps did."

"I was very nearly one of them," he said. "It's... not something I've ever spoken to anyone about before."

I felt like the luckiest cove alive, having him after he'd been through all that. I didn't want to think about what my life would have been like if I'd never met him, if he wasn't here with me right now. "Thank you for telling me," I said, and I meant him to hear every bit of how bally lucky I felt because of him. "It must have been awful, never having anyone to tell about it."

He gently pulled his hands from mine and slipped his arms about me. "I am profoundly grateful that you were not old enough to serve," he whispered. One hand moved slowly along my back under my shirt, up and down, his fingers curling against my skin. "The thought that I might never have known you..."

"But you do," I said, leaning down and kissing him. "And we're alive and safe and together, so I'd say we're doing rather spiffingly, don't you think?" I smiled, feeling quite all right with the world because he was in it with me.

"I hesitate to consider the alternatives," he agreed, the heaviness in his eyes finally lightening a bit.

"Let's consider tea instead, shall we?" He actually smiled at that.

***

After the somewhat unusual beginning to our day, I found myself in lighter spirits than I had been in some time. Speaking to Mr. Wooster about what had happened to me during the war was, in retrospect, inevitable, but I had not been certain how he would react. It is extremely difficult to speak of such things to anyone who has not had similar experiences -- to anyone who has not, in fact, been through them himself. Still, I felt I had in some small measure had the burden of those memories lightened by his acceptance and the absolute lack of condemnation in him.

The day brightened further when I received a call shortly after breakfast from one of the temp agencies, sending me out to an office in the downtown area for what I was told would be a two week secretarial assignment. I was extremely relieved; even if the employment lasted only two weeks, I would now have something to put on my resumé and potential references for further employment at a later date. It also meant we had finally made a start at establishing our independence. It lifted a great weight from my shoulders and I departed the flat in good spirits.

My introduction to the world of business in Seattle was a disorienting exercise in frantic activity punctuated by inexplicable moments of apathy. I am an adaptable individual and pride myself on my ability to learn quickly; in that measure, the day was a success. I fell easily into my old habits of silent observation and the cataloguing of information to be used to my later advantage if it became necessary. My fellow employees were all dressed somewhat less formally than I was, but I had become used to this in my association with Miss Barr and her friends; the disparity was rather less here than my experience living less than a mile away on the hill above us.

With the exception of those individuals with whom I had necessary interactions, I was generally ignored. Once I had received my instructions, I was watched over as though I might perhaps be a clumsy toddler with an extremely short attention span. My ability to actually perform the duties I had been assigned was regarded with mild astonishment.

Conversations around me that were not related to the job largely concerned local sports teams and the latest television entertainment, none of which I knew anything about due to Miss Barr's aversion to what she referred to as "the idiot box." A few attempts were made to engage me in conversations on these topics, but they most often ended with the other person eyeing me with vaguely disbelieving suspicion. Apparently, a decision to avoid watching television was seen as an aberration.

I was quite aware that in business, much as below stairs, one's success often depended upon the Byzantine tangles of what might be termed household politics. I was, frankly, pleased that my status as a temporary employee would relieve me of the necessity of dealing too deeply in this mire. Just as a valet in a country manor where his gentleman is visiting is not usually involved in the household's intrigues -- although being in Mr. Wooster's employ did prove rather an exception to that rule -- my tenure here would be limited and I did not think I would find myself enmeshed in anything but the most obvious and easily avoided machinations. I would not be seen as valuable enough to cultivate and this suited me very well, as I had much to learn about everything around me and such intrigues would only serve as distractions.

By the time I began my way up the steep hill that evening, I was in need of the walk. The drizzle and the chill wind were more than sufficient to clear my head after a day of work in the midst of an extremely unfamiliar environment. It was nearly six thirty when I arrived back at the flat. Miss Barr did not hear me enter as she was, much to my bemusement, singing and dancing -- if that sort of wiggling and bouncing about could be dignified by calling it dance -- to some extremely loud and rather raucous music in the sitting room. I left her to her somewhat unusual activity and went to the library to find Mr. Wooster, but he was not there. I hung my coat and jacket and put my hat on the shelf, then proceeded to the sitting room to inquire as to his whereabouts.

When Miss Barr noted my presence, the singing and dancing stopped with an abrupt blush and a look of sheepish embarrassment as she turned the music down to a level not designed to rupture one's eardrums. "Hey, Jeeves, how was the day?"

"It was quite acceptable," I answered, "but where has Bertie gone?"

She proceeded to the kitchen, where she started the kettle heating. "Ingmar and Umbra stopped by and scooped him up. They said they wanted to show him some of the music they're doing, and they were going to go look at a couple of keyboards they saw for cheap on craigslist."

"Who is Craig and why is he keeping a list of keyboards?" I had suspected at some point Mr. Wooster would spend time with the musicians who had offered him a 'gig,' as they say, though I will admit I had not expected it to be quite so soon.

Miss Barr chuckled. "Craigslist is just an internet classified ads listing. They should be bringing him back any time now; they said they'd have him home before seven."

"Ah, I see." I was uncertain what 'for cheap' entailed. We had nothing left, so it did not make any sense to me that he should be examining instruments at this juncture.

"Bertie said one of the temp agencies called you -- congratulations. Since you stayed all day, I assume it worked out okay?" She took two mugs down from the counter and prepared a tea pot.

"It was rather more chaotic than I had envisioned but yes, I believe I am more than capable of performing the duties I've been assigned."

She grinned at me as the water came to a boil. As she poured it into the teapot she said, "I think this calls for a celebration, so I'm taking you boys out for dinner tonight if Bertie's up to it."

I leaned against a kitchen counter, my arms crossed over my chest. "Miss Barr, I am aware that our presence here is a strain on your resources. While I appreciate the gesture, I do not think you should do this."

Miss Barr's head tilted for a moment and she sighed and shook her head. "Jeeves, you two have been through hell since you got here. Things are finally starting to look up for you guys and I think that deserves a little acknowledgment. I've seen how much you've been stressing out lately, you know. It would please me greatly if you'd take this in the spirit in which it was offered."

Phrased in that fashion, I could hardly refuse, and she was well aware of that fact. I had to be losing my touch if I were outmaneuvered so easily and I found the thought disconcerting. "Thank you, Miss Barr." She poured our tea and handed me a mug. It was at that point the buzzer sounded. "I assume that will be Bertie," I said.

"Most likely."

I answered the buzzer. "Miss Barr's residence."

"Oh, I say! Reggie, old thing, it seems we only have one key between us. Would you mind letting me in? There's a good chap."

"Of course, sir." I'm afraid the 'sir' was entirely reflex. It had reminded me rather too much of moments back at our flat in London. I heard him ascend the final flight of stairs with a light and cheerful step, and opened the door as he approached.

He greeted me with a brilliant smile. A large case with which I was unfamiliar was slung over his back. He kissed my cheek on his way past me into the flat. "I had an absolutely topping day! We took a ferry over to Bremer-something-or-other. Awful, squalid little town, I must say, but the ferry ride was bally gorgeous, and the chap there had this." He pulled the case from his back and eased it onto the larger settee. "Umbra said it was worth a dashed sight more than the chap was asking for it." He beamed as he opened the case and took out a keyboard.

I stared at it. "Where did you get the money for it?" I asked; I'm afraid my voice may have wavered. I knew very well he hadn't a penny in his pocket when he left, as we didn't have one.

"Don't worry, old thing," he said. "Umbra loaned me the ready and said I can pay her back when I have it." Miss Barr was leaning down over the settee, looking at the instrument. "It was a hundred-fifty, really not that much compared to some of the things she was showing me on her computer."

"Probably way more than worth it," Miss Barr agreed, nodding her approval.

"But--" I began.

"I said don't worry, Reggie, and I meant it. This won't come out of your pocket. They've got some performances set up already and she said it could come out of my share of that." He straightened and came over to me, slipping his arms about me. "It'll be all right," he said softly. I sighed and circled him with my own arms, resting my chin on his shoulder. "It's time I did something with my life," he continued. "At least this is something I'm good at."

I hadn't the heart to argue with him, and he was quite correct on that point. He really was an excellent musician. "Did you get it in writing?" I asked. I didn't want to see him cheated.

"Of course. Sometimes one has to take a bit of a risk, you know. Without a keyboard, I couldn't do this at all. Umbra said it was worth it to get things started, otherwise who knows how long we'd have to wait? They said they couldn't do the performances without someone who could play, and they'd be out the money they were expecting, so it was really for everyone's benefit."

It did make a certain amount of sense. "How are you feeling after your day out?"

He sagged slightly in my arms. "A bit knackered, really. I didn't think I'd be so tired after just being out for a few hours, but I suppose the doctor was right and I won't be quite myself again for a while."

"Are you up to going out for dinner?" Miss Barr asked. "My treat. Seems like you both have some good reasons to celebrate today."

Mr. Wooster straightened up again and looked over at her. "Are you sure, old thing?"

"No, I make a habit of offering and not meaning it," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Well, in that case," he said, teasing.

"Bertie!" She laughed. "Go on, guys. We should be heading out if we're going to get there in time."

"Right-ho," he replied.

"Seattle doesn't really do fancy, so don't worry about changing if you don't want to," she added. It did not take long for us to prepare for our outing, though we did both change into something I regarded as more suitable for dinner. Miss Barr had traded her tee shirt for a cobalt blue cotton sweater, in deference to the chill in the air, and wore a longer coat when we went out.

I was somewhat surprised when I realized that we were not being taken to one of the many ethnic restaurants Miss Barr generally favored, but instead to a small but quite nice restaurant and bar called the Rosebud, on a street that she frequented near her friend's chai shop. The place was quite lively, it being a Friday night, and it seemed she had called while Mr. Wooster and I were out to make a reservation for us; it had turned out to be a wise precaution. One of the young men on the staff there was a friend of hers -- another musician, she said -- and he brought us to our table and saw to our needs. We were seated by the window and, though there was certainly a somewhat unsavory element to some of the passers-by, the street life was worth watching. The menu was small but more than adequate, with a selection of possibilities that caused Mr. Wooster's eyes to light. It was, as I suspected, somewhat expensive, but Miss Barr gave me a look that insisted we have what we wanted and not worry about the cost.

Jonathan, Miss Barr's friend, was quite knowledgeable regarding the wine list and the menu, and his suggestions made for an absolutely sterling meal. The food was exquisite, the wine well-matched, and the conversation was quite engaging as well. Every so often during the meal, there would be a tap on the window to catch our attention when one of Miss Barr's friends passed by and waved to us cheerfully as they made their way along the street. I recognized a number of them from her ceilidh. Mr. Wooster chattered excitedly about his day and, as it turned out, Jonathan was well-acquainted with both Ingmar and Umbra, having been in a band with them a few years ago. He seemed genuinely delighted for Mr. Wooster and, when he was able to take a few moments at our table, shared a few stories of his time playing with them.

Between the wine and the excellent cuisine, I was feeling much happier and more relaxed than I had in some time. Our walk home was a pleasant one despite the chill and the renewed drizzle. I felt quite bold, in fact, and walked arm in arm with Mr. Wooster for the simple reason that I knew we could. The smile on his face was intoxicating and I found myself wishing very much for more privacy than we would have when we got home.

Much to my surprise, when we got back to the flat, Miss Barr spent less than a minute in her room before she emerged with a small bag over one shoulder. "I'm out of here, boys," she said. "I'm off to see a man about a flogger. I'll be back sometime after lunch tomorrow." She winked, with an absolutely lascivious expression in her eyes. "Don't break the bed." With that and a cheery salute, she vanished, leaving Mr. Wooster and myself standing staring at the closed door in astonishment.

Mr. Wooster blinked. "Did she just..."

"I believe she did," I said, shocked and somewhat scandalized.

"Oh, my." He shook his head. "I do believe she planned that," he said, a hint of confused wonder in his voice.

"One would assume that she had given her gentleman some notice," I agreed.

He turned to me and grabbed my tie, pulling me close. "I say, old thing, this strikes me as one of those knocking while the iron is hot moments, what?" I was given no opportunity to formulate a reply before I was being quite thoroughly kissed. At such moments, one ought bid aching pleasure nigh, and so I did, taking him into my arms and returning his kiss with absolute intent. With the prospect of an entire, uninterrupted night before us, and no responsibilities the next day, we could be at our leisure for once. I intended to take advantage of every moment.

Our kiss gentled as it continued, becoming a dizzying caress of tongues and the soft touch of lips. Our hands moved along backs and sides, down over the curve of buttocks, along the lines of hips and thighs. There had been no opportunity for us to make love since that remarkable evening when Mr. Wooster had bound my wrists with my tie; this slow exploration of each other as we stood in the hallway was a new and extremely pleasurable experience. Breathless and aroused, I ran the fingers of one hand through his hair, pressing my other hand against the small of his back and drawing him closer until our bodies met from from our shoulders downward. He breathed soft sounds of desire into my mouth and I could no longer resist lowering myself to my knees before him, my hands tracing the lines of his body as I went.

He looked down at me, his eyes dark with arousal, his lips damp and flushed with my kisses. I leaned forward and nuzzled him, letting my fingers slip over the backs of his thighs. His prick was hard within his trousers and I felt the heat of it on my cheek as I sighed in pleasure. "Oh, Lord," he whispered. He lowered his hands and tangled his fingers in my hair, his thumb caressing my temple gently. The warm, musky scent of him thrilled me as I turned my face into his body and kissed the hard line of his phallus through the cloth. His fingers tightened in my hair and his breath quickened. With slow deliberation, I opened his fly and drew him out, hot and hard and velvet-smooth in my hand. He moaned quietly, his hips moving forward as I pressed soft-lipped, nibbling kisses from the base of his prick up to the dark, rounded head.

He gasped a short, quiet indrawn breath. He caressed my cheek with one hand, pressing my head closer with the other. "Oh, God, Reggie," he whispered raggedly, a hint of wonder in his voice, "you don't know how many times I wished you would greet me at the door like this."

An intense jolt of arousal shot through me; that same image had been a cherished fantasy of my own. There were days when he came home, cheerful and achingly charismatic and looking so very elegant, when I had wanted desperately to fall on my knees before him and pleasure him like this. He groaned as I took him into my mouth, tasting him for the first time. With my head in his hands, he pressed into me with a slow, languid thrust that I welcomed with my lips and tongue. I moaned in my own pleasure as the head of his prick left a slick, salt trail along my tongue, sliding my hands back to cup his lovely bottom and pull him in deeper. "Yes, love, more." His voice was rough and wanton as he pulled back and thrust into my mouth again, slow and powerful. I did as he bid me, becoming more aroused with each slow thrust of his hips, my eyes closed in bliss as I worshipped him on my knees. He traced my lips, drawn tight about his thick, hot prick, with one thumb and he shivered as he moved. I was desperately, painfully hard for him.

My hands moved on his body in deep, massaging strokes along his thighs and firm cheeks, my chest braced against his legs as I sucked his length. I pressed and caressed with my tongue, swirling and stroking with it, teasing the slit of his prick with the tip of it as he gasped, and the strength of his slow, deliberate thrusts intensified. "I wish you could see yourself," he panted, his voice low and husky. "So bally gorgeous like this, Reggie." He groaned as he thrust in further and I took him in as deeply as I could, hungry for him and so intensely aroused that I thought I might be able to come off without even being touched. He caressed my face and ran his fingers through my hair, tugging it in his fists; the sensation was incredibly erotic, contrasting with the smooth slip of his wet skin against my lips and the heavy heat of his prick against my tongue. I moaned and he shivered as the sound vibrated through his length. "Yes, dear God, yes, I love how you feel," he groaned, his breath harsh and ragged. The slow, salty traces of his fluid tasted so good as I sucked; I wanted him to come in my mouth, to fill my mouth with his release until it overflowed my lips as he thrust into me.

I drew back for a moment to ask for my desire. "Please, sir, use me for your pleasure." My voice was low and harsh, filled with need, and he gave a strangled moan as he pulled me to him and thrust into my mouth again and again, harder and faster. I held him to me, his thighs trapped in my arms as he tugged sharply at my hair. I sucked him, rough and wanting, and he gasped, his rhythm faltering.

"Oh, Christ, Reggie!" He cried out, wordless, thrusting hard into my mouth as he finished, and I grasped his hips, taking him in even more deeply. I could hear him panting and groaning as his thick fluid filled my mouth and I swallowed what I could, the rest spilling around his prick and running down my chin. I was so close, my prick throbbing in my trousers at the exquisite pleasure I felt in bringing him off like this. After a moment, he tugged at my hair, pulling me gently away and I knelt at his feet, gasping for breath as he panted harshly above me. As I wiped my mouth with the back of one hand, I looked up at him; his face was suffused with desire, his cheeks flushed as his chest heaved. "I -- I am," he gasped, "I am going to throw you down on the bed and, and -- oh God." He panted for breath, dragging me to my feet with both hands and pushing me roughly against the wall. "And then I am going to make you beg for hours before I let you finish." There was a wild, desperate spark in his eyes that promised me absolute delight, and I caught fire in it.

"Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, you are a wicked minx," I growled, still panting for my own breath, "and I am going to hold you to every syllable of that promise." He laughed breathlessly as he threw himself on me and kissed me with furious passion. I relished the wiry strength of his body pressed hard against me, one thigh thrust between my own as he held me to the wall, and I could feel his still half-hard prick against my hip. I brought my arms up around him, holding him to me with all my might, my hands fisting in his clothing.

He tugged the tails of my shirt and the hem of my undervest from my trousers with a rough motion and thrust his hand beneath the cloth, raking his fingers down my side in a motion that left me shuddering with pleasure. My head fell back against the wall as I gasped. "I love it when you do that," he said. His voice rasped in my ear, still breathless from his release. "I love how you feel under me, Reggie." His other hand joined his first, his grasp gentling on my waist, resting there with his thumbs caressing my skin. Taking a long, deep breath, he slid his palms slowly up my sides, nuzzling at my neck and kissing my throat. "Love you so much." This gentleness suited him as much as the aggressive passion with which he had pinned me to the wall, and I ran my open hands over his back and shoulders, feeling the soft wrinkling of the cloth and the heat of his slender body underneath.

I pressed kisses to his temple, his cheek, down along the arc of his neck to the hollow where throat met clavicle. The fire of my passion remained but it had been banked by the gentling of our touches. I needed him, yes, and my prick ached as I rocked slowly against him, but the sharp desperation for completion had been tempered in the soft caress of his hands. That need had been overcome by an upwelling of absolute love within me; it suffused my being with sensations both erotic and emotional. I trembled with the intensity of it.

I have often been accused of being a cold, unemotional man. This is entirely untrue. I have always had to keep the expression of my emotions tightly under control for a number of reasons but, beneath that surface, I feel very deeply and always have. Unlike nearly everyone else in my life, Mr. Wooster has been able to read me quite clearly, nearly from the beginning of our association; he has been one of the very few people who even cared to try. When he looked into my eyes, I could see that he had perceived the depth of feeling I was experiencing. "Oh, my," he said. Taking my hand, he tugged me away from the wall and led me into our bedroom. I went eagerly, and he backed me up against the bed, laughing merrily when I was overbalanced and toppled to sit on the mattress, bouncing as the bed creaked.

"Miss Barr did instruct us not to break the bed," I said, grinning up at him as I leaned back, resting on my hands. He pounced on me, still laughing, pushing me onto my back with his legs on either side of me. He knelt above me, leaning down to kiss me again. I reached up to embrace him but he pulled away.

"Oh, no," he said. "You're wearing far too many clothes. Off with them, my man." He waved a hand at me in an imperious gesture.

"And you?" I asked, tugging at the knot in my tie. I slipped it off slowly.

"All in good time," he replied, unbuttoning his already-unzipped trousers as he watched me. My eyes fell to the tie in my hand and I looked back up at him, proffering it hesitantly. It was a question I found myself unable to verbalize. His breath hitched and he reached out to me, taking it gently from my hand, his fingers caressing mine as he did so. "Are you sure, Reggie?" he asked softly, looking at me closely.

"Yes," I whispered.

He shivered and the heat in his eyes intensified. "Get undressed." It was very nearly a growl. My heart hammered as I obeyed him, my every nerve alive with desire. He watched as though he could devour me with his gaze, predatory and wanting. It was not a thing I was used to seeing in him, and it affected me powerfully. A few moments later, I knelt naked before him on the bed, my prick still hard with my need. He sat at the foot of the bed, his trousers, shoes, and socks off but otherwise still dressed. I could see that he was growing hard again as well. Beckoning me close by crooking a finger, he leaned in to kiss me when I went to him, not touching me otherwise. His lips on mine were gentle but demanding and I opened to his tongue, letting him take everything he wanted from me. My eyes closed as I lost myself in the sensation.

When he began tracing a fingertip in lazy curves along my hot, aching prick, I gasped, my body stiffening as his lips left mine. His touch was a maddening tease, barely there yet shooting sensation through me; I rocked my hips up, seeking more. A second fingertip joined the first and I opened my eyes. He was watching me intently, a look of almost solemn reverence on his face. "It always amazes me, that you stayed with me instead of biffing off and becoming Prime Minister or something," he said. "That you actually want me to tie you up and have my way with you really makes me wonder if I haven't shuffled off the mortal c. and ended up beyond the pearly gates. I don't know why, old thing; you've always been one of those iron hand in a velvet glove types." His fingers closed around my shaft, stroking slowly.

My breath was a soft, shuddering sigh of pleasure. "I have sometimes wondered if this wasn't heaven myself," I said quietly. He smiled brightly and slipped his free hand to the back of my neck, pulling me in for a fierce kiss that left me breathless as he continued slowly stroking me. I moaned into his mouth.

He leaned back and began removing his clothing. "Well?" he said, one eyebrow raised. "Do give me a hand here." He tugged his tie off and dropped it next to mine and I dispatched his buttons, slipping his shirt from his shoulders as he shrugged out of it. It was the work of a moment for us to remove his undervest and his pants, and we knelt before one another, breathless. For a long moment, we gazed at each other; that we could do this freely and without fear continued to astonish me. He was still too thin, too pale, but he was a thing of beauty to me and my eyes followed the lines and curves of his frame. His breath was quick and his eyes filled with promise as he reached out to me, taking me into his arms and pulling me down to lie beside him, the full length of our bodies pressed together, our limbs entangled. "I don't think I'll ever get enough of you," he whispered, his lips moving on mine.

"Nor I of you," I agreed, rocking my hips against him, our hard pricks rubbing together in a most tantalizing manner. It was slow and languid and we kissed for a very long time without speaking, our hands caressing and exploring each other's bodies. The knowledge that we would not be interrupted was its own intoxicating aphrodisiac; even under the best of circumstances we had always known we hadn't time enough to truly indulge our desire to become fully acquainted with one another's responses. Our mutual discoveries of the unimagined eroticism of a kiss to the inside of an elbow or the soft skin at the back of a knee, the effect of warm breath on an ankle or the trace of a tongue at the base of a spine were an introduction to new definitions of passion. The heat of his skin under my lips and the light glisten of sweat on his flank in the low light of our room took on the significance of a holy icon for me, and I worshipped at the altar of his body with all my heart. Every soft sigh and low moan from his lips was a benediction to my carnal devotion.

I was sitting on my heels with my hands resting on the back of the sofa bed, his lips trailing moist and hot up my spine, when he reached around my body and took one wrist in his hand. He pulled my arm behind me and I felt the cool slip of silk about my wrist. My head was already swimming in a thick haze of sensual pleasure, and the unexpected feel of it against my skin sent a shiver through me. He tugged my other arm behind me and wrapped the cloth around my crossed wrists, pulling it tight enough to hold without numbing my hands, and knotting it securely. I tested the bonds, unable to stop a soft sound of intense arousal from passing my lips at the delicious feeling of restraint it gave me. "Oh, I do like that sound," he murmured, pulling his fingernails up the sides of my thighs to my hips, making me shudder at the electric sensation that shot through me and drawing a louder groan out of me. He knew what that did to me and used it with devastating effectiveness.

He leaned into me, folding me in his arms, and kissed his way from the bend of my shoulder up to my ear, ending with a voluptuous sucking of my earlobe. "Oh, sir," I gasped, feeling it shimmer down my spine.

"Most of the time," he whispered, his breath soft and tingling in my ear, "I really prefer Bertie, but when you're like this, that word just makes my blood all fizzy." His hands moved on me, one to tease a nipple, the other to stroke and squeeze my hard shaft. My bound hands were trapped between our bodies and I opened one hand flat against the broad muscle of his abdomen as I tried to thrust into his fist. "I have to say," he continued, "I never quite understood the juicy possibilities of it before we discovered such interesting alternative uses for neckwear." His hand tightened on my prick and I trembled, panting, wanting so much more. "Say it again," he pleaded. His voice smouldered with heat and desire.

"Please, sir, I need you." I could hear an edge of desperation in my voice, for it echoed the need raging within me. I had never in my life been so aroused for so long. My previous erotic encounters had all been under the dangerous shadow of the risk of revelation; one achieved satisfaction quickly due to the chance of discovery or one suppressed one's desires until alone in one's bed, where such things could be dispatched in furtive silence. The single time that Mr. Wooster and I had made love with one another previously, we had both been aware that our time was limited and acted accordingly.

He chuckled, the evil thing, and said, "I did promise you hours, Reggie, and it's only been about ninety minutes. I'd hate to break my word, you know?" He released my prick and ran his nails down my chest, scratching over my nipples and leaving me incoherent with lust. "Code of the Woosters and all that." I could hear the smug enjoyment in his voice, but it only made everything sweeter.

"Y-you tease," I stammered, surprised I had managed to grate out even those two words past the torrent of desire rushing within me.

His teeth scraped roughly at the nape of my neck and I shivered. His finger swirled in the fluid at the tip of my throbbing prick and I tried again to push my hips up to meet the sensation, needing more. "I have it on very good authority," he said, squeezing the head of my prick with his fingers and drawing a desperate sound from my lungs, "that you're enjoying this, old thing. And you did say you'd hold me to my promise." He drew his nails up my sides in a long, sharp motion and I cried out, my head falling back on his shoulder as I shuddered. "You do like it, don't you?" He sounded hopeful and slightly uncertain. I nodded vigorously, still gasping for breath and unable to speak. "You can do better than that," he whispered, low and wicked, his enthusiasm renewed at my acquiescence.

"Yes, sir -- more, sir," I panted, pressing my body back against him.

His arms came round me again and he held me tightly, kissing my temple and cheek, and I could feel that he was trembling. "You liked that wheeze out in the hallway, didn't you?" he asked, his voice rough and obviously aroused.

'Liked' was an utterly inadequate descriptor for my feelings regarding that act. "In-indeed, sir." The thought of sucking him inflamed me and I closed my eyes, remembering the sensation of his hot, heavy prick in my mouth with the taste of him still on my tongue. His weight shifted and suddenly he was before me, sitting atop the back of the sofa bed, leaning back against the wall with his legs spread, displaying himself to me, fully hard and wanting.

He stroked himself a few times before he spoke, his eyes fixed upon me, blazing with desire. I swallowed, my mouth watering for his hard shaft. "Come here," he growled, reaching out and pulling me by my hair. I had only to lean forward to take him into my mouth, eager for him, feeling completely wanton. He hissed an indrawn breath as I sucked him in, laving him with my tongue. I was lost in sensation, adoring him, the feel of my bound wrists behind me serving to intensify everything I experienced. I would have thought it a small thing, being restrained like that, but my reaction was primal. "Oh, Lord," he groaned, "oh, that's the real tabasco." His fists in my hair guided my movements, preventing me from bringing him off quickly as I'd desired. I wanted to fill my mouth with him again as I had so recently. His hips moved as he panted, his hands stilling my head so that he could control our lovemaking, thrusting at his own tempo; I surrendered to him completely. He tried several times to speak, but no whole words emerged from his mouth; I was far too absorbed in the sensation of the head of his prick sliding over my tongue to care.

Much too soon, he pushed me gently away. He hadn't finished and it surprised me that he wished to stop. "Oh, don't look like that," he panted. "I'm not done with you yet." He slid off the back of the sofa bed onto his knees and pulled me up, kissing me thoroughly, his hands scratching and teasing, leaving me a desperate, shivering wreck. "Like this," he whispered, urging me to lean forward and rest my shoulder against the back of the sofa bed. He cupped my cheeks in his hands and lifted me so that I was on my knees. I panted, my head on the soft sofa back, eyes closed, reveling in the feel of his hands on my bottom. I hoped he would bugger me senseless.

He brushed kisses along the backs of my thighs and the curve of my gluteal muscles, pressing against the insides of my thighs to encourage me to open my legs. I spread them wide for him, still panting. After a moment, one slender finger slipped into me, chill with lubricant. I groaned and pushed back onto his hand. "No, no, not yet," he whispered, caressing my back as he pushed me forward again. "I'm going to take you to heaven, Reggie," he murmured, "very, very slowly." His finger twisted and found that place inside me that brought a pleasure so exquisite as almost to amount to pain. With a broken moan, I fought the urge to push back seeking more.

I was completely lost to time as his finger moved within me, never leaving that spot. It was glorious, and he kissed and caressed me for I know not how long as that endless, agonizing, delirious pleasure continued. With that one, single finger, he broke me; I cried out over and over, breathless and beyond any shame, begging for the thick heat of his prick within me, begging him to bugger me, to fuck me. I needed to be filled with him, to be impaled upon him, to feel him moving in me hard and fast, because that one finger was in no way large enough to give me what I so desperately needed.

Finally, blessedly, he withdrew his finger and pushed the well-slicked length of his cock into me. We groaned together and he took my hips in his hands, holding me tightly as he began to thrust. He started slowly, preventing me from bucking back to meet him, and I cried out in frustrated need. I was so close and he felt magnificent inside me, but I needed more and faster and my obedience to his desire was frayed and faltering. "Oh, God, please, sir," I begged, my voice an unrecognizable breathless sob, "fuck me. Take me hard, I -- ahh -- I want to feel it tomorrow."

He made a strangled sound and drew back, then began pounding into me, his hips snapping and rolling as he rutted in me. Finally, God, finally -- I was transported into a realm of utter physical bliss, feeling the force of his every thrust shuddering through my body. I cried out over and over until my voice shattered, and then I shattered. It was incandescent and I lost any sense of the boundaries between my body and his; it was as though we occupied the same space, the same soul, and the ecstasy I felt was beyond my capacity to describe. It seemed to go on forever and I heard his beloved voice, heard him calling my name in breathless abandon through the haze of my euphoria.

Breathlessly, gently, he loosed my wrists and lay me down in his arms on the bed. I was too enervated to move beyond the helpless heaving of my chest as I fought for breath, my muscles trembling in the aftershocks of my orgasm. I could feel that he was shaky and overcome as well, though he helped me move an arm so that I held him as he held me. I finally managed to move my fingers after a few minutes, whispering, "Oh, Bertie."

"Shh, hush," he said softly. "Just rest, love." My head rolled toward him like the bloom of a flower toward the sun and I opened my eyes, though my eyelids felt heavy as stone. He looked exhausted, utterly sated, and thoroughly pleased with himself. He certainly deserved to. We were both slick with sweat and my mouth was dry from my exertions. He kissed me with infinite gentleness, then said, "When my legs work again, I'll get you some water." I nodded slightly, still unable to speak and barely able to move.

My trembling slowed and finally stopped as he held me, and when I was at last able to move again I pulled him to me. He nuzzled into the angle of my neck, kissing me slowly. I let the fingers of one hand trail along his flushed cheek in a lazy caress. "Where are your wings?" I asked. He raised his head and quirked an eyebrow at me. "I don't know whether you are an angel or a demon, but that was completely beyond the ability of any mortal man," I told him, smiling. He laughed and shook his head.

"I thought for a moment that fish-fed brain of yours might have dribbled out your ears," he said with a delighted chuckle. "You sound like you need water, and I know I do," he continued, propping himself up. My own legs were still somewhere in the vicinity of al dente and the idea of standing seemed entirely unwise. I watched as he wobbled out of the room, returning a few minutes later with two large glasses of water and a warm, wet cloth. He handed me a glass and set about rectifying the mess we had collectively made of me. I was relieved enough at the thought of quenching my thirst that I made no move to assist. "Are you all right, old thing? I was rather rough on you there toward the end," he said. His voice was light, but I heard the hint of worry beneath it.

"There's no need for you to worry, Bertie," I said, setting my now-empty glass on the bedside table and opening my legs so he could finish what he'd begun. "It may be several days before my feet touch the ground again." I still felt euphoric, though I was utterly exhausted.

His smile brightened a bit. Dropping the used cloth on the floor, he sat beside me and drank his water in one long draught. "Maybe later," he said, setting the glass down by mine, "I can talk you into giving me a bit of that. Being under you, I mean." He gave me a hopeful grin. "I think I'd like how you feel."

"I shall endeavor to give satisfaction, sir," I said, returning his smile.

He assaulted my person with a pillow. "You're only allowed to call me sir if you're tied up. It's a rule." He did not allow me to protest.

***

I have to tell you, I was thoroughly knackered after having my wicked way with Jeeves. Certainly my being not-quite-there-yet had something to do with it, though it was a dashed pleasant feeling of exhaustion, entirely unlike the whole lying-about-feeling-like-a-week-dead-flounder wheeze I'd dealt with previously. Jeeves looked even more worn out than I was, and I thought it was a good look on him. With his hair all mussed and his corking physique sprawled across the bed with something resembling artistic abandon he was entirely delish; if one looked up 'debauched' in the dictionary, one would find a picture of Jeeves in that moment, though perhaps censored to preserve the finer sensibilities of the women and children in the vicinity. There had been a glazed air of floaty bliss about him that I quite liked. One does not often see a Jeeves with such a look of delighted satisfaction on his map; the taxidermied amphibian seemed entirely banished and I was right there stuffing a train ticket in its flipper and wishing it a good riddance.

We spent the night debauching each other several times, though with a bit of a kip and some tasty fortification thrown in at intervals; one must keep up one's strength for the fray, of course. When one has three-ish years of pent up debauch to make up for, even near-unconsciousness is not a particularly effective deterrent, especially when one has an otherwise-occupied flat to oneself and one's beloved. A Wooster does not waste his chances. He carpes the diem like nobody's business, and the noctem as well. I also carped the Jeeves repeatedly, but one must expect that, given as he is in the way of being a magnificent specimen.

Morning's wake up call brought more of the same, though I asked to be on the receiving end this time. Jeeves was more than willing to accommodate the request and it was an absolutely spiffing experience to be on my hands and knees under him, his arms wrapped around me, and to feel him moving deep inside me like that. He's built on a somewhat larger frame than the Wooster model and that somewhat larger goes for all of him, by which I mean to say he's exceedingly well-endowed. Not at the frighten-the-livestock level, mind you, but quite exciting nonetheless. When he's the one in charge of the proceedings, he's a bally force of nature. He's slow and gentle and entirely inexorable, moving with a controlled, steady, intense strength that melts brains and devastates nervous systems, leaving a boneless, dripping puddle of jellied Bertram sprawled beneath him. Being filled with him leaves no room for anything else -- not breath, not thought, nothing but the pleasure of it. Even thinking about it after the fact clouds the Wooster onion with La Bassett levels of drivel involving muscular muscles, a warm feeling of being both safe and adored that fills the chest cavity and expands outward in waves, and a distinct stirring of the little Wooster accompanied by dizziness and breathless tingling. Needless to say, when he was finished with me, I was an exploded mound of mindless orgasmic goo. In other words, I loved both it and him quite madly and was looking forward to the next opportunity, when I was feeling less peaky and more my usual self.

The morning immersion was a shower with company rather than a bath solo. Rubber duckies, red or otherwise, were not involved, as I had far more interesting things to squeeze. I'd never quite imagined showers being that much fun, but one lives and learns. We ended up after breakfast out in the sitting room, occupying a spot on the floor in front of the sofa with Jeeves curled around me as I messed about with a pile of sheet music and the new keyboard; I had to learn this stuff in the next two weeks if I was going to be on stage playing it. Our sitch was cozy and affectionate and excessively domestic, but I was coming to like the arrangement. He was looking like he was still floating a few inches above the floor, though I think someone else would merely have thought him in a jolly good mood. This warmer side of Jeeves was something I hoped I'd see more of and I did wonder how long it would last before the walls of the battlement went up again. When I saw him like this I began to have some clue about how much he'd kept hidden over the years, and I wondered how to encourage more of it. The seeing, I mean, not the hiding.

Joan toddled back in around tea time, while Jeeves was working his wonders in the kitchen. She looked like a tired cat with a suspicious trace of yellow feathering about the whiskers but didn't say much beyond the usual pleasant greetings when I gave her a cheerful "What ho." After Joan did whatever it is she does when I'm not looking, she ensconced herself at her desk to catch up on the things she does there, books and notes piled about her in an order that only made sense to her. Jeeves shimmered over to her and asked, "Would you care to join us for tea, Joan?"

Both of us looked up at that. Joan looked like an alarmed antelope whose hooves had suddenly become tentacles. She blinked a couple of times before she leaned back in her chair. "Who are you and what have you done with Jeeves?" she asked, sounding a bit suspicious, as though she wasn't sure he'd actually just said that.

He regarded her solemnly, though I could see the lightness of spirit of a Jeeves well-pleased on his countenance. He took a long, slow breath. "I know that I have maintained a certain formality up to this point," he said. "Since we arrived here, you have acted with a generosity and concern for us that has gone far beyond what anyone could reasonably have asked. The poet de Bussy-Rabutin said that friendship comes from knowledge and, in the time I have known you, you have been a steadfast friend and I have found myself coming to regard you as something akin to family. You have asked me to call you Joan, and I hope that you will not take it amiss if I do so at this juncture. You have more than earned the right to call me Reggie."

She sat there for a moment, gobsmacked as a trout on a plate. A slow smile spread across her map and she stood and gave him a brief, cautious hug, which he returned. "Thank you, Reggie," she said, sounding astonished. "I-I don't know what to say. I'm just... wow. Thank you. And yes, I'd love to join you guys for tea."

Jeeves shimmered about putting the table in order and Joan leaned over toward me and whispered, "Did that really just happen?"

"He moves in mysterious ways," I answered. She chuckled and shook her head.

After tea, Jeeves perused his email and announced that he'd received a missive from the Fink-Nottle Trust. "So," I asked, "what does the Fink-Nottle-Parsnip have to say?"

"Parsington, Bertie," he corrected, giving me a soupy glance. "She informs us that her elder brother passed away last week and that she has been quite occupied with that unfortunate circumstance. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington also says that the information provided in our email was reasonably convincing to her and that the photos did appear to be untampered with. She requests, as Harry surmised, that we submit to DNA testing. It appears that the Fink-Nottle family remained in contact with our families over the years and that, while mine is interested in the possibility that we might be telling the truth, Philbert Wooster, the current Lord Yaxley, is extremely skeptical and is likely to be obstructionist. From her phrasing, I infer that this is a longstanding situation." He looked up at me. "She says that she will be posting us the necessary testing implements and that we may send them at the Trust's expense to an appropriate facility once they arrive. The testing itself should only take a few days once the materials arrive at the laboratory, but arranging for these tests with the appropriate persons in England may take a week or more."

"Well!" I said. "Well. Well, well. That's... she believes us?"

"It would appear so, at least provisionally."

I wasn't sure if I should spark up any hope over the sitch. "Philbert, hm? Claude must have eventually spawned, then. I wonder if it's a son or a grandson? Or maybe a great-grandson." The concept beggared my imagination. I wondered how old he was and what he was like, aside from the obstructionist bit, and who in the family he took after. With my luck, it would be Aunt Agatha, or maybe Uncle Henry, who was famously barmy, what with all the rabbits. Given that Uncle Henry had sprouted the twins, it wouldn't surprise me a bit.

"I hope this works out," Joan said. "I'm glad she believes you. If they can prove who you are, then you can probably arrange for real passports and maybe even go home again."

Home. Good Lord. After what she'd said about a third of London being bombed in that war, I didn't even know if my old flat would still be standing. It wasn't as though we'd be able to move back in, even if it were. I felt a fearful streak of uncertainty splash through the corpus, and Jeeves looked rather rummy as well. It wasn't like five thousand pounds was all that much anymore. I wasn't sure if we could rent a flat with it for very long, if we could get one at all. "Would that even be possible?" he asked, his voice quiet.

I biffed over to the desk and wrapped the arms about him. I think we were both worried. We didn't really have much here, but at least we knew Joan was a safe harbor in the storm, and we had a roof over our heads and the beginnings of some friendships. I'd even begun to be rather fond of Seattle, despite that it was really more a small town with a lot of people and tall buildings than a proper metrop like London. I'll admit I missed the city life. I missed the familiar places I'd known, but I hadn't any idea if some of them existed anymore. Was there still a Drones club, I wondered, and would they let me in the door if there were?

From the sounds of it, Jeeves seemed likely to get a warm reception, but I'd got the unfortunate impression that whatever Woosters might remain were likely to be distinctly of the snippy variety. I found myself tearing up a bit, missing Aunt Dahlia and dear old Angela. "It's all right, Bertie," Jeeves whispered when he noted Bertram's damp e.s. "We'll be all right."

Joan, being the perceptive beazel she is, excused herself for a kip, saying she hadn't got much sleep last night, and vanished with almost Jeevesian efficiency. I hated the idea of leaking in front of her like that. "What happens if there's nothing for us to go back to, Reggie?"

"It's still England," he said, tucking my head under his chin and petting my hair. "Regardless of what we find there, England is our home and we will be together, and that is the only thing that matters." I sniffled a bit and raised my face to him, meeting his eyes. He took my face between his hands and whispered, "I will take care of you, Bertie. This I promise." He gave me a soft, slow kiss, and then he held me close for a very long time.

***

The week went by with an agonizing slowness while we waited for movement on the testing. Our packet arrived on Tuesday, along with the bill from the hospital. I hoped if we were able to demonstrate our identity to the satisfaction of all concerned, that the potential five thousand pounds might be forthcoming and we could pay it off and leave the entire incident behind us for good.

Miss Barr noted on Monday that a few of her friends were coming over on Saturday night. "One of those fancy-dress halloween parties?" Mr. Wooster asked.

"No," she'd said. "It's samhain. We'll be staying up all night having a vigil for the ancestors. You guys can be a part of it if you like, but please don't feel that it's mandatory or anything." We were at that point uncertain as to whether we would wish to participate in something that seemed likely to be very blatantly pagan; the idea felt quite alien, even though I had never seen Miss Barr do anything unreasonable beyond her ordinary odd behavior. She noted that the night would be taken up with a large meal, stories shared about friends and relatives who had passed on, and then storytelling until dawn. "Things get pretty goofy around four in the morning," she said with a wry smile.

My work at the office that week proved much more emotionally draining than I would have thought. Rather than giving me a task and allowing me to do it efficiently, I was required to follow idiotic procedures that seemed designed more to facilitate several layers of management than to actually accomplish the goal of the project. The popular music played on the speakers was nothing at all like what I had come to appreciate in Miss Barr's home, nor was it the light, humorous sort of thing Mr. Wooster tended to prefer. I felt it had neither cleverness nor artistry and wished that they would leave the office silent so that I could concentrate on the work I was doing. The people I worked with seemed like rather staid, upstanding, middle-class individuals for the most part. There were no facial piercings or visible tattoos, and certainly no unnaturally-colored hair in evidence. In talking with a few of them, I was gaining a picture of just how very bohemian the circle inhabited by Miss Barr and her friends really was. I had always suspected as much but, until this, I'd had very little exposure to anyone who was not a part of Seattle's countercultural set and so had taken to regarding such appearances and attitudes as more or less normal.

I would return home each night much more tired than I should, by rights, have been. I certainly worked harder physically, and for longer hours, as a valet than I did in the office, but I had nearly always exercised complete control over how and when most of my tasks had to be done. Mr. Wooster's whims of travel had usually suited me, and his frequent late nights at his club afforded me both time and privacy when my work was done for taking my own leisure, even when I was awaiting his return. I disliked the lack of control and the feeling of chaos that came with the office work. I knew myself to be a precise, painstaking individual and realized that the only place in which I had previously found this amount of nonsense in expectations regarding the ways in which things should be done was in the army. It was an uncomfortable comparison.

Mr. Wooster spent the bulk of his day time practicing the music he had been given and the evenings were uniformly spent in rehearsals with the band. He said that it would have been a less hectic schedule were a performance not scheduled for November 7th. "I have rather a lot of catching up with the rest of them," he said. "It's really quite extraordinary, Reggie. I think you'll actually like them." His own work left him quite exhausted, though Ingmar and Umbra were apparently more than willing to take more frequent breaks than they were used to in deference to Mr. Wooster's as-yet-incomplete recovery from his bout of pneumonia. He did, however, report that he was enjoying himself tremendously, and he spoke with admiration of the two drummers who played with the band. "It's like they're dancing with the bally drums," he told me. Miss Barr noted that the band played music inspired by several of the so-called gothic groups to which I had taken a liking, and I was looking forward to seeing Mr. Wooster perform with them.

I will admit that I was concerned that our situation with the Fink-Nottle Trust might require our departure before the performance, which would also be the weekend during which my contract would be finished at my current place of employment. As a valet, I would have been quite comfortable giving my notice if I anticipated a drastic change in my situation, and I was not in the least averse to walking away from my temporary position without notice if necessary, but Mr. Wooster's friends could not be expected to find a new band member in only a week, and he was quite adamant that he would not leave them without a keyboardist after all they had done to make certain he could be a part of the band. As it was, we had discussed our situation and he had already told them that a sudden change in our circumstances had arisen and that we might be called upon to leave quickly. They had taken this with reasonable equanimity, considering their eagerness to have Mr. Wooster play with them, and the difficulty they might encounter in replacing him.

When Saturday arrived, Miss Barr spent a good bit of the afternoon preparing for the night's ritual. She was expecting everyone to arrive before dusk. The sitting room was rearranged and she laid out a rather large pile of votive candles, also taking out a number small mementos, and photos of varying ages, from sepia-toned photographs that looked like they might date to the beginning of the 20th century to those that might have been taken within the last few years. The dining table was laid out for a somewhat more formal buffet than had been the case at the ceilidh, and when people began to arrive, she met each at the door with a small quaich of whisky and a greeting.

The arrivals were quiet but cheerful; there were seven guests. Miss Barr once again invited myself and Mr. Wooster to participate if we wished; he said he was quite curious about the whole thing and I will admit that I was as well. Several short texts were recited, heralding the coming of winter and the nature of the evening. A large plate of food was placed on the altar -- for the ancestors, it was noted -- and then Miss Barr set the photos and mementos she had gathered on the altar as well, lighting candles before them, naming the individuals associated with them. She shared stories of some of these people -- grandparents, great-grandparents, various aunts and uncles, friends whom she had lost during their shared childhood, friends gone more recently. As the evening passed and dinner was brought out, the others in attendance also placed photos or other mementos of their loved ones on the altar and lit candles for them, telling their own stories, often shedding tears when they reminisced. More often, though, there was laughter in the sharing of humorous incidents and happy memories. One young man spoke of friends he had lost in the current wars, having served himself, and I could hear in his voice many of the same emotions I felt around my own service. One woman, younger than Miss Barr but older than me, had lost her mother only a few weeks previously and wept harshly as she spoke. The others offered her hugs and comfort, and I realized as the remembrance continued that I was very much affected by these stories. The simple humanity of the assembled, stripped of artifice and pretense, was profoundly moving.

I realized also that I had stories of my own to tell, and Mr. Wooster had a look about him that suggested it was the same for him. We had both, in a manner of speaking, lost everyone in our lives less than two months ago. Neither of us had truly come to terms with those losses. In speaking of them, we would of necessity reveal something of our history and the truth about our arrival here, but I had begun to suspect that the cat would be out of the bag soon enough, as it were. If we were accepted as who we were, there would no doubt be some attention from the media, as Harry had suggested. And so it was that Mr. Wooster lit candles and told stories of his family and his friends, leaving everyone laughing about his misadventures and the sheer absurdity of the situations in which he had so often found himself. He spoke not only of those who had been still alive when we had been snatched up into the sky, but of his parents and of a few friends he had lost before we had been dropped here. He also laid the copy of his book that Harry had given him on the altar, and spoke very emotionally of Mr. Todd, to whom he had given it so many years ago.

My own stories I found difficult to tell, but the more I spoke, the more I realized how much I needed to tell them. There was a weight and a momentum in the occasion that encouraged the flow of words. I did not offer great detail, but I shared the names of family and friends, and of men with whom I had served who had fallen in battle. I talked about what they had meant to me, and of a young man who had saved my life early in the war and who had died shortly after in one of the poison gas attacks my unit had endured. Without my realization or intention, a fearful depth of emotion crept into my accounts and I found myself breathless and near tears; as with the incident that had resulted in my wounds, I had never spoken of these things to anyone before and the pain was much more raw than I would ever have expected. Mr. Wooster, who had been sitting beside me on the smaller settee, leaned into me and wrapped me in his arms. I buried myself in his embrace, feeling those losses with a terrible intensity but grateful that I still had him, that he loved me, that we were together. Miss Barr came and sat on the arm of the settee behind me, one hand on my shoulder, offering comfort without being intrusive. I was grateful for this, and for the entirely unexpected catharsis of the experience.

Finally, after everyone had spoken, a short prayer was offered up in memory of "those who have gone before," and we were all served a glass of whisky and raised a toast to the dead. Several people asked about Mr. Wooster and myself after that, given what we had revealed. There was, as might be expected, a certain amount of initial disbelief, but no one seemed inclined to call Miss Barr a liar when she explained her own eyewitness role in the matter. I was somewhat surprised but realized that it was, in a sense, a mark of the respect with which her friends regarded her.

At this point, it was already nearly midnight, and the telling of tales began. Traditional stories were shared through the night, mostly translations of tales from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, some of which were much funnier and entirely more salacious than I would ever have credited. There was a great deal of laughter, an even greater deal of alcohol, and a warm feeling of camaraderie among everyone in attendance. As Miss Barr had predicted, by four in the morning, things were getting extremely silly, given that everyone was rather inebriated and the stories lent themselves to high spirits.

As grey dawn began to light the sky, the candles were guttering out on the altar. Sobriety had, for the most part, returned by then. There was a final bit of food to fortify the guests before they traveled home and, once again, the night was concluded by singing Health to the Company. I sang with them, as did Mr. Wooster, feeling it a more than appropriate ending to the night. Photos, mementos, and various other items were collected once again by those departing, with Miss Barr dispensing hugs to everyone at the door as they left. When they were gone, I assisted Miss Barr with the cleanup.

"Thank you, Joan," I told her. "I did not know what to expect, but I found the experience quite moving."

"I've never done anything like that before," Mr. Wooster added. "I thought all that pagany stuff was supposed to be a bunch of devil worshipping and whatnot, but this was... well, anything but that, really."

"No problem, guys. I appreciate that you came and what you brought to it," she said. "Thank you, both of you, for being willing to share all of that with us. I know it must have been hard to talk about some of those things in front of a room full of strangers."

"Not as much as I'd have guessed," Mr. Wooster said. "Once I got started, it just seemed to keep on going." He turned to me. "Reggie, are you all right, old thing? Some of that seemed a bit rough on you, what?"

"I'm fine, Bertie," I told him as we finished dealing with the dishes. He looked somewhat skeptical, but after Miss Barr wished us a peaceful sleep, we adjourned to our room and curled up in bed together quietly, both of us exhausted.

"I never knew most of that," he said. "I knew about a few of your relatives -- Mabel and your Uncle Charlie, of course -- but those chaps in the army with you and the one who saved your life; I wish I could thank him, Reggie, I really do." He kissed me softly, with an intent to comfort rather than arouse. "I can't tell you how grateful I am to anyone who helped make it possible for you to be here with me like this."

I held him close, my head resting upon his breast, and listened to his heartbeat and the sound of him breathing. "Everything that transpired tonight served only to remind me once again how very lucky we are, and how you are to my thoughts as food to life, or sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground."

"That's Shakespeare again, isn't it?" he mused.

I nodded. "It is."

He chuckled softly. "I love you with a frightful desperation, old fruit, but sometimes you really are soppier than La Bassett." I felt the press of his lips in my hair and knew he was teasing me. I did not mind; I would hesitate to admit it aloud, but I am something of a romantic at heart and he was quite aware of this, having once found my Rosie M. Banks novels and discerned that they did not, as I had claimed, belong to my aunt. I was learning to have less fear of showing this part of myself to him. "It's all right, you know," he whispered. "Where you're concerned, so am I."

***

It was Wednesday when we heard from the Fink-Nottle-Parsnip again. She'd got the necessary Jeeves relative to stand and deliver with the DNA thingummy and the result had come back proving that Jeeves was himself, or at least that he was a direct male relative of some sort and, given the sitch, that would be one Reginald Jeeves, as all the others were accounted for. "I say, Reggie, you didn't tell me this chap was a Member of Parliament," I said. With an astonished shake of the Wooster onion, I added, "Perhaps there'll be a Jeeves Prime Minister sooner rather than later, what?"

"Aubrey Jeeves is apparently the great-grandson of my cousin Robert," Jeeves said, still staring at the email. "Unfortunately, it appears that Lord Yaxley is entirely refusing to cooperate, even moreso now that my own identity has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington reports that he is convinced we are attempting some kind of confidence scheme to usurp his title and lands."

"Tcha!" I scoffed. "I've done perfectly well for twenty-five years without being Lord Yaxley and for all I care, the title and all of it can go hang." I was feeling quite pipped about the whole thing; where was the welcoming Wooster family bosom? Of this, there wasn't so much as a twitter. I was feeling distinctly alone and unloved on the familial front. I had at least hoped for a vaguely friendly welcome, if nothing else, but this suspicion and outright rejection dampened the Wooster spirit. I'd got more of a feeling of family from a clutch of strangers in a foreign city than I was ever likely to get from whatever Woosters there were.

"It seems that MP Jeeves intends to travel to San Francisco to the British Consulate-General's office to arrange passports and other documents for us," Jeeves said, "though it will be the middle of next week before his arrival." He looked up at me, looking a bit overcome. "A Member of Parliament," he said, sounding quite impressed.

"But we're in Seattle," I said. "How are we going to get down there? Can the Fink-Nottle-Parsnip send us the five thousand pounds? We could afford a train ticket then, at least."

He gave me the Jeevesian eyebrow of moderate chastisement. "Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington," he said, "has offered to wire us the money, as I had assured her we had secured identification that would be adequate to the task of redeeming it. She indicated it would arrive tomorrow afternoon, denominated in US funds."

"Oh, jolly good, then." This bucked me up a bit, I must admit.

"She will herself be arriving with the MP," he added.

I gave him a look. "I thought her brother died recently?"

He nodded. "Indeed, Bertie, but it appears someone else in the family is dealing with the disposition of the will, and the funeral was a few days after he passed away. She is free to travel and says that she very much wishes to meet us."

"Well," I said, "I suppose Joan will be pleased to shove us out the door finally." She was off for the evening with friends and wasn't expected back until next day; I suspected she'd left us with the place again just to give us some privacy. We'd had entirely too little of it, so it was dashed decent of her, especially in the middle of the week when staying out overnight was a bit trickier. We both knew she didn't have to make way for us like this. "She's been awfully kind. I hope we can find some way to pay her back someday, you know?"

"We will, Bertie, I promise," Jeeves said. He got up from the desk and came over to where I was sitting on the sofa. Crouching down on one knee in front of me, he took my hands in his and looked me in the eyes; I'd been gazing rather dejectedly into the carpet. "I'm sorry that Lord Yaxley is proving unreasonable," he said softly. "Regardless of the outcome of that particular situation, we will be together. You are my family now, Bertie, and I love you without reservation."

As usual, he'd managed to tetigisti that acu without my ever saying anything. I tugged him forward into my arms as he knelt between my knees. "I miss them all so bally much, Reggie," I murmured, thinking of Angela and Aunt Dahlia and even those chumps, the twins. "Is it too much to ask for what's left of the Woosters to want me around? Was I really that much of a blight on the landscape?" I knew they were usually happy to see the back of me, but I never thought they'd hated me or that they would have wanted to see me alone in the world. Not that I was alone, having Jeeves and all, but I was used to having an overabundance of relatives to hide from, if you see what I mean.

He kissed my cheek and then leaned back and took my face between his hands. "No, you are not," he said, quiet but firm, pinning me with a serious gaze. "If they do not want you, they are fools and do not deserve you. I don't know what will happen when my family and the Fink-Nottle family find out that we are lovers, but I do cherish a hope that they will accept both of us as we are. If that is the case, you know that what family I have is yours as well."

If the new generation of Jeeveses were anything like my Jeeves, they would have to be a decent lot. I wasn't sure I wanted to bet the chemise on any of that, though. "If nothing else, I've got Joan, I suppose. She's made a decent sort of a substitute aunt, don't you think?" At least she seemed fond of me, and willing to overlook my dimmer moments.

He smiled a soft smile, his eyes lightening. "I suspect she would not be averse to the idea," he said. "She does regard us with a great deal of affection."

"I wonder if we'll ever see her again." I doubted she'd ever be able to afford to come to England and, unless we found some way to support ourselves, it was unlikely we'd be able to travel either.

"Bertie," Jeeves said, "we've not even left Seattle yet. Let's not worry about things like that until we must."

I nodded. "You're right, of course. You always are." He stood and tugged on my hand, bringing me to my feet.

"Come to bed," he said. "It's late and I do have to work tomorrow."

I put my arms around him and held on to him, resting my chin on his shoulder. "Whatever happens, Reggie, as long as we're together I'm sure we'll be all right."

"That sounds more like the Bertram Wooster I know."

***

My contract at the office ended on Friday and I had rarely been so pleased to see the end of a situation in my entire life. The idea of doing such work again left me feeling vaguely disgruntled but, after Wednesday next, our situation was likely to be entirely different once again, so I put it from my mind. The money from the Fink-Nottle Trust had arrived and we had paid off both Mr. Wooster's hospital bill and his debt to Umbra for the keyboard. We had enough money for train tickets to San Francisco as well. At worst, we would finally be back in England soon, if Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington and my distant cousin the MP were feeling at all generous. I hoped that life there would still be familiar enough that I could find a situation more suited to my skills and temperament. While my profession as a valet was essentially gone, a great number of those skills might still be useful and welcome in other circumstances.

The show in which Mr. Wooster was playing had been scheduled for Saturday night. He was supposed to join his friends early Saturday afternoon to begin final preparations for the event. Ingmar and Umbra's band was due to be the second act in a series of three for the evening, and there would be a good deal of work involved in moving the band's equipment and setting up the stage to accommodate the instruments and all of the various amplification equipment. Miss Barr and I volunteered to assist as what the band referred to as 'roadies,' though she said she would only be able to help with carrying lighter objects due to her physical limitations. Her vehicle was also appreciated in helping move some of the non-instrument equipment. It was packed beyond what I had initially suspected might be its capacity when we arrived at the venue in the early evening.

The headlining band was already there, having arrived from out of town the night before as a stop on a tour. They were apparently reasonably well known; I will admit to some surprise that Ingmar and Umbra's group would be opening for them. There was a third group to go on stage before Mr. Wooster and his friends, whom Miss Barr confided to me were a 'less than impressive act.' She noted that she was not particularly looking forward to hearing them but one is wont to make sacrifices for friends.

I was introduced to the other members of Mr. Wooster's ensemble; a tall, slender Asian man of a build similar to Mr. Wooster's, with long tied-back hair falling to his waist, whose name was Paul, and a ginger-haired woman who said she was called Dragon. These were the percussionists of whom he had spoken with considerable enthusiasm. "So you're the boyfriend Bertie keeps going on about," Dragon said, grinning.

Nodding, I answered, "I am." It felt strange to acknowledge this publicly to a stranger.

"Lucky bastard. He's adorable. If he wasn't queer as a three dollar bill and totally besotted with you, I'd try to snag him for myself." She picked up a box with small drums in it. "I can see why he's into you; you're smoking hot." I stood for a moment, watching her carry the box to the stage as I considered her words.

I assisted Paul and Dragon in moving several quite large drums and a plethora of other percussion instruments. The large double-headed drums, of which there were three, were taiko drums from Japan. I had heard of them, of course, but had never actually seen one before. The largest drum, over three feet in diameter, was set up as a central focal point; the two other large drums were of a smaller but still considerable diameter and were set near the central drum on either side. Since the first act had a minimum of instruments, much of the stage was set for Mr. Wooster's group and the headlining act, sparing only a little space for the initial group.

Sound checks for each group would be done before the doors to the venue were opened, and I could understand why Miss Barr was less than enthusiastic about the opening group. They were cacophonous and occasionally painfully out of tune, but were apparently friends of the individuals who owned the venue. "You might want these for the night," Miss Barr said, offering me a pair of small foam objects.

"What are these?"

"Earplugs," she replied.

"I can understand why one might want them," I said, "but I do wish to be able to hear Bertie's group and the main performance."

She smiled. "It only mutes the worst of it. You can still hear everything perfectly well. Amplified shows are likely to be a lot louder than you're used to, unless you made a habit of attending performances of the 1812 Overture." Given that cannonfire is required for that particular composition, I feared the worst.

After the sound checks, which were outlandishly loud and caused the entire building to vibrate, Mr. Wooster returned briefly. "I have to go change into my stage costume," he said. He gave me an uneasy look. "I doubt you'll like the stuff I'm wearing, given what a wilting violet you can be about sartorial affronts, but I happen to think it's quite spiffing. I got a loan of some things from Paul, as he's about my size."

"Stage costumes," I said, feeling quite skeptical.

He nodded. "Rather piratical, if I do say so. Quite the fancy-dress thing." He grinned. "You'll like it," he told Miss Barr. I will admit to being somewhat taken aback. Given that several members of the headlining act were already appearing in bizarre outfits, I had grave concerns for what Mr. Wooster might be wearing. "I need to go, though," he said, leaning in to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. "Ingmar wants us in costume before the doors open."

"Good luck, Bertie," Miss Barr said. "Knock 'em dead!" She wrapped him in an enthusiastic embrace before he hurried backstage to prepare. Once he had gone, she told me she was going to get a place by the stage. "You might or might not want to grab one of the tables," she said. "I have no idea if you'll want to be on your feet for the whole show and I don't know if you'll even want to dance to any of this. I like to, though, even if I'll pay for it for the next three days." She had left her frock coat backstage and was bare-armed with a great deal of exposed décolletage, dressed in an appalling burgundy brocade waistcoat with entirely too much glittering gold thread, a pair of black jeans, and a heavy pair of nearly knee-high boots with straps at intervals up the length, buckled with skull-and-crossbones buckles. Rather than her usual multiple necklaces, she wore a black leather collar with short spikes all around it.

"I believe I will join you," I told her, and she favored me with a delighted grin, taking me by the arm and leading me to her chosen place. I wished to be able to see Mr. Wooster performing, and the few tables in the venue were near the back, where the view would be quite obscured for anyone seated. We stood below the front of the waist-high stage near where Mr. Wooster's keyboard was set up, and leaned against the platform as people began entering. It was quite fortunate we had taken our places when we did, for the venue filled quickly, and there was a press of people in front. I was entirely uncertain how one might dance in such circumstances but, recalling Miss Barr's peculiar style of bouncing and wiggling that I had once observed, I realized it was quite well suited to close quarters like these.

The rest of the crowd was dressed in as appalling and bizarre a fashion as I had ever seen outside of a fancy dress ball. Had I seen the rear half of a pantomime horse among the assembled, I should not have been surprised. Miss Barr was not, by far, the most oddly dressed individual in the room. As the first act came onstage, I saw Ingmar and Umbra enter from below the far edge of the stage. Ingmar was, as his name might suggest, a tall, very blond man, broad of shoulder, with a neatly trimmed blond beard. One might easily have thought he had stepped from the pages of an old Norse saga. Umbra, a diminutive woman with dark brown hair and brown eyes, followed him. Both were dressed in what Mr. Wooster had described as a 'piratical' style, though compared to many of the other individuals in the room, the effect, while flashy, was relatively regal. I saw Mr. Wooster follow them out, in his own version of the same; he wore a heavy black velvet frock coat with peacock blue lace accents, and a similarly peacock-hued frilled shirt, a pair of black jeans that made him look even more slender than his usual wont, and a tall pair of black boots. He grinned and waved at me as he followed his compatriots over to the bar and got a drink.

I was not as appalled by his outfit as I might have been. The colors, at least, looked good on him and in light of the patrons attending the concert, he was dressed in what could, grudgingly, be considered appropriate attire. I far preferred him in white tie, but it would quite frankly have been entirely out of place here.

Miss Barr's assessment of the first band was, painfully, entirely correct. They were not exactly abysmal, but it was certainly nothing I would subject myself to willingly had Mr. Wooster's band not been performing as well. I was immensely grateful for the earplugs I'd been given. "They've gotten a little better since last time I saw them," Miss Barr shouted to me as they mangled their way through their second song. It was a wonder no one had offered to procure music lessons for them. Most of the crowd seemed as unenthusiastic as Miss Barr, though they applauded politely, if apathetically, after each song.

Mr. Wooster wormed his way through the crowd to me during the performance, two plastic cups in hand, and offered one to me, a broad grin on his face. "Reggie, old fruit, perhaps this will take away some of the bitterness of seeing me clad in these smashing togs, what?" I sipped at it and found that it was a whisky and soda.

With a nod, I agreed. "Perhaps. I shall withhold judgment until I have finished it." He laughed and I smiled. Despite everything, he did look quite handsome in the costume. It was certainly much more appropriate than many of the fancy dress costumes he'd worn in times past; one particular hind end of a pantomime horse came immediately to mind. He leaned against me as we suffered through the twenty minute opening set and I slipped an arm about his waist, only slightly nervous at doing so in public. "Are you uneasy about performing tonight?" I asked.

He nodded. "A bit," he shouted. "My chums really are very good, Reggie, and I'm afraid I'll cock it all up for them." He took a deeper draught of his drink. "Umbra told me a little lubrication might help until the adrenalin kicks in." He raised his cup. "I do hope she's right."

"I am certain you will prove yourself more than equal to the task, Bertie. You have nothing at all to worry about." I knew he had been working very hard, and he had been returning home exhausted every night after his rehearsals. I had no doubts whatsoever that he would put his heart into it and that it would be an excellent performance.

By the end of the set, I was quite convinced that even sleeping on the floor of an operational sawmill would be a positive alternative to the performance I had just endured. The audience's applause seemed more enthusiastic, but I suspect it was only because the band was actually leaving the stage. "I have to go, Reggie," Mr. Wooster said. My ears were still ringing from the cacophony of the just-departed noisome pestilence. He tilted his face up to me and kissed me gently.

"You'll be wonderful," I assured him as he turned to go. Only a few minutes later, the band was onstage, the house lights once again lowered. Paul and Dragon stood poised on either side of the immense central drum, their bodies held in elegant arcs, arms raised, tense and waiting. I could see Mr. Wooster was nervous, but he watched Umbra and I saw her give a minute nod, whereupon he began the opening tune. The sound of strings filled the room, swelling from the amplifiers. Eight bars in, the drummers exploded into a whirlwind of choreographed motion, mirroring one another precisely on either side of the central drum. Their movements were sharp, stylized, and exacting, an exquisitely complex dance with one another and the three main drums about which they circled. I could feel the pulse emanating with intense physical force from beneath the stage platform and pounding through my body. Umbra began a wailing ululation that transformed into a driving rendition of O Fortuna from the Carmina Burana, and the crowd roared its approval. When the opening number ended in thunderous applause, Miss Barr leaned over and shouted into my ear, "I can guarantee that in less than an hour, Bertie is so totally going to have groupies."

"Groupies?" I shouted back.

"You remember the women who were so into Rudolph Valentino?"

I nodded. "Yes."

"Like that, but with goths," she replied. I attempted to comprehend the concept. I knew Mr. Wooster had always held some attraction for the women of his acquaintance, but that he might be the focus of that type of attention again left me uneasy. Would he really stay with me if he had his choice of beautiful women or handsome young men? I shook off that fear, choosing to believe that his love for me was real and enduring. When the second song began, the entire issue was driven from my mind by the music and my beloved on stage.

Although the other performers were exemplary, I had eyes only for Mr. Wooster. As the set continued, he quickly relaxed into his performance. Eyes half-closed, he played as I had never seen him before. Seeing him at the piano in our London flat had been a commonplace occurrence, and one I had always enjoyed, despite his fondness for nonsensical popular music. This, though, revealed him as a consummate ensemble performer, absolutely focused and at one with the music and his fellow musicians. He was breathtakingly beautiful under the stage lights and I was captivated, entranced by the way he moved with the beat and by the vibrating pulse of the building as it shook my bones.

I could not tell you anything about the forty-five minute set beyond these facts: the music, though ear-shatteringly loud, was exquisite; I stood transfixed at the edge of the stage as I stared up at Mr. Wooster; within ten minutes I had fallen hopelessly in love with him all over again. Miss Barr danced enthusiastically beside me, but I only noted this out of the corner of one eye.

When the set was finished and the band had cleared its instruments quickly from the stage to make way for the headlining act, Mr. Wooster and the others descended into the crowd, surrounded by enthusiastic admirers. There was to be a fifteen minute break before the final act ascended the stage, and I knew that Mr. Wooster would join us soon. I watched from my spot next to the stage as he talked to everyone. One young man who came to speak with him brought him a bottle of water and stood much too close, resting one hand on Mr. Wooster's waist; I felt a surge of fearful jealousy rise within me. A tug at my sleeve called my attention back to Miss Barr.

"It's okay, Reggie," she said. "The kid may be flirting with him, but Bertie's totally oblivious. He thinks you're perfect; you've got nothing to worry about."

I looked at her curiously. "Why would you think I was perturbed?"

"If looks could kill, that guy would be a smoking pile of cinders."

"I had not thought it was quite so obvious." It seemed clear that many of my old defenses had recently fallen. I was uncertain whether it was simply that Miss Barr had learned to observe me closely, or that I had become that much easier to read.

She smiled as Mr. Wooster made his way through the crowd to us, a brilliant grin on his face. "Reggie!" He threw himself into my arms, overheated and sweating, his hair wet with it. "That was absolutely corking!"

I could only smile back at him and hold him close for a moment. "You were brilliant," I told him, "just as I knew you would be."

"You looked like you were having the time of your life," Miss Barr said. He turned his grin on her.

"Good Lord, I don't think I've ever had that much fun making music before." He looked up at me. "I'm almost wishing we didn't have to leave," he continued. "I really think I could do this, that I could be happy making a living like this." Before I could respond, he gave me a quick, breathless kiss. "Don't worry, though, old fruit; if we can go back to London, I'm all for it. It's just, if we don't, I'd be quite content to come back here and keep on with this wheeze." In my heart, I knew that he could, and that it would make him very happy. If that was what he wanted, I would do everything in my power to bring it about and London, as he might say, could go hang.

When he stepped back, I peeled the heavy, hot frock coat from his shoulders and laid it on the edge of the stage. He gasped with relief. "Oh, that's ever so much better," he said. "I can't believe how hot it was under the lights up there."

"Let's go outside, then," I suggested, gesturing to the door beside the stairs to the stage, pulling a full water bottle from beside one of the monitors for him. "It's much cooler outside and it might help somewhat." He nodded enthusiastically and took my hand, leading me away from Miss Barr. When we got outside, he sighed and leaned against the wall and I could see shimmering waves of heat rising from him in the cold air. He drank the entire bottle of water quickly, barely taking a breath as he did so. There were a number of other people clustered in the area engrossed in conversation, some of them smoking cigarettes.

After he finished the water, Mr. Wooster straightened again and took me in his arms. "I have to confess, Reggie," he said quietly, his mouth to my ear, "that whole thing got me quite stirred up. I wish there was a place to be alone with you right now."

The words sparked in my breast and I held him tight, the length of his body pressed to mine, entirely forgetting that we were outdoors with other people around. He kissed me soundly until we were both breathless. I was gently brushing damp hair from his brow when I heard a man say, "Jesus, get a room, guys."

Startled, I looked over to where the comment had come from, only to see a smiling young woman retort, "What, are you kidding? That's so hot." She gestured at us. "Keep it up!"

I flushed with utter embarrassment, as did Mr. Wooster. Without further ado, I dragged him back inside. "We are not doing that in public again," I said, "ever."

He laughed, still flushed. "You mean you wouldn't kiss me in public at our wedding if we got married?"

"Bertie!" The idea left me vacillating between delight and exasperation. "You know I would. That is not what I meant." There was no time for further conversation, as the headlining act was taking the stage, and we slipped through the crowd back to where Miss Barr awaited us. The rest of the concert was a blur; the music was wonderful, but more wonderful to me was Mr. Wooster leaning his back into me and swaying to the beat as I held him in my arms through the night.

When the final encore died into screaming applause, it was time to break down and pack out for the night. Umbra thanked us as we worked. "I'm really sorry you guys are leaving," she said. "Bertie, you're the best keyboards we've ever played with. It's going to be a bitch trying to replace you. We could really hit it big if you were staying with us."

"I truly am sorry, old thing," he said, coiling electrical cord as we worked. "If things don't work out and we end up coming back here, I'd be utterly chuffed to play with you again."

"You stay in touch," Ingmar added. "We want to know how things work out for you. And you'll always be welcome back." He patted Mr. Wooster's shoulder with one immense hand.

"We would have nowhere to stay," I pointed out. I had no wish to again impose on Miss Barr's good will.

"Oh, yeah, right," Ingmar snorted. "You have friends here. I know Joan needs her space back, but you guys will always have somewhere to stay when you're in Seattle, whether you're visiting or you come back for good. We'll pass you around if we have to, until you get your own place."

"Thank you," Mr. Wooster said, obviously moved by the sentiment. I will admit that I was, as well.

It was nearly five thirty in the morning by the time we arrived back at the flat, exhausted by the night's work. My body was still vibrating from the intensity of the sound, my ears still ringing despite the foam earplugs. Miss Barr limped into her bedroom and I heard her boots thump on the floor before the bedsprings squeaked when she dropped onto it. I insisted that Mr. Wooster shower before we went to bed, as he had been sweating profusely and both of us would be more comfortable if he did so.

When we finally got into bed together, Mr. Wooster wrapped himself around me, kissing me deeply. "I want you desperately," he murmured, moving slowly against me.

"Joan is in the other room," I reminded him, not entirely certain that I cared anymore.

He chuckled. "We can be quiet," he insisted. "Besides, can't you hear her snoring already?" He paused for a moment and in the ringing silence I could, in fact, hear very soft snoring.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Absolutely," he replied, tugging at my pyjamas. Only moments later, we had stripped to our skin and were kissing one another enthusiastically. He was extremely aroused and it was not long before he was slipping his hard, slicked phallus into me. I moaned softly, holding him close as he moved within me, both of us breathless and needy. He kissed me again and again, murmuring my name and telling me he loved me. I whispered my own endearments to him, sinking into ecstasy as he moved, deep and strong inside my body. Our lovemaking was quiet but intense and the end came quickly, leaving me lying blissfully limp beneath him, my chest heaving as I caught my breath.

As I was falling asleep, he whispered to me, "You'll marry me as soon as we get to a place where we can, won't you, Reggie?"

"Yes," I said, smiling, my heart bursting with love for him. "There is nothing on this earth that could hinder me."

***

Sunday we remained abed late, given the hour of our return home. It was noon before we rose, and Miss Barr was still sleeping when I made brunch for us. It was nearly one before she staggered out of her room and into a shower, and past one thirty before she limped into the sitting room to join us. I brought tea for her, finally having some idea of why she ached so much after going out to a show and why it seemed to take her so long to recover from the activity.

Mr. Wooster and I would be taking the train to San Francisco on Tuesday morning, to arrive on Wednesday, and there were a few things that we needed to do before we left. Procuring bags for our clothing and those few other items we had accumulated in our two months in Seattle was at the top of this list. Thankfully, even on Sundays, busses ran to a number of places where we could acquire what we needed. What little we had would fit in two carry-on sized bags, one for each of us, if we packed efficiently. Mr. Wooster asked if we had enough money to buy one of the small music players of the sort Miss Barr possessed, and we did manage to find a different type that was considerably less expensive.

Once we had returned with our luggage, we went out again, leaving Miss Barr to rest in privacy. Both of us were still rather tired, but we had a little money to spare, and so we took ourselves out for dinner. The cafe we chose was close to a used book shop, where we browsed for a couple of hours before returning to the flat. We had each purchased a few books to read on the train.

Monday was spent with packing and setting Miss Barr's flat to rights. We had left our mark on the place in small ways, and things needed to be returned to more or less the condition they were in when we arrived. A short spate of emails was exchanged with Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington and with MP Jeeves regarding what we might expect on Wednesday. Mr. Wooster spent time with Miss Barr putting some of his favorite music on the player, and some of my own as well, to help pass our time on the trip.

Early in the evening I received a very strange telephone call from someone who said he was a journalist, asking questions about the circumstances of our departure from London in 1924 and our arrival in Seattle. I was not inclined to speak to the individual just yet, and put the man off, though I wrote down his name, alleged press affiliation, and phone number. I did not know how he had found my telephone number, but it made me somewhat uneasy. When I concluded the call, I rang Harry and spoke with him about it for some time; he advised caution but also noted that the publicity would be a potential way for us to acquire much-needed funds. His further suggestion was that we consider relying upon the Fink-Nottle Trust and MP Jeeves for guidance in the matter, which I found a sound idea. He came by the flat briefly to say goodbye to us and wish us luck.

That night we took Miss Barr out and bought her dinner because we had very little else in the way of thanks we could offer for her friendship and her aid. I was fairly certain that she would regard a gift of some sort from us as unnecessary and a waste of our funds. She was pleased by the dinner invitation, however, and accepted gratefully, though she was obviously still having some difficulty moving well. She leaned on her cane and we walked slowly in deference to her pain. Our conversation over dinner was filled with laughter, avoiding the topic of our imminent departure on the morrow.

When we returned to the flat, we did the last of our packing, taking extra care to pad Mr. Wooster's keyboard for the journey. Neither Mr. Wooster nor I slept well that night, both of us concerned about what we might find in San Francisco.

Miss Barr drove us to the train station in the morning. It was the same one Mr. Wooster had traveled through when he had last been in Seattle, though it was now in a much deteriorated condition. The building was tucked away in a cul-de-sac near one of the large sports stadia at the south end of the downtown area, dirty and worn, showing unfortunate signs of its age. Miss Barr parked the car and came in with us, sitting with us after we had picked up our tickets. The departure was rather early for her, but she had insisted on bringing us to the station herself, rather than letting us take the bus. We were unable to check Mr. Wooster's keyboard as baggage, which was a difficulty in itself. Miss Barr offered to ship it to us once we had an address to which it could be sent and, given the situation, it was our only option.

"If everything goes okay," she said, "you guys will want to get rid of the passports and the green card so that nobody knows you had them. Shred them or burn them or something. You could still get yourselves in a lot of trouble if the consulate finds out you've got fakes, and you don't want enough pieces of them left for them to be identifiable."

"MP Jeeves did note he was going to facilitate our gaining legitimate passports," I said.

She nodded. "Exactly. Having forgeries in your pocket at that point would be very bad."

"What happens if things don't work out?" Mr. Wooster asked.

Miss Barr handed me a slip of paper. "Here are some phone numbers of friends of mine in the Bay Area," she said. She pointed to one with a star next to it. "Olruna is one of my sweeties. If you're in trouble, you call her and tell her you boys are mine and that you need help. If she can't get to you within an hour, she has a posse down there who can take care of you. They'll have places you can stay until we can get you back here."

"Thank you," I said, folding the slip of paper and putting it into my inner jacket pocket. Miss Barr put an arm around Mr. Wooster's shoulders.

"No matter what happens, Bertie, we're not going to let you starve or end up sleeping under a bridge. You're family, and we take care of our own, okay?"

He nodded. "I'm going to miss you, Joan, old thing," he said softly.

"I know, honey. I'm going to miss you too," she said, turning and giving him a hug. He wrapped her in his arms and held on for several minutes. Once he released her from the embrace, she leaned back and reached into her pocket, pulling out a small pendant on a thin, delicate chain. She handed it to me. It was an old, tarnished silver Saint Christopher medal. "I want you guys to have this," she said.

"You're not Catholic," I said, wondering why she had such a thing.

She laughed. "Saint Christopher's not a saint anymore, either." That, I will admit, surprised me. "An old friend of my mom's gave it to me when I left home to join the Navy a little over thirty years ago. You guys have traveled further than anyone else I've ever known. I may not believe in saints, but I do believe in luck, and that's what I'm passing on to you. I don't travel that much anymore, so I don't really need him, but you two have a long way yet to go in your lives and I want you to have him."

I looked at the little round medal and then back up at her. "Joan, are you certain you wish to give this to us? You have obviously had it for a very long time, and I don't feel right taking this from you."

"Please," she said. "I haven't worn it in ages. Better he should go with somebody who needs him." With a nod, I opened the clasp and fastened the chain about Mr. Wooster's neck, tucking the small pendant under his collar. He smiled at her. "You boys give me a call when you have a little time once you're at the consulate and let me know what's going on, okay?"

"Of course," I replied.

"And you call me if you need anything. I'll do whatever I can to help out."

"Right-ho," Mr. Wooster said.

The call to board sounded in the small station's waiting area. We all stood. "You boys take care of each other," Miss Barr told us. "Good luck." She stood on her toes and gave me a hug, which I returned with great fondness. As she lowered herself back to her feet, I pressed a kiss to her forehead. She grinned brightly, though there was a suspicious glimmer in her eyes. Turning, she hugged Mr. Wooster and kissed his cheek. He held her tightly for a long moment. As he stepped back from the embrace, she smiled and said, "Have fun storming the castle." Mr. Wooster laughed, and I recognized the phrase as a quote from a movie that he had watched with her and greatly enjoyed. "If you're ever back this way again," she said softly, "you come see me."

"We wouldn't dream of doing otherwise," Mr. Wooster said.

"You will be the first to know, if we return," I added.

"Go on," she said, waving us toward the gate. "Have a good life, and remember, I love you." The words warmed me, and they seemed to strike Mr. Wooster quite deeply, particularly given his fears regarding the Wooster family's acceptance of him. I had never actually heard anyone else say those words to him aside from myself.

"Thank you, Joan, for everything," I said, giving her one last hug. "We will not forget what you've done for us."

"I know, Reggie. Don't miss your train." With one last squeeze, she let go and stepped back, watching as we walked away.

Chapter Text

Until the Day I Die (Abney Park)

I'd traveled parts of this route before, but I think only the train tracks were the same. I was feeling distinctly soupy as the train pulled out of the King Street Station. Jeeves and I found our coach seats and settled in for the trip, which was going to take until the next morning about this time, provided the train got there when it should. We'd been told it often didn't, which was apparently par for this particular nine holes. Jeeves said we were going to be met at the station in Emeryville by a driver, as the train didn't actually go into the city of San Francisco, and be taken to the consulate from there. We had no idea what would happen after that, except we were supposed to meet the MP and the Fink-Nottle-Parsnip.

We couldn't afford a sleeping compartment, but the seats were large enough, at least, to be comfortable. Even Jeeves could stretch his longish legs out, and the windows were quite large enough to get a good view of the passing cities and countryside. I put up the arm of the seat between us, after discovering it could be raised, and curled up under Jeeves's arm, resting my head on his shoulder. It was a comfy shoulder, expressly made for resting the Wooster onion. We were quiet for a few hours; Jeeves read some book on climate thingummies shifting, and I was lost in my own thoughts. Difficult as that may be to believe, I do have them. Lunch was all right, I suppose, but not exactly a patch on most of what I'd been eating recently, so I didn't have much of it. I wasn't all that hungry, really. What it distilled into was that I couldn't quite tell if I was excited or terrified. I rather thought I'd have it figured out by the time I had to actually shake hands with the MP and the aged Gussie-spawn.

A while after lunch, Jeeves finally put his book down. "You've been very quiet," he said. "Are you all right, Bertie?" I could feel his nose in my hair; it was a lovely sensation, much like the Jeevesian arm about the willowy frame.

"I wonder what England will be like," I said, staring out the window at the frightfully rural scenery. While I've never minded taking in a bit of country air, there was only so much this bird could absorb, and what passed outside the window looked like entirely too much of the stuff. I wanted to be in London again. I wanted to be home, blast it all.

"With any luck," Jeeves replied, "we shall find out very soon." I thought about Joan's little good-luck charm dangling about my neck and wondered if there might be anything to it at all. I found myself hoping there was.

"What will they be like, do you think?" I asked. "Your cousin and the Fink-Nottle thingummy, I mean."

I could feel him turn his head to look out the window with me. "From what I have seen in our correspondence, Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington will most likely be quite supportive. She does believe us, and she holds a certain fondness for you because of her grandfather's stories and his obsession with finding out what happened to you. Whether that will predispose her to accepting the current state of our understanding remains to be seen."

"Well, she's barmy if she thinks any less of us because of it." I was really going to take the pip if anyone objected. I'd got quite used to the whole being able to love Jeeves and not be afraid wheeze and I'd be dashed if I was going to let anyone try to make trouble over it. Wild pachyderms pursued by saber-toothed tigers fleeing a forest fire would not part me from my man, by Jove.

His hand moved gently across my chest. "I only note this because it often happens that as people age, they retain the attitudes of their youth regarding such things. Flexibility of mind often fails in the elderly."

That was true enough. I'd seen far too much of it in Aunt Agatha, the old nephew-crusher. "What about this MP Jeeves bloke?"

"From what I was able to learn of him, he is a member of a fairly liberal party and would appear to be supportive of the rights of individuals like ourselves," he said. "His communications with me have been genial, but I believe he is waiting to meet us before he decides if he will fully accept our account of what happened."

"I just don't like all this waiting," I sighed.

"Nor do I," Jeeves admitted, "yet there is nothing to be done for it. We must exercise patience, Bertie. It is particularly important when there is nothing one can do about a situation and, in this case, we are doing everything that is possible at this moment. We cannot travel any faster than the train will take us."

"Joan said we could have taken an aeroplane. It would only have taken a few hours." The mind boggled at the very thought. I'd only ever seen them from a distance, and most of those since I'd arrived here. One rather got used to them floating about in the sky like a swarm of bally insects, but the idea of actually riding in one seemed a bit frightening. I mean to say, what if it fell out of the sky with you in it?

"And, had we more money at our disposal, that might well have been an option. As it is, this was what we could afford and she noted that this was a far preferable option to the bus. We also must take into account that MP Jeeves and Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington have not yet arrived in San Francisco themselves. If the train arrives on time, they will precede us by only a few hours."

I'd forgotten that bit. "Right-ho," I said. "I suppose we can't very well meet anyone who's not there yet."

"Indeed," he said, and there was a lovely, warm spot of fondness in his voice.

"Reggie, are you worried at all?"

He paused for a moment before he answered. "Only a little," he said. "I was rather more so before Joan told us she had friends in the area whom we could contact if things did not go according to plan. The fact that we have a contingency plan if it becomes necessary does ease my mind."

He'd only started actually telling me things like this recently; he used to say 'I could not say, sir.' Mostly it meant 'I'm not going to tell you, so there,' or perhaps 'go boil your head, Bertram.' I must say that this change made me feel like he actually thought I'd understand the sitch. It was a spiffing feeling, warming the Wooster cockles. I've never been able to figure out what the cockles of one's heart were; I rather doubted they had anything to do with shellfish, what. "What do you want to do when we get back to England?"

"Perhaps the MP will be able to assist me in finding a position somewhere; it would be worthwhile to make discreet inquiries." At that point, his telephone buzzed quietly and jiggled his pocket and he opened it, giving a few terse answers to whomever had called him. It obviously wasn't anyone we knew. He sounded a bit bemused and shook his head when he finished the call.

"Who was that?"

He slipped the phone back into his pocket. "Another journalist," he said. "Where have they been hearing anything about us?"

I shrugged. "Maybe the Fink-Nottle thingummy put out the word?"

"I would have thought," he said, "that they would wait until we had actually returned to England. I would also have hoped that they would ask us before giving anyone our phone number."

"Well, but they did send us the money. Do you think some of those Forta-whatsits got wind of it?"

"It is entirely possible that the Fortean contingent has somehow been informed. I doubt that Harry had anything to do with it, as he seemed just as surprised as I was at the first of the phone calls."

I tilted my head to look back at him over my shoulder. "One of the people at that ritual thingummy a couple of weeks ago?"

"No." He shook his head. "None of them had our phone number."

"Now I'm rather wishing I had a fedora and a few more clues," I said. "This is a bit of a mystery. One wonders how that Humphrey Bogart chappie would have handled it."

There was a touch of amusement in his response. "Mr. Bogart was an actor, not a private investigator, Bertie."

"Of course, but he did rather have a way about him, didn't he? That Maltese Falcon wheeze was a really topping one."

"I find I much preferred his performance in Casablanca," Jeeves said. We'd watched quite a few movies together when I'd been ill, and he'd insisted on seeing some of the ones that had come to be regarded as classics. He always did prefer the improving, high-brow stuff. I still liked mysteries and musical comedies myself, though they didn't make too many musical comedies anymore, from what I could tell.

"Well yes, but there wasn't a mystery in Casablanca," I said. "Rather off the point, don't you think?" He chuckled quietly. "Anyway, we're going to have to deal with those press people eventually, I suppose. What happened to us is rather newsish, what?"

"If we are not regarded as either inventing our story for the publicity or as madmen, one might consider the circumstances newsworthy. I do not think we are likely to be widely believed, but there are more things on heaven and earth," he said.

"Heaven and earth are bally full of odd things, it seems," I agreed. "I wouldn't be terribly surprised if most of our friends here had been dropped off by whatsits from Mars, and told to walk home." I sat up and turned to face him. "But if your cousin believes us and he's at all as respectable as the Jeeveses were back in our day, I'm sure that would convince at least a few people. And there was that DNA thingummy."

"That is possible," Jeeves said, "but at this point I prefer not to rely upon such imponderables."

I sighed. "They're likely to think I'm loony regardless," I said, a bit disgruntled. "Or half-witted. Everyone did, you know, back then. It wasn't far from the truth."

Jeeves took my hand. "Bertie, you are neither insane nor stupid, you simply possess a rather different perspective on the world than the majority of its population." A little smile quirked one side of his lips and his eyes twinkled just a touch. "You also have a talent for finding yourself in the midst of awkward and unusual situations."

"This is certainly an a. and u. s.," I agreed. "I'll be lucky if I don't end up in Colney Hatch because of all this."

His hand tightened around mine. "I will not allow that, regardless of what happens," he said softly. "We will find a way to prevail."

"I trust you, Reggie. It's myself I don't trust." I shook my head. "Anyway, as you said, there's nothing to be done right now. Stiff upper lip and all that."

"Indeed, Bertie."

***

Our rail sojourn was a long one, and grew longer as the train was often delayed by freight using the tracks ahead of us. The trip itself was not at all unpleasant and, when we were not passing through decrepit small towns and the seedier side of various cities, the scenery was quite beautiful. The waning crescent moon showing itself through the clouds was enough to light the sky through much of the night, though when we finally passed through the mountains from Oregon into California at nearly two in the morning, snow was swirling around us, the sky quite overcast and the moon ringed by ice crystals high above.

Mr. Wooster had spent several hours just staring out the windows, occasionally listening to music or having a brief conversation with me. As we rolled through the passes, he slept curled against me with his head on my shoulder, an arm about my waist, one knee tucked up over my thigh. I had requested a blanket for him, despite the unexpected expense, and a pillow for myself, though I was not particularly sleepy. I did, however, want him to be comfortable, as there was something of a chill coming in through the window glass.

Such quiet would have been very unusual for him when we had lived in London. Our time here had wrought changes in both of us, though I did not think, for the most part, they were deleterious. While I had, nolens volens, found myself becoming somewhat more open and flexible, Mr. Wooster took more time to think about things now, and had developed a rather more serious mien. I did not view his increased sense of responsibility as a liability, for it had not eclipsed his naturally cheerful disposition; I felt, rather, that it had given him more depth and force of personality and that the people we met would be more likely to take him seriously now than they had in times past. He had become more aware of the world around him, of the potential consequences of his actions, and what it was to have friends who actually cared for him without ulterior motives.

His family and friends in London had almost always wanted something from him when they were desirous of his company. Whether it was his money, his resources, or access to my counsel, the question always lurked in the background. Mr. Wooster was too kind to turn any of them away, even when it inconvenienced or even endangered him. The experience of having friends who asked nothing of him but his company had been eye-opening for him and I hoped that since he no longer had people with claims to childhood friendship or ties of blood with him, he might decide to choose new friends who would offer him similar acceptance.

I slept fitfully through the very early morning hours though, thankfully, Mr. Wooster did not wake until breakfast was available. According to the train schedule, we were supposed to have arrived in Emeryville at ten after eight in the morning, but we had been delayed a total of just under six hours, finally setting foot in the station at approximately two in the afternoon. We were met by a young Scotsman in a chauffeur's uniform who held up a sign with our names on it. He assured me that he had not been waiting long, having called the station at intervals to determine the train's arrival time. I greatly approved of the young man's foresight.

We were escorted to the waiting car and driven through the rain into the city of San Francisco. We passed over an immensely long, multi-sectioned bridge with tunnels that the driver identified as the Bay Bridge. San Francisco was larger than Seattle, though with its rain and hills and water it had a very similar atmosphere. There were a great many more skyscrapers here than in Seattle; several of them were nearly as tall as those we had left behind. It all contributed to a feeling of crowded density that Seattle did not possess.

The unfortunate fact that we were late, even though it was no fault of our own, was compounded by our rumpled appearance. I had done my best to make us presentable, but the facilities we had available on the train had been limited. I was not pleased that we would be meeting Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington and the MP in such a disheveled condition, but there was nothing we could do about it beyond what we had already done.

When we arrived at the consulate, the driver escorted us up into the building from the car-park and into a small conference room, where we were awaited by an elderly woman and a gentleman who appeared to be in his early forties; I presumed they were the individuals we were to meet. They both rose as we entered.

"Good Lord," the man said softly, "you look very nearly like my father in his late twenties." He held out his hand to me.

"MP Jeeves, I presume, sir?" I took the offered hand. "I am Reginald Jeeves and this is Mr. Bertram Wooster." He was a tall man, and broad shouldered, like most of the men in my family. His hair was lighter than mine, with a touch of auburn to it, but he had eyes very like my cousin Robert's had been, and the set of his jaw was unmistakably that of the Jeeves family.

"I did tell you, Aubrey," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said, approaching us. She smiled at Mr. Wooster as MP Jeeves shook his hand.

"Do call me Aubrey, please," the MP said to us. "Good Lord." He shook his head, obviously somewhat overcome. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington was a small woman in her mid-sixties with brilliantly white hair and weak blue eyes behind thick glasses. She had a bit of a piscine look to her, much as Mr. Fink-Nottle had, though without the thinness of face.

"What ho, Aubrey," Mr. Wooster said. "I hope your travel was rather less fraught than ours."

"Mr. Wooster, this is Amanda Fink-Nottle-Parsington. She has been quite looking forward to this meeting." We each shook hands with her as well.

There was a short, awkward moment as we all looked at each other. "I do apologize," he finally said. "It's just so unbelievable. You -- you do realize that you're something of a family legend," he said to me.

I raised an eyebrow, uncertain how to react to this news. A smile creased Mr. Wooster's face. "How could you be otherwise, Reggie, old thing? You really are a paragon."

"I've never actually met a recipient of the Victoria Cross before," MP Jeeves continued. "It is an honor, sir."

Mr. Wooster turned to me. "A Vic- What? You never told me you were a war hero!" His eyes widened.

I suppressed an urge to vanish. "I did not deserve it," I murmured, "but one does not refuse an honor from the King."

"I can't believe that," Mr. Wooster said, shocked. "It's not as though they give them out as ring toss prizes."

"Saving the lives of twenty men nearly at the cost of your own in the Passage of the Grand Honelle certainly sounds like an act deserving of the honor to me." Mr. Wooster simply stared at me. MP Jeeves extracted a small box from his inner jacket pocket; it was one I recognized. He held it out to me. "I wanted to return this to you myself," he said, "if it really was you." I hesitantly took it from him.

I opened the box and examined its contents. The crimson ribbon and dark bronze cross pattée of the medal lay within. Gingerly, I turned it over. My name and rank, and the other identifying information were there. I had given it to my father after the ceremony and had not looked at it since, but its appearance had been forever engraved upon my mind. Unmindful of the breach of protocol, I slowly walked the few steps over to the table and sat in one of the chairs, feeling vaguely faint. Of all the things with which I thought I might have been confronted at this juncture, this had not even been on the list. I felt rather than saw Mr. Wooster approach; he laid a hand upon my shoulder. "Reggie?" he asked gently. I could only stare at the medal in my hand.

A moment later, the MP pulled out the chair next to me and sat facing me. "I'm sorry," he said. "I hadn't realized it would trigger such a reaction."

I could feel Mr. Wooster run his fingers slowly through my hair. "I was unable to save the life of Captain Braithwaite," I said. "That was my duty, protecting him." I did not lift my eyes; there was some part of me still caught in that day. I had thought it all long-banished. I could not have been more incorrect.

"All the reports I've ever read of the battle state that you acted with the utmost valor that day," the MP said, his voice gentle and quiet.

"When we were ambushed," I said, "I was separated from the captain in the ensuing chaos. By the time I was able to locate him on the field, I had a choice between attempting to rescue him, and taking up one of the Vickers guns; the team manning it had been killed. The Germans had us pinned down and most of the unit was attempting to retreat. A bullet made my choice for me," I said, my voice rough. I did not want to remember that day. "I had been shot in the leg and the Vickers was much closer than the captain." I closed my eyes, remembering the battle all too clearly.

"You were able to cover the unit's retreat. At least twenty men said they owed their lives directly to your action." MP Jeeves laid a hand on my wrist.

"I provided covering fire for as long as I could before I was shot again, twice." I could almost feel the bullets hit and was unable to repress a twitch. "I expected to die. When the unit returned with reinforcements to break through the German line, I was astonished that I had survived."

I felt Mr. Wooster's arms slip around me, his cheek pressed to my temple. "You're not there anymore," he whispered, displaying an astounding awareness of what I was feeling in that moment. "You're in San Francisco, Reggie. You're not on that battlefield anymore."

I opened my eyes to find the MP and Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington sitting close, watching me with great concern on their faces. The date suddenly hit me; it was November 11th. "It is Armistice Day today."

MP Jeeves nodded, his fingers tightening slightly on my wrist. "It's been called Remembrance Day for a long time now, but yes. It was part of the reason I chose to bring the medal with me rather than give it to you when we returned to England."

"I... I apologize for my conduct, sir," I said. "Please forgive me."

"No." The MP shook his head. "There's no need at all. I should apologize for not anticipating some kind of reaction and acting accordingly." He gave me a curious look, glancing at Mr. Wooster, who still stooped over me with his arms about my shoulders.

I set the medal on the table and raised my hand to Mr. Wooster's arm. "Bertie," I said softly. Our display was quite inappropriate.

"Right," he said, rising, but leaving his hands on my shoulders in a possessive, protective gesture. "I suppose you're wondering," he added uneasily, addressing the others, his fingers tightening on my shoulders.

"It's quite all right," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington replied. "Grandfather always thought you were rather more attached to one another than most people wished to admit. More than would have been safe to acknowledge at the time, I know, particularly given Lady Worplesdon's continual attempts to marry you off, Mr. Wooster." A tiny, fond smile passed her lips for a moment. "It doesn't bother me, if that worries you. I will admit I had rather expected it."

"Well, good, then," Mr. Wooster said, sounding relieved. "At least that's out of the way." He turned to the MP. "It's not going to bother you at all, is it?"

"No, of course not," he replied. "There had been quiet but persistent rumors in the family; they were rarely spoken."

"Good Lord," Mr. Wooster said, a spark of distress in his voice, "did everyone suspect us?"

"Oh, no, not at all," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington insisted. "Lady Sidcup was quite convinced you were pining for her the whole time. I don't think anyone really knew. Certainly no one ever made any accusations, to my knowledge."

"Lady Sidcup?" he asked, confused.

"Madeline Bassett."

Mr. Wooster blinked. "You mean Gussie didn't marry her?"

She chuckled. "Oh, no. He eloped with my grandmother, Emerald Stoker. She was an American; I don't believe you ever met her."

"By Jove. You mean La Bassett married Spode? What in the name of God was the woman thinking?" The horror in his voice was quite clear. I was extremely glad of this diversion of attention from my distress.

Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington laughed. "Oh, my dear boy, you are as much a delight as Grandfather always said." Her demeanor became somewhat more serious after a moment. "He did miss you dreadfully, Mr. Wooster. He was never quite the same after that day in Hyde Park, from what Grandmother said. He wrote of it extensively in his diaries, in between all the newts."

Mr. Wooster took the other chair beside me and seated himself. "Whatever did happen to old Gussie, anyway? It's just... so strange to think of him as, well, gone, you know? For me and Reggie, it's only been a couple of months since then and it's all been very odd."

Her eyes softened and she nodded. "Grandfather was always devoted to his amphibian research, of course. He was knighted back in 1982 for his contributions to ecological science. He predicted the impending decline of amphibian populations globally, you know. He was deeply concerned about the topic."

"Really? Knighted? I say!" I will admit to being as astonished as Mr. Wooster at this information. "Sir Gussie," he said softly, pondering the idea.

She smiled. "Oh, yes. We were all quite proud of him." With a satisfied nod, she continued. "But I think what had the greatest influence on his life was that moment he watched you carried off to vanish into the sky. He was quite convinced that, had you actually been killed in the incident, you would have fallen back to earth, like the poor unfortunate woman who died that day."

"Well we did, rather," Mr. Wooster said. "Fall back to earth, I mean. But unfortunately it was eighty-five years and a bit later and half-way round the planet. Not unfortunate in that we didn't get ourselves killed, of course, but just that poor Gussie never knew we were all right." His eyes grew solemn. "I do wish I'd been able to let him know. The thought of him, looking for us for all those years, it's quite... it's just very sad," he concluded softly.

Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington folded her hands on the table. "Before he died in 1993, he was quite insistent that the Trust carry on his work. Even if we could never find you, he hoped that there might be some explanation for what had actually happened. He thoroughly believed that there was some scientific explanation for it, and that it would eventually be found."

"He was ninety-four when he died?" Mr. Wooster asked, a bit subdued. "Sounds like a rather long run, doesn't it? I-I hope it wasn't rough on him, at the end," he said.

She smiled a bitter-sweet smile. "He died in the field, collecting his data," she said. "It was as he wanted. I had seen him just the day before, and he was happy with his life. His only real regret was never finding out what happened to you. He would have been so delighted to see this day." Her clasped hands came up to her lips. "You are so young, dear Mr. Wooster, so very young. It's so hard to believe that I've actually met you."

"It's all right to call me Bertie, old thing," he said, offering her a hand. She reached out and took it, the sadness in her eyes fading.

"Thank you, Bertie. And you must call me Amanda. I've been hearing about you all my life and I feel I know you, though we've only just met. You truly are as charming as I had been led to believe."

"That's lovely, Amanda," he answered, releasing her hand. "I hate to be a poop, but we've had a very long trip down from Seattle and I could really use a splash about in the warm and wavy, and a clean suit."

"Do forgive us," MP Jeeves said. "I should have realized, with the train being six hours late. I do want to make sure we arrange for your passports and your National Identity Cards, but we should have the photos and such for those taken after you've had a chance to freshen up a bit." He stood. "I've engaged the penthouse suite at the Fairmont; it has only three bedrooms, but given that the two of you are...?"

"Affianced," I said. It felt extremely strange to say it, despite its truth. He raised an eyebrow.

"Well, that just makes it easier. We can come back to the consulate later in the afternoon and arrange to have your documents expedited. We should be able to have them by late tomorrow."

"That soon?" Mr. Wooster asked.

"When there's a need, it can be done," the MP said. "I will say that I informed the Consul-General that this was a possibility. He was a bit skeptical, of course, but you'll admit the story is a most unlikely one."

"Indeed, sir," I said.

"I must be back in London before the seventeenth anyway," he continued. "The Queen will be opening Parliament that day and I need to be in attendance. I don't anticipate spending more than two days here." With that, he rose and we proceeded out of the conference room and into a small office with a young Indian woman behind the desk. He requested a car for us and within moments we were in the lift down to the car-park once again.

***

Well, Jeeves -- Reggie, I mean, since I now had an abundance of Jeeveses -- being a war hero, with a Victoria Cross and all, it was a bit of a shock to the Wooster system. There was so bally much I just didn't know about the man. I'd been a bit worried about him when he was so overcome, the poor blighter. I hope never to see a look like that on his dial again, I must say. One never wishes to see the one he loves in that much pain. I could only hope that I'd helped a bit when I'd overstepped the bounds of propriety.

Meeting Amanda was a bit of an electrical zap as well; I hadn't been quite sure what to expect, but she had the same fishy eyes that Gussie had. She'd been rather brainier than I'd have given any of Gussie's spawn credit for, but it seems the newt obsession had hidden a bit more grey matter than I would ever have thought. A knighthood, while considerably more common than a V. C., was still rather impressive for a poop like Gussie.

We talked a little with Aubrey and Amanda during the short ride toward the Embarca-whatsit to Nob Hill, where we found the Fairmont. It was a rather posh heap and the penthouse suite was something Oofy Prosser might have fielded for a large bash; I could never have afforded it, even after old Uncle Willoughby departed this realm and left the Wooster estate to me. Reggie carried our bags into the room we'd been given and I closed the door behind us. It was large and had its own immense bath, and a huge, comfy-looking bed. I hadn't slept on a real bed since that night I'd dropped off on Joan's when I finally succumbed to the pneumonia. I was rather looking forward to it; unless we were howling like an entire flock of hyenas -- do hyenas come in flocks? -- no one would hear us if we decided to get a bit chummy tonight.

Reggie was still looking slightly froggy about the edges and wasn't moving with his usual shimmer. He seemed distracted and I thought perhaps he was still having a bit of aftermath from the whole talking about the war wheeze. "Reggie, old thing, are you quite all right?"

"I will be better directly," he murmured. There was a distant look in his eyes that I didn't care for. He'd had it before when he'd talked about the war and I had begun to see it as a sign that things were definitely not oojah-cum-spiff in the World of Jeeves.

"You mean no," I said, snagging him by one elbow and pulling him into my arms. He stiffened for a moment, then relaxed and put his arms about me, holding me close. His chin rested on my shoulder. "I wish I could help, Reggie," I said softly, just holding him. "I wish I knew how to make things better for you."

"You do," he said, kissing my cheek, "just by being here. You have no idea how much that means to me."

I let my fingers trail up into his hair. "I love you, Reggie. I'd do anything to help if I could." He nodded, his arms tightening around me. "I wish we could just lock ourselves in here for a few hours after we had our splash about. I'm really not in the mood to deal with paper-filling-outing and all that rot. I don't see why it can't wait until tomorrow."

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly so that we might return to England," he replied, logical as ever, even when he was distressed. "I am willing to forgo a small amount of time alone with you and a proper bed in order to accomplish this."

"Right," I said, understanding the whole thing even if I didn't agree. "And I'll admit I'm feeling a bit peckish. Maybe after we've got clean and changed, we can get something to eat."

"That would be advisable."

"I'm betting we'll have to fill out papers first."

"That is likely."

I gave him a squeeze. "We need to get clean, my love. I don't suppose I could talk you into having a shower with me, what?" He made a warm little sound, by which I discerned his wholehearted approval.

"It would save time," he noted.

"Not to mention allowing us to get rather snuggly," I added.

"Indeed." I could hear him smile.

"Well." I dragged him over to the salle de bain. "I suggest we don't waste any more time with all this chatter."

He squeezed my hand and grinned at me. "Bertram Wooster, you are a man after my own heart."

***

The idea of a lengthy interlude in the shower was a considerable temptation, but it was one I resisted. I was eager to get whatever bureaucracy we had to encounter out of the way as swiftly as possible, and I was well aware that Mr. Wooster was more tired than he wished to admit. Although he had slept on the train, it had not been particularly restful for him. I was quite tired myself, and being confronted with such an uncomfortable aspect of my past had taken rather more out of my reserves than I would have liked.

This being said, we did find ourselves tangled together sharing deep kisses under the falling water. The shower was not a simple overhead spray but instead consisted of a number of showerheads that ran on several sides of the spacious chamber along the entire height. It was, I thought, excessively decadent, but entirely delightful and presented sensual possibilities I had not previously considered. When his hand slipped down to clasp my prick, I truly did wish to continue. Instead, I took his wrist. "We don't have enough time right now, Bertie," I said, allowing my regret to sound in my voice.

He squeezed me and I sighed, appreciating the sensation. "It wouldn't have to take that long," he whispered, nibbling at my ear.

"I would much rather wait now and have enough time to make love with you properly tonight," I insisted. "There is a bed, after all." I tugged his hand from its entirely-too-enticing position and raised it to my lips, kissing his palm.

There was a moue of disappointment on his lips. "I might be too tired later tonight, old thing," he said, obviously disappointed.

"Then I shall arrange it so you do not have to exert any effort," I said, a hint of promise in my tone.

He raised an eyebrow. "Well, if you put it that way." He grinned. Our shower concluded quickly after that and we dressed ourselves in unrumpled clothing. What we had was not nearly fine enough for our surroundings, but it was the best we had. I hoped it would be sufficient. At that point I made a brief telephone call to Miss Barr, letting her know that we were safe and well. She once again wished us luck and hoped we would be home in England soon. It was at this juncture that we also destroyed our forged identification papers. After that, we presented ourselves to our hosts.

On the drive back to the consulate, I mentioned the telephone calls from journalists that I had received in the past few days. "Oh, Augustus," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington huffed.

"Augustus?" Mr. Wooster was utterly confused. The MP looked like he was fighting the urge to laugh.

"My grandson," she continued, vague annoyance in her voice. "He's fifteen and has spent his entire life convinced that you were abducted by aliens."

Mr. Wooster blinked. "Aliens." His voice was flat and confounded. I found the concept bizarre but amusing. Considering what actually had happened to us, alien abduction would not be a significantly more outrageous conclusion to draw.

A wry smile turned upon her lips. "My daughter Berenice was entirely too fond of that X Files show back in the nineties. Augustus grew up watching it every night, looking for evidence of alien conspiracies. He wanted to come along with me, but I was not going to excuse him from school. He'll meet you soon enough. I'm sure this is his idea of revenge for my imagined slights. The little beggar probably hacked the Trust's computer for your contact information."

"How shall we handle this?" I asked. "What happened to us is unusual enough that, once the public gets wind of it, there will likely be an interest."

MP Jeeves nodded. "Indeed. We've been keeping this rather close, as you might imagine; if it turned out to be a hoax, we didn't want to be played for fools."

"I could not agree more." I looked over at Mr. Wooster.

"It does sound more like a drunken halluci-whatsit, doesn't it?" he said. "Pink elephants, chaps falling out of the sky, and whatnot."

"I'll make the media arrangements," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said. "I understand the two of you have been in somewhat dire straits since you arrived, and this might provide a way for you to begin to make your way in the world again." She looked over at Mr. Wooster. "Unfortunately, that prat Philbert is planning to fight us the entire way. He's quite convinced you've set this up to try and claim his title, Bertie."

He turned his head to me. "You were right," he said, shaking his head sadly. We arrived at the consulate before the conversation could continue.

Mr. Wooster and I proceeded to have our photos and fingerprints taken, and filled out a number of forms. There was a rather awkward discussion over what to do about our birth-dates, considering the years in which we had actually been born. After that, we were briefly interviewed by the Consul-General, considering the unusual circumstances of our appearance and the need for proper identification. He assured us that, given the DNA evidence and the MP's acceptance of our identities, we would not have trouble with the granting of these documents. "I must say, I was quite skeptical at first," he said, "but I can certainly see the unmistakable family resemblance between MP Jeeves and yourself, Mr. Jeeves. I was briefed on the circumstances of your disappearance, gentlemen, and it really is quite an incredible story. No doubt there's a movie to be made of it. Please allow me to welcome you both home."

"Thank you," Mr. Wooster said. "It's been rather an adventure. I'm looking forward to seeing London again. We've been told it's changed quite a lot, though."

"That's true," the Consul-General said, "though the important places are still very much the same. Buckingham Palace, the Old Bailey, Saint Paul's, Big Ben -- all still there and just as they should be." Both of us were relieved to hear this, though I had done some research on Miss Barr's computer after I had learned of the Blitz. I knew as well that there were a large number of new things to be seen in our old home. No photograph, however, would ever quite convey the reality we would soon confront.

Once we had concluded our interview, our hosts took us away for an early supper; it was after tea-time and we had not had any time or opportunity to eat once we'd left the train station. We were both quite famished. "I am sorry this all took so very long," the MP told us once we'd left the consulate.

"It's all right, Aubrey, old thing," Mr. Wooster told him. "There was rather a lot to do. If it were done, 'twere well something whatsit, right?"

The MP chuckled. "Done quickly, indeed," he replied. "We can't get you gentlemen on a plane until we have your passports in hand, after all. The family is looking forward to meeting you." He looked at me.

"What of Bertie's reception?" I asked. "It appears his own family is less than eager to acknowledge him, much less meet with him." Mr. Wooster took my hand; we were sitting side by side in the back of the MP's car. It was a large vehicle and the four of us inhabited the back in long seats that faced each other. Mr. Wooster was making a valiant but not terribly successful effort to hide his discomfiture.

"There will always be a place for you in the Jeeves family, Bertie," the MP said gently. "You have nothing to fear there."

Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington added, "Some of the Glossops have expressed an interest in meeting you, though I must admit I suspect their motives."

"Glossops?" Mr. Wooster asked, a tiny, thoughtful smile daring to cross his face. "I suppose dear old Angela finally married Tuppy after all, then."

"Yes, that happened some months after your disappearance. Grandfather said that it was what finally cut through their hesitations. The Glossop family runs a bed and breakfast at Brinkley Court now," she answered. "They were doing rather well until the global economy started going to pot and tourism became less reliable. I'd be cautious of them."

Mr. Wooster's face fell. "I'm sorry to hear that," he murmured. I tightened my fingers about his hand in mine. "So Philbert hopes I'm a fraud and Angela's brood might just want to slap my face on their enterprise as though it were a soup can. I can't say that's encouraging." He brightened slightly. "But it seems I've got Jeeveses and Fink-Nottles instead, so I suppose it's not really that much of a loss, what?" He looked at me and smiled. "There was never anyone better than you, Reggie. Your family has to be a bit of all right." It was so very like him to take the positive aspects of the situation to heart, and I smiled in response, pleased that he could do so. I knew that his family's lack of consideration hurt him badly, but they had rarely shown him much in the way of love or even appreciation before our sudden exit from their lives. It seemed to me that this only reflected the old patterns he had known and despaired of.

Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington took on an expression somewhat reminiscent of a piranha. "I'm rather hoping that Philbert does attempt to argue it in court. He'd be obliged to submit to a DNA test in his quest to disprove your identity and I'd love to see him taken down a few pegs." She smiled, a startlingly chilling sparkle in her eyes. "I would so adore the opportunity."

We arrived at our restaurant as the conversation continued. Mr. Wooster was not at all convinced he wanted to deal with the inevitable contentiousness of a legal battle. Although the government was acknowledging his identity in issuing him a passport, to have it proved beyond doubt in a court of law could only help us in the end analysis. He acknowledged that, but once again reiterated his disinterest in the title and lands, stating only that he preferred the idea of having a roof over his head and people who cared for him to the thought of facing a fight regarding a title and lands with a family who manifestly refused to acknowledge him.

Our meal and the conversation were pleasant despite his uncertainty, and the food was both exceptional and expensive; the restaurant was the sort that Mr. Wooster would have frequented in our own time, and one in which I would never have been able to dine with him. I found myself once again feeling a shadow of the discomfort I had felt when we first arrived and Miss Barr had insisted that I join her and Mr. Wooster at table. Everything around me told me I should be serving, not dining with Mr. Wooster, a lady of his own social class, and a Member of Parliament. I suppressed my discomfort ruthlessly; those were no longer my circumstances and the reaction was an inappropriate one. The MP in question was my cousin, Mr. Wooster was my betrothed, and the lady had declared herself our advocate.

After the meal, my cousin noted that the time in Britain was quite different than the time in San Francisco and that he was very much in need of rest. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington agreed, adding that they had been awake for a very long time, and so we were driven back to our hotel. Although it was only eight in the evening, our hosts bid us good night, leaving Mr. Wooster and myself with privacy, a great deal of space, and a bed of our own.

Mr. Wooster was, as he had predicted, quite tired himself. He looked half-exhausted, more pale than he should have been. I was also tired, but not nearly as much as he. "Sleep does sound like just the thing," he said as we made our way through the immense suite into our room. The windows looked out over the impressive cityscape, lit brightly under the night sky. It was a far different skyline than Seattle's, and the windows were large enough that they seemed to let the entire night into the room with us. When I closed the door behind us, he looked over to me. "Reggie, you said if we waited and I was tired, you'd be willing to give the Wooster corpus a bit of attention anyway. Is the offer still open?"

I went to him and took him in my arms. "Of course." I kissed him, slow and gentle, with all the warmth and love I felt for him. His response was sensual and welcoming and he breathed a near-silent sigh against my lips. We stood at the edge of the bed for a long time, kissing and caressing one another, our world narrowed to just this. Finally, Mr. Wooster's hands moved and he made to loose his tie. "Allow me," I said softly, and he let his hands fall to my waist, resting them just above my hips. He watched me with eyes half-closed as I removed his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, slipped jacket and shirt from his shoulders and let them fall to the floor. He raised his arms to allow me to remove his undervest, and I bent my head to kiss his shoulders, trailing my lips down his chest to tease gently at one nipple. He sighed, his head tilting back as he savored the sensation. My hands caressed the sweet curve of his bottom and I pressed his body to me, him half-naked against my fully-clothed form. He was hard for me already, just as I was aroused with want of him.

Though I moved slowly, it was not long before both of us were unclothed, our bodies warm against each other, arms and hands and mouths tracing paths on one another's exposed skin. "What is your wish?" I whispered, my lips moving on his ear. He shivered slightly, his prick twitching against me as his breath caught.

"I want you inside me," he said, one hand slipping between us to press against my erect phallus. It felt exquisite and roused my ardor further.

I nodded. "I will be only a moment," I replied, gently easing him down onto the bed. He lay on his back looking up at me, one knee raised and his head resting on one arm. His other hand traced slow circles on his belly just above the arc of his hard prick. I felt I could watch him forever, looking like that; his slender form was intoxicating to me. It was the work of a moment to procure something slick to ensure our comfort. I placed the small bottle on the bedside table and turned out the lights, allowing the ambient glow of the city outside to offer its dim illumination for our lovemaking.

"Roll over," I told him; he turned and lay upon his stomach and I knelt over him, beginning a slow, gentle massage on his shoulders. He made a happy, rumbling sound, almost like a purr. This encouraged me in my work and I moved my hands over his body, kneading and stroking from shoulders to waist as he relaxed beneath me.

"If you keep this up, I'll just fall asleep," he murmured into his pillow.

"I want you to be relaxed," I replied, my voice low in the silence of the room.

He chuckled quietly. "Any more relaxed and I'll be a jellyfish. I may be one already. I think my spine's melted."

"Patience," I admonished, reaching for the bottle on the side table. Slowly, I pressed one slicked finger into his body. He moaned softly and arched his hips up into my hand.

"Oh, yes." His whisper was low and sensual and he opened to me as I moved my finger slowly in and out. "That's just what I need. More of that."

Leaning down over his back, I whispered into his ear, "Being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire?"

"You are a soppy romantic." The tone of his voice and the soft panting of his breath belied the tease in his words. I slipped a second finger in beside my first and he moaned again, opening his legs further, inviting me in. "Oh, God, I love you," he sighed. His skin was beginning to glisten with a thin sheen of sweat and he looked beautiful beneath me. Seeing him like this, I ached for him; knowing he was mine left me breathless.

Aware that he could take me now, I pulled my fingers gently from his body and slicked myself. With my knees, I urged his legs to open further and lowered myself onto his back, guiding myself with one hand toward my goal. The tip of my prick rested against him for a moment before he took a long, deep breath and released it slowly, letting me sink into him with one slow, agonizingly pleasurable thrust. He groaned, a low, quiet sound, and I sank into the heat of his body with a shuddering breath. His fingers flexed in the bedsheets, clutching them tightly as he whispered, "Yes, yes, Reggie, yes."

After I wiped the excess lubricant from my fingers, I covered his hands with mine, twining our fingers together as I rocked my hips, moving slowly within him. I kissed his neck, his cheek, his temple, breathing in the warm, aroused scent of him as he moved with me in counterpoint to my long, slow thrusts. His skin tasted clean and slightly of salt as I ran my tongue along the tight column of his neck. I echoed the quiet sounds he made as we moved together, our hips rocking in slow rhythm as I thrust into him. Though there was light enough to see him, I closed my eyes; the lack of sight intensified my appreciation of our physical sensuality. I drank deeply of this abundance: the smooth warmth of his skin, the tightness of his body around my prick, his slender, muscled form rising to meet each slow thrust.

It was not only my own pleasure I sought as I moved. I could hear the signs of his desire rising as we moved. His breath quickened and the small, low sounds he made grew more intense. This was what I loved -- knowing I could bring him to ecstasy with my body. I shifted my weight to change the angle of my penetration and he groaned, loud and harsh, as I found the place within him that sparked the deepest of erotic sensations.

"Oh, please Reggie, more," he gasped, grinding back against me and meeting my thrusts. "God, I need you, love you." To grant his request, I rose up onto my knees, pulling him up with me so that we remained joined, his bottom raised while he rested his shoulder against the mattress. I grasped his prick and began stroking him as I deepened my movement. He cried out wordlessly, his slick cock throbbing in my hand. After a few moments, he reached down and pushed my hand away, taking himself in hand and stroking quickly. I took his hips in both hands and thrust harder and deeper, urging him toward his completion.

When his legs began to tremble, I knew he was close. His gasping breath was harsh and he pushed back hard against me with each motion of my hips. The friction was sweet and he tightened around me, pulling me with him toward le petit mort. I resisted that siren call, wanting to bring him off before I allowed my own release. I thrust into him with all my strength, over and over, and gasped his name as we moved. "Bertie, Bertie, come for me," I panted. "I want to feel you come off." With a last, loud groan, his body stiffened and tightened around me almost unbearably. I could feel him shudder his release, breathless and speechless beneath me as I kept moving within him.

As his legs collapsed, I leaned back and lifted him upright, my arms about his waist and chest, pulling his weight into my lap and thrusting up into him with everything I had. It was glorious; I could feel his muscles tighten and release around me as he tried to regain his breath. He took my arm in one hand and squeezed, holding on tightly. "Oh, Lord, it's so good," he gasped. "Don't stop, please, don't stop."

I was so close, entirely immersed in the sensation of his body tight around my prick and the warmth of his sweat-slicked skin slipping against my own. The scent of his release lingered around us, intoxicating me further. "I need -- Oh, Bertie, I need to come," I groaned, and he nodded.

"Yes, Reggie, yes, let me feel it," he panted. "Give me everything. I want you so much." The heat rising within me was impossible to restrain and it burst out of me, blazing, sparking like stars behind my eyes. I cried out, my hips bucking hard and fast as I pulsed within him, completely overcome with love and lust and need and pleasure. After a last few deep strokes, my body stilled and we knelt together on the bed, gasping for breath. I held him close in the circle of my arms, unable to let go. I wanted to be in this moment of euphoria forever, floating with him in my body's rush of sensation.

Such things cannot last, however. Slowly, my muscles relaxed and we both slumped to the mattress, utterly spent. I held him loosely in my arms as we lay on our sides, still spooned together, my softening prick slipping out of him as our breathing slowed and gentled. "You are a magnificent beast," he whispered, and I could hear his smile in his words.

"These two emparadised in one another's arms, the happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill of bliss on bliss," I murmured.

He turned his head toward me, tilting an eyebrow as he peered over his shoulder. "That's not Shakespeare; who is it?"

"Milton." I smiled.

"Well," he said, "I can't say we've lost paradise quite yet, old fruit."

Nuzzling behind his ear, I said, "I do love you."

***

It was utterly topping to sleep on a real bed again. The company was quite delish as well, I must say. When I woke with Reggie still tangled around me, I knew it would be one of those days with larks and snails bunged into their proper places. Breakfast had been brought up to the suite, so we didn't have to go anywhere looking for the traditional eggs and b., which made Bertram a very happy chap.

Since we didn't expect the passports and whatnot to be ready until afternoon, and we had at least a few spare shekels rattling about in the wallet, Reggie and I ankled out to explore Nob Hill, where our hotel was located. Aubrey and Amanda said they didn't mind if we set out on our own, so long as we were back by tea time. We wandered around Huntington Park a bit then perused some of the shops. The weather was a bit cool but not terribly unpleasant. It wasn't raining, though the clouds were obviously giving it some thought.

San Francisco felt like a much larger city than Seattle, what with all the tall buildings everywhere. I couldn't help wondering what London would be like when we finally arrived. We were going to have to actually get onto an aeroplane in a day or so. I will admit this Wooster was a bit uneasy about the prospect. I don't particularly dislike heights, but when there's nothing at all between you and the ground but thirty-thousand feet of empty air, one does tend to worry a bit about something essential giving out at the wrong moment. I'd been assured that it was as safe as riding in a car, but the idea did still leave me feeling like I was eyeing a particularly peckish tiger with a taste for English gentlemen.

"Are you at all nervous about that flying thing, Reggie?" I asked him.

He looked thoughtfully off into the distance. "Perhaps a little," he admitted after a long pause. "On the other hand, I am quite looking forward to the experience. I can't help but wonder what the world looks like from that height."

"Rather small, I'd think." I looked up into the sky; there were quite a few of the things zipping about up there. Joan had said that men had walked on the moon when she was a wee nipper. She'd found some video of the first one up there -- some Armstrong chappie -- and showed it to us. She'd sniffled a bit while we watched and said she thought of it as one of humanity's finest moments. She showed us a photo of the earth that had been taken from the moon and it had looked so small and blue and fragile; it was hard to believe everything I'd ever known had fit on that tiny blue ball. There was a space station up there now as well, hanging in the sky. It was hard to imagine, floating up there in a little tin can with no air anywhere, no ground beneath your feet, no gravity. "I wonder where that space station thingummy is right now," I murmured.

"I could find out if there were a computer available," Reggie said.

"No, it was just an idle question," I told him. "I'm trying to imagine flying." He smiled.

"We shall find out what it is like tomorrow." We bunged ourselves onto a street car and rode around a bit to see a little more of the city than we could on foot. It was actually a pleasant way to spend the afternoon and, by tea time, we had made our way back to the hotel. Picking up our passports and such was the work of only a few minutes and we spent most of the evening talking with Amanda and Aubrey. It turned out they had known one another for most of his life because of the whole Fink-Nottle Trust whatsit.

Reggie was curious about how a Jeeves had ended up in Parliament, even though I'd always thought he had more than enough brains to run the entire empire by himself. "Domestic service essentially evaporated as a career several decades ago," Aubrey said. "But the family possessed a well-ingrained ethic of service, and politics can be seen in a certain light as public service. If we couldn't serve as we had in the great houses, it seemed that serving the larger community was quite in line with our sensibilities."

"That does make sense," Reggie said, nodding. "I've been giving some thought to what I should do when we return to England, but I have no idea what life is like there now. Finding employment in Seattle was rather difficult without a history I could refer to."

"We'll find you something," Aubrey told him. "There are a great number of options, and the family is more than willing to aid in that endeavor." I thought about my own future in that regard. I wouldn't know anyone there, so it wasn't as though I could just ring someone up and ask if they were looking for a piano player. Even if I did find a spot, it wasn't like I'd be rolling in the ready because of it. Music didn't pay all that well, from what I'd seen, though I'd enjoyed it a great deal.

The four of us talked well into the night about Jeeveses and Fink-Nottles and who we would be meeting soon. I hadn't a prayer of remembering everyone they mentioned. Reggie and I told them about what we had been doing in Seattle for two-ish months, as well. I talked about the people we'd met and Reggie talked about how utterly bohemian they all were, what with piercings and tattoos and oddly-colored hair and pagan rituals. Amanda thought it was all quite exotic, as though we were talking about a trip to some isolated jungle filled with cannibals. I gathered that she didn't see much of the bohemian sort in her social circle. She did say she'd arrange for Joan to ship my keyboard to me in England, though, for which I was quite grateful. Aubrey was a bit more sanguine about the whole bohemian thing, possibly because he was quite a bit younger and a bit more of the people, as they say. Reggie and I were seemingly about to be plunged into a fairly sizable extended family, minus any Woosters and Glossops and whatnots. There wasn't much said about them, really, beyond Amanda getting rather worked up over Philbert, who had apparently spent much of his life giving Gussie and the rest of the Fink-Nottles the pip. I could see why she'd want to best him in court, though I'd had more than my fill of standing up before magistrates after Boat Race night and several other incidents of mistaken guilt and impropriety.

Since we had our passports now, they'd booked tickets for us to return to London. Aubrey said there were direct flights from San Francisco back to old Blighty. We'd be leaving just after tea and arriving back in London at about eleven in the morning of the next day. We'd have to be at the airport several hours ahead of time, though, to go through security and customs. What with a great lot of time zone something-or-other, although it looked like six-ish hours on a clock, it would be about ten hours in the air. The fact that flying from the Pacific ocean to England would take less time than riding the train from Seattle to San Francisco boggled the brain more than a little. That six hours being ten thing made me feel like we'd be traveling in time again, which left a distinct hiccup in the Wooster onion. I couldn't even begin to imagine how fast we would have to be going. I'm sure Reggie could have told me if I asked him, but I doubted the numbers would mean anything to me, really. I could already feel a cold little pit of nervous tingling in the tum just from thinking about it. I wondered if Joan's de-sainted saint might be helpful at all.

I didn't really sleep that night. The eyes closed, but that Morpheus chappie did not attend Bertram's slumber, the rotter. There wasn't a single spot of the deep and dreamless to be found, and I assure you I looked. Reggie was restless as well and we ended up just curling up together in the middle of the bed and pretending we'd be all right. I found it vaguely comforting that he was nervous too. I felt rather less like a spineless jellyfish because of it. If Reginald Jeeves, war hero and paragon, was a bit nervous then it was perfectly all right that Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, layabout and generally useless blot on the landscape, was scared half out of his wits. Only to be expected, really. I tried very hard not to think about falling out of the sky, which was, after all, what had got us here in the first place. I doubted there would be nearly as fortuitous a landing if it happened with an aeroplane.

***

Seeing the immense aeroplanes sitting at their gates as I stared through the floor to ceiling windows of the lounge with Mr. Wooster by my side was an unnerving experience. Having to take off my shoes and jacket and empty everything from my pockets when going through the security checkpoint was even moreso. It was terribly undignified. Even the MP and Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington were subjected to this before we went through customs. It seemed excessive to me, though they explained that occasionally there had been deranged individuals who had carried explosives onto the planes and killed hundreds of people in that way. It did not ease my mind, and only reinforced Miss Barr's assertion that everyone these days was half-mad.

"Take off and landing are the times when things are most likely to go wrong," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said, "but the chances of such problems occurring are really quite small. I've been flying for years and have never been on a plane that's had a problem. At worst, we might be delayed on the ground; that happens rather a lot, and for a variety of reasons. Once we're in the air, it's not very different than riding in a car. There may be some turbulence, but it's not dangerous."

It was my opinion that if a woman in her sixties could approach the trip with nonchalance, there was no reason for me to worry. Mr. Wooster, however, was restless and jittery as we waited to board. He was pacing nervously along the window where I sat, and had been for the past fifteen minutes. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, I took him by the elbow as he came past me again. "Please, Bertie, come sit down." I tugged his arm and urged him into a chair next to me. "Pacing does no good at all."

With a petulant sigh, he sat heavily and rested his elbows on his knees, propping up his chin with one hand. "I suppose I'll be better once we're actually on the bally thing," he grumbled. "I just want to get this over with. Rather like pulling teeth, you know? Yank the begger and get yourself thoroughly under the surface afterwards to dull the pain."

He had a glass of wine in hand already; it was his second since we'd got to the lounge where we and the other business-class passengers were waiting. "We'll be fine, Bertie. Nothing untoward is going to happen." Before I could say anything else, a call came for boarding and Mr. Wooster made short work of the rest of his wine. Boarding proceeded quickly and we were directed upstairs to a large deck with seats that were isolated in small half-open enclosures. Mr. Wooster and I had been assigned an enclosure with two seats, while the MP and Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington both had singles. I had hoped we would be seated near a window, but we were, in fact, positioned in the middle of the deck. There were, however, windows where we would be able to look out once the plane was in flight. The enclosures had tiny televisions, desks, telephones, and a number of other amenities that I would not have expected to find in the air. The seats apparently folded out flat into small beds, which would be useful given that we would be flying throughout the night.

After what felt like several hours, but in reality was only about forty-five minutes, the plane taxied out onto the airstrip to await permission to depart. The entire experience was so unlike our trips to and from New York on ocean liners that I was finding it difficult to parse. Once we started down the runway, I'm afraid that both Mr. Wooster and I were somewhat white-knuckled as we felt the plane speed up. He took my hand in his; it was chill and a bit clammy. I suspect mine was as well. I could feel the moment the wheels left the ground; it was both frightening and exhilarating. The feeling of my ears popping with the changing air pressure was slightly disconcerting, but the discomfort was momentary. Once it was announced that seat belts were no longer necessary, we both went to one of the tiny windows to gaze out at the world below.

I find it difficult to describe the sensation of rising through the clouds. I suspect Mr. Wooster would be rather better at the attempt, but still, I shall try. Everywhere around us were swirls and canyons and hills of mist. I felt as though we were, as the poet Shelley said, climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth, though I was admittedly not wandering companionless as the poet had written. Buildings and bright water and green-brown hills flowed below us, tiny ribbons of highway webbing a landscape occasionally obscured by cloud. I stood transfixed, and Mr. Wooster was breathless beside me. It was quite some time before we were able to tear ourselves from the sight.

As we had been told, the flight itself did not feel very much different than riding in a car or a train, once we were away from the windows. There was a considerable level of background noise from the swift travel of the plane and its great engines as it propelled us into the advancing night, though eventually we were able to ignore it. We were served dinner and drinks, and both of us read for some time. My cousin and Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington both attended to their own business, leaving Mr. Wooster and myself to our own devices. This separation was essentially enforced by the enclosed nature of the seating, which did not allow for any socializing. After a time, we tried to sleep. It was more of a success than on the train, but the novelty of the experience and the excitement of coming nearer to London with each passing moment made it difficult.

When morning finally came and we set down at Heathrow, I found myself overwhelmed by the size and scale of everything. The place was much more crowded than the airport in San Francisco, but London had always been a great city of global import. Because we were traveling with a Member of Parliament, our entry was quick and relatively painless. Our drive into the metropolis was a shock, even though we knew it would be different than it had been in 1924. Within two hours, we were at the Fink-Nottle home in Hampstead. We had obviously been expected, as the house was filled with people. While I usually am able to easily remember faces and names once introduced, two nights of inadequate sleep and the swift change in surroundings left me at slightly less than my best.

Everyone seemed quite eager to meet us. I found myself slipping quite unconsciously back into a valet's silent presence, standing near but not next to Mr. Wooster to attend to any of his needs, while Mr. Wooster once again became the gentleman socialite he had always been, charming and entertaining despite the stresses of travel. He did not allow me to stay in the background; as soon as he realized what I was doing, he pulled me into the discussions. Many of those in attendance were related to me in some manner, so I did not feel quite as uncomfortable as I might have under other circumstances in a house like this. Most of the rest were Fink-Nottles of one description or other, while some were friends of those families. There was a Belinda Glossop in the group as well, attempting to stick to Mr. Wooster like a burr. She was a blond woman of about Mr. Wooster's age, with green eyes and a bit of the shark in her demeanor. Had this been 1924, I would have been making contingency plans to prevent her from becoming 'accidentally' engaged to Mr. Wooster. As it was, he had taken pains to be crystal clear about the status of his relationship with me. This news was treated as far less unusual than the very fact of our existence, and thus nearly ignored beyond a few words of congratulation. I found that lack of reaction to be strangely reassuring.

Young Augustus Fink-Nottle was, predictably, very much in evidence, attempting to convince Mr. Wooster that aliens had, in fact, been responsible for our disappearance. He was quite disappointed when we told him that neither of us had seen any 'UFOs' at any point during our adventures. He also, when pressured, admitted that he had been the one who had set the reporters upon us. The young gentleman had no manners whatsoever, I fear. Thankfully, it seemed that the younger generation of Jeeveses had some sense of propriety, though they were still rather less mannerly than any of the young people of my generation had been. Ideas and ideals of child-rearing had apparently greatly changed in the last eighty-five years as well.

It seemed we were being regarded with something between curiosity and awe by most of the assembled. I grant that I would likely have had a similar reaction had I not been one of the people who had mysteriously vanished and reappeared decades later, unchanged. I could forgive the curiosity, though I hoped it would fade, given time. I did not want to spend the rest of my life being regarded as nothing more than an oddment.

***

There must have been nearly forty people at the Fink-Nottle pile that day. While I was used to soirees of this sort, I was usually in the posish of knowing most of the people in attendance, and anyone I didn't know, I would have relied upon Reggie to identify for me. His knowledge of all the better sort was encyclopedic -- nay, legendary. The unfortunate fact was, aside from Amanda and Aubrey, neither of us knew a single soul there, and it felt dashed odd and a little uncomfortable. We Woosters, however, will not allow such things to interfere with a good feed and an early-afternoon snort or two of the bubbly.

A green-eyed, blond-haired Glossop beazel of uncertain temperament attached herself to me like a starving lamprey early on in the proceedings and refused to be kicked loose despite my rather vocal declaration that Reggie and I had a bit of the divine pash for one another and were intending to be shackled together at the earliest opportunity. It felt disturbingly like a party at my Aunt Agatha's, and Belinda reminded me unsettlingly of Honoria Glossop, with her sporty and rather forceful demeanor. I found myself hoping that she wasn't fond of shooting things. This, more than anything else, had me quite convinced I was back in Bertram's usual environs. The only thing lacking was an accidental engagement and a strayed newt crawling up a maid's skirt. I couldn't be certain either would not occur before dinner's soup course was bunged down in front of us.

I'd had to drag Reggie into the conversations. He'd been lurking in corners and shimmering about looking like he desperately wanted to be carrying a salver with drinks on it when we first arrived. I'm sure that being one of the entertained rather than one of the servants was wearing a bit on his feudal spirit. He relaxed noticeably, to me at least, after about twenty minutes of the sky not falling due to breaches of protocol involving his lack of valeting togs.

As to young Gussie, the kid was a pill. Amanda was obviously fond of the little blister, but I was having a bit of a hard time escaping him. Between Gussie and the Glossop, I felt rather like a lame gnu being stalked by lions. Reggie was doing his best iceberg impression but even that didn't seem to scare them off. It was a relief when we were finally seated for dinner, which was informal in the extreme. Nobody had dressed for it, several important bits of silverware were missing, and only one person was actually serving at table. Most of it was a bit of a free-for-all, really. The atmosphere was more party than dinner and I suppose that was a good thing, as I was feeling a bit out of sorts what with the ten hour flight and my body being convinced I was still on the west coast of America. Reggie looked like he'd rather be in a quiet place with a book, and I couldn't blame him. I was desperately missing our flat at Berkeley Mansions and a quiet evening at home. Not that I was going to get either anytime soon, mind.

Once dinner started, things got a little quieter due to the shoveling of haute cuisine, but people still asked us an endless barrage of questions. I can't really blame them, given the sitch. I just wished that they weren't asking them of me. Bertram is, by nature, a habitual sort, used to a routine and seeing the same faces and desirous of the comforts of home, and none of this fit that bill in the least. Aside from B. W. Wooster and Reginald Jeeves, everyone else seemed to be having a grand time. I was just grateful that Reggie was sitting next to me on one side and that Aubrey had nestled himself and his wife in between me and the Glossop menace on the other.

I found myself quite relieved that, being already spoken for, I didn't have to worry about the Code of the Woosters if it came to shoving off Glossops. I only wish I'd been able to bring this particular cannon to bear back when Aunt Agatha was trying to shackle me to every girl of my social class who wasn't nailed to some other chap. Then again, there would have been no way at all for such a claim to be made back then, given the fact that Reggie was another chap and my valet besides. Not that either of us would have even touched each other then for fear of substantial conse-whatsits. I rather think she might have taken the valet part even worse than his being male, though that bit wouldn't have actually landed us in gaol.

Despite the strangeness of the sitch and all the people whose names I wasn't quite connecting to dials just yet, everyone was making a more than reasonable effort to make both of us feel welcome. With the possible exception of Belinda Glossop, people were treating me and Reggie like an actual couple and it was a bit of a revelation. Of course, our friends in Seattle had been doing it all along, but this was a different set of circs and I hadn't been sure of how the whole thing would come off. There was a warm spark in the Wooster bosom. Not having to hide anything anymore was... I really didn't have words for how happy it made me. Every time I looked over at him sitting beside me, I felt something entirely goopy happening in the cardiac region.

Near the end of the dessert course, Reggie took my hand under the table and gave me a twitch of the lips, signifying a deeply satisfied smile. I fear I had a thoroughly soppy grin on my face because of it. One of the young fillies made a remark about us being "so utterly adorable," which caused a blush on the damask cheek, but I was willing to endure this for the privilege of having his hand in mine in the presence of what passed for family. Fortunately, shortly after dinner we were scooped up with Aubrey, his wife, and their two teen horrors to their large flat in Islington, where we were ensconced in a quiet room of our own for the night.

We were both honestly too tired and worn for anything more than a snuggle and a snog, much as we might have liked a bit more than that. Everything was moving so bally fast; I hadn't had time to get my bearings at all, nor had Reggie, I think. The bed was comfy, though, and the room was dark and nearly silent but for a little traffic noise outside, which was a considerable comfort. Good Lord, we were in London again. It wasn't quite the same London, but it was the metrop nonetheless. It was almost enough to bring a tear to the Wooster e. Reggie seemed similarly moved, I must say. Now all we had to do was find a way to make a life here.

I was sure it would be easier said than done.

***

Morning found me feeling a bit more myself, though still more tired than I'd have thought from the travel. It had to be that lingering evil from the pneumonia. Reggie reminded me that it might be another couple of months before I was entirely back to myself, as the doctor in Seattle had said. I kept thinking I'd just wake up and feel normal again, but it hadn't happened as yet.

We both swished ourselves off before donning our togs, and we toddled in to get ourselves outside a bit of eggs and b. with Aubrey and his lot. Where Aubrey was every inch a Jeeves, his wife Vera was a tiny slip of a thing that looked like she might be wafted away by a slightly-less-gentle-than-usual breeze. She came up to his shoulder, with brown eyes and brown hair and tiny, dignified spectacles perched on her nose. Rather a bit plain, but friendly. The two Jeeves daughters, Thalia and Athena, took after their mother, though they were more of a Jeevesian altitude. Thalia, the elder of the two, was just as tall as me, and I was only lacking an inch or so on Reggie. Athena looked set to catch up before too long. As with anything Jeeves, the entire bunch were frighteningly brainy, and every bally one of them shimmered about with uncanny silence. It just made me wonder yet again what on earth Reggie actually saw in me, being rather lacking in that department as I was.

We'd barely managed to get outside the morning repast before Aubrey got a phone call from Amanda. It seemed Philbert, Lord Yaxley, was rather eager to plant his eyes on the willowy Wooster form so that he could tell me I wasn't actually myself. "Amanda says she'll be by in about two hours to take you out there," Aubrey said as we sat at the table still sipping tea. "You ought to brace yourself for an unpleasant experience."

"Is this really necessary?" I asked. "It's not like I want the title, or old Uncle Henry's rotting pile, which I'm sure Philbert's infesting."

Aubrey nodded, a twitch of a Jeevesian smile on his lips. "I'm afraid so. Getting your passport was largely a product of my calling in a few favors, since we didn't have a DNA test to prove conclusively that you really are a Wooster. Of course, being convinced of Reggie's identity was enough proof of yours for me."

"We are grateful for that," Reggie said. He turned his attention to me. "I would advise complying, Bertie. Regardless of the outcome, there will be some use in the exercise."

"Amanda's also calling a small press conference for tomorrow morning," Aubrey continued. "We've already been hearing hints of the situation floating about, thanks to Augustus, and I'm sure Philbert will be sending out a press release shortly after meeting you that will declare this whole thing a massive fraud." I fiddled a bit with the watch in my pocket. It hadn't worked since I'd been dunked in the river, but I'd kept it in hopes of having it cleaned up and repaired. I pulled it out after a moment and opened it, looking at the stained and damaged photo of my parents and self inside the cover.

"Will this not damage your political standing?" Reggie asked.

"I'm sure some will think so," Aubrey answered. He shrugged. "On the other hand, I'm quite confident that we'll be able to prove that Bertie is who he says he is if Philbert decides to make a fuss."

"That eventuality sounds quite likely," Reggie said as he took my hand and gave the digits a bit of a press. I closed the watch and popped it back into my pocket. It seemed that was as close as I was likely to get to being a part of any Wooster family now; I'd have nothing more than a somewhat water-damaged photo and some memories.

Aubrey nodded. "Amanda's more than capable of handling him."

I heaved a bit of a put-upon sigh. "I just want to get it over with. At some point I'd like to think I'll have a life to call my own again."

"You will," Reggie assured me.

"I suppose we ought to go gird the loins for the lion's den, what?"

Reggie nodded. "I think your dove grey tie with the blue diamonds would be more suitable than this one." I couldn't help but smile at that; it felt so very much like a bit of our old life.

The meeting with Philbert was quite as horrid as one might expect. He kept us waiting for over an hour just because he could. The chump tried to insist on seeing me alone, but none of us were having any of that. We beetled into his office, where we weren't even offered chairs for the chat. Philbert was wrinkly as one of those Chinese wrinkly-faced dogs, and looking a bit eighty-ish, with thin white hair, balding at the top. He had a profile reminiscent of Aunt Agatha's battle-axe. There was a chap standing behind him against the wall giving us the evil eye; he looked somewhat unsavory. He was tallish and thin, with fair, spiky hair and a horsey face; that is to say, he looked rather Woosterish. Philbert glared at us without saying anything, so I took it upon myself to open the conversation.

"What ho, Philbert," I what-hoed. "It looks like Uncle Henry's heap is about the same as it was before all the rabbits."

His eyes went wide. "Amanda, I want to know where you found these imposters and who bribed that Jeeves creature to vouch for them. Bloody liberals, ruining the whole country." Reggie, who was already in high valet dudgeon beside me over the waiting, went icy as a glacier on an antarctic mountainside. Philbert looked him over like one might examine a particularly noxious bug. "You," he said, "you're obviously one of them. Where have they been hiding you? I thought I knew your whole brood."

"I have not been hiding anywhere, Lord Yaxley," Reggie said in his stiffest and most disdainfully polite voice. "Mr. Wooster and I were rather abruptly swept into the sky in Hyde Park in 1924 and dropped unceremoniously onto a mountainside in Washington state two months ago."

"That is no Wooster," Philbert snapped, pointing one long, bony finger at me.

"Now, really," I started.

"I'll have you know, young man, that I will not stand for any nonsense. You will cease this idiotic farce immediately or I shall make your every moment a misery."

The Wooster spine stiffened. I was thoroughly pipped by his attitude. "This is not a farce and I don't care if you are my cousin Claude's spawn, I won't be treated like this."

Philbert's face went from mildly puce to apoplexy in half a flick of an ovine extremity. "My Uncle Claude," he spat, "was a ponce and a disgrace to the Wooster name. He should have been in prison, not scarpering off to Brazil with that sod Rainsby after I caught them at it. You will not speak of him in my presence."

Now that was a bit of a revelation. "Really? Claude? And Rainsby? I would have thought Eustace, if either of the twins was going to turn out that way." Out of the corner of one eye, I could see Amanda forcibly removing a grin from her face. It was rallying vigorously in the back nine.

"You!" Philbert shouted. This was beginning to feel like an audience with Aunt Agatha, minus the threat of Bertram-molding beazels. "Who put you up to this, you contemptible little worm?"

We'd definitely plummeted into Aunt Agatha territory. "You sound exactly like Aunt Agatha," I said. "Nobody put me up to this. I'm Bertram Wooster and this is Reginald Jeeves, and nothing you say or do is going to change that. Amanda here said you thought I was trying to slip the title and Uncle Henry's distinguished old dump out from under you, but you can keep the blasted things as far as I'm concerned." Reggie had edged closer to me during the conversation and I could feel him hovering protectively at my shoulder, less than a step behind me. "All I wanted was to have some of my family back, but I can see I'm better off shut of the lot of you. Whatever happened to the Code of the Woosters?"

"You are a lying, thieving imposter, whoever you are, and I shall see you in court if you don't back down from this ludicrous chicanery."

The unsavory-looking chap behind Philbert finally spoke. "Really, grandfather, I think you've given this interview too much of your time already. Doctor Flathersen keeps telling you that you shouldn't get so worked up about things." He glared at us. "I don't know what you're trying to do by claiming to be Bertram Wooster, but you won't get away with it. You will be hearing from our solicitors, Amanda. I can't believe that you've done this. It's really beyond the pale."

We were seen out at that point, and I was glad to be away from it. "Well done, Bertie," Amanda said, allowing the grin she'd fought off to resume its residence on her dial. "You stood up to him quite brilliantly, and with such wit." She was thoroughly chuffed, but I didn't feel at all brilliant or witty. After all, I'd just lost whatever bit of family I might have had left, beyond a few Glossops who seemed to want the notoriety and not the actual Wooster. That, and now it seemed guaranteed I'd end up in the dock soon, trying to prove I was myself.

***

There was a time when Mr. Wooster would have quailed before the sort of verbal assault that Lord Yaxley had perpetrated upon him. I felt unspeakably proud of him for standing his ground in the face of such contempt. His shoulders were slumped as we rode back to Hampstead with Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington, and I could see the bare misery in his face. "That was worse than I expected," he murmured, leaning against me.

"You did very well, Bertie," I told him. "I'm extremely proud of you."

"Really?" Some of the slump in his slender frame eased. "But Reggie, we're still going to end up in front of some miserable beak."

"It's just as well," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said. "While it's very likely to be a three ring circus for a while, when it's over there'll be no question of your identity and you'll both be able to move on with your lives without interference."

"I'd be better off making music with Ingmar and Umbra in Seattle," Mr. Wooster sighed, staring out the window at the passing countryside. It had changed a great deal since the 1920s. "At least there I knew who my friends were."

"You have friends here, Bertie," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington answered. "You just don't know us yet. I know this was difficult, but things will get better soon."

He gave her a long, appraising look. "Well, I hope you're right. I don't suppose they can get worse than what I've already been through, what with the pneumonia and such." I was in agreement; I did not wish to see him hurt in any way. The situation was already difficult, though it could admittedly become much more so with a single misstep.

Upon our return to my cousin's residence in the late afternoon, the four of us adjourned to his sitting room to discuss the conference we were to have with the media the next day. Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said she had already sent out press packets to those invited, with some background regarding our situation. These included copies of news clippings from 1924 describing the incident of our disappearance, and photographs of us that were taken the previous evening at her home. I spoke briefly over the telephone with Joan, inquiring as to whether she would be willing to be identified to corroborate our story; thankfully, she was, though she said she hoped that this would blow over quickly. She noted that someone with a camera had already been "snooping around" the day before, looking up toward her windows. I did not think she was eager for the publicity, but she did remind me that Harry had wanted to be a part of it. "He's into the whole circus," she said, and supplied us with his last name so that he could be properly identified, as he wished.

I was no more looking forward to the interview than Mr. Wooster had been to the meeting with Lord Yaxley. It had always been my nature to work quietly and unnoticed to bring about desired results, yet I would have little choice other than to submit to what was likely to be a skeptical, if not hostile interview. Fortunately, neither the MP nor Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington appeared to be particularly outré, and I thought it likely that this would work in our favor. I was assured that the journalists who had been invited represented several viewpoints, encompassing both conservative and liberal outlets. This, we were told, would help ensure that MP Jeeves would not be accused of 'spinning' the situation to his personal advantage. I was uncertain what, if any, advantage he might derive from acknowledging us, though I was grateful he had.

After dinner, Mr. Wooster and I retired to our room. Despite our intensive briefing earlier in the day, both of us were uneasy. Our composure the next day would be tested, and what the public believed about us would be largely determined by how we handled the situation. That MP Jeeves was putting his reputation at risk for our sake weighed heavily upon my mind.

***

I was nervous as a mouse at a cat convention when we walked into the room. There weren't a lot of people there, but some of them had cameras and Aubrey had said we'd likely end up on the telly. This did not ease my mind at all. Reggie was right next to me as we sat between Aubrey and Amanda. There was some murmuring when we walked in, as the reporters noted Reggie's resemblance to Aubrey Jeeves. It was inescapable, really; they were both tall and broad-shouldered and did identical eyebrow lifts of about three molecules when they were perturbed. The rugged Jeeves jawline was particularly convincing, I thought.

Amanda got things started with a brief chat about our disappearance and about Gussie and the whole Fink-Nottle Trust thingummy. There was a bit of nattering about DNA testing and how Aubrey had initially been skeptical, but had changed his mind when presented with the evidence. One of the reporters, a little slip of a woman with a Liverpool accent, asked Aubrey why he would risk his political reputation on such a strange claim.

"The disappearance of Reginald Jeeves is a mystery that has haunted our family for eighty-five years," he said. "While an initial skepticism was more than reasonable, it soon became apparent to us that this man is that same Reginald Jeeves. Despite the fact that making such a claim exposes me to a risk of ridicule, I will not abandon a member of my family. Reginald has been one of the most highly-regarded members of our family in its long history, exemplifying loyalty, courage, and dedication. He was honored with a Victoria Cross by King George the Fifth in 1918 for his service during the war, and his reputation in civilian life was irreproachable. This means a great deal more to me than a seat in Parliament."

Reggie had been warned that the Victoria Cross would be brought up but I could see he didn't like it much. The questions started coming thick and fast after that. They wanted to know about how Reggie got the V.C., what had happened to us, and how it felt to be scooped up like that. He told them he didn't particularly like remembering the war and that he'd given the medal to his father and never looked at it after the King had given it to him. We talked about Seattle and Joan and the whole pneumonia thing, while Reggie noted that Harry had been the one who'd connected the dots that got us in touch with the Fink-Nottle Trust.

Of course, I got asked about Philbert and how the Woosters had dismissed me as a fraud. "It's not like they had much use for me eighty-five years ago," I said. "Talking to him yesterday was like seeing my Aunt Agatha stuffed into the skin of a wrinkly old man. They're both stroppy as starved wolves staring at an unavailable mutton roast." That got a bit of a chuckle from the assembled. "The blighter seems to think I'm interested in the family title, but he can bally well keep it. I've got no use for it, after all. I was just hoping that after all this time, I might have some family left, but it seems dashed hopeless at this point."

One chap with glossy teeth and a head of shiny brown hair asked me, "What would you say to the people who don't believe you?"

"They can all go boil their heads, for all I care," I told him. "Why should it matter whether anyone believes me or not? What's important to me is that I'm finally home in England again and that Reggie's with me." I looked at him and took his hand. "The one good thing that came out of this whole wheeze is that I don't have to hide how I feel about him now. Nobody's going to bung us in chokey, and I don't have Aunt Agatha breathing down my neck anymore trying to marry me off to some beazel who wants to make something of me. I can finally be with the person I actually love. Do you have any idea how awful it was, thinking we could never be together?" Reggie got the soppiest expression on his face for a split hair of a second before he closed up again.

That statement got rather a reaction, I must say. There were some very impertinent questions about our personal lives before we'd been scooped up, and Reggie slapped his stuffiest stuffed frog mask over the dial, insisting he would never have done a bally thing that might have risked my reputation or our freedom back then. "Our conduct was beyond reproach," he said, his hand wrapped tightly about mine. When we'd finally got past those questions, another chap asked what we'd do now.

"I don't really know," I said. "Once we found out that it was legal, I asked Reggie to marry me, but beyond that I don't think either of us has any idea what we'll do from here. I played in a band in Seattle for a couple of weeks, and they said I'd be welcome back any time, but I'm not sure what it would take to go back there, really. I understand the laws about immi-whatsit have changed a lot in all this time." I sighed. "I suppose I could write a book about what happened. I wrote a couple of them before all of this and they did reasonably well. I just... well, I miss my friends and my family, you know?" I was feeling rather soupy at the thought and had to stiffen the u. l. quite severely. Reggie let go of my hand and wrapped an arm around the willowy shoulders. "Not that I'd ever want to go back to having to hide what I am, but it's dashed hard to suddenly find yourself without nearly everyone you've ever known or cared about."

There weren't a lot of questions after that, and I don't think I could have dealt with too many more anyway. The whole wheeze left me feeling sucked dry and all I wanted was to get myself behind a locked door alone with Reggie and hold onto him for dear life.

***

I was deeply touched by Mr. Wooster's public avowal of his love for me. It had been very difficult for me to maintain my composure after those words, but it had been necessary, and I had many years of practice in hiding my emotions which stood me in good stead. His words had, I felt, been the only good thing about the whole ordeal. I had been horrified by the exceedingly improper personal nature of several of the questions that came after his statement.

MP Jeeves congratulated us both on our comportment during the interview after we left the room. "You were both quite articulate, and I do believe the fact that neither of you is particularly interested in publicity will work in your favor," he said. "If we were attempting a hoax, they would have expected one or both of you to want the spotlight and to have played up either the medal or the claim to the title." He took me by one elbow as we walked. "I appreciate how difficult that was for you, Reggie, and thank you for being willing to discuss it at all."

"I would prefer it if we never had to do that again," I admitted. "I understand the necessity, Aubrey, but I found the entire thing remarkably unpleasant. I have no desire whatsoever for a public life and would much prefer to live quietly with Bertie in a flat of our own."

"I'm just glad it's over," Mr. Wooster said. He looked frayed and tired despite the earliness of the hour. "Is there any way at all we could avoid that whole court mess?"

"Not really," my cousin said. "Philbert is well known for being difficult and reactionary. Once your existence was revealed, there was really no way to deflect it. If his son, Grant, held the title now, we'd have a better chance of some sense from the Woosters. Grant's a decent chap, though his son Oswald takes rather too much after Philbert. We'll have to see what the news has to say about this in the next few days to gauge our response and decide upon our next steps. I have a great deal to do, what with Parliament opening Thursday, but Amanda will be able to handle most of this with you. I'll do what I can to help you both in the time I have available."

"Of course," I responded. "We understand completely. What will we need to do to prepare for this?"

"The Trust's solicitors are already working on that," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington answered. "If he tries to claim fraud, he won't have a leg to stand on. He'd have to prove Bertie is actually attempting to claim the title and lands; it can't be legally regarded as fraud if there's no attempt at gain. If he's simply trying to say you're not a Wooster, Bertie dear, he'll be forced to submit to the DNA testing he previously refused, and that will only prove that you are a Wooster, which we know he wants to avoid at all costs."

"It sounds like there's not that much to worry about, then," Mr. Wooster said, a relieved look blossoming on his face.

"In any case, it's likely to be over fairly quickly," Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington said. "He'll rage and threaten, but there's not much he can actually do beyond making life exceedingly annoying for you for a couple of months at the outside."

Mr. Wooster smiled. "I say, that's the best news I've had in ages. Except for the months of annoyance, of course. I could jolly well do without that."

That evening, back at the Jeeves residence, we watched three different television reports of the events of the day. There was a good deal of skepticism expressed in all three, and Lord Yaxley was interviewed by one reporter, spewing vitriol about Mr. Wooster. It was painful to watch him cast these aspersions on Mr. Wooster's character. This was followed by a clip of Mr. Wooster insisting he had no interest in the title or lands, and expressing his poignant wish for some remaining connection with his family, which sharply undercut Lord Yaxley's mean-spirited bluster. There was some comment in the more liberal-leaning report about MP Jeeves's solid reputation; this report was considerably more charitable about our situation. The image of the two of us seated side-by-side was a shock to me. I had not realized how very much alike we looked until that moment, nor how similar were our mannerisms. It would be difficult for any but the most willfully blind to deny our relation.

"I'm thoroughly knackered," Mr. Wooster announced, once the news reports were finished. "I feel like I've been slapped with a tarpon." We excused ourselves and bid my cousin and his family goodnight. "I never want to do that again," Mr. Wooster groaned, dropping onto the bed and sprawling on his back. "These past two days have been complete and utter rot. I haven't had that kind of artillery loosed upon me since last time Aunt Agatha went on a spree. She shook the very foundations of Brinkley Court with her cries. Aunt Dahlia couldn't see her off soon enough."

I remembered the incident well. "It was rather nostalgic, wasn't it?" I smiled when he laughed, his entire demeanor brightening despite his weariness.

"Good Lord, you're right. I do suspect there may be some decent entertainment in this yet." He caught my wrist and pulled me down to join him on the bed.

***

During the ensuing week, Reggie and I visited the Glossops out at Brinkley Court overnight. The old pile was considerably changed since our time; it was a bit painful, really. Almost everything I'd remembered about the place was gone or made over into something unrecognizable, though the grounds had stayed much the same. It was getting on toward winter, nearly December in fact, so we couldn't really even get in a pleasant walk in the gardens. Belinda made herself a constant companion despite my best efforts. It was rather reminiscent of having a siamese twin, but without the lifelong acquaintance.

Upon inquiry, it seemed that her parents, Elizabeth and Hildebrand -- the third in the Tuppy series; I think I spotted a fourth lurking about the hallways as well, looking like half a rugby side -- were encouraging her in this misguided endeavor. They seemed particularly excited by the recent publicity and made quite a show of our being related, but there was not a scrap of actual fondness in them. I kept having to remind them of Reggie's presence, and they showed a thoroughly pig-headed resistance to acknowledging him; this pipped both of us.

When they tried to put us in separate rooms for the night, I knew it was a lost cause. Reggie didn't bother using the room they'd dumped his bag in. Belinda was scandalized by what she found when she picked the lock on my door late that night, the chump. Once I realized I wasn't actually going to die of embarrassment, Reggie said she deserved to get an eyeful and it would teach her not to pick a guest's locks. We hoofed it for Market Snodsbury at first light, not bothering to call a cab, and caught a train back to London. Thankfully, those were still running.

Once we were back in the metrop, we were pounced upon by reporters almost immediately. Most of them asked horribly rude questions, and there were cameras everywhere. Ravening packs of starved hyenas would have been better company, and probably less dangerous. Reggie managed to brush some of the more skittish ones off with a disdainful eyebrow and a bit of intimidating towering. Shouting "Oh, look, the Queen," and fleeing the scene dealt with the rest. I was grateful for all the sprinting practice that Boat Race night helmet-pinching had bestowed upon me, but I'll admit I was entirely winded by the time we outdistanced them.

Thursday I was too tired to move, but good old Amanda popped by with a computer for us; one of those little folding ones rather like Joan had and not the largeish boxes that you couldn't haul about. Reggie was pleased by this development and showed me how to use the word processor, which was rather like a typewriter, except that there wasn't any paper. With that information bunged into the Wooster onion, I got a start on the story of what had happened to us. It was a rather strange feeling, trying to write without using a pen. I'd occasionally been known to use a typewriter, but Reggie had generally trans-something-or-othered my tales into typescript for my publisher, and I'd just scribbled things down with my pen. I thought I might rather do it that way again, to be honest. It felt more natural. I thought more clearly that way, and didn't have to spend all my time looking for the letters. The little blighters weren't even in alphabetical order.

On Friday we heard from that poop Philbert's legal beaks. We got notice right at the end of the day, so there wasn't any way for Amanda's pack of trained attack weasels to respond until Monday, but it did mean we had the weekend to go over the whole mess pretty thoroughly. He claimed I was committing a criminal fraud, not because I wanted the title, which I didn't, but because I would be trying to profit from the Wooster name by peddling our story, viz. self allegedly not being a Wooster. Amanda said Philbert couldn't actually do anything with the case unless he submitted the DNA thingummy he'd been refusing, so we'd win anyway. She looked terribly like a piranha at that point, for some reason. I was starting to think she might be on our side for the sheer joy of firing a few broadsides across Philbert's bow.

Saturday and Sunday were reasonably quiet, though we got a missive from Joan on Sunday. She'd seen some of the news about us on the inter-whatsit where she got most of her information. She'd also had a few requests for interviews and said she was setting something up. Harry was apparently quite gleefully flinging himself at the media and enjoying every moment of it. I couldn't imagine actually liking all that blasted attention.

On Monday, when Amanda's legal lackeys responded to Philbert's accusations, things really started getting soupy.

***

When Lord Yaxley's lawsuit against Mr. Wooster was announced that Monday, filed against 'the alleged Bertram Wilberforce Wooster,' a frenzy was spawned, the likes of which I had never previously witnessed. It was, as my cousin described it, the perfect storm -- an old but peculiar mystery, a well-liked political figure, an alleged decorated 'war hero,' a distinctly unpopular nobleman, a charming young gentleman of no discernible history or identity, and a scarcely believable story that connected them all. When we were first interviewed and the initial stories were released the Monday before there had been a certain amount of disbelief but people were, for the most part, inclined to either dismiss it or regard it as a meaningless curiosity. When Lord Yaxley was seen as taking the situation seriously enough to believe that his title and his family name were threatened and to press criminal charges of fraud by false representation against Mr. Wooster, he had let slip the dogs of war.

It mattered not at all whether any individual journalist believed the story. They did not care if it were regarded as a joke or not. The potential for scandal was in the air and blood would be had. In the media it was being treated as a grand battle between MP Jeeves and Lord Yaxley, their various reputations at stake. When one added in the publicly acknowledged relationship between Mr. Wooster and myself, still considered quite scandalous by the more conservative elements of society, the reaction was much like pouring kerosene on a fire. Young Augustus Fink-Nottle's initial leaks to a few disreputable press outlets, and the allegation of alien abduction in said leaks, served only to bring out a lunatic fringe who made even the strangest of Miss Barr's friends look blissfully normal by comparison.

Needless to say, there was a clamoring for interviews with both of us, and with my cousin.

Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington and MP Jeeves's press secretary handled the requests and offered stock answers to particularly common questions. Due to the nature of the lawsuit, we were unable to grant interviews. This suited both Mr. Wooster and myself admirably, as neither of us had particularly enjoyed the process. Our seeming reluctance to speak only stoked the flames, and in the ten days before the case was due to go before the magistrates for determination whether it would be tried in the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court, the speculations as to Mr. Wooster's actual identity were as Donne's numberless infinities.

It had not taken long before the disturbances caused by the reporters at my cousin's home forced us to decamp to Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington's Hampstead residence so that he and his family could have some level of peace. "I would prefer not to do this, Reggie," he said, "but I believe you'll be bothered less at Amanda's than here. When the frenzy dies down a bit you are more than welcome to come back again until you and Bertie are employed and able to acquire your own home."

Discretion being the better part of valor, we took his advice and were transported to the Fink-Nottle home under the cover of darkness with what few belongings we possessed. We remained there for several days until the magistrates sent the case up to the Crown Court, due to the somewhat volatile nature of the identity dispute and the parties involved. At that point, we were informed it would be at least six weeks before the case was heard -- this being an extremely expeditious date -- during which time Lord Yaxley's legal experts would be looking for any scrap of evidence, no matter how vaporous, that Mr. Wooster was lying. Less than a day after this news broke, Mr. Wooster received a call from a small publisher inquiring if he had yet begun his manuscript recounting our adventures.

***

I was a bit gobsmacked to get an inquiry from a publisher without having written more than a few pages. Usually I'd had to chase mine down and flush him out with dogs and beaters and a few Indian elephants for good measure. It had been sporting, but it usually also meant having to grovel, and that did rather run against the Wooster pride. Still, we writers have our ego, and to see one's name in print is worth more than gold to the writerly soul. I wondered how seriously they'd gut the manuscript before it saw print.

It was the thought of having a little of the ready jingling in the pocket that caused me to agree and, a couple of days later, sign my work away before it was even hatched. The advance wasn't large, but it was enough that I might be able to actually find something suitable for Reggie for Christmas, which was approaching like a herd of panicked bison across the lone prairie.

Also weighing heavily upon Bertram's mind was the need to set something up in re. taking the oath in the old spongebag trousers with my man. I wasn't certain what was required when it came to two chaps slapping on the shackles; we'd been told they didn't call it marriage, but that there was a sort of non-churchy equivalent. Truthfully, not having to stand in front of some dusty parson who might not particularly approve of the thought was something of a relief. Still, I thought of it as marrying Reggie and that was all that mattered to me. I was still entirely overwhelmed by the thought we could actually do it, in public, and that we could share it with people. Not that I had family to share it with at the moment aside from assorted Jeeveses and Fink-Nottles, really, but I thought we might be able to find a way to get Joan across the pond for the grand event if enough sorrowful countenance was applied in the right places. Surely we could at least pass the hat and see if we could scrape up enough change for a ticket for her.

The halls of Fink-Nottledom were already being aggressively decked, and the month of December had hardly started. By the tenth we were afloat in a sea of tinsel and boughs of holly and other assorted knick-knackery of the season. I had plotted out the location of every sprig of mistletoe in the place and made it my solemn duty to corner Reggie beneath one at every possible opportunity.

Late one afternoon rather closer to the rapidly advancing jollity, I broached the topic of impending nuptials with him, and he got a bit of a delighted twinkle in his eyes at the idea. "When do you think we could get that whole mess started?" I asked him. "It always seemed rather a complicated ordeal when everyone else was doing it."

"There are certainly a great number of things to be done to prepare for the traditional ceremony," he intoned. We were perched on a roomy seat in the solarium round about dusk-ish under a snowy sky, curled rather snugly about one another and hiding behind some potted plants to avoid potential photographers. That was continuing to be a jolly mess, but if we stayed indoors we generally weren't bothered. This made seeking out a gift for one's beloved a bit difficult, but I had discovered that the computer thingummy had ways to do it if one was underhanded and resourceful, which this Wooster had in spades. "We should, however, wait until the court case is resolved."

"Tcha! That pill Philbert won't be able to prove I'm not me," I said.

He shook his head. "It is not proving your identity that concerns me," he murmured, nibbling my ear in a rather sala-something way. Salacious, that's the blighter. Dashed lovely it was, too. "It is merely that the planning of such a ceremony is complex and our attentions are currently absorbed in the courts."

"That's nearly forever," I objected, quite stricken by the idea. It wasn't like I hadn't waited some eighty-five years and change already, by Jove.

He shook his head fondly. "Our court date is set for January 18th," he said. "As it is, this date was much sooner than one might have expected. Ordinarily a date would have been set for late March at the very earliest."

"Really?" That was a nonplussing thought. "Well, then." I turned around to wrap the Wooster arms about him and rest my chin cozily on his shoulder, only to be confronted with one of those beastly snow-capped photographers peering in through a window and bearing a frightening resemblance to a yeti. "Oh, good Lord. There's another one. Like bally rabbits, always popping out of tunnels everywhere. I'm surprised we haven't stepped on one yet." I bolted to my feet and took Reggie by the hand, dragging him back into the part of the house possessed of actual walls.

He continued as though we hadn't been rudely interrupted by frosty snooping paparazzi. "I might suggest mid-April for the ceremony. The weather will be turning to spring, and there will be roses in bloom." He smiled, that little quirk of his lips turning up at one side. I could see the gleam of a tender pash in his blue e.s.

"Well, you did always say that there was no sounder move than to steer the adored object into a rose garden in the gloaming, what?" I grinned at him. A soppy romantic, every inch of him, deny it as he might. His quiet laugh wrapped itself about the old ticker, filling my chest with a disturbingly warm and fuzzy feeling. I was every inch bad as he was.

"I can begin making preparations for it, if you like," he said.

"I would, rather," I answered with a firm nod. "I'd also like to have Joan there if we could. You've got family to stand with you and all that but I don't really have anyone, you know? Maybe she could be my best whatsit or something."

"Best... whatsit," he said, one eyebrow wriggling slightly in bemusement.

"Well," I said, "it's not like we need a maid of honor or anything and, really, can you imagine her in a dress?" The very thought caused a dizzy spinning of the head and a tremulous quaking of the knees. Such horrors should not be perpetrated upon one's nearest and dearest. They shouldn't be perpetrated upon one's enemies, either, unless one were feeling particularly vindictive. "Really, Reggie, she'd look immensely better dressed as a chap, don't you think?"

"I suspect she would object most strenuously to wearing a dress regardless," he agreed. "It would be highly irregular, but I suspect nearly everyone would be happier if she were dressed in a morning suit."

"Well then," I said, a happy spark in the Wooster bosom, "that's settled. Let's get on with it."

***

Mr. Wooster and I spent our Christmas holiday with the bulk of the Jeeves family in Stratford-upon-Avon, where our most venerable branch had resided since the days of the Bard of Avon. There was a Jeeves on the District Council, according to my cousin Aubrey, and many relations were spread around Warwickshire. It was, as Mr. Wooster noted, "positively thick with Jeeveses." The home in which we were hosted was not a large one, but it was comfortable and well-appointed; it was one I had visited several times as a child. Snow had been falling every day since mid-December and everyone was remarking upon the weather. Travel was occasionally difficult, particularly away from the main thoroughfares.

Mr. Wooster's small advance for his book had provided us with much-needed funds, and he had given me half of it, saying that he saw no reason for either of us to be wanting if one of us had resources. This provided me with a way to procure a gift for him, though I had to take some pains to see that he did not notice my efforts.

It was in our small bedchamber, on a thick, warm rug on the floor before a cheerful fire, that we exchanged our gifts. We had chosen to do so after midnight, wishing to preserve some privacy; though the Jeeveses were my relations, we knew very few of them. Morning would be for the children in the family and this quiet we shared, deep in the night, was a precious commodity in a small and crowded home.

Mr. Wooster brought out his wrapped gift to me first. I could see it was a book from the size and shape of the item, but he had always known of my love of reading. "Treat it gently, old thing," he told me as he handed it to me.

"I would do nothing else," I replied softly. After a moment's delightful anticipation, I loosed the volume from its wrapping. Stunned, I raised it in both hands and examined it closely. "This is..." I looked up at him. It was the same 1899 edition of Spinoza's Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, translated by Hale-White, that I had owned in my youth and which I possessed when I had served him in the 1920s. The book was in fine condition in its original binding, the cream paper yellowed but only slightly brittle with its age. It was in better condition than my own well-read copy had been in 1924. "Bertie, this had to have cost a fortune," I whispered, overwhelmed. "Where did you find something like this?"

He smiled, his eyes alight. "You like it, then? It's all right?" He asked the questions with an anxious air, eager as any child to think he had pleased me. "I thought about getting a newer translation, but I remembered you had this one." I feared that my own gift would in no way measure up to this token of his love for me.

"It is a magnificent gift," I said, hardly daring to look him in the eyes. "How did you find one of the same edition?"

His smile widened into a broad grin. "It was that internet thingummy. I got Thalia to help me with the whole looking about wheeze, as I didn't have the first idea what to do. I told her what I remembered about it and she showed me how to find what I wanted. It only arrived just before we set out for Stratford. I was in an absolute horror thinking it wouldn't get here in time."

Seeing his joy at my astonishment convinced me that I could not refuse the gift, no matter how extravagant I thought it. I kissed him with a gentle thoroughness that expressed the depth of my appreciation. "Thank you, Bertie. I fear my own gift will not be nearly so pleasing to you as this is to me."

"Oh, pish-tosh," he said, still smiling. "You're absolutely brilliant, Reggie, and I know whatever it is will more than measure up to Bertram's standards." I doubted it would be the case but I set the book aside, away from the fire, and pulled a small velvet box from my pocket, handing it to him.

"What's this then?" he asked. It was a flat box, only a few inches square. He opened it carefully and blinked when he saw what lay within. "It's my watch; you've had it fixed," he said, taking it gently from its velvet cushion. "I didn't realize it was gone. That was quite a trick." It had been cleaned and repaired, its newly burnished gold gleaming, and I had bought him a thin gold watch fob for it, with a very small, tasteful, dangling pendant set with a brilliant blue oval sapphire the color of his eyes. It had been expensive for its size, but a good quality Kashmir stone has always been so. The sapphire sparkled in the firelight as he looked at it, gleaming in his hand. "It's a beautiful bit of a thing," he said with a grin. "I'm surprised you'd let me wear anything that bright." I could hear the watch ticking softly beneath the crackle of the fire as he opened the cover. He gasped as he looked at it, turning astonished eyes to me. "Reggie, how did you do this?" He turned the watch's face to me, showing me the portrait photo of himself as a child, with his parents. It had been damaged when he had fallen into the river, but I had discovered that it was now possible to repair a good deal of that sort of damage and had taken the photo in to be restored to nearly its original condition when I had his watch repaired.

"I'm sorry it could not be more," I said, regretting that my gift had not been grander.

"No," he said, barely audible. "No, it's... it's perfect." He turned his face away from me for a moment and raised one hand; I realized he was wiping away tears. "It's the only thing I have left of my family, but you knew that. Good Lord, Reggie, it's perfect." He snapped the cover closed and, with the watch clutched in one fist, he turned and embraced me with a trembling intensity. "You always astonish me," he said quietly, his voice shaking. "I really don't deserve you at all." I held him until his breathing evened out again and he drew back to kiss me, soft lips on lips, moist and warm. I closed my eyes at the gentle onslaught, savoring the sensation as he traced my lips with the tip of his tongue, not asking entrance but simply caressing for an endless moment. "I love you more than anything," he whispered, not removing his lips from my own.

I was relieved by his reaction and deeply pleased that I had managed to make him happy with this small gesture. "I would greatly enjoy making love with you tonight," I said, caressing his cheek as he kissed me in answer to my statement. His tongue parted my lips and sought out mine, pressing into me sensually as I opened my mouth to him and returned the soft caress. I'm uncertain what he did with his watch but after a moment his hands were spread on my back, sliding over the cloth of my shirt, kneading at the muscle beneath.

His touch had always stirred me; it had been dangerous when I was his valet, but now I could revel in the power it had over me. This slow seduction of my skin drew me into a place inhabited only by my lover and myself, the outside world fading to meaninglessness beyond the warmth and sound of the fire, the soft thickness of the antique hand-knotted Persian rug beneath us, the taste of rich, red wine on his lips. We loosed buttons and slipped cloth from our bodies as one might open a precious gift, with slow and delighted anticipation of the pleasures within. The heat of his body, the warm scent of his arousal, the taste of the skin at his throat brought me an intense gratification as we moved softly in one another's embrace.

That night we took our pleasure face to face, with my beloved begging for the length of my hard prick within him. I lay on my back, sybaritic in my hunger for him as he rode me. I offered myself without reservation, always his in every way, and his soft, panting breath in the close near-silence of the room filled my ears. We did not speak, the eloquence of our touch sufficient to the purpose of our desire. The hour was late and the quiet far too sacred to break with words. The fire's snap and the hiss of breath as we moved together blended and compounded into an expression of our love and the fulfillment of our bodies.

My hands moved on his chest, his flesh slick with sweat and heated with his passion. In the firelight he was utterly beautiful to me, his skin flickering, ruddy and shadowed by turns as the fire leapt and spun beside us. The friction of his tight heat about my prick was euphoric and my heart sped; he drew soft moans from my lips with every motion, his thighs flexing under my palms. He traced the curve of my ribs with his fingers, teasing a nipple, then pinching to drive a spike of ecstasy down my spine. His rhythm quickened and left me balancing on the edge of my release, hanging suspended in pure bliss as my back arched and I shuddered beneath him. That perfect lightness of being could not last more than moments and, with a bitten back groan, I lost myself in a dizzying rush of sensation. I shivered, my hands tightening with bruising force on his hips, and he gasped harshly. He rode me through the crest of it, then took himself in hand and stroked himself as he moved, fast and rough, until he, too, was spent.

Panting for breath, he lowered himself to my chest, and we held each other, caressing with gentle, lazy touches until the heavy wave of our ecstasy had passed. Rising to one elbow, he reached for his wine glass and offered it to me. I drank and he did as well; he rose after a time and donned his dressing gown, leaving quietly to procure a warm, wet cloth so that we could deal with the aftermath of our lovemaking.

Our sleep that night was deep and undisturbed.

***

It's a bit unnerving to be in a house full of Jeeveses; all that shimmering about, and you never know when one will suddenly materialize at your elbow asking if you'd like something. Now that domestic service wasn't a Jeeves family specialty, what with domestic servants having gone out of style some time ago in much the same manner as pterodactyls, rather a lot of them had gone into things like catering or politics or organizing weddings and such for other people. 'Public service,' as Aubrey would have it. I wouldn't have thought anyone could make a living arranging weddings and whatnot, but then I really hadn't much idea of what people did to make a living anyway, never having had to contemplate that sort of sitch myself until recently.

My own chosen path to filling the empty pockets, namely making music, had taken a bit of a dive into a deep pit with nothing at the bottom save gravel since I'd left Seattle. I didn't actually know any other musicians to work with, though Joan had sent my keyboard over to me right after we got back to England, with Amanda providing the coin for the shipping. I'd brought it along with me to the ancestral Jeeves abode and did manage to regale sundry Jeeveses with a few tunes. I was particularly fond of 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park', but Reggie was in the way of putting on the old taxidermied amphibian mask when I played it. I could tell he wasn't fond of that Tom Lehrer chappie's music, it being frivolous and all. I told him he should be grateful because at least I wasn't singing 'The Masochism Tango' in front of the kiddies. He was singularly pipped and performed his glacier impersonation for an hour or so.

Reggie told me he'd been here several times as a wee nipper, when his great grandparents lived here. Being quite aged at the time, they'd been born in the late 18th century, much as he and I had been born in the late 19th. Apparently they made Jeeveses like Methuselah, long-lived and possibly crotchety. His great-grandmum had been a hundred ten when she shuffled off the mortal c. It was a dashed odd thing to contemplate -- there were Jeeves kids flinging themselves about the place who had been born in the 21st century and so, as Reggie observed, we had a 'continuance of memory' that covered four centuries and eight or so generations of family stories. I will admit it boggled the mind more than a little. It turned out that a few of the assembled pursued genealogy as a pash, so Reggie was finding himself cornered fairly regularly while they asked him about the antique ancestors he'd known and for stories about their lives. They were rather interested in details of what life had been like for him back in our early bit of the 20th century as well. Once he'd got comfortable with them, he said he actually rather enjoyed the whole thing.

I could tell, though, that Reggie had that same displaced thingness about this place that I had about Brinkley Court; the building was the same, and a few of the bits, but it had become something entirely unfamiliar. It was a good holiday, as inundation by relatives goes, but I think we were both relieved when we finally got back to the metrop. I tossed myself into writing our tale while Reggie minded the various details required by the lawsuit, working with Amanda to make sure we both understood everything that was happening.

Snow just kept falling and falling. It was like something out of those adventure stories about arctic expeditions, sans penguins and Eskimos and walruses, though I did spot a nun at one point in our biffing about who could have been mistaken for a penguin if one was nearsighted or seriously under the surface. Everyone was making quite a fuss about the weather, though I rather appreciated the fact that reporters and photographers stood out better against a white background, making them easier to avoid. Our New Years Eve had been spent in Fink-Nottledom, where Amanda had hosted a corker of a party but, by Tuesday and with a little help from Reggie's pick-me-up restorative, all wooliness of head had been banished from the premises with alacri-something.

There was so bally much snow in the days leading up to the court date that we were a bit concerned things might be postponed. People were calling the whole thing 'snowpocalypse' and Reggie expressed an extreme disdain for the use of "such an appalling portmanteau" when really it ought simply be called a blizzard. "Perfectly acceptable English words exist for such conditions," he insisted. "I see no reason to mangle the language in such an egregious fashion."

"I don't know," I said, "I rather like it. It has a thingness about it, a certain flavor of end times and catastrophe."

"Despite the Nordic myth of fimbulvetr, an excess of snowfall does not indicate an impending collapse of civilization," he replied, looking a bit stuffy about the edges, like unto a disgruntled jaguar or panther, "nor the coming of Judgment Day."

"Well, you have to admit, no one has ever seen the like."

He raised one dark eyebrow a molecule or two. "On the contrary, Bertie, there were twenty-four instances of the Thames freezing over in winter, sometimes for months, between 1400 and 1814. The frost fairs of the--"

"Now, just one moment." I glowered like that Captain Ahab fellow at his whale. "You must admit, that's rather cheating, being all historical like that. Nobody around right now has ever seen the like, at any rate."

"I will grant that," he conceded, in a tone that implied 'you can go boil your head, Bertram.' "I was merely highlighting the inaccuracy of the initial, overly-broad statement."

As my stint in the dock grew closer, we met more often with solicitors and barristers and advocates and other assorted legal beaks. It was a bally good thing nobody was questioning Reggie's identity; anyone could see he was a Jeeves, and all the extant Jeeveses had been present and a. f. without exception before our appearance. That Aubrey had publicly stated he believed Reggie helped, as one might imagine. That said, there was rampant speculation about what he might be trying to gain in an election year by pulling this sort of nonsense. Being portrayed in the press as a potential loony didn't help his chances at keeping his seat, after all.

I was quite thoroughly confused by the whole thing, myself, and not very happy with the process. At one point somebody in Amanda's encampment had leaked bits of our story; it couldn't have been that little chump Gussie because he wasn't privy to any of it, but the media was busy making hay with rumors that we'd at one point had false identification when we were in America. Some people were saying that it proved we were lying. Of course, there wasn't any way to confirm any of it because the forged passports and green whatsit had been burnt to ash before we'd come to England, and it had only been hinted at once, accidentally and in passing, when we'd been asked about what we'd been doing in Seattle. Amanda had seven kinds of apoplectic fits over it and several people ended up being handed the mitten. Someone ventured an opinion that Philbert had bribed one or more of them, the rotter. I certainly wouldn't have put it past him, but Aubrey said if it were true, it was a measure of how desperate he was and that he couldn't be turning up any actual evidence against me.

Regardless, I was nervous as a cat in an adage and it wasn't helping my temper at all. Bertram was feeling pipped in the most general sense, having a long history of misunderstandings that had led to his appearance before various and sundry easily offended magistrates. I feared tripping on something and coming a cropper despite my absolute innocence, as had happened repeatedly in the past. The slings and arrows of o. f. were aimed quite firmly in my direction and I was feeling like I had a large red target situated on my back. When one is, as I am, used to bearing the ignomi-something of this sort of false witness, one becomes resigned to coming out badly.

"I am resigned to this coming out badly," I told Reggie over a b. and s. one evening. I was curled up in the Fink-Nottle drawing room in a bit of a miserable huddle on a chesterfield after a day of some particularly bad press. "I'll end up doing a year in chokey and won't even have a name of my own anymore. This Wooster is in the deepest of dumps, Reggie, and I've no idea what to do about it."

"Our court date is the day after tomorrow," he said in that calm, soothing way he has. "It will be over very soon and then we can rebuild our lives. I have been very much looking forward to doing so." There was a bit of a twinkle in the Jeevesian eye at that. It was, at least, something we could both agree upon, the looking forward whatsit. "Given that you are Bertram Wooster, it will be impossible for him to prove you are not. We've had this discussion before."

"You know how my luck with these things runs."

He smiled. "I also know that, in the end, you have always walked away from these situations a free man."

"Well, I did have your fish-fed brain on the case." He wafted over and sat with me.

"In this particular case, you have a large number of experienced professionals working on your behalf. The court will order the DNA test that Lord Yaxley has been resisting and that will prove that you are a Wooster. Given that there are no un-accounted-for Woosters, you will, ipso facto, be shown to be yourself. It is inevitable."

With that, he distracted me entirely by way of snogging me into idiocy. It was a lovely bit of a diversion in the drawing room, though eventually we went to raid the kitchen for a late evening snack. "I have come up with a way to prove irrefutably that you are in fact yourself, Bertie," Reggie announced, after another few snorts of the juice and a suitable interval to properly appreciate my intoxicated state.

I goggled a bit because, aside from the photos and whatnot, which Philbert could claim were faked, there wasn't really anything out there and we were relying on him not being able to disprove I was myself. "Really?" I asked. "I'm not sure even your towering genius could arrange that."

"Fingerprints," he said.

I dismissed this with a wave of the hand for the utter foolishness it was. "Tcha! The only fingerprints anyone has of me are the ones they took for the passport and whatnot. Rather self-refer-something-ish, what?"

He tilted his head a touch, in a contradicting manner. "That is not precisely the case," he said. "I believe you were, in fact, fingerprinted twice previously. Once in the aftermath of your policeman's helmet theft the day before I entered your service, and again when you were apprehended at the Mottled Oyster when you allowed Miss Florence Craye to make her escape. As I recall, you gave your name on both instances as one Ephraim Gadsby."

I blinked. "But... would they even still have fingerprints from then?"

"I have done some research that suggests such fingerprint files are archived rather than destroyed, as an historical resource."

"But that would only prove that I'm Ephraim Gadsby, Reggie. I think you're losing your grip here. Definitely off your stride, old fruit."

His lips quirked upward a touch. "Yet the fingerprints will match, thus proving that you were extant in 1921 and 1922, Bertie. I can even provide the precise date for 1921, as I remember it quite clearly, it being the morning of Sunday, March 28th when I first stepped over your threshold. It was, if I may say so, a fairly significant moment in my life. At that point, my statement that you are, in fact, Bertram Wooster, will have much more veracity. You are quite obviously not over one hundred years old."

"Now, wait just a moment Reggie. That would also prove I have a criminal record! We can't have that!" I was rather taken aback by the thought. I'd been using an alias in order to avoid such problems. "I was using an alias to avoid such problems -- you know that."

"I do believe any statute of limitations on petty theft and interfering in a police investigation would have run its course by now, and you did pay your fines in both cases, rendering the argument moot," he said, dry as the bally Sahara. "In any case, your identity will be established by Scotland Yard's extensive records, for no two sets of fingerprints have ever been shown to be identical."

I will admit that this Wooster was gobsmacked by the brilliance of the scheme. It was, in fact, entirely foolproof, which meant that I had rather less of a chance of cocking it up than usual. That, topped with the whole DNA thingummy, couldn't fail to convince. "By Jove, Reggie, I do think this could work! Dash upstairs and get Amanda to call in the troops!"

"Mrs. Fink-Nottle-Parsington has been abed for several hours, Bertie, and her legal team will be unavailable until tomorrow morning regardless. Action will be taken as soon as is practicable, and the evidence can be presented later in the proceedings. Given that we can be certain Lord Yaxley will be ordered to submit to a DNA test, it will be several days before that evidence becomes available and we will have time to introduce the fingerprints as further proof of both your innocence and your identity."

I tossed myself upon him with a manly whoop of joy. "You are bally well brilliant, Reggie!"

"I endeavor to give satisfaction," he said, a wonderfully broad grin on his face.

***

The first day of the trial was marked by an extraordinary amount of publicity. The sitting judge called the entire case 'ludicrous' before the opening statements, but it could not be simply dismissed out of hand, despite the strangeness of the origin of the claim of Mr. Wooster's identity. Fraud was fraud, after all, regardless of the seeming lunacy of its origins. It was inevitable that the case should be a circus, given the absurdity of the idea that two men had been taken into the sky in 1924 and had fallen to earth in 2009, halfway round the world.

Over the course of the morning, the prosecution presented arguments against the possibility that such a thing could happen and spent a great deal more time pointing out what Mr. Wooster stood to gain if he pursued his claim to be himself. The defense did not attempt to refute any arguments of physics, nor did they deal directly with attacks on Mr. Wooster's character. Our requests were simple; that the prosecution should produce a sample of Lord Yaxley's DNA, and that fingerprints should be produced for two cases against one Ephraim Gadsby, also known as Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, from the years 1921 and 1922. The former request had been expected. The latter left everyone in the room in stunned silence before confused murmuring broke out. The judge asked why such fingerprints should be produced, and the defense stated that they would show that Mr. Wooster was, in fact, an adult in 1921 and as such we would be able to demonstrate his identity by matching said fingerprints with those taken for his passport in San Francisco during November of 2009.

After a shocked outburst from the prosecution, both of these requests were granted, and the evidence was ordered to be produced. The court would resume on Thursday, offering sufficient time for these items to be procured. When court was adjourned for the day, we were swarmed by reporters. I was quite taken aback by their aggressiveness and by the sheer number of them. My cousin answered a few questions but, for the most part, Mr. Wooster and I were reduced to statements of 'no comment,' and whisked out of the public eye with alacrity.

We remained at MP Jeeves's home while the trial was in progress, it being somewhat closer to the courthouse and its security being better provided for. While there was privacy at the Fink-Nottle estate, the approaches to the Jeeves flat were much more easily monitored. The newspapers and television were ablaze with speculation and rumor; it was difficult to avoid mention of our case. It was realized that, if our case were proven, this would be a unique event in history. We received a phone call from Miss Barr in what would have been the early hours of the morning in Seattle, informing us that "the excrement has impacted the rotary oscillation device," by which she meant that the media had begun harassing her in earnest. She was displeased with the circumstances, but understood that it had been inevitable once the trial began. "I think I'm going to get out of Dodge for a few days," she said. "You can call me when it's safe to stick my head back up."

"Once the trial is concluded, the publicity will only intensify," I told her. "Having proven our story true, there will doubtless be a great deal of interest."

"Yeah, I know," she said, and I could hear her sigh five thousand miles away. "But at least I won't have to deal with it for a few days while things are still up in the air. I think I'll hit the road and stake myself out a cabin at the coast somewhere. If it wasn't the middle of the winter, I'd just go backpacking and pitch a tent. With any luck, I can duck out after it gets dark and not be followed. If I go out for a walk and have Coral meet me a few blocks away with her engine running, they won't be able to track me quite so easily. We'll be a mile away before they can get back to their wheels."

"What has been happening?" I asked.

"There are people hanging around outside my place all the time, quite a few of them. I've got all the blinds drawn but it's just creepy. People come up and try to ask me questions and take my picture every time I leave. Trying to get a restraining order would be useless. You poor guys must be going nuts."

"It has been absolute madness here," I admitted.

"Yeah, I'm sure. You guys are ground zero for all the weirdness. Harry's eating it up with a spoon, though. I haven't ever seen him so happy. And Ingmar and Umbra have had a few inquiries too, given that Bertie played with them before you left. They're hoping a little infamy might do the band some good. They say hi, by the way, and said they'd love to have Bertie come back and do some recording with them if he can manage it at some point."

"Please return our felicitations; I shall be sure to let him know." I was rather concerned about her, under these circumstances. "Will you be all right, Joan?" I knew she was not happy with the publicity and that when she was under stress her health tended to suffer.

"This is slightly better than the fruitloop patrol when the publicity first started. At least these guys aren't asking about UFOs. I'll do okay, Reggie, and I'm looking forward to being there when you guys get hitched. I miss you."

I smiled, knowing it would only be a few months. "I am also very much looking forward to seeing you again, Joan. You have been missed as well. Bertie speaks of you often."

At that point, Mr. Wooster asked to speak with her for a few minutes and I handed the phone over to him. They did not talk for very long, as Miss Barr was not terribly fond of telephone conversations. She had expressed her preference for email or face to face conversations on several occasions and we usually honored this, so I was quite surprised that she had actually phoned us and took it as a mark of how seriously the situation disturbed her.

"I really do wish Joan were here," Mr. Wooster said plaintively when he handed me the phone after their conversation was complete. "It isn't that the people we've met here aren't kind, Reggie, or that they're not treating me well, but our blue haired beazel was a rather comforting presence at times. I was always rather under the impression that if anyone tried to hurt either of us, she'd go after them with her cane, you know?" He smiled, his lips softly curved, though his eyes revealed a modicum of sorrow. "She really does have just a touch of Aunt Dahlia about her."

Placing the phone back in my pocket, I took him in my arms. "I know," I said quietly. He still wore the Saint Christopher medal she had given us. "I miss her presence as well. She will be here in early April, and we can spend time with her before our wedding." When she agreed to come, she had asked for an open-ended return ticket so that she could spend some time visiting with her brother, whom she had not seen in nearly twenty years because he had been living on the continent and neither of them had been able to afford to travel. "We will also see her again in May when she returns to London to fly home."

"I know, it just seems such a long time. I want to marry you now, tomorrow, tonight even." He kissed me roughly. "I wanted to marry you then, dash it, but people were so blasted awful about the whole thing. I was too terrified about the whole idea to even breathe. I'm glad Claude and Rainsby legged it for Brazil, even if they had to leave England because of that horrid pox, Philbert. At least in Brazil no one would bother them." He paused, swallowed. "I hope they were happy." He had often complained about his cousins, but the kindness in his heart had never been lacking.

My fingers tangled in his hair as I held him to me, his slightly stubbled cheek pressed to mine. "Whatever happened to them, they were together, as we are now." I could not help feeling some sorrow for these men I had known, now long gone, but my heart was here, in this place and time where I could have the man I had loved and cherished for so long. "If their feelings were anything like ours, I am certain they did not regret even having to leave England." I returned his kiss, much more gently. "Had you wished it, Bertie, I would have followed you anywhere, if we could have been together then as we are now."

"I wish I had known," he whispered. "Any road, we're here now and we can do as we please without having to be afraid of anyone. That's worth everything, Reggie, everything." I could not have agreed more.

***

I spent considerably less time in the dock than I'd expected, really. It was almost anti-cli-something; where the end is a bit boring compared to the adventure of getting there. Anticlimactic, Reggie says. I did get asked a lot of nosy questions, but once the DNA thingummy and the fingerprints were produced for the judge, there really wasn't a single thing old Philbert could do but expel clouds of smoke from his ears like a steam engine. Of course, that was when the insanity began in absolute earnest. I'd thought things were frantic and unbearable before, but now that we'd proved the impossible the entire bally planet wanted to know about us.

The news conference we held the day after the verdict was handed down was packed to the rafters. Frankly, it was terrifying. I'd never had to face so many people at once in my entire life, but they'd never leave us alone if we didn't answer at least some of their questions. Aubrey, of course, came out of it all smelling like an entire garden of roses doused with rose attar, a few splashes of rosewater, and a sprinkle of loose petals for good measure. Being vindicated when making an insane claim like ours can have that effect, and standing by his family in the face of impossible odds made a fantastic story as well.

It wasn't just the usual media who wanted to talk to us. There were magazines and such that catered to the gay community -- people like myself and Reggie -- who wanted to know what it had been like for us, having to hide what we were and our affections for one another, what it had been like to suddenly find ourselves in a time when what we were and how we felt was legal, and how we'd adjusted to the whole thing. I was rather more sympathetic to those requests for interviews because that was a question that meant something to both of us in a way that random curiosity about that wheeze in Hyde Park or what we were planning to do next didn't. We ended up being on the covers of magazines and on the telly and in newspapers and it was almost impossible to find any privacy anywhere. The situation had, however, solved all of our problems about how to support ourselves. There were quite a few places asking me to write for them now, and neither Reggie nor I would have to actually work unless we wanted to, beyond the writing thing I had always enjoyed regardless.

The publisher for the book I was writing was over the moon now that our story had been proved, and we both stood to make millions from that and from a film contract for the story. My other two books went back into print as well, and I ended up with the entirely unexpected bonus of having some years of back royalties paid to me for them. It wasn't long before I was asked to write other novels, too, as people apparently quite liked my books and wanted more of them. The old editions became collector's items overnight, it seemed. I couldn't quite understand why; they're rather silly, though people do always like a good laugh.

What all of this meant was that the couple of months leading up to our wedding were busier than giraffes learning to tap dance, tripping over wildebeests and the occasional oryx. We couldn't go anywhere without people recognizing us and somebody would inevitably bother us on the street or in a restaurant or a shop. After about a month, we'd stopped giving interviews, for the most part, hoping that it would help make the problem go away. It didn't mean we weren't followed about sometimes, or that the requests stopped, but it did give us a little more time for ourselves and the people who had helped us and cared about us. And there were the everyday things to take care of, too, like the fact that both of us had to learn to drive again before we could get licenses because the laws had changed and so had the cars, and figuring out where we wanted to live.

By the time we were off to pick up Joan at the airport, we were used to the whole mess, though neither of us particularly liked it. What Reggie and I really wanted was just a quiet life, lived in privacy, with friends and family who weren't looking to touch us for something. I didn't think it was too much to ask.

Chapter Text

Just Because (Gaia Consort)

Joan came down the wide airport corridor at her usual full canter, despite that she was limping rather heavily on her cane. I never did understand how she managed to move so fast at a limp. All she'd ever said was, "You get used to it." The tails of her frock coat billowed out behind her like sails, and she had a carry-on bag over her shoulder and a little computer bag as well. The same old battered fisherman's cap was perched on her onion. Her familiar lizard-green boots were all scuffed and metallic on her feet, causing Reggie a moment's blanching, and her hair was as blue-streaked as ever, a broad grin plastered across the Joanish dial. When she got up closer, though, she looked rougher than I'd ever seen her.

"Joan, old girl, shall we get the rest of your bags?"

She pounced and wrapped her arms around me, tootling out a friendly "Bertie, how are you?"

"Better than you, I think," I said, clapping her in a familial embrace. "What about your luggage?"

She leaned back and accosted Reggie in similar fashion. "This is it," she said, after greeting him.

"What, one bag? Surely you're joking." Even Reggie looked rather flummoxed at that.

"A couple pairs of jeans, some shirts, the usual. What else do I need? There were laundry facilities in London, last I heard." Joan heaved a relieved sigh when Reggie took her bag, and rolled her shoulders to loosen them up a bit. I could hear her joints crackle and crunch. It sounded awful and I could only imagine it hurt like the dickens. "I've always traveled light. Less chance of the airline losing my stuff that way, and I can't carry much anyway. It's not like I had to bring a tux, since you guys are springing for that."

"Are you well, Joan?" Reggie asked, giving her the once over up and down.

She shrugged. "I hurt like a son of a bitch, my dear. Travel has always just taken it out of me. There's nothing I can do with something like this but keep moving until I get where I'm going, then pass out for about two days. I didn't really sleep last night on the plane, but food would be fantastic if you could swing it. I'll be okay after I get food and some sleep." We'd kept her visit rather close to the vest, so there weren't any reporters lurking about to accost us, trying to talk to her. She'd stayed as much out of it as she could, though it had been nearly impossible.

We ankled out to the car and bunged her into the back, and her bag into the boot, then went off in search of comestibles to get outside of. It didn't seem like she'd be up to waiting until Reggie could magic something up at the flat, so a restaurant was our goal. Joan had never been to England before, and spent rather a lot of the drive whipping the eyes about to get a gander at the surroundings. Reggie told her what things were and where we were as we rumbled along the motorways. Since it was late morning and she wasn't exactly dressed for it, we couldn't really take her to a posh-ish place, but I don't think she really cared, given her usual grazing habits, those being inexpensive and spicy.

Once we were tucked into a corner in a little Indian place not far from our flat, she relaxed a bit. "I don't know what I'm going to do when I have to meet all your friends and family," she confessed. "I have no idea how to act around people with that kind of money. I'm really afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing something stupid. The last thing I want is to end up being a stereotypical ugly American."

"I can advise you on what you will need to know, if you like," Reggie told her. I would have told her she should just be herself because I rather like her as-is and I think the others would as well, but I knew she didn't know a fish fork from a flounder, and even if nobody else would mind very much, she'd probably feel awkward. I didn't want her to feel that way when there was no need for it to happen.

She gave him a grateful look. "I'm sure that would help. I really appreciate it, Reggie." She leaned back in her chair while we waited for the spicy repast. "How's the book coming, Bertie?"

"It's nearly done," I said, "but all the plans for the wedding are rather trouncing my attempts to finish it. There's entirely too much to do." I smiled a bit. "After all the times my aunts kept trying to bung some beazel at me, I never thought I'd actually be looking forward to the matrimonial shackles."

She chuckled. "They were throwing the wrong people at you is all." Her eyes flickered over to Reggie. "I'm glad that you can be together like you wanted, and that I can be here for you when you finally take your vows."

"We would not have it otherwise," Reggie said, as the curry arrived. We tucked into it but I could see Joan was wilting like a violet in a bonfire as the meal went on. I'd hoped to be able to show her around a bit when she got in, but I could see she was right and that we'd need to give her a couple of days to get back on her feet again before we actually did anything together.

***

Miss Barr did in fact sleep for nearly two days, with only brief periods of wakefulness to eat and tend to other necessities. I was concerned, of course, but had seen her in similar straits in her own home. She seemed to regard it as nothing out of the ordinary and told me that I should not worry. During that time, life for Bertie and myself continued as it had for the past few months.

Bertie wrote for several hours each day -- a task he clearly enjoyed. I attended to his needs as I always had, pleased with my life in a way I never had been before. Things had changed so much for us, in so many ways that I could never have anticipated. Having a home of our own again and sharing it as lovers was a thing that had been beyond my most extravagant dreams only seven months ago and I was determined to do everything within my power to make certain that we could preserve this life we had begun together. This is not to say we never disagreed; as had so often happened in the past, Bertie's sartorial choices were often less than optimal. In some of these cases, I knew, he was simply teasing me. In others, I really did question whether or not the man was color-blind. There were moments when I was certain he was possessed of the fashion sense of a demented squirrel. We disagreed from time to time on other issues as well, but we always had and, just as in the past, we found ways to resolve our differences while preserving our relationship. We were well-suited to one another temperamentally, and to expect any relationship to be perfect in all its details was delusional. I was, quite genuinely, very happy and very much in love.

I found the publicity surrounding us distasteful, but there was little we could do to curtail this beyond attempting to ignore most of it. On two occasions we had been forced to take legal action against individuals who attempted to invade our privacy and who would not be warned off by other means. It had left me uncomfortable, but one does what one must. I was aware that as our nuptials drew closer, there would once again be a stirring of interest in our story; we had become something of a symbol to many people, regardless of our own preferences in the matter. There would be no media presence at our ceremony. I would not stand for such an intrusion, despite all the requests. It was a matter for myself and Bertie and those we regarded as friends and family, not for the idle curiosity of outsiders.

Plans for our ceremony had in large part been turned over to Melissa Jeeves, who made a specialty of these arrangements. I had found the process entirely too fraught, given that it was my own marriage in question rather than the arrangements for someone else's. The bizarre and baffling word 'bridezilla' was one I heard uttered only once in reference to myself during that process, and I did not wish to ever hear it uttered again; distancing myself somewhat from the arrangements had provided everyone a certain amount of relief and a balm for the rush of humiliation I felt at finding out what the word meant. I knew I had a tendency toward perfectionism and that, for the preservation of everyone's sanity, I would simply have to trust that Melissa was competent at her work.

Once Miss Barr was back on her feet, we made arrangements for her formal wear. I was not entirely sanguine about the idea of her in male array until I actually saw the final result. She looked quite stunning when properly attired, which I had not expected. She was not an unattractive woman, per se, but there was a masculinity about her features and manner that would have been entirely out of place in a dress. Although I believe she would have complied had we asked it, I know she would have been terribly unhappy in such clothing. She was entirely delighted by the choices we made for her morning suit, however, and agreed that it brought out her best attributes. "Everybody back home is going to say 'pictures, or it didn't happen,'" she remarked. I assured her there would be photographs.

When it was noted that she would be expected to dance with us at the reception as Bertie's 'best whatsit,' a look of utter horror passed over her face. "I can't dance to save my life, Reggie," she said. "You've seen me. I used to pogo in a mosh pit with the best of 'em, but I can't do any of that formal ballroom stuff. I'll mangle your feet." I had no idea what she meant by 'pogo' or 'mosh pit,' but I was rather used to this state of affairs when it came to her references to recent popular culture.

"I can teach you, old thing," Bertie replied with a bright smile. "This Wooster has been known to cut a rug quite smartly in his time."

She gave him a querulous look. "It's your toes, honey. If you want to take the chance, I can give it a try, but I'm not making any promises."

And so it was that in the evenings after we had spent time exploring London together or introducing her to our friends and family, I would advise her on the finer points of upper class etiquette and table settings, and Bertie taught her how to dance. By the time of the ceremony, her dancing was awkward but passable, and I was more concerned with scuffing our shoes than actually tripping over her feet. Miss Barr's mind was considerably more adept than her legs, and she was much more confident regarding what to do in social situations than she had been when she arrived. All of us were satisfied that she would not embarrass herself despite having only been introduced to some of these concepts very recently.

***

"Thor's hairy goats, Bertie, calm down. Of course I have the ring. You've only asked fifteen times already." Joan showed it to me again, pulling it from her trouser pocket. Aubrey had the other one, or at least I assumed he did, because I didn't know if he'd misplaced it. He was Reggie's best whatsit. Best man. He at least had all the right parts for the job. I wondered if they were having the same conversation. I rather doubted Aubrey would be talking about hairy goats, though. That seemed to be a Joan thing.

"I say," I I-sayed. "I'm not the only one out of sorts. Reggie's been entirely unbearable for the last three days."

She turned a glowering bespectacled eye upon the Wooster corpus. "So you both need a valium," she grumbled. "Everything's going to be fine. Everyone's here, all the fiddly bits have been fiddled to within an inch of their lives, and you both look fabulous, Bertie, so just try taking a few deep breaths and chill." She wrapped me in a hug that did actually help a bit, while also avoiding crushing the butonnière. It would have been rather late to get a new one by that point.

We had sixty-ish people in attendance for the shackling together of Reginald Jeeves and Bertram Wooster, mostly Jeeveses and Fink-Nottles, with a generous splash of people who had become our friends in the past couple of months. Joan's brother Ian had driven over from Ram-something -- an American military base in Germany -- and was going to leg it for the continent with her tomorrow for a two-week grand tour; I couldn't understand how he'd managed the feat until it was explained that they'd finally dug a tunnel under the English Channel. They called it the chunnel, which led to Reggie shuddering over yet another distasteful portmanteau. Ian was a sterling chap, as one might expect from his being Joan's brother. Even Grant Wooster was lurking about; he had turned out to be a far better egg than his pater Philbert, which had rather surprised me, even though Aubrey had said it before the whole trial thingummy. He apologized to me and Reggie for Philbert's being an absolute blister and said the old pater had been like that all his life. It turned out Grant had actually met Claude once, though Claude had legged it for Brazil before he was even born.

"Uncle Claude and Rainsby came back for Grandfather Eustace's funeral in 1979," he'd said. "Grandfather Eustace had never wanted them to leave, but the law was a problem; he missed both of them terribly. Father was livid, but the whole thing had been legal for some time by then and there was nothing he could do about it, and it's what Grandfather would have wanted. The old boys were really quite charming." There had been a shake of the head and a soft sigh. "My great-uncle died in São Paulo in 1982, and Rainsby only a few months later. I think the poor old chap's heart was entirely broken and he couldn't get along alone after nearly sixty years together." I'd not taken the news terribly well, but at least I'd found out that they really had managed to have a decent life together, and rather a longish one at that. I'd found myself wondering what would happen when Reggie and I got old. It would be a long time from now, though, and I was quite determined to make the most of whatever time we might have together. I thought we'd got off to a quite spiffing start, once we'd actually been able to stop hiding.

The Wooster ticker was clipping along at the speed of an exceptionally speedy cheetah when the music started. Joan had to grab me by the elbow and bung me out the door into the main hall, because the pins were wobbling and I was fairly certain my feet were glued to the floor. Dizziness enveloped the old onion like a hive of agitated bees with a grudge. Reggie and Aubrey were wafting out the door opposite when I looked up, and Reggie looked about as nervous as I felt. Not that anyone else would have been able to tell. He was back to stuffed frog, at least temporarily; I think it was the formality of the occasion. We were entering the hall from opposite doors to stand in front of what passed for the altar, being as neither of us was a bride, and this wasn't a church.

The two of us had been shuffled off separately a few hours before to be bunged into the formal attire, and I'd been a bit frantic since. My hands were cold and my palms were doing a corking imitation of mollusks. Joan gave me a subtle nudge with an elbow to get me moving, and by this I mean it was like a bally Zulu spear right in the thorax.

Reggie looked an absolute stunner in the spongebags. They may have been pinstriped, but there was nothing at all valetish about them, or about the rest of his wrapping. I'd never seen him looking so dashed handsome in all the time I'd known him. His eyes hooked mine and reeled them in like one of those fish he likes so much, and suddenly my heart was knocking at the ribs like a demented blacksmith for an entirely different reason. I would have been all in favor of ravishing him right there on the spot, but it wouldn't have been at all preux. There was also the inconvenient fact that Reggie would absolutely not approve, and it wouldn't do to have him pipped at me at this point. The idea of him saying 'I don't' was far too awful to contemplate.

I ankled up the aisle to meet Reggie in the middle, with Joan and Aubrey at our sides to provide us with the rings at the appropriate mo. Rather a lot of words were said at that point, most of which I couldn't tell you to this day, because my attention was entirely on the chap I was about to legally shackle myself to for the whole 'til-death-do-us-part thingummy. It could have been howling coyotes or banshees or anything else that howled noisily and without much in the way of whatsit for all I cared. When it came time for the actual vows, though, I was paying rather a lot of attention. It seemed that things in the wedding business had turned to people writing their own if they wanted, and we had rather wanted, along with the usual conventional stuff, sans the 'obey' bit, given that he wasn't my valet any longer and neither of us was feeling particularly wifely. We'd decided to go with something short and pithy, because I knew there was no hope of me remembering much more than that. It was also decided that I'd dash in with the s. and pithy first, so as to minimize the suspense of whether or not Bertram would make a thorough bollocks of it.

Reggie and I were standing there looking at each other with the whole soul's awakening thingummy in our eyes, holding each other's hands. I think both of us were a bit tremulous. I swallowed a lump in my throat the size of a large and unpleasant rhinoceros and took a deep and rather shaky breath.

"Reginald," I said, and I swallowed again because that bally rhinoceros had returned, "the day you walked through my door for the first time and handed me the pick-me-up that brought blessed relief from the aftermath of Boat Race night, I knew my life had changed. Being a bit slow to see through these things, it took me a while to understand just how much. When I realized a few months later that I'd fallen head over spats for you, I was resigned to spending the rest of my life as a whatsit that pines and dies because of our circs. Standing here with you today is nothing short of a miracle.

"I thought about saying all kinds of soppy things at this point, but what it really all comes down to is this: everything I have and everything I am is yours. I've loved you quite madly for an age, and there is absolutely nothing I would not do for you. I will love you and care for you and stay by your side until this mortal coil has been shuffled off, and if there's an afterlife I'll be wanting to do so there as well. I expect I'll be a fathead and an utter chump from time to time, so I apologize in advance for that, but know that no matter what happens, I will always love you." I fear the Wooster e.'s were getting a bit dampish at that point, what with all of Cupid's arrows darting about the room and whatnot.

Reggie's eyes were suspiciously shimmery as well. "My dearest Bertram, you are him whom my soul loveth. There has not been a day when you have not lightened my heart or or given me cause for joy. That I am able to declare my love for you and bind myself to you before friends and family fills me with profound exaltation. There is no other in this world whom I have loved more deeply, nor as well. I shall love, honor, and care for you at all times and in all ways. I shall be at your side always and, as the poet Tibullus wrote, 'may I be looking at you when my last hour has come, and dying may I hold you with my weakening hand.' It is with my deepest love that I give myself into your keeping."

I was rather glad I'd gone first, because I'm not sure I could have said a word after hearing that. I fear this Wooster did rather spring a manly leak in the ocular region at that point. There was some repeat-after-me-ing and some bunging of rings onto fingers and a couple of I dos and a declaring of our spousalhood, and then we rather fell upon each other with an utterly topping kiss that quite reflected the divine pash we'd just declared to the world.

The reception was held at the Fink-Nottle heap. Joan's brother Ian was with us when we got there, and gaped like a stunned trout when we walked in. "Joanie," he said, "the foyer here is bigger than mom's whole house."

She nodded. "Yeah, I said the same thing the first time they brought me here. It's crazy, isn't it?" Ian was decked out in his Air Force sergeant's dress uniform; he said it was the only thing he had that was even close to suitable for a soiree like ours. He was a tallish chap, about Reggie's height, though lighter of hair and getting a bit thin on the top. You could tell he was Joan's sib., though, what with the same grey eyes and glasses -- well, not her glasses, exactly, but his own -- and a bit of the same look about the beak. They actually sounded rather alike as well, in alto and baritone, with the same whatsit infections -- no, wait, inflections is the thingummy I wanted -- in their voices.

Once everyone had finally arrived and got themselves situated at the tables for the tucking into the fodder portion of the festivities, Joan was the one who'd been tapped to regale the assembled and offer up the first toast. It was a best whatsit duty, after all, and she'd known us longer than anyone else here.

"When these two young men fell into my life last September, in the least metaphorical way possible, they were lost and hurt and more alone than I think any of the rest of us can imagine," she said. Well, that was certainly the truth. It had been an absolute horror for a while. "They had been thrown into a world that was, in many ways, entirely alien to them. Adjusting to everything was a confusing, frightening, and painful process, and they had to deal with Bertie being extremely ill on top of everything else. But in the two months they stayed with me, I saw them face everything that befell them with courage and integrity and an unshakable loyalty to one another that was just breathtaking. Watching them realize that the love they shared was no longer an unattainable dream was an absolute delight. I can't tell you how proud of I am of them for what they've accomplished in seven short months. That I'm able to stand here with them today and see the culmination of that deep and abiding love by witnessing their union is an honor and a blessing." She held up her glass, giving us both a warm, affectionate smile. "To Reginald and Bertram -- may you live long, may you love well, and may every blessing of life be yours."

There was a general hear-hearing and rather a few more toasts before the guests fell upon the food like wolves upon a tender nibble of slightly-too-slow peasant. Joan managed to get through dancing with me and with Reggie without any serious damage to the footwear, much to her relief. I thought she comported herself quite well, actually, though she was obviously thrilled it was over. One of the distant-cousin Jeeves beazels apparently found Joan quite ravishing in a morning suit and proceeded to occupy rather a bit of her time, which seemed to please both of them immensely. The party was quite a rousing bash in every way, and went on into the evening. Reggie and I had a reservation at an extremely posh place for a late dinner with just the two of us, and we'd be bunging ourselves onto a plane the next morning for Florence; he'd always wanted to go for the museums and I found I couldn't possibly say no to him. We'd always traveled at my whims before, so it was time he got a bit of what he wanted in our wayfaring. We'd be back in the old metrop about the same time Joan would be deposited upon the doorstep by her brother before heading back to Seattle, so it would all work out well.

We had to dodge rather a clot of reporters and photographers when we made our dash for freedom from Fink-Nottledom. They'd been lying in ambush, the rotters, even though we were doing our best imitation of gentlemen cat burglars on the prowl for pricey Persians and the odd purple diamond. Two tallish chaps in morning coats blended rather less well with the shrubbery than one might ideally desire. We legged it back to the flat to tuck ourselves into something more appropriate for a late evening's repast, which of course necessitated the removal of the current layers. That was quite a delectable process, I must say. Unfortunately, our schedule was squeaking loudly under its con-somethings and we didn't have time for more than a few quick applications of the labial press before we had to leave again. At the restaurant, things were much calmer; the management preferred that things not resemble crocodile feeding time at the zoo, generally wishing it to be more like a place where the uppermost of the oofy upper crust might dine. This meant that the scurvier sort of paparazzi never made it past the door, being improperly dressed and all. I'd never been so pleased to be in proper evening costume in my life, especially given that there were no swimming baths in evidence. The food wasn't quite up to good old Anatole's standards, but I suspected nothing ever would be; the man had been a culinary genius of the first water and there would be no matching him for generations to come.

Getting back to our flat late that night, we were both worn to a shadowy wisp of our usual selves. I'd finally got past all the clinging weariness of the pneumonia a couple of months ago, so it was somewhat unpleasant to be very nearly that tired again. I'd always suspected that taking the oath would be an exhausting process, and I had been far more correct than was strictly warranted. Thankfully, both of us were rather too excited to sleep, even under those circs, so there was a certain amount of frisking about to look forward to once the willowy frame had been tucked beneath the duvet. I was pleasantly sozzled and Reggie was in the way of being quite relaxed as well, which suited both of us.

We took our time peeling off the outer wrappers. While we had to be up earlyish the next day to catch our plane, neither of us actually wanted to rush things, this being the first time we entered into contusional -- no, that's not right, it's connubi-something... connubial, that's the chap -- connubial bliss as properly wedded man and, er... man. Rather awkward phrasing, I know, but it can't be helped and therefore shall be passed by without further comment. Suffice it to say, we both expected it to be blissful.

I've always thought Reggie was a dashed handsome chap, but never more than that night, with a few candles glimmering around us like moth-enticers on the bedside tables and the chests of drawers. This, he tells me, is what happens when one marries a soppy romantic. Once the togs had been properly folded and-or hung up to avoid wrinkles, what with Reggie being himself and unable to tolerate even the barest whispered thought of wrinkling, he turned his attentions to the Wooster corpus. His attentions were considerable. There was a great deal of lovely kissing and naked bits rubbing up against other suitably naked bits as we stood at the side of the bed. He was warm and comfortable and familiar in an entirely wonderful way after all these months of sharing a bed and our bodies. Reggie kissed his way down the front of me as he eased me down to sit on the bed and knelt between my feet; I leaned back and rested my weight on one hand, my other quite busily mussing his thick, dark hair. I loved seeing him mussed and rumpled. He was always so perfectly turned out that it sent a little shiver of anticipation up my spine every time I saw him with his hair out of place or his tie a thread or two off-center. When he was on his knees in front of me like this, it always stirred me up quite passionately.

There was a light in his eyes when he reached up and pulled me into a deep, warm kiss. The fingers of his other hand teased at my prick and the eggs below. I'd been quite hard before he started at it, but his touch always made the heart skip and the breath come a little quicker. He traced the length of me with his fingertips, not taking me in hand but just moving his fingers in soft, teasing lines from tip to root and back up again, over and over. It was tingly and almost ticklish, sending sparks through me with every hint of a stroke.

I leaned forward and tangled the fingers of both my hands in his hair, holding it tight as I made our kiss deeper and harder and more possessive. He moaned softly into my mouth, his breath catching. I needed him and I wanted to be in control tonight; I knew he'd like it as much as I did. There were moments when I thought perhaps he liked it even more than I did, to be honest, though I wasn't about to complain. This Wooster was far too intelligent to do such a silly thing. We'd even found ourselves a bit of nice rope for the whole wheeze, which I thought I might use tonight.

We were both breathing hard when I finished kissing him. His eyes were so dark as he looked at me, his mouth open a bit, panting through soft, moist lips. "Suck me," I told him, breathless, as I guided his head down to my lap. "I love it when you suck me." He knew very well he never had to do a bally thing he didn't want to, but we both liked how the idea affected us. He lowered his head until I could feel the heat of his breath in slow, delicate pulses sweeping along my prick, not touching yet. I gasped at the sensation and the tip of his tongue teased into the little slit at the tip of me, licking at the wetness there. It made me tremble as his tongue moved on me. "More," I whispered, "I want to feel more."

"Yes, sir," he murmured, his lips moving on my skin like the memory of a feather. I shivered, my breath hissing in again. He moved down the length of me, slowly, his lips doing little nibbly things and his tongue touching and licking here and there, soft and sweet and utterly delish. I loved it when he did this. It was an utterly topping sensation, filling me with warmth and making me harder with each touch. When he ran the wide flat of his tongue up the entire length of my prick, I couldn't help but shudder with delight. After that long stroke, he took the tip of me into his mouth, all hot and wet, and sucked slow and hard. Heat shot through my body, pulling a harsh groan from me, and I reached down his chest and took one nipple in my fingers, teasing and squeezing at it. He rumbled a lovely moan of pleasure around me that sent shivers through me as he set to taking me in further, his head bobbing slowly up and down as his wet mouth slipped along my shaft, deeper and deeper with each motion. I could see he was getting lost in the sensation; his eyes were closed and there was an expression of pure, blissful focus on his face. His hands were rubbing and kneading along my hips and thighs in an almost hypnotic fashion, their warm friction adding to the intensely sensual feeling. As he took me in deeper, he wrapped his arms about my hips and pulled me in close, burying his face there.

It was the most wonderful feeling, the heat of his mouth and the wet softness of his tongue enveloping my prick so deeply, caressing and pressing in all the places that made me dizzy with want. His hair brushed against my belly as his head moved, slow and adoring; there were moments when it felt almost worshipful when he did this, and that was what it was like now. He made me feel like a god sometimes, the way he touched me. I ran my fingers through his hair with slow caresses, pressing him to take me deeper as my breath quickened. The sensation flowed through me, up and down my spine, threatening to turn me to jelly under Reggie's expert treatment. He knew how to thoroughly arouse me without bringing me off; we both savored this, particularly when I was in a mood to direct things like I was tonight. That he would give me this kind of power over him, that he would obey me and serve me and fulfill my deepest desires was utterly stirring. It always left me breathless with love for him.

Sucking my prick always got him nearly as stirred up as it did me. One of these days I was going to see if he'd come off just from sucking me if I let him go at it long enough; I rather suspected he might, particularly if his hands were tied behind him at the time. That always seemed to add a little something extra to the whole thing for him, to make his arousal and his pleasure more intense. I'll admit I found the sight a very pleasing one myself. Thinking like that, though, was getting me far too excited, so I tugged at his hair to pull him up away from me. "That's enough for now, Reggie," I told him, my prick straining and aching for him. He straightened up and I kissed him. I could taste myself on his tongue, a little salty and bitter. When I looked down at him after the kiss, I could see his prick was wet with his own fluid, glistening a little in the dim candlelight. "Why don't you get the rope out?"

"Yes, sir." He smiled a wicked smile at me and dug a couple of shortish rope bits out of one of the bedside drawers. They were long enough to tie a wrist to the bed frame. He handed them to me, a look of delighted anticipation on his dial.

I took the ropes from him and put one on the bed. "Give me a wrist, love." He held out a hand and I busied myself putting a bit of rope about his wrist so that it would be comfy and tight but not too tight, giving it a knot to keep everything in its proper place. I loved how it felt under my fingers and Reggie loved it against his skin; for a moment, I stroked the skin of his wrist where the rope lay, making him shiver just a little. I kissed him again, running my thumb along his jaw, and I could feel his pulse all fast and heavy under my fingers at his throat. His breathing got heavier and he shivered slightly. We repeated the process with his other wrist and the other bit of rope. When he looked up at me, his eyes were ever so much darker; I could see he'd already started falling into the pleasure he got from having his hands restrained.

"Up here, now," I told him, patting the bed. He rose, always graceful, and lay in the center of it, looking up at me in anticipation. His prick was thick and hard and bobbing just a bit with the rapid rhythm of his pulse, and his dark nipples were hard little peaks on his chest. I found them quite irresistible and leaned down to suck on one; he shivered and made a soft sound. I teased at his nipple with my tongue, drawing a gasp from him when I squeezed it between my teeth. Reaching up, I teased the other with my fingers, squeezing and tugging on it as I sucked the first one. He shuddered and his back arched as he moaned.

I got up onto the bed myself then, straddling his chest and leaning down to tie one of his wrists to the frame. I knelt up over him so that my prick was right where he could reach to suck me, and he took it as the encouragement it was meant to be, his other hand reaching up and caressing my bottom. He squeezed one cheek and his fingers slipped between them to tease at the opening there; my breath caught just a bit and his touch sent a spike of desire up my spine. "I might let you have some of that, if you're really good," I told him. His fingers tightened and he groaned around my prick, which only served to send a jolt of intense pleasure through me. I made short work of the first knot, thrusting slowly into his mouth as I tugged at the second rope to bring his other wrist up and tie it down as well. Once he was quite secured to the bed, I rested my hands on either side of his head and watched his face as my prick slipped gently in and out of his lips, which were drawn tight around me. He was tugging at the ropes, testing them with his spread arms, and moaning softly as he sucked me intently. He was so bally gorgeous like this, his face a picture of absolute concentration and desire. I could have come off then, but I pulled away; I had rather more planned for the evening than just this.

His eyes opened slightly and he watched me as I moved to sit beside him, my fingers stroking softly over his chest and sides. He sighed, a quiet, pleased sound, and closed his eyes again, relaxing completely under my hands as his prick stood hard and straight and leaking. I let them roam everywhere, from his fingers down to his toes, touching and scratching and teasing, making him pant and shiver and arch his back when I did something particularly delicious, like pinch a nipple or tease the tip of his prick with my tongue. I wasn't going to take him until he started begging, and he knew it; he always tried to hold out as long as he could. There were nights when it took rather a while, but tonight he was eager and wanted me very badly. He was groaning, his hips writhing under my hands as I sucked his prick. He kept trying to thrust up into my mouth, but I held him down with all my weight until he gasped out a frustrated, "Sir!"

I reached up and ran my fingers down his sides, scratching fairly hard. He shuddered and bumps rose on his skin all down his sides, following the track of my fingernails. "Yes, please!" He was breathless and quivering under me, his head rolling back and forth between his arms as he tugged at the ropes. The little Wooster was quite interested in this whole process and I thought it was about time to move things along, as I was aching for him. I let his prick slip from my mouth and rustled around in the drawer of one of the bedside tables, looking for the slippery stuff. It didn't take long to find, which was a good thing, because I wasn't interested in waiting much longer.

"Look at me, Reggie," I whispered as I opened the little bottle and squeezed some out into my fingers. His eyes fluttered open and I got myself up close so he could get a front-row view, and slid one finger into myself. It felt quite good, I must say, and I felt a good bit of anticipation for his hot, hard prick inside me. His eyes widened and there was a bit of a gasp when he realized what I might be up to. I got myself good and slick, then leaned down and kissed him hard, letting him know exactly how much I wanted him.

"You're not to come off until I say you may," I ordered, and he nodded eagerly.

"Oh, yes, sir," he said, his voice rough and ragged.

I smiled, feeling entirely wicked. "I'm going to bugger you now, love."

"Oh, God, please," he gasped, watching as I slicked my prick thoroughly and flicked the bottle closed, dropping it next to him. I still had enough of the stuff on my fingers to get things started, rubbing it about between his cheeks and teasing the little hole there without actually pressing a finger inside. He whimpered and opened his legs further, his entire body begging for mine.

It was the work of a moment to shift the Wooster corpus to kneel between his thighs. I lifted his hips up to get the right angle and pressed myself into him, slow and deliberate. He groaned loudly as I penetrated him, his prick leaping as I leaned my weight into him. He was panting hard by the time I was all the way inside him, whispering, "Fuck me, sir. Please, sir, fuck me hard. I need you, please!"

I will admit it was very difficult to resist giving him exactly what he asked, hearing him beg like that. I wasn't ready to quite yet, though, and I pulled mostly out, equally slowly, and then set to a slow, deep rhythm, holding his legs wide open as I moved in and out of his splayed body. His back flexed as he tried to push against me and get me to thrust harder, but I was having quite a jolly time teasing him with my prick, and it felt utterly oojah-cum-spiff to have him shivering and struggling with me, both of us slick with sweat and panting hard in our pleasure. He kept trying to tug me into him with his legs until I pinned them against my waist, my hands wrapped about his ankles. Once I had his legs stilled, I put more of my weight into each thrust, still slow but much harder, and he cried out harshly every time I drove into him, begging for more. His muscles were taut as he pulled at the ropes, his hands flexing into fists as he fought for more of me, for deeper, harder thrusts.

He was so tight around my prick, squeezing hard as I moved inside him. I was nearly breathless with the pleasure of it and I couldn't help picking up the tempo of my motion. The friction of it and the way he positively writhed under me finally caught me and pulled me in; I thrust harder and faster, watching him gasping, entirely lost in what he was feeling. His eyes were closed tight and his back was arched as I braced his hips, taking him with all my strength, knowing how he loved it when I fucked him this hard. I could feel it building inside me, a wave of ecstasy that hit with a roar like a charging bull and ripped through me as I came so hard I could swear I was seeing stars. I let it roll over me as my hips moved without any instruction from my mind at all, grinding into my beloved in pulse after pulse until I was utterly spent.

Reggie wasn't finished yet, his prick still hot and hard and straining, which pleased me greatly. He was still trying to ride my rather rapidly withering prick when I pulled out of him as gently as I could. I was a bit sensitive, so I took a moment to gather my breath. He looked up at me with the most plaintive expression on his face. His mouth moved but he couldn't say anything, he was so far gone. I knew what he needed, though, and shifted myself to kneel over him, my legs all wobbly as I lowered myself onto his thoroughly slippery shaft.

He groaned, loud and harsh, as my bottom met his hips, and he bucked up into me with all the force he could muster from that angle. It felt bally wonderful, despite that I'd just spent myself noisily and with some force into his entirely willing body. He managed to strangle out one word -- "Please!"

I knew he wanted to come off, but I was going to make him hold it and started rocking into his thrusts, absolutely basking in the feeling of his thick, hard prick moving in me, fast and deep. "Not yet," I panted, and he made a thoroughly frustrated sound and thrust into me even harder. I let him go at it for a couple of utterly corking minutes, completely thrilled with how he was making me feel. It was absolutely delish, the strength of his body moving under me, pushing into me. I was gasping as he drove into me hard enough to get my prick stiffening again when I told him, "Now, Reggie, you can come off now," and laid a set of long scratches along his sides. I knew how that affected him, and he shouted as he let go, bucking up into me so hard he almost bounced me off. I gripped him harder with my thighs and reveled in his absolute abandon, watching him as it shuddered through him, leaving him utterly wrung out and gasping for breath.

When his hips finally stilled, I let myself relax and ease down to cover his body with my own. We lay there panting, unable to move for the longest time. My nose was tucked against his neck and when I finally had enough breath to do it, I lay soft kisses on his skin, tasting the salt on my lips. My mouth was dry as a dozen deserts if you stacked them one atop another; his would be, too, I knew, but right now what he needed more was for me to just be here to hold him and let him come back to himself.

Reggie's head turned to me, his cheek resting against my forehead. He sighed softly. "Bertie," he whispered. I raised my head and watched as his eyes opened, still a bit glazed from the intensity of it all.

"Are you with me?" I nuzzled his cheek, and he nodded. "Jolly good." I applied the lips to his dial. He let his head fall just a little further in my direction and we kissed, our lips sticking a bit because we were so dry. His mouth was cool from the panting he'd been doing. I'd get us some water in a few minutes, but holding him in my arms was on the immediate agenda and one doesn't interrupt vital post co-something-al snuggles with mere mundanities like a glass of water.

After a few minutes, he took a deep breath and yawned, stretching a bit. His eyes were a little clearer now, almost back to himself, though he was the absolute picture of debauchery. "I love you so," he said, his voice soft and still a little rough. I gave him another gentle kiss and reached up to tug at the knot at one of his wrists.

"Have I mentioned to you recently that you really are a specific dream rabbit?" He gave me a look that suggested battering with pillows would be my fate if only his wrists were loose. I laughed. "I love you, too, old thing." The dangerous pillow-whapping thingummy vanished from his eyes in a flicker of a moment.

I got the first knot loose and unwrapped one wrist, then started at the second as he lowered his arm and slipped it about the slender Wooster waist. "Seven months ago I would never have dared to dream this could be real," he murmured. "There are moments when I still worry that I might awake and find it all vanished like mist."

I shook my head as his other wrist was released. "No, Reggie. We really do get to spend our lives together. No one can take this from us." His other arm joined his first, holding me in a warm, close embrace.

"I am reminded of the poet Burns," he said.

"Dash the poet Burns, Reggie," I answered with false asperity.

There was a twinkle in his eye. "Very good, sir." He laughed.

~~the beginning~~