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Jeeves and the Uncommon Senses

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It started with a bang.

I mean to say, it started with an actual explosion, not one of those metaphorical thingummies one might imagine in relation to my dreaded Aunt Agatha, who dances about bonfires sacrificing virgins at the dark of the moon. The last time I managed to slip the noose in re. one of her attempts to shackle me to an allegedly suitable young beazel, there was a metaphorical t. of unprecedented dimensions, but this is not the time for that particular tale; this one is rather more important, which you will surely see as I go along.

Young Bertram was nowhere near the blasted bang, of course, being at the Drones club passing a pleasant late afternoon at the annual darts tournament. The score, as so often happens at these affairs, was a tie, three games and three, with self and Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps heading the teams. Our competition was sharp and rather pointed and we exchanged a few likewise s. and r. p. words over the end scores, vowing next year to end the stalemate.

We were engaged in a bit of soaking up the old pre-prandial apertif when I felt the most horrifying sensation I’d ever experienced in my life. It was dashed rummy, starting out as a deep, sudden pain in my chest and making me drop my drink as though I’d been struck amidships by an angry rhinoceros. It expanded from there, dizzying, until it was the only thing I could feel at all. There was only one thought in the Wooster lemon at that point.

Something had happened to Jeeves.

Something awful.

I’d no idea how or why I knew such a thing, but I was utterly convinced of it. I felt it like ice in my bones and I couldn’t breathe when it struck me. It wasn’t something one was used to, you understand, having that sense of knowing a thing with no bally reason for said knowing.

I don’t remember much between that and leaving the club but I’m told I shrieked rather loudly and collapsed, insensible, for some time. This caused a considerable stir among members and staff alike. My chums tell me they picked me up and deposited me on a chesterfield, then called a doctor, but I shook the lot of them loose as soon as I had enough ginger in me to move, and dashed out the door shouting Jeeves’s name. I had to find him. I had to plant the Wooster e.s on him and assure myself he was all right and nothing was going to keep me from doing it, not doctors nor Drones nor dead of night.

The only thing I clearly remember after my abrupt departure from the club was running down the street as though all the aunts of the abyss were on my heels, leaving hat, coat, gloves, and whangee behind. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I had to be there. Now. Had I been in anything resembling my right mind, I might have flagged down a taxicab, but the only thing I was conscious of was a feeling of being drawn toward something -- snapped toward it with a great force in fact, much like a rubber band snaps back when it’s been pulled too far and let go, or maybe that swallows returning to Capistrano wheeze.

I’m uncertain how long it was between being slapped with the whole thingummy and dashing into the door of one of the buildings at St. Bart’s. My lungs burned and my legs were shaking as I stumbled up to the front desk. I’m not bad on the sprint, but this wasn’t the run of a thoroughbred at the Ascot, it was more like a wildebeest pursued by a pack of cheetahs, running for its life, and at first I couldn’t even speak to the clerk there for all my gasping and panting. She looked a bit alarmed when the old gams gave out, coming round the desk and shouting for someone to help her. I leaned on the desk rather than fall on the poor beazel; the last thing I needed was someone thinking I was molesting the gal, or deciding I had to marry her.

"Where is he?" I panted. I might have squeaked, but I’m sure it was a manly squeak.

She put a hand on my shoulder and a young orderly, built on the lines of a whippet, rounded a corner and dashed over to us, zipping a chair under me and lowering me into it as I gasped for breath. "Calm down, sir," she said. "Who are you looking for?" Her voice was much calmer than I was.

"J-Jeeves, where’s Jeeves?"

The people around me milled about -- patients and doctors and other hospitalish types in uniforms, doing whatever it is that people do in hospital entryways. There was too much going on around me, and I was frantic. "We’ve had a number of unidentified individuals brought to emergency recently, sir. Perhaps he’s among them?"

"Tall chap, black hair, head sticks out at the back to make room for all his brains. Have you seen him?" My lungs ached so I could hardly draw breath, and I barely got the words out for all their laboring.

The orderly and the clerk looked at one another. The clerk patted my shoulder gently. "We’ll find out," she said. "Do you know if he was involved in the explosion?"

I swear my heart stopped beating. "Explosion?"

"A gas line burst at the Covent Garden Market. At least eighty people killed or injured."

"Good Lord." I found myself shaking. "I-I don’t know. I don’t know. I just know something’s wrong. Where is he? Please, is he here?" That horrified feeling of wrongness dug itself deeper into my chest. He was somewhere near, and I knew it, but dashed if I understood any of it.

"Just stay right there, sir. I’ll find out." The beazel picked up the phone on her desk and dialed a number while the orderly put his hand on my cheek and turned my face.

"Here, sir, let me have a look at you." The whippet peered into my peepers and took my pulse while the clerk had a hushed but somewhat excited conversation with whomever was on the other end of the phone line. "You say you didn’t know about the explosion. When did you hear this man was hurt?"

"I didn't. I don’t know. I was at my club in Mayfair and I had the most horrible feeling come over me and I knew something bally awful had happened. I had to look for him. It was like being dragged along by panicked pachyderms. I couldn’t think, I just ran." I was still dashed near in a panic and was having a hard time sitting there, even though my legs were jelly.

About then the young clerk got off the phone. "One of the unidentified patients may answer your description, sir. He’s up in the sentinel ward. I assume you’re his guide? Why wasn't he wearing his identity bracelet?"

"What? No. He’s not a sentinel, he’s my valet." I knew about sentinels, of course. Everyone does -- one learns about it in school, like everything else.

"Oh, dear," the woman said, soft and surprised. She looked at the orderly again. "Wally, take him up to the sentinel ward. See if it’s his valet."

He nodded. "Right, Miss Holst." His eyes slid over to me with a fair splash of sympathy in their wake. "Come with me, please, sir." He tucked a hand under my elbow and helped me up to my feet, then we ankled down a long series of hallways, across to a different building, and up to a lift. Well, he ankled. I staggered. He made sure I stayed vertical, which was a bit of a chore considering I was wobbling about like an entire pack of drunken sailors.

"Could I get some water when we get there? The old pipes are a bit dry after that run." My throat was sore from it, in fact.

"Of course, sir." The lift rumbled us up a few storeys as I leaned against the wall, still trying to stop sounding like a storm wind or a steam train was blowing through my lungs. "You can have some water as soon as we get up to the ward. If your valet’s here, we’ll find him for you."

A moment later we were walking down a rather dimmish and almost eerily quiet hallway. The floor of the place was paved with cork, hushing everything. "If you must speak, sir, please keep your voice to a whisper. Too much stimulus can overwhelm an ill or injured sentinel."

"Right ho," I whispered. We stopped for a brief mo. at a water fountain in the hallway and I wetted the parched Wooster lips enough to finally start feeling like my throat hadn’t been sandpapered. The next thing I knew, we were at another desk. This one had a large blond chap behind it.

"You’re here about the unidentified patient in 12B?" he asked. Wally nodded. "Dr Martinson is attending. He’ll see if you can identify the man."

"Thank you," I murmured. I’d have given the chap my firstborn in my gratitude, if I had one, which I didn’t. I followed Wally along, feeling clumsy and noisy compared to everyone else biffing about the place. We turned at a solid-looking door marked 12B. Nobody knocked, but the door opened, utterly silent, just as we got there. I was a bit startled but managed not to yelp.

An older chap, wizened and wrinkly as a walnut, stood at the door. There was a very nearly as old but somewhat less wrinkly nurse with him. "Come in. I’m Doctor Martinson."

I nodded as I entered. The room was dim but not actually dark. There was only one bed in there. "Oh, God," I gasped. "Jeeves." I dashed over to him, hoping he might look up and 'sir' me, but he was far too still and silent. "What happened to him? Is he badly hurt?" I reached out, almost afraid to touch him, but I had to. I couldn’t stand being there another moment without touching him to make sure he was still alive. My fingers rested on his shoulder as gently as I could let them. He was warm and breathing. I wanted -- needed -- to know more than that. "Will he be all right?"

I nearly fell into the chair next to the bed, terribly afraid for him. The awful feeling hadn’t let up at all, but I was relieved to have found him. I wanted more than anything to curl up next to him and just hold him; it was an urge I’d had from time to time before, but this was most certainly not the time or the place for that sort of thing, despite the intensity of that desire! One simply didn’t c. up around one’s valet and h. him. It wasn’t the done thing. Chaps ended up in chokey for things like that, and Jeeves wouldn’t approve at all. No, he'd probably depart for the hinterlands or, at the very least, employment with some other gentleman who wasn't quite so likely to want to c. up with him.

Wally the orderly vanished and the nurse closed the door behind us. "You’re the guide, then," Dr Martinson said. His voice carried, softer than a whisper. "What’s your name, son."

"B-Bertie." I looked up at him and stiffened the u. l. "Bertram Wilberforce Wooster. This is my valet, Jeeves. He’s not one of those sentinel chappies. Why is he here? What’s happened to him? Will he be all right? The beazel at the front desk said there was an explosion."

"He was injured in the accident at Covent Garden, Mr Wooster," the doctor told me. "He was struck by flying debris and buried beneath a collapsed vegetable stand. His injuries are serious but not life-threatening. There is some internal damage that will require him to stay in hospital for several days to facilitate treatment and monitoring his progress, but he was not burnt -- thank God -- as he was at the edge of the explosion. He will recover, so please don’t fear for him.

"We did have to sedate him when he arrived because he was in a fugue state from the sensory overload of the blast. He was in a great deal of pain, and was agitated and confused. You say he wasn’t a sentinel?"

I shook my head. "No. Why would he be my valet if he were a sentinel? Don’t they usually biff off into the military or something?"

"That would explain the lack of an identity bracelet," the doctor murmured. I had no idea why people were asking about bracelets. Jeeves had never struck me as the jewelry sort; he's terribly particular about fashion accessories of any kind, as I know far too well. He said to me, "It’s possible he had a latency that activated in crisis. It’s uncommon but it does happen from time to time. Some individuals only manifest one or two enhanced senses and never develop full sentinel abilities; these individuals are more susceptible to crisis activation later in life. Regardless of the mechanism, this young man is most certainly a sentinel now, and this must be dealt with." He pulled up a chair next to me and sat. "Martha, would you get a copy of the introductory file, please? This will likely take a while."

"Of course, Jarod." The nurse shimmered off, almost as quietly as Jeeves does. I let my hand slip down Jeeves’s arm and wrapped the Wooster digits around his hand, moving slowly and carefully.

"Did you ever undertake any of the standardized guide screening as a child, Mr Wooster?"

"Oh, no. Aunt Agatha wouldn’t hear of it. My parents thought I might be the sort but they died when I was quite young, and Aunt A. -- well, she’d probably pop something vital if she thought I might be like that."

"Why?" He seemed genuinely puzzled by my answer.

I looked down at Jeeves, able to see a little more as my eyes adjusted to the dimness. He was bandaged in several places and there were scratches, scrapes, and bruises here and there about the Jeevesian corpus. I could see the pain in his face, even though he was sedated; I could bally well feel it coming off him in waves; it was nearly overwhelming and I had no idea what to do. My thumb rubbed soft circles on the back of his hand. I found it at least slightly reassuring and hoped that, if he were in some small measure conscious of my presence, he might as well. "She didn’t think it was suitable for someone who might inherit the family title. There have been a fair number of sentinels in the family -- old Sieur de Wooster at Agincourt and all that -- and a guide here and there down the years, but the guides were mostly of the female persuasion." I looked back up at the doctor. "You don’t really think I’m a guide, do you?" The aged a. was going to be furious.

Doc Martinson sighed. "Yes. At the moment you’re both showing every sign of it."

"I say. What?" I was just sitting there holding Jeeves’s hand. I hadn’t showed any signs of anything that I could tell.

"You came looking for him without having been previously informed of his injuries. When you touched him, his heart rate slowed," he answered. "His breathing evened out slightly. Even sedated, he’s responded positively to your presence and your touch. You’re reacting to his pain level and attempting to ease it through physical contact, apparently simply out of instinct."

I blinked. "You’re one of them, then? You could hear his heartbeat and all that, just sitting here?"

He nodded. "And Nurse Martinson is my guide. She’ll be back in just a moment with a file of information for you to read. First, however, I must ask you a few questions." He picked up a clipboard and a pen. "Now, what is this young man’s name?"

"Jeeves," I said.

"His whole name, please."

"Oh, right, sorry. Reginald. His name’s Reginald. I don’t know if he has a middle name." I hoped I knew enough to be helpful even as I fretted hopelessly over my man.

I told him what bits I knew about Jeeves while he scribbled on his clipboard. I didn’t really know anything about Jeeves’s medical history or where he was born or any of that, but I knew his birth date and that he hadn’t ever been ill or injured during the three years he’d been in my employ. While we were on about this, the nurse came back and stuffed a thickish file folder into my empty hand. I set the bally thing down on the little table near my chair. I couldn’t see well enough to read in this light anyway, and I wasn’t about to tear my attention away from Jeeves. I mean to say, how could I?

"I can't bear seeing him hurting like this," I murmured, worried, my empty hand slipping over to touch Jeeves as well. That desperate urge I had to curl up with him hadn't abated in the least but had, rather, got stronger, and I hoped that perhaps having two hands on him might at least ease that need slightly. I let my hand rest at his waist; I couldn't feel the bulk of any bandages or dressings where it lay so I hoped I wasn't hurting him more.

"Empathy is one of the strongest traits of a guide," the nurse told me. She shimmered up next to me and put a hand on the willowy Wooster shoulder. "It's very likely that you're experiencing a compulsion to hold him right now." My head jerked up and I stared at her. Had she been reading my mind? Could guides do that sort of whatsit? I couldn't remember what I'd learned in school about it. "It's a normal response to this sort of situation. It's all right to do so if you wish."

"I - No! He'd never stand for anything the least bit outré." By Jove, I wanted to, but I couldn't. Not with anyone watching, and certainly not with Jeeves, of all people. "He'd raise a disdainful eyebrow at me and brush me off with a chilly, 'This is most improper, sir.' Really, one doesn't wish to risk him getting all glacial."

Doc Martinson smiled, just a tiny splash of one. It reminded me of Jeeves's minuscule lift of one corner of his lips, in fact. "Mr Wooster, I'm aware that you have no familiarity as yet with a guide's responses and responsibilities. Allow me to assure you that this is a natural and expected behavior between sentinel and guide. It will, in fact, aid significantly in his recovery if you do so. As his treating physician, I would highly recommend it for both your sakes."

"He's just shy, Jarod," Nurse Martinson said, looking over at him. "He hasn't any knowledge of this, and he's no doubt still operating under the assumption that such a thing would bring both of them trouble with the law." I could do nothing but stare at them, not quite following but knowing very well what kinds of things happened to chaps who had the urge to snug up in bed with other chaps. She turned her attention back to me. "Is there any reason you might have to leave here for the next day or so, Mr Wooster?"

"No." I shook my head. "Well, only for changing my clothes and whatnot. I mean to say, one of my aunts might call, but I'd really rather not be there to receive if Jeeves isn't about so as to fish me out of the soup, if you get my meaning. They're a bit fearsome."

She smiled at me. "Dear boy," she murmured. "You have so very much to learn now, and under such difficult circumstances. We'll do everything we can to get your sentinel well again and to get you both to people who can help you with this transition."

"When you have time and are able to devote your attention to it," the doctor continued, "it would be very much in your interests to read through the material we've provided so that you will have some idea of the significant change that has just entered your life. The suddenness of the onset in Mr Jeeves would be a very dangerous thing for him if he did not have a connection with a guide. He's extremely fortunate that you were already closely associated with him."

The Wooster onion was spinning with it all. "I don't understand." I looked back down at Jeeves, lying silent on the hospital bed. The cloth under my fingers as I moved them against his body was softer than anything I'd felt before. I hadn't expected that in hospital. I'd always heard how people only went into them to die, and how miserable and dashed uncomfortable the places were.

"It's not terribly important that you understand everything at the moment," he said, his voice still soft and calm. "All you need to know right now is that this man needs you, and that you've had a severe shock to your own system, what with the initial connection developing so abruptly and under such stressful conditions. You both require rest." He looked at the nurse, who nodded to him and left the room. He got up and biffed over to a cabinet against one wall, opening it. Reaching in, he drew out a pile of cloth and laid it on the bed near Jeeves's hip. "All of his senses are hypersensitive right now. Any irritation against his skin, any too-loud sound or unpleasant scent will aggravate his condition. While you're here, you should wear these sentinel ward scrubs. It will help him avoid some of the potential discomfort from sensory overload."

"You want me to change into these?" I reached out and ran a hand over the cloth. It was just as soft as what was under my fingers on Jeeves's body and the sheets.

"If you would. Then you may lie down with him. I know you both need that."

"But what if he wakes and thinks something untoward is afoot?"

"When he wakes, he is likely to be in a great deal of pain and quite disoriented. Your presence will be very comforting to him, I assure you." He pointed to a little cord next to the bed. "Ring the ward desk if he wakes or if you require anything. I'll return in a few hours to monitor his progress."

"Oh."

"Please try to rest, Mr Wooster. The calmer and more supportive you are, the more easily Mr Jeeves will recover from his trauma and injuries. There will be ample time for conversation later. I'll leave you now to afford you some privacy. Don't be afraid of interruption; no one but myself will enter the room before you are up again."

"Are you sure this is all right? I mean to say, doc, isn't this likely to be, well, the sort of thing a chap could get in a great deal of trouble over? Being bunged in chokey wasn't exactly what I intended for the evening's activities. It's been hinted at, but one doesn't wish to presume, particularly when a stiff prison sentence is involved." I was feeling distinctly torn, rather like a tattered slip of newsprint being mangled by macaws on a rainy day.

"The laws regarding sentinels and their guides are very different than the laws regarding such things for ordinary citizens, Mr Wooster. You have nothing to fear. Simply rest. A great deal of what you need to know is in the packet you were given, but I know you're not going to want to read right now. Everything will be explained when you and Mr Jeeves are both able to have this conversation. Consider it doctor's orders and a medical necessity, if that will help you accept the situation."

"Ah. Right ho. Doctor's orders, then." That was a bit reassuring, I had to admit. The level of Bertram's nervousness subsided from Noah's Deluge to mere high tide.

"Very good." I could hear the approval in the doctor's voice and wondered if he could somehow hear the subsidence. "I'll leave you to it, then, young man." With that, he oiled out the door and left me staring at Jeeves and the pile of clothes on the bed.

"Oh, dear," I whispered. The doc had ordered me to peel off the rind and slip into this stuff, then ensconce myself in the bed with my arms about the Jeevesian corpus. I stared for a moment before I dared move. I was feeling distinctly less than comfortable with the whole thing; a Wooster is not cowed by his circs, but I had to admit that I'd spent so long both wanting and fearing being plastered up against the man that my thoughts were spinning and whirling about like one of those dervish Johnnies.

Exhibiting extreme trepidation, I shucked the outer wrapping and slipped into the provided package. It was really quite extraordinarily comfy, though it was a very dullish off-white -- possibly ecru or eggshell. Regardless, it was a hellishly boring shade of dreariness. No doubt Jeeves would approve. Carefully, so as not to jostle my man, I edged myself under the duvet, lay on my side, and eased an arm about my valet. He made a tiny sound and his face turned toward me slightly. It was the first thing he'd done besides breathing since I'd entered the room, so I took it as a good sign.

It took me a few moments to settle in, as I was trying very hard not to disturb him. I'd been told he'd be very sensitive and that he was in a great deal of pain, which I didn't want to aggravate. Eventually I found myself snuggled up around him, my arm about him and my nose tucked up against his ear. I didn't want to actually put any weight on him beyond just my arm; I wasn't sure he could tolerate it at all and I wasn't entirely certain where he was hurt. He shifted again, turning slightly toward me and resting a hand on my hip. The next thing I knew, his face was pressed against my neck and he had his arm around me, pulling me in close so that he was on his back again and I was resting some of my weight on him.

He didn't seem awake or aware, but I couldn't very well object. I was exactly where I'd wanted to be for a dashed long time. What bothered me were the circs of the whole wheeze. I'd rather hoped that such an embrace would be preceded by a few sappy words and a bit of the labial press, not an explosion and a stint in hospital. I was feeling severely in conflict with myself.

He made another small, pained sound, and shivered. I held him closer in return, tucking one arm under his neck and carefully running my fingers through his hair. He sighed and settled. "Please be all right, old thing," I whispered. "Please." I rested my chin on the top of his head and let my hand move gently up and down his side. The sub-whatsit sensation of pain I'd been getting from him eased back a tad. I didn't know if it was my rubbing his side or my whispering to him that had helped, so I decided to keep it up for a bit, even though I was feeling thoroughly fagged out from my mad dash and from the horror of finding Jeeves in a hospital bed.

A sudden crushing weight of exhaustion blew through me like a wind made of lead and cast iron. My eyes burned and I felt a tear slip out of one of them, blinking it away fiercely. "I'm right here, Jeeves. I just wish I knew what to do to help you." I nuzzled into his hair. It was thick and very soft. Someone had obviously washed out the stuff he slicked it back with. Still petting him gently and whispering nonsense into his hair, I gradually dropped away into sleep.

***

A quiet whimpering sound woke me. I blinked, not remembering for a mo. where I was or what had happened. It was awfully dim in the room. The reality of Jeeves snugged up in my arms with me on his chest snapped the old onion around, though, making it all too clear, even in the near-dark. "Jeeves?" He made another soft, pained sound.

"It hurts," he whispered, sounding like he was in agony. His eyes were squeezed tight shut and I tried to pull away but he wouldn't let me.

"What hurts, old thing?" I felt a touch of panic rising, I must admit. I hoped I wasn't hurting him too.

"Ev-everything. God, it hurts, please, make it stop." He was shivering with it in the most alarming manner.

"Let go Jeeves, please. I don't want to touch you if it's hurting you."

There was another pained sound, a bit louder, and he clutched me more tightly. "Y-you're the only thing that doesn't," he groaned, though it was a very quiet one. "Don't go. Please, don't go. Even the air hurts. Make the pain stop." He was shaking even harder now, and I remembered what the doc had told me.

"I need to move a little, Jeeves. Let me ring for the doctor, please. He'll help you." I tried to stay calm and keep my voice as soft as I could, rolling back just a bit while he held on to me. I reached out and gave the cord a couple of sharp tugs then pulled the man back into my arms and let him bury his face in my shoulder as he shuddered and gasped. He was damp with sweat, and I swear I could feel how much he was hurting; it burned inside me like some devilish furnace and all I wanted was to make the poor chap feel better, but I had no idea how.

It was only a moment before the door opened and the medics Martinson entered, closing it behind them. I was entirely too focused on Jeeves's pain to be embarrassed about being in bed partly draped over him. "One moment, Mr Jeeves, and we'll sort this out. I'm going to give you an injection. This will only take a second." Doc Martinson bared Jeeves's arm while the nurse swabbed a bit of exposed skin, then the doctor did a quick but relatively gentle-looking jab to the vein, at least as much as being jabbed with a needle can be gentle. Jeeves howled and clenched around me.

"Oi!" I snapped. "What do you think you're doing?" I wanted to snap the doctor in half for hurting him.

"It's all right, it's all right," he said, "it'll only be a few moments and he'll start to feel better, I promise you."

Jeeves was panting now, but I could feel the tension in him start to seep away slightly, rather like a cat trickling from a room. After a mo., his breathing started to even out a little and his fingers loosened from their death grip on my arm. "Oh, God." It wasn't much more than a whimper. He gave a last shudder, then slumped flat onto his back, his hands loosening for a moment. He took a deep breath. His eyes opened, though I'm not sure how much he saw. He closed them again dashed quickly and laid one hand over them. "Too much. T-too bright. Blinding." Jeeves's voice was breathless and I knew he still hurt just awfully but it seemed to have become a touch more tolerable.

"He metabolized the sedation rather more quickly than we expected," Doctor Martinson murmured. "I thought we had at least another hour. Mr Jeeves, are you able to focus at all? Do you know where you are?"

Jeeves shook his head. "No. Wh-what happened?" He tucked his face into me. I wrapped myself around him and he shivered, tightening his arms around me, though not as much as they had been only a moment ago.

"It's all right, Jeeves," I whispered, nuzzling into his hair as I rubbed his side. "It's going to be all right. They're going to help you." I hoped I wasn't lying.

"Your senses were overloaded in a gas main explosion, Mr Jeeves. The blast triggered a sentinel activation crisis." Doc Martinson sat in the chair next to the bed and Nurse Martinson rested a hand on his shoulder.

"Oh, no," Jeeves whimpered, rocking just a little in my arms.

"You understand what that means?" The doc's voice was very quiet and steady. Jeeves nodded. "You're a very lucky young man. Mr Wooster arrived here at the hospital looking for you very soon after you were brought in. We're going to tend to your injuries and then get you to people who can help you learn to manage your new situation. Are you able to answer questions?"

Jeeves nodded again. "I th-think so." He still sounded awfully rough, but the burning pain I felt coming from him had subsided a little more. I wanted to take him home and wrap him in cotton wool, or perhaps the really soft stuff they made things out of here in the sentinel ward. I wanted to make him stop hurting and all I could do was hold him and let him wrap himself around me.

"How much pain are you in, Mr Jeeves? If you were to imagine a scale from one to ten with ten being the worst."

He panted for a moment and then rasped out, "Eight. N-nine. It's awful. Please, make it stop." I could feel the damp heat of tears against my shoulder and wanted to rearrange the universe so that he wouldn't hurt.

"Right, then. We'll give you a little more pain medication. We must be cautious because sentinels often have anomalous reactions to drugs. There will be another injection. Please focus on Mr Wooster's presence." Jeeves shivered while they repeated the whole wheeze from a moment ago. He only groaned this time instead of yelping. It didn't make me feel much better. I lay a hand over the spot where they'd jabbed him and rubbed gently.

"I -- ow. 'S better. A little better," Jeeves murmured, his voice shaking. "About s-seven."

"Very good, give it a few moments. Just breathe slowly and maintain your focus on Mr Wooster. It will help." The old bird did seem to know what he was about and I was glad of it. He let a few ticks pass before he spoke again. "And now, Mr Jeeves?"

He was finally able to breathe a little more normally. "It has become... more tolerable, doctor," Jeeves whispered. "A five, perhaps."

"Excellent, excellent. Is your head more clear now, son?"

Jeeves nodded, but he didn't pull his face away from the Wooster corpus. "Somewhat." I ran my fingers up into his hair and he nuzzled my chest. "Thank you, sir." His voice was quiet against my body.

"I'm sorry if this offends the feudal spirit, old fruit."

"No, sir. Y-your presence is making this bearable." His fingers moved on my shoulder, clutching the cloth of my shirt.

"I must ask you a few questions, Mr Jeeves," the doc said. "Answer as best you can. I know you're still in a great deal of pain, but the more information we have, the better we will be able to address your situation." The nurse unlimbered her clipboard and a pen. She flicked on a tiny, shielded pen light on her collar and it lit her clipboard with a dim red glow. "Before the accident, Mr Jeeves, were any of your senses particularly acute?"

"Hearing," he whispered. "Sight. Enough to make my work more efficient under m-most circumstances."

"Really?" I couldn't help being a bit surprised. "Is that why you always seemed to appear with the tea just as the Wooster peepers were fluttering open?"

"Yes, sir."

"I say." I thought for a mo. "But, then... is that why you're always so squeamish about particularly fruity clothing, old thing?"

He nodded, obviously still hurting. "Some of it was... certain patterns on carpets or furnishings were bearable, but when paisley is on a moving body... a vague queasiness often results."

"You never said anything."

"It was not my place, sir."

I blinked. I hadn't ever thought about it. He didn't usually have any trouble expressing his disdain, but to speak of being ill because of it? Perhaps he thought it wasn't the done thing or, even worse, that I wouldn't care. "But... there weren't any quease-creating patterns on that white mess jacket with the brass buttons!"

He huffed slightly; I thought it might almost be a chuckle. "That was simply an affront to your station, sir. It was not fitting for a gentleman. Had you been a crew member on an ocean liner, or a bellhop--" I could practically hear the soup dripping from his voice, even with it being a very shaky whisper.

"Yes, Mr Jeeves." Doc Martinson interrupted us, sounding a bit amused. "Did that sensory acuity begin in childhood?"

"By the time I was five. I was told that other senses might... might grow more acute as I matured, but when it had not happened by my twenty-fifth birthday, I was t-told such a thing was unlikely."

The nurse continued scribbling on her clipboard while doc Martinson rattled on. "Yes, that is usually the case. Did you ever experience incidents of other sensory irritation? Were you particularly sensitive to the touch of certain textures, or did you react negatively to particular tastes or scents?"

"At times," Jeeves said. He shivered with pain again and paused, collecting himself. I could feel a slight trickle of sweat escape his brow and dampen my neck. He still hurt much more than he wanted to admit, I could tell, but at least he could speak. "I often found being around others... difficult. Some people's p-presence is like sandpaper on my nerves. I-I often left situations where this occurred. I rarely stayed more than six or seven months with any employer for that reason."

"But you've been with me for over three years, old thing." I'd had no idea that he'd dashed from place to place so often.

He raised his head slightly and squinted at me. "It was... it was c-comforting to be around you, sir. You never hurt." I could barely hear the words, but they struck me to the heart.

"I say," I whispered. I held him close as he lowered his head again.

"Please," Jeeves begged, desperate. "Don't make me leave him. The things I've been told -- I'll have to b-bond with some stranger and --"

"I won't let that happen," I said, feeling terribly fierce and protective of my man, and the doc started to say something, but Nurse Martinson shook her head.

"Jarod, let me." He nodded. She came and rested a hand on Jeeves's temple. He twitched but settled after a breath. "No one will take you away from Mr Wooster," she said. The old gal's voice was the most soothing thing I'd ever heard in my life and even Jeeves reacted to it. "You already have a nascent bond with him -- he is obviously your guide and there's no need for you to fear being parted from him. It would be a monstrous cruelty to separate you."

That seemed to break something in my paragon and he wept in great, shuddering sobs against me, holding me as though I were the only thing keeping him from being swept away in some kind of flood. I had no idea how to handle it and just babbled at him, trying to reassure him that we would be all right, that we'd be together, that I wouldn't let anything happen to him.

When they'd told me earlier that I was his guide, it hadn't really sunk in. Bertram is occasionally about as permeable as polished marble when it comes to ab-something concepts -- abstract, that's the chappie -- but I realized now that this meant we could not, by law, be separated from one another. Aunt Agatha could never force me to give him up, much as she's always wanted to.

"Are either of you married?" Doc Martinson asked.

I shook my head vigorously, my eyes still on Jeeves. "Good Lord, no! It's been near as a toucher sometimes, as the beazels do seem to like ambushing me, but I've managed to maintain my gay bachelorhood. So has Jeeves, for that matter." I was having a hard time listening to the man's questions because I was so thoroughly swamped -- shocked, even -- by the immense wave of emotion I could feel coming off my usually thoroughly stoic valet. I kept whispering to him while I lent half an ear to the doc.

"That's a relief. The sentinel-guide bond does not generally allow for other long-term intimate relationships outside of that bond. It would have been very difficult had either of you been emotionally attached to anyone else."

That got my attention. "What?" My heart skipped a few thumps, like a startled rabbit with only three legs. "I mean to say, are you telling me I won't have to get married because of this? The family can't chain me to some beazel now?" I could hardly believe what I thought I'd heard. Jeeves was shivering in my arms again, still sniffling, and I kept rubbing his chest while running the digits through his hair.

"The bond is an extremely intimate one, Mr Wooster," the old gal answered. "When the pair are male and female, it inevitably results in marriage."

"But--" I could feel myself blushing at the thoughts that were suddenly flooding the old onion.

"As I noted earlier, Mr Wooster," the doc said, "the laws regarding sentinels and guides are very different when it comes to intimate relationships." Jeeves made a sound that might well have been a gasp and went deadly still.

"What you're feeling right now, Mr Jeeves, is a completely normal part of the developing bond." I think the doc knew something I didn't, because I had no idea what he meant. I wasn't sure what I was feeling coming off of Jeeves right then. It was all a confused muddle, but he wasn't letting go of me. "You're exhausted and the pain is taking its toll on you emotionally as well as physically. You require a great deal more rest and you should try to remain still while your injuries heal. You do have some bruising to your liver but, if you remain at rest as much as possible, it may resolve by itself. If it does not do so within the next few days, you will very likely require surgery to prevent a rupture."

"Surgery?" I couldn't help myself; the word just slipped out. The mere idea terrified me. Hacking someone open to fix things that didn't work inside them was just unnatural. "How do you know all this?" I snapped. Jeeves turned his head and looked up at the doc, still squinting against the dim light.

"There are signs that can be recognized by a sentinel with proper medical training that avoid the need for invasive exploratory surgeries." He nodded toward Jeeves. "Had the trauma been much more serious, you would likely have been in surgery right now, Mr Jeeves. You were very lucky."

Jeeves nodded. "V-very well, doctor." He took a shaky breath. "I must admit I am in too much pain to sleep but I should not like another injection. The additional pain would be too much right now. I have finally been able to find some s-semblance of self-control."

"I have a sleeping pill for you right here, dear," the nurse said. "It'll be much gentler and longer-acting than another needle. It should allow you to sleep through the night." She reached into a pocket in her uniform and pulled out a little packet. "Here, take this," she said to me and I held out a hand as she shook two little tablets into it. She handed me a glass of water that had been sitting on the table near the bed.

"Here, old fruit. Swallow them down and get some sleep." I helped him raise his head enough to sip at the water and he took the things.

"Thank you, sir." He was still squinting against the tiny bit of light in the room, but the look he gave me was filled with a shivery thingness that made me tingle down to my toes.

"It should take effect within fifteen to twenty minutes," the doctor noted, snagging the cup out of my hand and popping it back on the table. "Mr Wooster, I would advise you to remain here with him. It will help with his pain management."

"I wasn't about to leave him." Of all the dashed nerve. Thinking I would leave my man when he was like this? Not bally likely! "Wild pachyderms couldn't drag me off!"

He smiled at me. "That is the appropriate response, Mr Wooster. You're doing very well so far. We'll leave you now. If you require anything, ring, but the evening shift will be coming on soon, so you won't likely see us again until tomorrow morning."

They both shimmered out, leaving me with a slightly shaky Jeeves entangled in the willowy limbs. "Please try to sleep, old fruit."

He raised a trembling hand to the damask Wooster cheek and cupped it gently, running his thumb along my cheekbone. It was my turn to shiver at that. "You, sir?"

"What, me, sleep? I was rather planning on it. I'm knackered. Done for. At the frazzled end."

He shook his head, still looking at me. "You, as my guide," he whispered. "It explains so many things."

I wanted to ask him what things he was talking about but I really was feeling entirely drained. Even if he did explain, it wasn't likely to stick. "Sleep, Jeeves. I'll be right here the whole time. Well, unless I have to make a quick dash to the water closet, of course. I'd really rather not do that here."

Jeeves quirked a tiny smile at me through the muted wave of pain I could feel radiating from him. "Of course, sir." He drew my face down to his and nuzzled my cheek. "Yes. This is..."

"Is what?" The Wooster brow wrinkled as I rested my head next to his on the pillow.

"What I have always needed."

I felt like I'd taken several twenty-pounders across my broadside. "I say."

He sighed and relaxed, letting his hand fall away from my face to rest, limp, on his chest. Jeeves's eyes slipped closed. "I shall try to sleep," he promised, "so long as you do as well."

"Right ho." I shifted around for a mo. to find the most comfortable place that wouldn't put weight on any of his hurts and let myself drop into the arms of Morpheus.

***

Loud moaning and sudden thrashing woke me and I jolted upright. Jeeves had curled himself into a tiny, tight ball in the bed, gasping with pain. I could feel it blazing between us, much more intense this time, and I was almost breathless with it myself. I leaned over and jerked hard on the call cord a couple of times before I wrapped myself around Jeeves's back.

"What's happened? What's wrong?"

He shook his head, shuddering, not able to answer. Before I could get another question out, someone dashed in the door. I heard a voice say, "Blast it," and there was a bit of a commotion that I wasn't bothering to listen to as I held onto Jeeves, whispering to him, trying to calm him. A moment later, there were two people by the side of the bed, reaching down to lay hands on Jeeves. I nearly bit one of them, in something of a panic, before I realized they were probably doctors, and meant to help.

"Try to have him lie flat, Mr Wooster," one of the chaps said. The other was mumbling soft, soothing words that I couldn't hear, and had taken one of Jeeves's hands, touching his face carefully as he did so. "I need to examine him, you must try to keep him calm."

"I'm bally well not calm myself!" I rubbed one of Jeeves's arms, trying to get myself to calm down too, and said, "Come on, Jeeves. Easy, old thing. Try to just take a breath." His breathing was sharp and fast and uneven, filled with little whimpers of pain, and I kept urging him to just breathe. Focusing on him actually did calm me a bit, though I was terribly frightened. It took us a few minutes but we finally got him to at least uncurl slightly.

The taller of the two chaps knelt beside the bed and tucked a hand into where Jeeves had uncurled, closing his eyes. The other one put a hand on the first chap's back and Jeeves shivered, whimpering. I could tell the two of them were trying to shut everything else out, because it almost felt like the air itself had gone quiet around us, despite Jeeves's ragged breath and the pained sounds he was making.

"I think the bleeding in his liver has caused a rupture," the first one said. "We'll need to prep him for surgery." He looked up at the other chap, who nodded to him.

"I'll put in a call to Doctor Trallis." He dashed out of the room.

"I'm Doctor Prentice," the tall chap said. "Doctor Martinson said that there was some potential for this when I relieved him for the night."

"I thought he said Jeeves might get better without surgery?" I felt like I'd had a glacier bunged down my spine. I held Jeeves closer, trying to still his shaking.

Prentice nodded. "That was the best-case scenario. Doctor Trallis should be in the surgery within the next fifteen minutes. We need to move Mr Jeeves when Dan comes back with the gurney. He'll have a couple of orderlies with him. You may hold Mr Jeeves's hand but you must stay out of the way as best you can until we get him into prep."

The door swung open, silent for all that it was moving fast, and three men with a gurney rolled in like an invading army. I didn't have any idea what to say, so I got myself up and bunged the feet into a pair of slippers that lay on the floor next to the bed. Jeeves clung to my arm desperately and I had to twist it out of his grip to stick my hand in there instead. I felt bruised, but it was minor compared to the sharp agony I felt coming off him. They all heaved together and the next thing I knew, Jeeves was up on the gurney, there was a blindfold over his eyes against the light, and we were all running down the corridor toward the lift.

About five minutes and a building later, I was left standing in front of a door with Jeeves on the other side and that Dan bloke holding me back from trying to run through the door myself. "You can't go in right now, Mr Wooster," he said. "I'm sorry. I know how frightened you must be, but I promise you, they'll take the best possible care of him."

I nearly punched the blighter. That is to say, I tried, but he grabbed me by the wrists and hung on until I'd exhausted myself, a few minutes later, and had to stop struggling. "Y-you can't, you can't keep me away from him!"

"I'm sorry. We must. The surgery has to be sterile, and I honestly don't think you would be able to watch them cut into him, as they're going to have to do in just a few minutes."

That stopped me like smacking into a brick wall, and it was about as pleasant. Dash it, I needed to be there with him, but could I really watch someone cut him open and dig around in my man's insides? The next thing I knew, I was leaned back in a chair near the door with my feet up on another one, a blanket around my shoulders, and Dan patting my cheek gently. "Come on, Mr Wooster, come back to me. Everything will be all right."

"S-sorry," I mumbled. "What happened?"

"You passed out, sir."

"Oh. T-terribly poor form, I'm sure. Didn't mean to, of course." I looked over his shoulder at the door.

"Mr Jeeves is in surgery now, sir, and I really need to join Doctor Prentice. Someone will come get you as soon as Mr Jeeves is in recovery, I promise you."

"I... ah... right."

He took my hand and gave it a friendly squeeze. "If you'd like a cup of tea, you can talk to the clerk at the desk over there." He nodded off in the other direction, and I saw a desk with a gal sitting behind it, fiddling about with papers. There were a few other people nearby, but none of them were paying any attention to us.

"Right ho. Thanks awfully, old thing." I felt numb and a touch dizzy. He got up and dashed off, leaving me on my own. I was still dressed in those soft, heavy scrubs, with a pair of slippers on my feet, and a blanket wrapped round me. I shivered even though I wasn't at all cold. I stayed there in a frantic, miserable little huddle, like that Achilles chap in his tent, for quite a while before I felt that I could even stand up. That led to a great deal of restless pacing.

I didn't think I could bring myself to swallow anything. I wasn't sure I could keep anything down, I was so upset. Tea was right out. I'd never felt this sort of helpless panic before, not even in the presence of Aunt Agatha's worst. I'd no idea how long the surgery would take and found myself wanting desperately to talk with someone, but I didn't think any of my friends would be ready to drop all and spend time on the telephone with Bertram at this ungodly hour.

About fifteen minutes later, I found myself drifting over to the desk. "Miss? Is there a telephone about that I might use? Please. I really need to ring someone." My voice sounded rough, even to me. She looked up at me and nodded.

"Along the corridor and on the first right, there's a public phone, sir." She pointed.

"Thank you." I biffed off, then realized I hadn't any coins with me. I hadn't anything at all, really. That limited even further the number of people I might ring up, but I had to talk to someone. When I got to the thing, I picked it up and rang the operator.

"Number, please?" the voice on the other end asked.

I gave her the one for Brinkley Court, though it took a couple of tries to get it all out in one go so she could understand me. "Could you reverse the charges, please? I-I'm at Saint Bart's and haven't even got pockets to have a coin in right now. It's an emergency."

"Of course, sir. One moment while I connect you."

There was a good deal of ringing before Seppings picked up the phone. I wasn't surprised. It was awfully late, or possibly awfully early. I hadn't looked at a clock, but it had been dark out when we'd passed between the buildings a little while previous. "Brinkley Court. Seppings speaking." He still sounded half asleep. The operator explained that this was a reverse charge call from the hospital for one of the residents of the house from one Bertram Wooster. Seppings, sounding vaguely worried, accepted the charges.

"Seppings, old thing, it's Bertie. I desperately need to speak with Aunt Dahlia, right now. I'm sorry it's so dashed late, but it really is an emergency. It's awful, it's just awful. I must speak with her."

"Of course, Mr Wooster. I shall summon her to the telephone. Please remain on the line."

"Wouldn't dream of biffing off." I waited. And waited. And waited an eternity more, my anxiety growing by the moment. I thought I might perhaps be sprouting a beard like unto the ones those Biblical blokes wore as I stood with the phone in my hand.

Eventually, I could hear the pitter-patter of footsteps over the line and then a breathless Aunt Dahlia, at not quite her usual foghorn volume. "What's happened, my young eyesore? Were you in some kind of accident?" She sounded genuinely concerned.

"I-I'm sorry to call you at this hour, aged a., but... well, yes. There was. An accident, I mean. A horrid one. Jeeves is hurt. He's in hospital. He's -- It's just terrible. He's in surgery right now and I've no idea what's going on. He's very badly hurt. Some liver rupturey thingummy, and there was an explosion, and the doctors say he's a sentinel now, and they're cutting him open, Aunt Dahlia, and I don't know what to do!" I could hardly speak for all the breathless fretting I was doing. None of it seemed to be coming out quite entirely clearly.

"Hold tight, Bertie, hang on. You're all in a flutter. Take a deep breath and calm down. You said there was an explosion, and Jeeves was hurt?" I knew she liked Jeeves; she'd consulted him on quite a number of occasions and he was very well regarded at the auntly heap.

I nodded, then realized that she couldn't actually hear me doing it. "A g-gas main burst at Covent Garden this afternoon and he was there and... good Lord. It was ghastly. A lot of people were hurt, they said. I just... I didn't even know, I just felt something awful had happened to him and dashed off and--"

"Whoa, young man, stop right there. Breathe. You're not breathing." She was sharp and it stopped me. I took a couple of slow, heavy breaths. "All right, Bertie. Are you hurt?"

"No. No, I was at the Drones. It was the annual darts tournament. I wasn't anywhere near it."

"You said Jeeves is in surgery."

"Some liver thingummy. A rupture of some sort. I mean to say, what if he dies?" That was the most horrifying thought of all. It was enough to turn my spine all watery. I was sure my insides would follow along soon.

"I'm sure they'll take care of him, Bertie. Don't worry."

Dash it all, how could I not? "But I--"

"Right, then. I'll be there in a few hours. Where should I find you?"

"You're coming to the metrop?" This was a surprise. One might even go so far as to consider it a shock. I was gobsmacked.

"You're obviously not handling this well alone, if you're calling me at this hour. Someone has to keep you from expiring of idiocy and I can't imagine you'll be leaving the hospital, with Jeeves in surgery. Which one are you at, again?"

I felt like a boy in short pants, as though everything in the world were several dozen times larger and more intimidating than me, and did my best to hold back impending sniffles. This Wooster is made of stern stuff, but there are circs when said s. s. wilts a bit. I was feeling distinctly wilted. "Saint Bart's, auntie. They've had Jeeves in the sentinel ward. It's been--"

"But he's not a sentinel."

"I know. Well, I mean to say, he wasn't, but he is now. Dashed awful for him, and he's been in such terrible pain because of it." I was too rattled to really think. Everything about this was bally well frightening.

Her breath caught. "Oh, dear. Right, then. I'll find you there. You just keep yourself together until I arrive. Help is on the way, my beamish boy."

"Thank you," I whispered. The sniffles won the battle for a moment, and a couple of tears squeezed out of the Wooster e.'s.

"Bertie, you are occasionally an extremely annoying blister on my backside, but please remember that you are my nephew and I do love you. Now, let me go so I can get ready to leave."

"Right ho. Toodle pip." There was a click and the buzz of the line in my ear. I stared at the receiver in my hand in something of a daze before I hung up. With a shaky sigh, I ankled back to the waiting area and dropped into the chair, burying my face in my hands. There was nothing to do now but wait, for both of them.

***

When that Dan chap finally came to tell me Jeeves was out of surgery and in recovery, I nearly wept. Dan said he would be all right, but that surgery with sentinels was always a rather delicate affair. If I hadn't been taken to my man right then, I think I might have burst something myself.

Jeeves was frighteningly still and pale when I entered the room. They let me sit next to him and hold his hand; even though he was unconscious, I could feel a thrum of pain in him when his hand was in mine. It was dashed disturbing. I still had no idea what to make of the whole thing or how it was even happening. I only wanted him to live through this and come home again.

"We just need to make sure the anesthetic wears off properly before we return him to his room," Doctor Trallis, the surgeon, told me. "It'll be safe enough for you to sit here with him for now. He may fade in and out for a bit before he's completely clear of it. It's unlikely he'll remember anything that happens here."

"Is he going to be all right?"

"There are always risks associated with surgery and anesthesia, Mr Wooster, but his prognosis at this point is good."

I pressed the back of Jeeves's hand to my cheek. "Right, then."

"The staff will be checking on him frequently until we are satisfied that he can be returned to the ward."

I nodded and closed my eyes. The wait went by in a particularly slow and torturous blur. By the time they were ready to take us back up to the ward, this Wooster felt flat as a crepe under a steamroller. It wasn't just that I was tired. I felt like I'd been gutted by the whole thing. I was afraid for Jeeves and at my wit's end, which was a terribly short trip given that I am often regarded by certain relations as having only half of one at the best of times.

I walked beside the gurney, still holding Jeeves's hand. When I got to the ward, I was accosted by the chap at the desk. "You have a visitor, Mr Wooster."

" A vis-- Oh, it must be my Aunt Dahlia."

"She's down in the visitor's waiting room. Two floors down, take a left, and at the end of the hall."

"But Jeeves is--"

"We need to settle him in his room again, Mr Wooster. It would be best if you're out of the room during that process anyway, so as to give us more room to work. Go speak to your visitor. Come back in about half an hour."

"Half an hour?" That seemed like a dashed long time to settle someone in a bed. "That sounds like a dashed long time to shift him off the gurney and into the bed."

"It's a little more complicated than that, Mr Wooster. He'll be fine. Please go talk to your aunt. The visitor's waiting room is at a distance from the ward and as soundproofed as we can make it, so that normal conversation won't disturb the patients."

I sighed. "Right, then." It probably wouldn't do to have her come up here anyway, given that her voice had been trained to the chivvying of hounds with the Quorn and the Pytchley in her rather vociferous youth. Even at her quietest, she could rattle my rafters and wake hounds in the next county. Reluctant but in need of some familial fortification, I beetled off to the waiting room.

Aunt Dahlia looked a bit flustered when I got there. "Bertie, my young eyesore, you look awful." I ankled up to her and she flung the auntly arms about me. I feared my eyes bugging and my lungs being squeezed out my ears.

"I'm so worried about him," I squeaked. She released me. I took a sharp breath to restore the lungs.

"You sound as bad as you look."

"Thanks awfully," I said, and I meant it to sting.

"Come sit down, child." She tugged my hand and stuffed me onto the upholstery. I let her, not having much stuffing to speak of myself. "How is Jeeves?"

"Out of surgery. They're shifting him into his bed again. They said it would take half an hour-ish."

"That long? And why are you wearing that ludicrous outfit?"

I looked down at myself, plucking at one of my sleeves. "It's stuff that won't hurt Jeeves quite so much to have touching him." This was not a Bertram at his best, I had to admit. One couldn't present oneself at the Drones and be let in the door wearing such togs. Jeeves would blench and go for the cooking sherry in utter shock if I appeared in public like this while he was conscious to see it.

"What are they going to do about finding the poor man a guide?" she asked. "He's obviously going to need one soon. Things... well, things could go terribly badly for him if they can't find one for him right away."

I looked up at her. "I... erm... that would be me."

She gave me a sharpish look, as though I'd coshed her behind the ear with a sizable frozen flounder. "You?" I nodded. "Oh, Bertie." Her voice was suddenly soft and she sank down into the chair next to me, taking my hand, looking flummoxed. "This is all going to take a while, isn't it?"

I nodded again. "Th-they said... well, they said a lot of things, but apparently they think Jeeves is terribly lucky because of it, and that we'd already formed some kind of connection. I don't know much about it -- hardly anything at all, Aunt Dahlia -- but at least they won't be taking him away and bunging him at some stranger. He was terribly put out by that idea."

"This is going to change a great many things, Bertie."

"I don't know what to do. I should be with him right now. I can't leave him." The very thought of leaving him sent cold shivers down my spine like a brace of very large centipedes with icicles for feet.

"No, obviously not." She paused and gave me a thoughtful glance. I'd rarely seen the like coming from her. After a moment, she reached out and rested a hand on my shoulder. "I know this isn't exactly your doing, Attila, but I must say I'm proud of you."

I blinked. "You are?" These were not words that had ever been used in my proximity before. Words generally tossed Bertram-ward included such things as 'pestilence,' 'blight,' 'ashamed,' 'appalled,' 'infuriated,' and 'disappointed.' 'Proud' was a bit of a gobsmacker. I gaped like a beached haddock.

"This will finally make something of you, Bertie. You've been such a wastrel your entire life. Now you'll have a purpose, at least. I'll admit I'm a bit surprised, but your mother always did think there might be more to you than met the eye." She chuckled. "I thought it was the idiot fondness a mother always has for her favorite child, but it seems she was right."

"I don't want a purpose. I just want Jeeves to come home again, blast it!" More directly, I wanted to dash back up two floors and bung myself into the bed with him, wrapping the willowy Wooster form about him, as being away from him felt so dashed wrong.

"Speaking of home, my young blister, is anyone taking care of things there for you while you're otherwise engaged?"

I hadn't even considered that. "Ah, no? I mean to say, I didn't have time to think, much less make any arrangements, before I got here. I was in a bit of a rush, you see. And since I've been here I've been dashed preoccupied. Jeeves has been in terrible pain, and it's been a touch overwhelming for me, too."

"Well, then, I'll take it upon myself to inform your doorman to have your mail dealt with, make arrangements for the care of your flat, and to make sure that any callers are put off."

"Oh, right. Jarvis does need to be told, doesn't he?"

"Bertie, don't worry your empty head about this. I'll take care of things. Now that you have responsibilities, you should concentrate on them until such time as this situation has been resolved. I suppose they'll be sending you both off to the Institute once Jeeves is well enough?"

"I..." Doc Martinson had said something about us being sent to people who could help us. "I think so?"

"You poor, gormless guppy. You have so much to learn. And Jeeves will have to deal with you for the rest of his natural life." She shook her head. "I'm not sure he deserves an albatross like you."

"Oi!"

She smiled at me. "Now, now. Wooster guides have generally been good ones, Bertie. If you are one, I don't doubt you'll turn out all right in the end; it explains more than I'd care to admit about your eccentricities. It also relieves some of my worries over you." Aunt Dahlia sighed. "I must say, I always suspected you weren't the marrying kind. This, at least, will absolve you of that responsibility, and without some horrifying scandal attached to it that would drag the Wooster name through the mud. You might still have to produce an heir if Claude and Eustace are murdered in their sleep, but that can be dealt with much later." I buried my face in my hands and groaned. "Oh, don't be that way. You can't imagine that avoiding the altar so many times wouldn't raise a few questions eventually, even if Jeeves generally arranged it so it wasn't your fault. Now we finally know why you couldn't be dragged there, even when you tried -- there was someone else already, we just didn't realize it."

I'd heard it said that a sentinel and guide shared a soul. I'd never quite believed it, of course -- it had always seemed a bit like mystical flapdoodle to me -- but it rather sounded like Aunt Dahlia did, despite that it sounded more like La Bassett territory. "Do you really believe that shared soul whatsit, my wrinkled relation?" I asked, my face still planted firmly in my palms.

"I've seen enough that I know there's something going on, Bertie. My Great Aunt Hortense talked about it from time to time, you know. She was a sentinel."

I looked up at that. "Maybe being Jeeves's guide will make me smarter or something," I grumbled.

"God knows I hope it doesn't work the other way."

I was saved from making a remark that would get me banned from ever partaking of Anatole's cuisine again by an orderly popping her head in. "Mr Wooster? You're wanted up on the ward."

"Oh, er, thanks awfully." I got up and beetled for the door. "Will you be back later, aged r.?" I thought I might finally be getting slightly hungry. "If I can bring myself to wander from Jeeves for more than ten minutes, biffing off for a bite might be a good plan."

She nodded. "I'll be back this afternoon to check up on you, young eyesore."

"Thank you," I said, and I meant it most heartily.

The trip back up to the ward was only a moment's worth of waiting for the lift and dashing back to Jeeves's room. It was still very dim and he was slightly restless when I entered. His head turned toward me as I sat on the edge of the bed.

"It's me, old thing." His hand moved slightly and I took it in my own, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He didn't, or perhaps couldn't, speak, though his fingers tightened weakly around mine. I hated the thought that he'd had to be foxed to the tonsils just to control the pain enough for him to talk, or even to think.

Dr Prentice was there with Dan. "For the moment, you need to stay near," the doc said. "It's not safe at this point to give him more pain medication, though we've done what we can for the time being. Dr Martinson will be back on the day shift in a few hours and he'll come in to check on you at that time. If you need anything before then, ring, but for now, please try to get some sleep. You're all done in."

"I'm feeling a bit peckish," I admitted.

Dan nodded. "We'll have food brought up for you in about an hour. It's before the scheduled breakfast hour so we'll have to get something made up for you."

"Bung a kipper or two in front of me, and a cup of tea, and I'll be much better."

They looked at each other and then back at me. "We have to enforce a fairly restricted diet on the ward, Mr Wooster. I'm sorry."

I blinked. "I can understand that for the patients, but what about the rest of us?" I feared what a 'restricted' hospital diet might entail. Visions of bland, pasty porridge danced in my head, looking not unlike singularly unattractive sugarplums.

Dan looked vaguely amused. "Anything you touch or ingest might affect your sentinel, Mr Wooster."

"What? I mean to say, how?"

Dr Prentice sighed. "Contact between a sentinel and guide can be extremely physically intimate, Mr Wooster."

"Oh," I said, though it didn't make any sense at all. Then the Wooster onion wrapped itself around an image of Jeevesian lips upon my own and the damask cheek flushed furiously. "Oh! I say! But we're not--" I managed to keep my voice to a whisper despite my embarrassment.

"Not at the moment." Dan's eyebrow went up as he looked at me.

I gulped and the old ticker went on a short rampage. "Right-ho. I see. Carry on, then."

They both gave me a knowing smirk. "Rest, Mr Wooster," Dan said. "Someone will look in on you soon."

I nodded as they ankled off. For a moment I sat on the bed looking down at Jeeves, reassuring myself a bit and then, unable to keep myself from it and not really wanting to anyway -- keep myself from it, I mean -- I bunged myself in next to him. I felt a dashed overpowering wave of relief when I lay down next to him and slipped an arm over his chest but I wasn't sure if it was coming from me or from my paragon of valets. After a moment's pondering, I realized that the source of it didn't matter a whit. It only mattered that I was with him and there were people helping us, even if I really didn't understand the whole sentinel-guide thingummy at all. They would help me figure it out and, when Jeeves recovered, his fish-fed brilliance would no doubt show me the way to proceed.

***

I was awakened by the arrival of the dreaded bland, pasty porridge. Under any other circs, I'd have given it a pass and waited until I could get something else, but I was ravenous as a herd of locusts. Do locusts come in herds? Flocks, perhaps. No, swarms. Ravenous as a swarm of locusts. Rather than turning up the somewhat generous Wooster nose at the stuff, I tucked into it just to stop my stomach's snarling and bunged the complaints into a bag for later.

Jeeves lay next to me, not entirely conscious. His eyes would flicker open from time to time, but he seemed exhausted and in too much pain to focus, and I could feel that dashed awful wave of it coming from him as well. He didn't even try to speak, though he would meet my eyes now and then before his fluttered closed again. His hand rested on my thigh as I sat beside him in the bed and his thumb moved slightly, back and forth, as if he were assuring himself of my presence.

I was still awfully tired, but it almost felt more like my heart and mind were drained than my body. It wasn't the ache of physically exhausted muscles, I mean, or of having spent too many hours awake. It certainly had nothing at all to do with any good kind of tired you'd care to imagine -- for instance, spending a jolly night at the Drones playing dinner roll cricket, or going out dancing. I suppose I hadn't realized that one could become exhausted just from fear or worry. This isn't to say I'd never been thoroughly done in by worrying that I might be dragged to the altar by some inappropriate filly before, but this particular variety of exhaustion was about a thousand times worse, perhaps because it so directly involved something terrifying having happened to Jeeves. I was worried about him, more than I'd ever worried over anything in my life.

I think he was worried as well. There were moments, when he was more or less awake and looking at me, that I wasn't entirely certain if what I was feeling was me, or whether it was actually Jeeves. The whole wheeze was terribly disconcerting. I wondered if this shared soul thingummy might mean I would never have emotions that were entirely my own again. It didn't sit well, I had to admit.

One thing I'd learned was that Jeeves seemed to have a dashed lot more going on beneath the mask than even I had suspected. The other thing I'd learned was that, though of course he would never say it, he was terrified. I didn't know how to help, though when I leaned back into the pillows against the head of the bed, I let him rest his head against my chest and ran my fingers through his hair, and that seemed to help him stay calmer and, perhaps, hurt a little less.

I offered him a sip of water or apple juice now and again; that seemed to help a bit as well. He still wasn't able to speak, but I could tell he appreciated it. Every so often, there'd be a tiny, pained sound, and I would feel completely helpless, only able to hold him and try to tell him he would be all right.

Jeeves was shivering with pain when the medics Martinson returned. We'd been looked in on a few times by various staff to check Jeeves's pulse and temperature and whatnot, but they'd mostly left us alone when they saw that Jeeves wasn't any worse off than he had been. Sweating, moaning softly, and still breathing seemed to be the order of the day. I hated it. Except for the still breathing part, of course.

"Mr Wooster, Mr Jeeves. How are we this morning?" Doc Martinson pulled up a chair and silently dropped himself next to us. "I was told about last night's surgery."

Jeeves tried to speak, but couldn't. "He's in such awful pain and nobody here seems willing to do anything about it," I said. "I mean to say, Dr Prentice said they couldn't give him any more medication for it, but this just seems so horrifyingly cruel."

Doc M nodded. "I understand, Mr Wooster. I know it's awful, but an overdose of medication could kill him, and it would be far too easy to give him an overdose while he's in this condition. Because he's in the midst of a triggering crisis, we don't have any idea how his physiology will respond to treatment, and this is genuinely the better course to take. I wish it were otherwise. We should be able to give him something else in about two hours."

"Your presence does help him," Nurse M added.

"But I'm not doing anything at all." It ached to sit there like a lump and do nothing.

"On the contrary, you're doing very well at helping him cope with the pain." She patted my hand and I felt Jeeves nod slightly against my chest.

I looked down at him, nuzzling his hair a bit as I did so. "Really, old fruit?" His head moved again, just a touch, and I felt a trickle of gratitude from him.

The doc piped in again. "We're having a team from the Institute for Sentinel-Guide Studies come this afternoon to speak with you and make arrangements for your transfer there, once Mr Jeeves has recovered sufficiently to travel. They can help you understand what is happening to both of you."

"It's bally well about time," I grumbled. "I don't understand a single dashed thing." I found myself wishing I'd got a prize in sentinel knowledge, rather than scripture knowledge, when I was a sapling in school. Even though Martinson the Mrs insisted that my merely being there was helping Jeeves, I was desperate to do something more than just sit there like a lump. "Is there anything at all I can do to make this easier for him?"

Jeeves's hand moved, slow and trembling, over the Wooster corpus, as though attempting an embrace. I could feel that he was moved by my wanting to help him and I took his hand in my own. "Sir." His voice was barely louder than breath.

"Don't try to talk, Jeeves, not right now. Please, just rest. You're hurting so badly, you shouldn't waste what little strength you have on trying to talk to me."

The old filly came and sat with us, resting one hand on Jeeves's cheek. "It's all right, Mr Jeeves," she murmured, with that corkingly soothing voice of hers. "Your guide is correct, you need to rest. We're doing everything we can right now to help you. In less than two hours, we'll be able to give you medication for the pain again and then you'll be able to sleep. Until then, just let your hearing drift into him. Listen to the beat of his heart and the breath in his lungs. Listen to the tone of his voice when he whispers to you, even if you're too tired to hear the words. Let that carry you. You're going to get through this, I promise you."

He seemed to settle slightly as she spoke, though he was still trembling a bit from the pain. They helped him lay out flat on his back so they could check on the surgical site and change his bandages. His breathing got rougher as they worked on him, though I could tell they were being gentle as wee spring lambs or baby chicks with him. I'd certainly never been treated with as much care by a doctor when I'd been hurt, and I was grateful to them for that; I kept up a soft caress of the Jeevesian brow while they bunged the new bandages on him.

"After he's had a dose of pain medication," Doc M, said, "he should try to eat something. I know it will be difficult, but he needs to get something more than water in him soon. We'll have food sent up."

"Thanks awfully." They shimmered out and I was left holding a sweaty, shivering valet.

***

As promised, a couple of hours later they were back with something to help Jeeves with the pain. He was able to eat a tiny bit after that before he dropped into a stone sleep. To say I was relieved would be an understatement of the sort that asserts Noah may have needed an umbrella or that Hercules fellow might possibly have been wanting a shovel for his stable-cleaning wheeze.

I got up to take care of a few necessities of my own -- a bath and clean scrubs, among other things -- then paced the halls with a not quite as heavy as I might have liked tread. One didn't actually pace heavily in a sentinel ward for fear of disturbing the patients. Terribly inconvenient, that.

The morning passed like an arthritic snail. Jeeves slept, Bertram fretted, and eventually the chaps from the Institute wafted in asking to speak with me in a quiet office off at one end of the floor. "Mr Jeeves is still sleeping," the first one said. He was American and built rather along the lines of Douglas Fairbanks, dashingly good looking and equipped with muscles on his muscles. His shadow was a little snip of a ginger chap with a bit of a beard and startling emerald green eyes. "We would prefer not to wake him before it becomes necessary. I'm Peter Crow and this is my guide, Neil O'Brien."

"Bertie Wooster." I offered the chaps a hand and we shook before perching ourselves around the desk. "The doctors said you chaps could help us." I certainly hoped that was the case. "I certainly hope that's the case, as I'm at the end of my tether at the mo."

"We've spoken to Dr Martinson already," the young ginger chappie said. He sounded as Irish as his name. "He estimates about three days before Mr Jeeves can be moved safely. During that time you'll need to learn how to help him keep his senses from overwhelming him. A triggering crisis is the worst way for sentinel talents to manifest. It's absolutely fraught with ways for things to go wrong."

"Jeeves didn't have any choice about this whole thingummy," I said, and I meant it to sting. "And I would think that things are already dashed well going wrong."

Neil nodded. "I'm only noting this because it's important information, Mr Wooster. It isn't a judgment on either of you. Please don't bristle so, would you, then."

"He's just worried, Neil. You would be, too." At least Peter knew what I meant. He looked at me. "It's natural for you to feel protective of him, Mr Wooster. He'll feel the same way regarding you. I've been given to understand that the two of you had already formed a nascent bond before the crisis was initiated, which leads me to believe he might have manifested sentinel senses without a triggering crisis, given time."

"But he said they'd told him he wouldn't."

Neil picked up the convo. "It's unusual, but by no means unheard-of for adults, or even the elderly, to manifest enhanced senses, particularly if they, like Mr Jeeves, had one or more already active." Neil pulled a folder out of a bag he'd been carrying. It looked vaguely familiar. "Have you had time to read the file that Dr Martinson gave you?" He set it down on the desk.

"Er, no. It was too dark in Jeeves's room, and I was too busy worrying about him to even remember it was there. Sorry."

He pushed it across the desk toward me. "You really should, my lad. The information in the file is not just to help you understand what's happening to you. Under the circumstances, there are things in here that could save the man's life."

The old ticker skipped a few beats at that. "I thought they said he would be all right?"

"He's in a very precarious position right now," Neil said. "The tentative bond you have is extremely important. A sentinel in crisis without a guide can fall into a sensory-triggered catatonia that will eventually become a coma and can result in death. This is why it's so essential for a sentinel to have a guide."

My heart may have skipped beats before, but now it was positively frozen in place. Iced over. Glaciated, even. "Please tell me you don't think he's going to die." I nearly leapt from my seat to run for Jeeves's room in a blind panic but Neil grabbed me by the wrist before I could get all the way up, and settled me back again.

"No, he's going to be all right. He's got you to help him. Don't worry." I tried to stop fretting quite as much, but it wasn't working terribly well. It was like trying to scrape the dog Bartholomew off a copper's leg.

"It can happen even to a highly trained sentinel, under extreme circumstances," Peter added. "The bond is particularly important if a sentinel is injured, as Mr Jeeves is. Guides are our anchors in a sea of sensory data. The bond creates a physical and emotional symbiosis, if you will -- a link that allows us to focus on them in times of stress, and allows them to break through an otherwise solid wall of overwhelming sensory stimulus to bring us back into balance, making it possible for us to selectively filter what we perceive, and to function normally in society."

I felt thoroughly overwhelmed myself. "By Jove, that's..." I stared at the folder. "This emotional symbi-whatsit, how does it work? I mean to say, I've been feeling all kinds of things that aren't, well, that aren't mine, so to speak. I think they're Jeeves's, in fact. How do I sort them out? And does it ever stop? Or does it just get worse?"

Neil rested his elbows on the desk and leaned a bit. "It's particularly overwhelming for you right now for two reasons. First, you're simply not used to it. Your discomfort will fade as you become accustomed to the empathy. Secondly, the bond is still trying to assert itself, so it's more insistent than it will be once it's settled. When it happens properly, it's a very intimate thing; there are no emotional boundaries between sentinel and guide. For a few hours, each of you will essentially inhabit the other's emotions. In most but not all cases, this is... well, quite frankly, it's a sexual as well as an emotional exchange."

"Oh, my. I say." I blushed furiously, trying not to think of Jeeves in that way. I didn't think he'd approve at all. It was a bit hopeless, as he was just the sort of chap who had always appealed to me, and I'd rather had such thoughts about him for ages.

"Once that happens, your experience of individuality will reassert itself and each of you will be able to rebuild any necessary boundaries. There's nothing at all to be embarrassed about, Mr Wooster. The entire thing is perfectly natural. Every sentinel and guide pair goes through this experience." They looked at each other again; it was a bit heated. Neil was smiling when he looked back at me. "You'll learn to control how much of his emotions, his pain, or his pleasure you perceive, just as Mr Jeeves will learn to control how much he takes in with his physical senses. It doesn't reveal thoughts, Mr Wooster, just emotions."

I was a bit gobsmacked. People had used the word 'intimate' about the sitch a number of times, with a certain wink and a nudge attitude, but this was the first time anyone had told me explicitly that the whole thing would get physical in that way. Beyond blushing, I really couldn't bring myself to face the whole thing. I struck out for a slightly soupier but less threatening thought. "So nobody's reading anyone's mind?" That bit needed to be sorted out immediately! I could wait until Jeeves was able to actually speak for himself before I'd worry about the whole physical intimacy thing. It was a bit much for me otherwise.

"No." Peter shook his head and chuckled. "Your thoughts are always your own, though a sentinel's awareness of his guide can certainly sometimes appear to be telepathic in nature. I can assure you, he'll never be able to actually read your mind."

"You're likely to always have a fair idea of what he's thinking due to the empathic connection, though," Neil added.

"Jeeves has always been one to wear the mask, but it's never fooled me." Well, perhaps a bit now and then, but for the most part I could tell what he was about. "Not very much, anyway."

"Probably an early manifestation of the developing bond. How long ago did you begin to develop that sense of him? Was it recent?" Neil started scribbling notes on a pad of paper.

"Very nearly from the moment he walked through my door, some three-ish years ago." I remembered that first day very clearly. Well, after the administration of Jeeves's patented pick me up, anyway.

"Interesting, that," Neil said.

We continued on in that vein for a while, and I told them rather more about myself than I suppose I might strictly have intended to, but they were supposed to be there to help me, so I thought it might be all right. They seemed like nice enough chaps. I flipped through the file on the desk while we talked. There was a good deal there that I didn't understand, rather like the Types of Ethical Theory book that Florence Craye had once bunged at me, but they said the one thing I really had to get from the folder today was the wheeze about guides' voices and how they were central to the whole keeping sentinels from getting into things over their heads. It rather explained why the guides I'd met so far had sounded so bally soothing. I wasn't sure how to get the whole thing right.

We tried the guide voice thingummy several times and I cocked it up pretty badly at first. Neil told me to think of it as a musical skill, like a vocal technique for singing, and that seemed to snap something into place in the Wooster onion. Music was a thing I understood, and I'd always been told I had a good voice. The chaps at the Drones always insisted on my participation in the annual Talent Show, Card in Topper Toss, and Indoor Badminton Match, after all. Once that had settled in the old bean, things went a bit better.

They were very curious when I told them about why I'd come to the hospital in the first place. It surprised them that I'd known something terrible had happened to Jeeves, and that I was able to find him by myself. "It's a rather uncommon ability in a guide, and it suggests that your bond is already much stronger than was initially suspected. There's no way to tell just yet how that will manifest when the bond is sealed," Peter told me. "It could simply have been a one-time reaction to a life-threatening situation." It left me with a lot to think about.

Eventually, they said it was time to go talk to Jeeves. The blokes from the Institute and the medics Martinson were on hand for the convo, and I sat next to Jeeves on the bed. They'd told me that soft touches and using the guide voice wheeze was important. I'd already been doing the s. t. bit and Jeeves had responded jolly well to the whole thing, so I was pretty confident that I could help a little better now than I had this morning.

I slipped my fingers into my man's hair. "Jeeves, old thing." I tried the voice thingummy. His eyes fluttered a little. "It's all right, Jeeves. I need you to wake up. The chaps from the Institute are here. They need to talk with you, if you can manage it."

"Sir." His eyes weren't open and his voice was rough and ragged, but I didn't feel quite so much pain washing off him now as there had been through the night.

"They're going to haul us off to the countryside in about three days, if you're well enough, where we can let you get better and then figure out this whole sentinel and guide wheeze." He nodded, just a slight motion of his head on the pillow, and his eyes opened a fraction. "That's right, old fruit. Does the light hurt?"

"Not... not as much," he said, sounding like an entire gravel pit was stuck in his throat.

I was chuffed by that. Doc Martinson swooped over and laid a hand on Jeeves's brow. "You appear to be doing considerably better now that you've slept," he said. "Do you think you'll be able to talk with us?" He gave Jeeves a hawkish look. I wondered if he could actually see inside Jeeves when he narrowed his eyes like that. Nurse Martinson stood next to the doc with a hand on his shoulder. A moment later, they both stepped back and sat again, and she scribbled on her clipboard as he whispered a few things into her ear.

I gave Jeeves a few sips of water and when he spoke again, he sounded slightly better. "Briefly, doctor. It's still very hard to f-focus enough to speak."

"Close your eyes if it'll help, Jeeves," I said. "It's all right to block everything else out. The only thing you need to feel right now is me, here next to you. Don't listen to anything outside this room." I shifted closer to him on the bed, though I didn't tuck myself under the sheets with him. He rested his head on my thigh and I ran my fingers through his hair. "Just feel my fingers in your hair and listen to me, old thing. We're going to get through this."

Neil gave me an approving nod and Jeeves took a few deep breaths then sighed, relaxing slightly. "Thank you, sir." He seemed rather more comfy now. I took his hand as I kept up the hair petting. Something in my chest tightened, and I felt my e.s sting a bit. I needed so bally badly for him to be all right.

"Mr Jeeves, are you well enough to begin?" Peter asked.

"Yes," he murmured.

Peter asked some of the same questions Doc Martinson had asked last night and Jeeves answered as best he could under the circs. He was exhausted and in pain, but his voice steadied a little as he spoke. They got some of Jeeves's medical history, which I hadn't known anything about. They asked about his experiences as a child, about his family, about how he had learned to control the enhanced senses he'd always had since then, and about the other sensitivities that he'd mentioned last night, then they started asking him about the young master.

"Mr Wooster reports you saying last night that becoming a sentinel had explained a number of things," Neil said, looking at the notes he'd been taking during the conversation. "Can you tell us about that, Mr Jeeves? What does it explain for you?"

When Jeeves spoke again, it was slow, and I could tell it was an effort for him to keep talking. I was tempted to tell them he'd had enough, but I wanted to know what he'd meant by it, too. His hand tightened slightly around mine. "His presence had never... never irritated me the way most people's does. He was never painful the way some people are, like sand between your teeth, or a paper cut on a knuckle. I have always felt comforted by his proximity and was intensely aware of his approach, or of where he was in a room. I have been able to tolerate things in his presence that would otherwise have left me exhausted or in pain. I believe it explains why he has always been able to perceive my state of mind far better than anyone else, even when I have attempted to conceal my reactions from him." He opened his eyes then and looked up at me. I could feel a stab of embarrassment coming from him. He swallowed and closed his eyes again. "It... it also explains the immediate attraction I felt to him," he admitted, "the disturbing depth of my affection for him, the moments of unreasoning jealousy regarding the women with whom he was involved, and the deep need I have always felt to protect him from danger, even when I attempted to ignore those urges and keep my emotions strictly under control."

The Wooster heart leapt to hear him say it. "It's all right," I whispered to him. "I feel it, too, old thing, so much of it."

"Had I developed such an attraction to any other employer, I would have resigned my post immediately. Attractions of that nature are extremely dangerous." He was shaking again, exhausted and in too much pain, and I wriggled about like one of Gussie's newts until I was lying next to him, then wrapped my arms about him, wanting him to feel better. "I did not want to want him," he whispered, sounding utterly devastated. "I could not help myself, nor could I tear myself from his side, though I have tried." The banjolele incident suddenly took on an entirely different hue. "He had become far too dear to me." I could tell it was taking everything he had to admit to any of this aloud, particularly with me present, but all I could feel was an exceptional thrill, like every lark and snail in creation were bunged into their proper places for the very first time. I held him close and he buried his face against my neck, his fingers tight in the cloth of my shirt.

"You've nothing to fear in that regard, Mr Jeeves, as we've already told you," Nurse Martinson said. "Those laws no longer apply to you. There may be some social expression of distaste, but law and tradition are both in your favor now. The services that sentinels and their guides render to society entitle them to certain freedoms that others can not yet have."

"I never wanted this," Jeeves said. I could feel the heat of tears against my skin as he held onto me.

"We'll work it out, old thing," I promised him. He may never have wanted this, but I dashed well did. Well, without the whole pain and misery part, anyway. I didn't want the man to hurt or, God forbid, to expire on me! No, this Wooster wanted his Jeeves to be happy and whole and plastered to his side for the duration, no beazels need apply. "I don't care what I need to do, I'll take care of you, I swear it," I breathed, softly enough that I hoped it was just for his ears. "Please, just rest and get better. We can worry about everything else later." Turning to the rest of them, I said, "I think you've asked him enough questions for now. Please, let him rest. He's thoroughly knackered and he needs to sleep again if he can."

Doc Martinson nodded. "I agree. We can continue the conversation tomorrow. There's no need to exhaust Mr Jeeves further." There was general, if silent, agreement, and the blokes from the Institute oiled out of the room. The Martinsons stayed for a moment longer. "How is your pain level at the moment, Mr Jeeves?" Doc M. asked.

"Tolerable," Jeeves whispered; he wasn't quite lying. I suspect his idea of t. was rather different than most people's. "I'm so terribly tired."

"Very good, that's a distinct improvement over this morning. I'm unsurprised that you're tired, though. A high level of pain is exhausting; it takes a great deal of energy to focus through it. If your pain level should increase or you have trouble sleeping, have Mr Wooster ring for us."

"I'll do that," I said. They smiled at me and biffed off, leaving us in the dim silence of Jeeves's room. "I'm going to bung myself under the covers with you, if that's all right."

Jeeves nodded. "Very good, sir." After a bit of a shuffle, I snugged up against him and he sighed. "I feared you would be displeased at my revelations, sir," he said.

"I say, what? Not even in the smallest measure. I-I've had rather a similar reaction to you the whole time, you know. That whole wanting you wheeze, I mean. But you do need to sleep. We can talk about this later. We've got time now that Aunt Agatha can't do a dashed thing about it. Aunt Dahlia approves, by the way. Says it'll make something of me at last." I smiled. His lips twitched upward at one corner and I sensed a certain depth of approval within my man. "Close the old e.s, Jeeves. I shouldn't like to have to insist."

"Yes, sir." He deflated like a limp balloon with a leak, settled into my arms, and was soon off in the Land of Nod. I spent what was most likely too much time contemplating Jeeves and self engaged in a spiffing rendition of the bedsheet Charleston. The whole idea was quite a corker.

***

Not long after Jeeves dropped off to sleep, I was called out to the visitor's waiting room again. I expected it to be Aunt Dahlia, but it was Jeeves's niece, Mabel. She'd married my old chum Charles 'Biffy' Biffen, and it would be hard to find a finer filly anywhere. The hospital had called her, as she was the closest family Jeeves had in the area, and she'd been sent in to find out what happened so she could tell the rest of his relations.

I sat with her and told her most of the circs. Some things, of course, were not meant for a beazel's ears, no matter how much of a pippin she was. She was relieved to hear he would be all right, though she seemed a bit taken aback when she found out that this Wooster was her favorite uncle's guide.

"Are... are you sure you're up to this, Bertie?" she asked, a bit wide-eyed.

This was the q. that had been dashing through the Wooster lemon like a thoroughbred at the Goodwood since the whole mess started. "Well, I rather have to be, don't I? It's not like we have a choice. I certainly won't abandon him!"

"You haven't actually bonded with one another yet, have you?" She raised an eyebrow, looking disturbingly Jeevesian.

"Not as such, but there's something between us already. That's what the doctors said, anyway. The mere idea of having to be bonded with someone else caused poor Jeeves's knotted and combined locks to part and play the role of the fretful porpentine. I can't say I was terribly chuffed with the thought of him biffing off to be with someone else either."

Mabel shook her head with a touch of sorrow in the tilt of it. "He's always been inordinately fond of you. I never understood why."

"I say!" I said, feeling a bit fretful myself. It stung, I mean to say.

"I don't mean anything bad, Bertie, it's just Uncle Reggie has never allowed himself to get close to anyone before. Certainly never an employer. It was very unusual and we all wondered why he would break his own rules about it. At least now we know there's an explanation for the whole thing that makes sense."

"You'll let the rest of the fam. know that he'll be all right?"

"Of course. I don't think there's been an actual sentinel in the family for a couple of hundred years, but if it were going to happen to anyone, I suppose it would be him. He's always been terribly perceptive."

"Do you think they'll have a problem with it? Or with me, I mean?"

"No." She shook her head. "I think you've always cared for him enough that you'll find a way to get him through this. We all know how good you've been to him."

"I have. I do. Care for him."

Mabel smiled. "I'm glad. You're not going to carry on calling him Jeeves after all this, though, are you?"

I blinked a few times. "I don't know that he'd want me to call him anything else. He's filled to the brim with feudal spirit. He might not like it much. And, really, he's still calling me 'sir.' I'm not sure what else to do."

"If what I've heard about the whole thing is true, I don't think either of you should keep on with that. After all, I don't call Charles 'Mr Biffen' anymore."

"There's something to that, I suppose." She rather had a point. If Jeeves and I were going to be intimate in that sense, should we really still be 'Jeeves' and 'sir'? It was a vexed question. For that matter, would he even still be my valet when this was all said and done? The entire shape of our future had suddenly developed a large blank spot marked 'Here Be Dragons'.

"Yes," she said, with a dash of asperity. "There is. Please tell Uncle Reggie I came by."

"I will. Give my regards to the Jeeves clan. And to Biffy."

"I will, Bertie." She snatched me up in a warm, familial embrace. "I'll come round again next week to see how you're both doing. Let me know if there's any problem and I'll come by sooner. I'll stop by your flat if he's not in hospital any longer."

"I'm not sure you can. They're talking about transferring us to the Institute for Sentinel-Guide Studies in three days, if he's well enough. There's, well... we have to figure this whole wheeze out, you see."

"Ah. Well, send me a telegram with the address when you get there so that I can write to him, will you?"

"Oh, absolutely. I'm sure he'd love to hear from you."

We said our goodbyes and Mabel biffed off into the wilds of the metrop. Jeeves, I knew, would be glad she'd stopped by but disappointed to have missed her. I had no idea what he'd think of her proposal in re. names and the dropping thereof.

***

The next three days were a bit like one of those Coney Island roller coaster thingummies. Aunt Dahlia dropped by a couple of times to check up on me, though we couldn't let her in to see Jeeves. His condition was entirely unpredictable. For a few hours, he'd be almost normal again, except for hurting a bit from the surgery and his injuries from the explosion. He'd be able to eat and drink, and handle a little conversation at an ordinary volume, or a normal light level. Then, quick as lightning, he'd not be able to stand the touch of the air on his skin, or the blandest food would be impossible for him to eat, or he'd be deafened by voices two buildings away.

They could at least block out the deafening noise with a thing like a wireless that made ocean sounds. It seemed to help make hearing at least somewhat more tolerable for him, and he could focus on the sound of the waves, and on me, so that we could bring him back from it. Once he was so lost in the thousands of voices out in the streets beyond the hospital that it took us almost three hours to bring him back. Not long after, he got lost for most of the night in some tiny divot on the ceiling that he said looked like craters on the moon. That had all been dashed frightening, I don't mind saying.

The unpredictability of it all was exhausting for both of us, and his recovery was slower than either of us would have liked because of it. His injuries were healing more or less normally, but the amount of pain he was in most of the time simply from being overwhelmed by his senses was enough that the doctors had him foxed to the tonsils just to be able to sleep or eat or to talk to anyone. I felt awfully incompetent, though the doctors kept telling me I was doing just fine at helping Jeeves with everything happening to him. Both of us wanted nothing more than for it all to go away.

Jeeves was able to walk a little by the time the chaps from the Institute came back for us. I was a bit distressed when I learned the place was on some God-forsaken peninsula in Wales. "It's in Porth Dinllaen," Peter said. "On the water so that the ocean can help control overdriven hearing, and far from pretty much anything else, to avoid disturbances."

We were on the train overnight. It was terribly hard on poor Jeeves, who had to be drugged into insensibility in order to travel at all. We'd hardly had a chance to talk to one another while he'd been in hospital because the doctors wanted him to rest as much as possible, and he was nigh-unconscious the whole trip out to this Porth Dinllaen place. I found myself mostly staring out the windows or trying to read.

The normally sunny Wooster disposish was nowhere to be found, so I was hardly fit company for Peter or Neil to chat with. They did tell me that the very best thing for a newly-sprouted sentinel was to be as far from the metrop -- or any city at all, in fact -- as possible so as to allow them to settle into the whole wheeze in gentle surroundings. Having seen what London was doing to him I thought that, at the very least, it couldn't possibly be any worse for the man.

By the time we got there, the idea of a seaside holiday appealed to me, though apparently there was nothing at all in this dust speck of a town except the Institute and a few local farmers and such. The town didn't even have a train station. If it were in America, there would probably be cactus, and tumbleweeds blowing by, instead of actual human beings. We had to be driven ten miles from the nearest stop to get into Porth Dinllaen, and there was only one road into the place. It was dashed rustic.

We were settled into a cozy room in the main building, where they had a few medical types available to deal with Jeeves's problems. I hadn't realized how many sentinels actually went into the whole doctoring thing until this had happened to him. I'd always heard about the ones in the military or the police forces, tracking down criminals and being war heroes and whatnot. I suppose it just made for juicier stories, like those corking mystery novels and thrillers I loved to read.

The room we were bunged into was quite plain, with wide, sunny windows that could be blacked out by heavy blinds. The bed was comfy and there were soft, cushy chairs to sit in. A small bedside table with drawers, a slightly larger table that might also serve as a desk, and a wardrobe completed the spare ensemble. A couple of the medical types popped Jeeves into bed and got him to wake up long enough to check him over and make sure he was all right after spending so long traveling. He was too tired for more than just a few words with them. I got something to eat, but didn't dare stray far lest something awful happen when I was too far off to help. Wandering the grounds would have to wait for another day. Jeeves being unable to do anything at all, I undertook the unpacking of our trunk and the bunging of things into the wardrobe; Aunt Dahlia had arranged to have clothing and whatnot packed for us, as we'd need something to wear once Jeeves no longer needed to be swathed in hospital attire.

"Tomorrow we'll be back to start working with you and Mr Jeeves on controlling his sensory reactions," Neil told me, just before they ankled off to their cottage. It was about a mile down the beach, they said. "Try to relax, Bertie. He's doing all right, no matter how it looks to you right now. If he wasn't, the doctors at St. Bart's wouldn't have let him travel at all."

I tried to take some comfort from that as I watched them walk off hand in hand. I wondered if Jeeves would ever get through this, and what would become of us if he did.

***

When Jeeves finally came round again, late that afternoon, it was with something of a relieved sigh. I'd been perched next to the bed in one of those cozy chairs, reading a desultory book. He reached out for my hand and I took it, giving it a slight squeeze.

"How are you feeling, old fruit?"

He looked around, then took a deepish breath. "The air here doesn't stink," he said, sounding surprised.

"Stink?"

"It was somewhat oppressive in the hospital, sir." He shifted his weight and I helped him sit up a bit. "Everything there smelled of illness and chemicals, and there was a relentless odor of vehicle exhaust and... people." He looked vaguely disturbed. "Too many of them, and a vast number of them not sufficiently clean."

"Oh, I say. That's a bit of not good."

"Indeed, sir. Nor was my ability to detect the contents of the sewers particularly attractive." His nose wrinkled. So did mine.

"Good Lord, how horrifying. It's better here, then?"

He paused then nodded, gazing about the room. "I believe so. The dominant scent here is currently sea air. Low tide, however, may not be particularly pleasant."

"Are you still hurting?"

"Not nearly so much, sir, thank you. There is far less in the environment here to prove problematic, or so it would seem."

I heaved a sigh of my own. "Well, that's a relief, then. I've been so terribly worried about you, old thing."

"Am I correct in recalling that we have been sent to the coast of Wales, sir? I fear my memory is somewhat deficient due to the drugs."

"Yes. Porth something-or-other. Some deuced sloppy sounds. Not sure I can pronounce it properly. They did say it would be much better for you here."

"Of that, I am in no doubt."

"Are you hungry? I could biff off and ask someone to bring up some tea for you. I'm sure there's something still left, as teatime has only just passed. You haven't eaten properly in days. No doubt you need a bit of something to restore the old tissues, what?"

He nodded. "I believe that would be a sound idea, sir."

"Right ho. Hold that thought. Bertram shall return with the goods!" I dashed off and arranged for someone to bring him a tray then legged it back to our room, posthaste. He was in one of those odd catatonic states by the time I'd got back; I'd only been gone for perhaps ten minutes. I managed to hold onto the wave of panic I felt and sat on the bed with him, taking his hand.

"Jeeves?" I leaned in a little closer. His eyes were open but they weren't focused on anything. "Jeeves." When he didn't respond, I let my voice shift a little, the way I'd been taught. A bit uneasy, I tried something rather outré. "Reginald, where are you? Come back, Reg." I passed my fingers over the Jeevesian damask cheek.

His breathing changed slightly, and he shivered, then blinked. "S-sir?"

"I'm sorry to do such a shocking thing as use your Christian name, Jeeves. I know it wasn't exactly proper, but you were off somewhere else and I hoped it would bring you back. What happened?"

"I... There was an engine in the distance, sir. I was unable to pull my attention away from it." He looked away from me and I could feel a vague embarrassment coming from him. "My apologies. I had hoped that the quiet here might prevent such things."

"Well, we're here to learn how to keep you from doing that, aren't we? Can't expect perfection on the very first go. Anyway, we got you back very quickly. It was a distinct improvement over the last time it happened, and I didn't need anyone's help to do it. I should think that's a good thing." I felt rather proud of myself, actually.

His eyes closed and his fingers tightened around my hand. "I fear not being able to return to our previous life," he admitted, his voice soft and pained.

"I don't know what's going to happen," I told him, "but whatever it is, we're in it together. You've fished me out of the soup so many times, it's only fair I try to make that up to you."

"I have never considered it a debt you owed me, sir."

I edged a little closer to him. "I didn't mean it that way. Could you look at me again? Please?" His face turned toward me and he opened his eyes. "I know you didn't want this to happen, old thing. I can't say as I'm exactly chuffed by the pain you've been in or the trouble you're having with it right now. I haven't the first clue as to what's going to happen when they're done with us here. But I'm dashed glad that, since it did happen, I turned out to be the one who can help you. I don't feel like I'm very good at it yet, but I want to be, and I will be." A bit of a sticky, brick sized lump developed in my throat and I gave a nervous swallow so I could speak again. "I know there are going to be rough spots with this. I can't help thinking, though, that the whole... well, the whole bonding and intimacy thingummy might be a bit of all right. With you."

"Sir." It was barely a breath. I could feel fear and want and hesitation and a flare of heat between us that pinned my ears back with its intensity. Both of us had to catch our breath. He rested a hand on my cheek and I leaned in and propped the Wooster onion against his forehead. That flare of heat blazed and crackled and Jeeves's hand slipped to the back of my neck. For a breathless moment, I thought he was going to kiss me, but he suddenly stiffened and shifted away instead, dropping both hands back to the bed.

Before I could ask what was wrong, there was a knock on the door. "Your tea, lads." The door opened and the woman I'd spoken to in the kitchen toddled in. She was round as a ball, if said ball had arms and legs, with a cheerful smile and lovely brown eyes, but I was feeling dashed inconvenienced by the old beazel's sudden springing out of the undergrowth.

"Oh, right. Tea," I said, backing away from Jeeves and popping up to grab the tray. "Thanks awfully."

She chuckled. "It's all right, lads. You can't do anything here I ha'n't seen a hundred times before." She winked at me. "Carry on, then -- I'll be off. You need anything, come down and see me. Name's Molly."

With that, the old gal biffed off, leaving a blushing Bertram and a rather rosy-cheeked Jeeves in her wake. The resemblance we both possessed to tomatoes was startling. I carried the tray to the small bedside table and poured a cup for Jeeves. "Sorry about that, old thing," I murmured, handing him the cup. He added a bit of milk and sugar and sipped at it cautiously.

"Will that be all right?" I asked.

He sipped again and gave his cup a pensive gaze. "I think so." Reaching over to the tray for a cucumber sandwich, he looked up at me. "I apologize for my unseemly behavior, sir."

I sat on the bed by his hip, facing him. "Now, see here, Jeeves. Part of the point of this sentinel whatsit is that this whole thingummy happening between us isn't unseemly at all." I took a bracing breath as he nibbled at the sandwich, watching me. "You know, a few days ago, Aunt Dahlia told me she was relieved this had happened."

He tilted an eyebrow and I could tell he was surprised. "Sir?"

"Yes. It seems she'd had me pegged as 'not the marrying kind' for some time, and had been rather concerned about Bertram causing some sort of awful scandal, bringing the wrath of God and possibly Aunt Agatha down on us all. She said that now, at least, she'd not have to worry about a scandal anymore."

"I see, sir." His voice carried a distinct tinge of soupiness, despite the sandwich in his hand.

I gave the Wooster onion a shake. "She was right, of course, much as I hate to admit it." I stared at the tea tray, desperately wishing for a gasper. I leaned on one hand, feeling the softness of the duvet against my palm. "I want you to know, old fruit, that whether this had ever happened or not, I've always had a bit of a thing for you. Not that I'd have done anything about it; I know how it would have offended your feudal spirit and all." I looked back up at him. There was an unsettled air about his eyes. "I'd hate to think that what I... what I feel for you is just because of what we are. That we didn't have a choice, I mean to say."

He sighed, his face tightening slightly. Jeeves sipped his tea again before he actually spoke. "The question of fate versus free will has always been a vexing one, sir, particularly among philosophers who have studied the phenomenon of the sentinel-guide bond."

"When you were talking with the chaps from the Institute a few days ago, you said you weren't able to leave, even though you tried." The very thought of his wanting to leave me left a horrifying ache in my chest. "Does that mean you wouldn't... well, you know. If we weren't."

Jeeves set his cup down on its saucer. "Sir..." I could feel a mess of tangled emotions coming off him. He was sounding a bit choked up.

"It's all right." I felt the sting of disappointment go through me, but I suppose I should have expected it. He'd never have stayed with me if he'd not been compelled to. This Wooster should long ago have learned never to ask questions he didn't want answered. My e.s slipped closed, stinging a bit.

"No. No, sir, you misunderstand. This has all been very sudden and I have never been in the habit of allowing my emotions to rule me. I have rarely even deigned to let others see them unless it was well outside of my professional role. The current situation has been overwhelming and only now is my head even beginning to clear enough to allow me to think. I have always known I was, as you say, 'not the marrying kind.'"

Feeling a hopeful spark light the old thorax, I looked up at him. "You have?" The spark fluttered and faded. "But you wanted to leave."

"I did not want to leave, sir, I tried to leave. There is a distinct difference."

"Oh. Oh, I say." Did he mean what I thought he meant? "Do you mean what I think you mean?"

"I have never particularly been a believer in fate, sir."

"But what about those philosopher Johnnies and their vexed q.s?"

"Ultimately, one must decide such things for oneself."

"So that means--"

He reached out cautiously and took my hand in his. A wave of desperate want and intense fear jolted through me at his touch; his or mine, I couldn't tell anymore. "I believe that what I feel for you is real, sir. That I was unable to leave you was evidently a consequence of what I am -- of what we are -- but I firmly believe that the attraction itself is not."

"You said you didn't want to want me," I whispered, still not quite believing that we were having the convo.

"Because I believed that such a desire would only endanger both of us should you have been well-disposed to it, sir." His reply was soft and much more tentative than I was used to from the man. He'd never seemed hesitant before all this happened. Hesitation was for mere mortals and Jeeves was the sort of chap that one might assume had shimmered down from Olympus on a bolt of lightning, surrounded by swans and bulls and showers of gold and whatnot.

"I... Do you suppose I might be allowed to kiss you, old thing?" I asked, feeling a bit desperate all on my own.

He shivered. "I fear that would lead to a mutual desire for a number of things I would be unable to give you at the moment, sir," Jeeves murmured.

I was dashed disappointed, but I knew he was in a precarious state of health. They'd not even pulled the stitches out of him yet. I leaned in and wrapped the Wooster limbs about him instead, just needing to be close to him. He returned the embrace, burying his fingers in my hair, and I could feel him shaking as he held me. I found myself awash in an entire ocean of emotions, mine and his, far too deep to express. "I do want you," he whispered, "but I hardly feel well enough to move, much less do all the things I would like to with you."

I nodded into his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. You need to eat something, and then you need to rest. You don't need me molesting you." As if on cue, his stomach gurgled rather rudely.

"Perhaps you're right, sir." We parted very reluctantly. I could feel something in both of us reaching out to one another and it was painful to let him go. Just to be sure I wouldn't do something foolish, I got up and plopped myself back on a chair. Jeeves turned a suspiciously longing gaze at me, the like of which I had never seen on his dial before, but tucked into his tea like a good valet. I picked up my book and attempted to ignore everything I was feeling.

***

It was a rough night kipping next to Jeeves, despite how comfortable the bed and the soft sheets and pillows were. He, for the first time since the accident, spent the nocturnal hours genuinely sleeping without having to be drugged senseless to accomplish it. In that matter, our shuffling from the old metrop to Porth Din-thingummy was an unabashed success. Bertram, on the other hand, spent said night desperately reminding himself that Jeeves was still injured and didn't need hands in impolite places that might get him stirred up too much. Nor did the man need to be awakened. He'd had a difficult enough time getting any rest without my interference.

Jeeves lay curled about the Wooster corpus with his head resting on my shoulder. I was glad he could bend a bit, after the surgery. Hacking open one's abdomen, after all, was a dashed nasty thing to have to have done, and it did leave serious scars. We'd been told he'd have to try being up on his feet again for a bit after breakfast, beyond shuffling off to the salle de bain for the obligatory morning inundation and such. I was prepared for a great deal of stiff upper lipping from him, even if he hurt too much for the prescribed walk down the hallway and back.

True to form, Jeeves made the assay with gritted teeth and beads of sweat upon the noble brow, but claimed that he was quite all right, sir, thank you very much. I tutted at him, but he would not be moved. That is to say, he would not be dissuaded; he moved well enough as he hobbled along the floor with me helping to hold him up. It was a relief to deposit him back between the -- now changed -- bedsheets, though. Not long after we got him settled again and I'd had myself a gasper, Peter and Neil ankled in.

"Top of the morning, gentlemen," Neil said, a cheerful lilt to his voice. "You're looking rather better this morning, Mr Jeeves."

"I was finally able to sleep last night, Mr O'Brien," Jeeves told him. "It was a relief to do so without the aid of medications."

"I don't doubt it." He and Peter pulled up the two chairs, so I sat on the bed by Jeeves, wondering what wisdom these chaps were going to impart to us.

"Have you read any of the papers from the folder you got at the hospital yet, Bertie?" Peter asked.

"Some of it," I said. "I was a bit lost, though. I didn't quite get why there was all that talk of animals and dreams and that sort of rot." More mystical mumbo-jumbo, I was certain.

Peter chuckled. "Well, yeah, that's a part we don't really talk about to outsiders much. Most people would call them spirit animals, but the Institute insists on calling them 'animal archetypes.' That Swiss fellow, Jung, talks about archetypes being constructs in your mind or something, but I think our friends are much more real than that."

"The English, they don't want to think anything they can't put a hand on is real," Neil grumbled.

"Well, why on earth would animals in one's dreams be at all important? I can't say as I follow the argument."

Jeeves didn't say a word. He just lay back in the bed with one hand over the surgical site. I could tell he was in pain, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been, so I didn't ask him about it. If I felt it getting worse, I'd get one of the doctors for him, like it or not. It was getting considerably harder for him to fool me lately.

"Think of them as a reflection of your true nature, if you'd like," Peter said. "Not only do they show the sentinel and guide something about themselves, they can also communicate with us and sometimes they'll give us information we wouldn't otherwise have access to. They can give you strength when you think you haven't any left. In rare cases, I've heard that they can help keep you alive or even bring you back from the brink of death. It gets complicated."

"I'll say," I said. "It sounds like a load of tosh."

Neil leaned back in his chair, crossed his gams at the ankles and tucked his hands behind his head. "So tell me, Bertie, have you been having any dreams of animals since all this happened? Or have you had recurring dreams of a specific animal over the course of your life?"

Jeeves raised an eyebrow at that but remained silent as a particularly solemn granite wall. "Now that you mention it," I said, "I've had dreams recently -- the past six months or so -- where a ferret has been popping up. Jolly little chap with white feet, like gloves and spats, and a splotch on his bib like a little black bow tie. He's been rather upset, though. Quite insistent about something and I've never been able to sort it before the dream ends." I could feel a bolt of what felt like surprise in the Jeevesian corpus at that.

Peter barely managed to cover a snicker. I sent him a searing glower. "Well, that explains a lot," he said, terribly amused for no reason I could understand. It probably wouldn't be a reason I could approve of, either. "Has he reappeared in the past few days?"

"Every bally night," I said. "Though he's not been quite so out of sorts the last couple of times he's showed up. He's been acting like he wanted me to follow him somewhere, though. An absolute puzzle. I mean to say, where could I follow a tiny fellow like that? I wouldn't exactly fit into the little bloke's burrow."

"If he shows up tonight," Neil said, "do try to follow him, would you? It's probably about the bond."

"If you say so."

"I do," Neil said, insistent. He looked over to Jeeves. "And what about you, Mr Jeeves?"

He raised an eyebrow and considered before he answered. "I have, all my life, had recurrent dreams of a fox, sir. It is of the particular colour generally called silver. I had been quite interested in the phenomenon of the recurrent fox dreams, but did not regard it as important. I surmise that I was incorrect."

"Well, you've always been clever as a fox, Jeeves," I said.

"As you say, sir."

Our guests nodded sagely. "All your life?" Peter asked.

"Indeed, sir."

"The more I learn, the more surprised I am that you didn't manifest as a sentinel much earlier," Peter said.

"Perhaps it was simply not the right time, sir," Jeeves answered. His fingers crept over to my leg, just resting against it. I shuffled slightly closer to him, wanting the contact.

"And has the fox been doing anything unusual recently?" Neil asked.

"I would prefer to keep the contents of my dreams to myself, sir, unless I feel that I am unable to interpret them without assistance."

"Fair enough, that."

Peter nodded. "We'll trust your judgment on that, Mr Jeeves. The primary goal of the day is to introduce you to the most basic technique for control of your sentinel abilities." Jeeves didn't nod, but there was an air of expectancy hovering about him like a flock of pigeons in a park.

"You're familiar with the idea of a volume dial on a wireless radio, I assume?" Neil asked.

"Of course, sir." There was a soupy undertone of 'Do you take me for an idiot?' to it.

"I'd like you to imagine that your five senses are all wireless receivers of a sort. Each of them has a volume dial marked one to ten that you can adjust to where it's most comfortable, or most useful."

"Very good, sir."

"Your task for today is to spend a little time with a couple of your senses, turning that dial up and down. Best to start slowly, and be sure to use Bertie here as the focus for all that. You'll not get lost in him; he's your guide and your anchor, and he'll be the one directing you to turn things up or down."

"I will?"

"You will, indeed." Neil nodded. "Just remember to use your voice the way we taught you. It'll help keep him focused."

"I had noticed a particular quality to your voice from time to time in the last two days, sir," Jeeves said. "It has a nearly hypnotic effect." His fingers traced along the side of my leg as I sat next to him. "I find it... very pleasing." There was a stir of something between us and I took a sharp breath to try to control it. "There is something soothing in the harmonic quality of it that draws and focuses the attention."

"Well," I said, going for the old h. q., "we should try it then, what?" Jeeves nodded. I looked over at the chaps who were, apparently, our teachers for the nonce. "What should we start with?"

"Start with hearing," Neil murmured. "I'm sure you're most used to working with that one, Mr Jeeves, so it'll probably be most comfortable and natural for you to play with it a bit. Remember that you're listening to your guide, not to anything else in the room or outside, there." He nodded to me. "You'll have him take it up and then down a few times, Bertie, not more than about an eight to start. Five is normal human hearing range, one is shutting everything off entirely. So don't take him down below a two, right?"

"Right ho." I looked over at Jeeves and he looked back at me, a determined wrinkle upon the Jeevesian brow as he nodded, indicating his readiness. I kept up the soft, soothing tone as I meandered him up and down the volume dial, as instructed. Neil hadn't told me how long we were supposed to go at it, so I just kept on for a fair bit of time, using his given name from time to time instead of just calling him Jeeves, and pausing here and there to let him adjust to the whole thingummy.

His eyes closed after a few moments, despite my less-than-feudal use of his given name, and he followed my instructions. As I took him up toward the eight-ish region, he got a bit shaky, starting to pant and break a bit of a sweat, so I drew him back down, letting him get used to it before I took him back up again.

By the time Neil called for a quiet stop, we were back at the middle of the dial and about an hour had passed. I was tired from talking, but Jeeves was entirely drained. "That's very well done, lads," Neil said. "A very good start at it. Take a break for a while and rest up." He and Peter stood. "We'll be off now and come to check in on you after tea. When you're feeling a little rested, try it again with one of your other senses, just slow and gentle, like you did with the hearing. If you run into any trouble at all or you have any questions, you'll send Olwen for us. She's the little blond thing in the office."

"Right, then. Toodle-pip, chaps."

They legged it off stage left and I gave Jeeves a glance. He was leaning back in the pillows, looking more than a bit pale and knackered. I ran a hand over his troubled brow and into his hair and he sighed quietly, resting his head in my palm. "That was far more exhausting than I would have wagered, sir," he said, quiet.

"Are you all right, old fruit?"

He nodded, his hair tickling my hand. "Tired but unhurt."

"Jolly good."

"Would... would you come and lie with me, sir?"

"Of course. You needn't ask as though you think I wouldn't do it for you." I dropped the Wooster corpus onto the duvet and snuggled up to him. He let his head rest on my shoulder, as he had during the night, one arm draped over me. "Better?"

"Much, sir." He hesitated slightly, then said, "The more contact we have, the better I feel. Your... your skin on mine is particularly affecting."

"I see." I shifted slightly and pressed my cheek to his forehead, running my fingers up into his hair. He sighed quietly and relaxed against me.

"Thank you, sir."

I wanted so much more.

***

One of the resident physicians, a Dr Collins, came by and examined Jeeves's stitches and whatnot just before luncheon. We were told he was doing well and in another five days or so, most of his stitches could come out. The ones over the surgical site would possibly take a couple of days longer, but that was only to be expected.

"Why are there so few people here?" Jeeves asked the chap. I'll admit, I had been wondering a bit myself. "I would have thought the Institute would be much larger, given the number of potential sentinels and guides in Britain."

Dr Collins nodded. "The main facility for the Institute is actually in Sussex. This is a specialized facility for sentinels who manifest suddenly in adulthood. They are often in very precarious condition and frequently do not yet have a guide, so control of the environment is particularly important for their recovery and adjustment. As you have no doubt experienced for yourself, Mr Jeeves, the city is not an ideal place for someone whose sensory control is nonexistent."

Jeeves nodded. "As you say, doctor."

"Will we be able to go back to our lives once we're done here?" I asked.

"We do have an eighty-seven percent success rate for aiding sentinels and guides in readjusting to society, Mr Wooster. Most of the instances of failure involve sentinels for whom we cannot find a compatible guide. In your particular case, your chances are excellent. I would rate them at nearly one-hundred percent, in fact. Your previously existing connection is extremely valuable toward this end, and I have no doubt you'll be able to reintegrate without trouble."

We all chatted for a bit after that, with Jeeves asking quite a few questions about his actual medical condition that I wouldn't have thought to even consider. I was glad he was comfortable and able to think more clearly now. Seeing him in hospital back in the metrop had left the young master feeling thoroughly incapable of doing anything for him at all. Here, though, I felt useful and even necessary. It was a good feeling.

Collins had a few words for us about the whole bonding thing, noting that, though it was critical and really should happen instanter, it would be best for Jeeves's health to wait until at least a few days after his stitches came out so as to avoid doing him another injury -- ten days to two weeks, he guessed. "I understand it will be a difficult wait," he said, "but the risk of re-opening wounds after the stitches have been removed is something that must be considered." He stood then, rising like a dark-haired tree above me, bid us a good afternoon, and shimmered off to do doctorly things elsewhere.

After luncheon, we had a packet of mail and telegrams delivered from our flat back in the metrop. There was a letter for Jeeves from Mabel, which he read with some interest. I dashed through my own correspondence, including a rather testy telegram from Aunt Agatha demanding my immediate presence.

"Jeeves," I said, "I fear that once we depart this sheltered sward, we shall have to beard Aunt Agatha in her den. Aunt Dahlia told her what happened, and she's dashed insistent upon an audience. I'll tell her our presence is required here until further notice, but she will not be appeased so simply."

"She rarely is, sir."

"We're going to have to call upon her when we leave."

"Very good, sir," he said, with a hint of horror creeping about his vowels. There was far more than just a hint of it wafting off him from beneath the surface. I hadn't realized quite how much he disliked, or perhaps dreaded, Aunt Agatha. Not that I blamed him in the least, you understand. She's eminently dreadable.

I biffed over from my chair at the table to the bed and dropped myself upon it, perching beside him so that he could lean against me. "I didn't realize she bothered you that much, old fruit. You've always seemed so stalwart in the face of her nephew-sacrificing ways."

He settled his weight against my side and I rested an arm about his shoulders. With the barest hint of a sigh, he said, "Prior to recent events, I did not feel quite this level of apprehension, sir. Now, however, I will admit that I fear what she might do, knowing of the change in our situation. She has always been most unwavering in her campaign to see you at the altar and has viewed me as her primary impediment toward that task. This will no doubt displease her, as it makes her goal effectively impossible."

"Well, given that I don't know how long we'll be here, we obviously have time for your great brain to come up with something. We'll just have to stock up on fish for you. Make sure they bung some kippers into your breakfast and all that. And we do have Aunt Dahlia's support in this, you know."

"You did mention that, sir." There was a whiff of relief about him at that.

"I'll write Aunt Dahlia and ask her to shove Aunt Agatha's attention off on Claude and Eustace for the nonce. I've heard they're back in England's green and pleasant whatsit. We were lucky not to have been descended upon by the blighters already." Their sojourn in South Africa hadn't gone well and perhaps the aged a. might be persuaded to gnaw upon their shanks instead of Bertram's. They, after all, had been sent down from Oxford and banished from the country, whereas I had managed to graduate and maintain a steady and more or less respectable residence despite the stream of brimstone from the wrinkled relation's corner of the inferno.

"It would be an agreeable diversion, sir."

"Regardless, we have other things to do here, and now that you've eaten and rested a bit, we should get back to them, what?"

"I agree, sir. Despite what awaits us at Bumpleigh Hall once we are discharged from our residency here, I do wish to resume our lives as soon as we may."

"Absolutely, old thing. It's my intention as well. So they said we should try other senses. We've done hearing; what you do think you want to poke at next, old fruit?"

"Perhaps one that was not previously enhanced, sir? I am going to have to make the attempt at some point."

I nodded. "All right, then. Do you have a preference?"

He thought for a moment. "Scent, sir?" He sounded slightly nonplussed. "If you are willing, of course. We were told that I should focus my attentions upon you as opposed to anything else, so as to avoid a most unfortunate and unpleasant episode of sensory-derived catatonia."

"Erm, yes. So you'd have to, what, sniff me?" I could understand the Jeevesian nonplussing. It seemed terribly improper, but I wasn't sure how else we were supposed to proceed. "I suppose it would be all right, if it wouldn't make you too uncomfortable."

The damask cheek of my valet flushed slightly. "I will admit I am rather dreading the idea of attempting this with the sense of taste, sir."

An entirely obscene set of images raced through the Wooster onion. I stomped upon them as firmly as possible. "Oh. I say. That would be... somewhat awkward."

"Yes, sir."

"Well. Right, then. Lay on with the nose, Macduff."

He was already leaning against me, so we shifted slightly and he rested his cheek on my shoulder and closed his eyes. I revved up the old guiding voice, which I realized actually held something of a boudoir tenor to it. The idea that I should be speaking to him in such a tone of voice, with his nose tucked into my neck and behind my ear, would have been disturbing if it were not so dashed pleasant. I tried not to think too much about it as I talked him slowly through the whole wheeze, just as I had with his hearing earlier.

This test was much more intimate, but at least we were alone for it, sparing us any potential embarrassment. By the time we got about fifteen minutes into our test match, both of us were fighting a powerful feeling of arousal. We held each other as I whispered to him, trying to stay with the prescribed dance card as much as possible. Not much later, Jeeves was shivering again, but it wasn't due to pain.

"Listen to me, Reg," I whispered, feeling a wild, heated desire blowing through both of us, "you need to get hold of yourself, old thing."

The tip of his tongue touched my neck then, hot and wet, and I gasped. He traced it slowly along my skin toward my ear, then took my earlobe into his mouth and suckled at it, his breathing harsh and needy. It shot tingles through me and made the little Wooster sit up and take far more notice than was appropriate. "Reg."

He pulled away for a moment, though only far enough to speak, his lips against my ear. "Please, sir, please, I..." He panted for a moment, struggling for control, holding me desperately close. I couldn't think, I wanted him so badly. "Oh, God, Bertram, please--"

I tried to pull back, but it was like we were held together by steel bands. The next thing I knew, his mouth was on mine and we kissed with a furious passion. I'd thought I understood a little about desire but this was so much larger, so much more frantic and overwhelming than anything I'd ever felt before. God knows, I wanted him, but we couldn't do this now -- the doctor had said as much. Jeeves was everything I wanted, but he was also not in the least able to take care of himself right now, and I was responsible for him. I had to make sure he'd be all right.

It was wrenching, and not just physically, to pull myself away from his kiss. I felt like I was tearing something in my heart, but I couldn't let him come to harm. "Reg, no, you're -- I can't hurt you!" I rolled us so that he was under me and held his shoulders down, raising myself up just enough to give us some breathing space. The evidence of his arousal was quite prominent against my body. "We can't, we can't do this right now."

When his eyes opened, they were so dashed dark, as though all of night lay within them. He gasped for breath, his fingers clutching my arms tight enough to bruise, and I could feel his pain at not being able to carry on. "I want this. You want this. Please," he panted.

"We can't. Not now. Not today." I hated having to say it; his body was so hot and solid against mine, and everything in me screamed to kiss him again, to tear off our clothes, to take him as my own. I fought it off, like the preux chevalier I had to be, for his sake.

After a moment's internal struggle, his body went limp, still gasping and aching with the want that I could feel drowning him. His eyes closed and I felt an agonizing wave of sorrow flood him on top of it all. His voice was rough, and cracked when he spoke. "I'm sorry, sir, I--"

"No," I said. "No, this is what's supposed to happen with us, Reg, just not right now. I would hurt you, or you'd hurt yourself, and I can't let that happen. Do you understand? I can't hurt you." And it was the thought of hurting him that dashed over me like icy water, letting me finally loosen that steel band between us enough to breathe.

Jeeves opened his eyes. There was something devastated in them. "I thought I could control it," he rasped. "Th-the need I feel is so immense and so difficult to fight. I'm sorry, sir."

I raised a hand and caressed his cheek, brushing his hair back from his eyes and letting my fingers trail down along his temple. "We both know what's going to happen, Reg. I don't think you have to call me sir anymore."

He blinked and I could tell he was trying not to let tears fall. "I don't know how to do this. I don't know what will become of me." There was misery in his voice, in his whole body.

"I'll help you," I told him. "That's why we're together, so I can help you." He nodded and I let myself rest on him, holding him tight. His arms clenched around me and he shook, his breath harsh but slowly settling. "It's all right, Reg," I whispered. "We're going to be all right. We can get through this. It's just another ten days or so, maybe a little longer." It felt like forever.

"I hate this," he groaned, and I could feel the ache inside him.

***

Later that afternoon, when Peter and Neil came back, I think they could tell just by looking what had happened to us. "Perhaps for the moment, you should stick with just sight and hearing exercises," Peter said.

"I think that would be wise," Jeeves answered.

"Still," Neil told us, "much as you wouldn't think so, skin contact does help. It's very steadying."

"I don't know that I could trust myself, Mr O'Brien."

Neil slung a raised ginger eyebrow at him. "You'd be surprised, Mr Jeeves." His and Peter's chairs were next to one another, fairly close, and he reached out and started stroking his fingers through Peter's hair. I could almost hear the man purr like a moggie after only a moment of it. "It doesn't have to be a sexual thing and it could help with that need you're both feeling to be touching one another. It's a rough spot you're in, needing to consummate the bond but not able to because of injuries. That doesn't mean you have to spend the next ten days or so sitting across the room from each other."

Sitting across the room from each other was, in fact, exactly what we were doing. Or, rather, Jeeves was sitting in bed and I was leaned up against the wall beside the wardrobe, attempting to look nonchalant. I was failing miserably.

"Here, now, Bertie, go sit with him again. I'm telling you, it'll help." Neil waved his hand at Jeeves and I ankled over to the bed. I had to take a steadying breath before I sat down next to Jeeves. "Right, lad, like that."

Jeeves looked up at me, suspicious. I laid on with the fingers before I could talk myself out of it. Jeeves was nearly vibrating with tension when I touched him, but I stroked my fingers through his hair, soft and gentle, and whispered to him with that voice, and he slowly started calming again. Neil was right, it wasn't sparking the same desperation in us that we'd been trying to avoid since the whole scent debacle.

It took a few minutes, but Jeeves finally sighed and relaxed, just resting his head against my shoulder while I petted him.

"You can work on touch like this," Neil murmured, "just easing it up and down while you do that. Working on it all from Mr Jeeves's end of things can wait until he's healthy enough to deal with the inevitable." A wry smile quirked his lips. "It'll be necessary eventually, but right now's not the time for it."

When Peter spoke, he sounded half asleep, or perhaps lazily besotted. He was, in fact, awfully cat in the sunny spot about the whole thing. "So you managed to pull back when you found yourselves accidentally going too far. That's very good. You're both doing amazingly well with this, you know. Don't be beating yourselves up over the whole thing. The need to create the bond is very strong, and the fact that you could stop because you knew it wasn't the right time is something you should be very pleased you managed to accomplish. What you did was very, very difficult and I'm deeply impressed with you both."

"You could have warned us," I said, with more than a moderate amount of asperity.

Peter nodded. "I honestly thought you'd go with sight today, not try to jump into something like scent or taste. That's our fault. We should have said something, and I apologize. Still, you did very well with it."

"Well, all right, then." I sighed, still running my fingers through my paragon's hair. "What's done is done and all that."

"Just stay with that for the rest of the day," Neil said. "Don't try any of the others except as we've discussed until the stitches come out. Even then, you'll want to wait a few days until Dr Collins gives you the pass for, ah, more strenuous activities."

"He's supposed to be up to walk about the hallways a bit this evening again." I looked over at Jeeves, who gazed back at me looking slightly glazed over. In fact, he was looking rather cat in the sunny spot himself. He'd done all right with the walking about wheeze this morning, but I knew it had been painful for him. Doing the fingers in the hair whatsit when we got back would probably be a good idea and might help him feel better afterwards.

***

We took things gently for most of the next week. Jeeves was on his feet more and more with each passing day and growing stronger again, though he still ached a fair bit. We managed to avoid any serious bouts of losing him to an overdose of overcome senses. When he slipped away I was increasingly able to bring him back fairly quickly. It was a relief to both of us. I knew that we were in safe territory here, but we'd no idea how he would cope with leaving this quiet seaside spot. We both feared entering Aunt Agatha's den when we left. I worried for my man, though I didn't want him to know it.

We also managed to avoid getting ourselves in over our heads with that whole bonding wheeze again, though it was near as a toucher several times. Being so close to him constantly and wanting each other so badly was a trial, and I knew that when it finally happened it was going to be a corker. We managed to share a few soft, reassuring kisses when things were at their most difficult, but sitting wrapped in each other's arms and trying to remember to breathe helped a great deal. We discovered that, there's a word that sounds like a pair of something, means you wouldn't expect the two things to go together -- paradox, that's the chappie -- paradoxically, sleeping together sans clothing seemed to help a bit as well. Jeeves had noted that skin contact helped him, and this seemed to be a part of it. It's not that the whole thing wasn't, well, quite sensual and terribly tempting, but there was just something solid and grounding about it as well. It seemed to make everything more real for us.

I kept having dreams about the ferret every night, but I wasn't sure I believed what Peter and Neil said about them being important. It wasn't as though dream ferrets could actually tell me anything -- I mean to say, ferrets can't talk, what?

One night, the little blighter got entirely insistent, latching his teeth into my trouser leg and attempting to drag me off with him. It was an odd sensation, as though something actually were attached to my leg and genuinely pulling at me, much like a minuscule but overly enthusiastic terrier might.

Frustrated, I decided to follow him along. He bounced off through the shrubbery, chittering and chirping like a mad thing, seemingly overjoyed that I was finally doing what he wanted. Sure enough, he dashed into a little hole in the ground. I stood and stared, distinctly displeased.

"Surely you can't expect me to follow you in there," I said, crossing my arms and glowering a bit. "I won't bally well fit!"

A moment later a little ferrety nose poked out of the hole. He looked up at me and I got the strangest sensation that he thought I was a useless blighter, and perhaps more than a little dim as well. I was used to that from aunts, but it was the frozen limit to get it from a ferret -- and one that might not even actually exist, at that! "Now, see here, you!" He chittered again and poked himself out a little further, grabbing my trouser leg again and giving it a tug. Suddenly, I was about the same size he was.

"I say!" I looked around, gawping like a beached haddock. He chittered again. Well, I thought, no sense in this Wooster not following along now. Reality seemed slightly more flexible than I was quite used to. A chap should bally well stay the same size, I mean to say. How could anyone get things done if they were constantly changing size, like that Alice beazel with the rabbit? Anyway, we tucked down into the hole and around a few corners before the thing opened up to something my normal sized corpus could fit into and I found myself expanding again to fit into the little den.

There, sitting amongst a soft-looking pile of leaves, was a fox. It was, in fact, just the sort of fox that Jeeves had described to Peter and Neil when I'd first asked about the animal spirits thingummy. He looked up at me and his dark, thick tail thupped on the ground a few times, seeming enthusiastic. "Hullo there, little chap," I said.

He stood and stretched in an elegant, if desultory, manner then bumped his nose with the ferret's. Giving a pointed glance to a mossy bit of log, he sat by the thingummy, as if to say 'have a seat, Wooster.' I sat.

"Is this about that bonding thing everyone's been on about?"

At that, the fox eased himself up into my lap and the ferret scampered up my leg, across my back and onto my shoulder, braced his forepaws on my head, and looked down over me, his little upside-down nose hovering between my eyes. I had to cross them to look at him. "I take it that's a yes. Well, chaps, there's nothing I can do about that blasted bond right now. Reg hasn't got his stitches out, and he's still in rather a bit of pain, you know. I don't want to hurt him, after all."

Both of them gave me something of a grim look.

"I say, now! That's no way to act. I can't make him better any faster than he's already getting there."

The fox gave a little yip, obviously displeased with me. He was a handsome fellow, with black ears, muzzle, and extremities, and a dark, silver grey body. "You should stay away from my Aunt Dahlia," I said, waving a chiding finger at him. "She'd no doubt have the hounds on you. That would be a bit of not good." He tilted his head and gave me an annoyed look. "Right, not what we're here for. Probably nothing her hounds could do to you anyway. You're just a dream, after all."

The fox reached up with one paw and touched my cheek. I had the strangest feeling that the little chap was worried. Not worried in general, but worried about Jeeves in particular, I was fairly sure. "Well, yes," I said. "I'm worried about him too. I have no idea how to take care of him, you know. I'm afraid I'll just cock it up terribly as soon as we leave the Institute, and he'll end up in a very bad way, or even dead, because I've done something idiotic. Neil said sometimes if a sentinel gets lost in his senses without his guide about to help him, he could get hit by a passing lorry or something without even knowing it was there. I mean to say, I almost got squashed by a cab myself once, though Reg was there to pull the Wooster corpus out of the way. One doesn't even have to be a sentinel for these things to happen, you know."

The little chap tilted his nose up and licked mine. My nose, I mean. I think he meant it to be comforting and, in a way, it was. The ferret -- who was still perched on my head, mind you -- gave a quiet chirp and nuzzled into my hair.

"You know what really bothers me, though? Aunt Agatha." Both of them gave a little shiver. "I don't blame you. I feel that way myself. If you really exist outside of my dreams somehow, and you're actually supposed to be able to help us, then you've got to help me keep Reg safe from her. I have a terrible feeling she might have some sort of plot in her head to try to pry us away from one another. She's never liked him at all. I can't see this softening her up on him in the least."

The fox gave me a determined look and let out an odd, squeaky bark, and the ferret snuggled down on my shoulder and tucked his head under my chin, giving me a bit of a fuzzy nuzzle. It rather tickled. "Now, then, no tickling!" The little blighter chirped at me, and I think he meant it to sting, because his whiskers got quite insistently tickly on my chin again. I couldn't help giggling because of it.

The fox lectured me with a dashed impressive litany of high-pitched sounds and I rather got the feeling I was supposed to keep a stiff upper lip and come talk to them if I needed assistance with anything. His last comment was a pointed, if squeaky, bark, and he lifted his chin like Jeeves occasionally does when he's quite satisfied with himself.

"Right ho. I'll be sure to send a telegram or something if there's any trouble, what? Can one actually send telegrams to a dream, I wonder?" Even if I could do such an absurd thing, could a fox or a ferret even read a telegram? Well, if the fox was supposed to be Jeeves's alter-whatsit or express something about his inner nature, he probably could. He had to be at least as clever as Jeeves was. I wasn't so sure about the ferret.

The ferret chittered his assent and the next thing I knew, the fur-bearing creatures and their den vanished in a puff of metaphysical whatsit without even allowing me a cheery toodle-pip; Bertram settled back into the deep and dreamless.

***

By the time the last of Jeeves's stitches were out, he was able to dress in normal clothing again most of the time. He'd have dashed nasty bouts of discomfort over the whole thing sometimes, with the cloth irritating his skin and causing him to need to swap back into the Institute's softer clothing but, for the most part, it felt like our lives were on the verge of returning to normal. I wasn't about to let him wear his valeting uniform here and, thankfully, Aunt Dahlia had arranged to mostly have his other clothing sent along to us; there was only one of his uniforms in the lot, for which I was grateful. I assume she meant him to wear it once we were heading back to the metrop.

He was also well enough to walk about outside, if we took it easy. Porth Dinllaen was down in the lee of a peninsula on a lovely little sandy bay, mostly shielded from the prevailing winds by a ridge of low hills, and we had taken a very slow, careful walk up the road to the top of one of said hills with a blanket and a basket of things for a picnic. Picking a spot with a topping view of the Irish Sea, we'd planted ourselves and were mangling a few sandwiches whilst perched upon the blanket.

The tension between us had been growing harder and harder to defuse but, for the most part, we'd resisted talking about it. I suppose we both thought that not saying anything might make it easier to ignore. I wasn't so sure about that anymore, though, because I had been feeling the well of chaotic emotions under the calm Jeevesian stuffed frog exterior growing deeper and more unmanageable with each passing hour. In fact, the more emotion he wrestled with, the stuffier his frogginess got.

I'd never thought Jeeves had more than a passing acquaintance with passion. That is to say, I thought perhaps he'd shaken hands with it once or twice then shimmered off to dust the furniture or iron some trousers. I'd seen him in New York, enjoying himself, smiling and laughing, when he'd been standing in for old Rocky Todd, and I hadn't wanted to disturb him for fear of throwing him off his stride by provoking his feudal spirit into calling me 'sir' in front of people who thought of him as his own man. That didn't seem terribly passionate, though. It was more just a chap having a pleasant time. Yet here, in this moment, there was an unmistakable and nearly measureless depth of the old frantic pash lurking within, like miles of coral reefs under the still surface of the waves. He was currently so deeply taxidermied that I was sure something was going to pop soon if we didn't have a few words.

My own dreams of the past couple of nights had suggested that our furry spectral companions were equally sure an explosion of some sort was immanent, as well. I hadn't talked to Jeeves about the dreams because he'd indicated a desire to keep his to himself, and one didn't want to pry. It wasn't generally the done thing, but I was beginning to question the wisdom of that approach.

I sat on the blanket with Jeeves's head resting on my lap, my fingers trailing through his hair. He was tense, his face and his whole demeanor heavily barricaded -- there may have been moats and boiling oil involved -- but his eyes were closed and he was obviously valiantly attempting to contain everything that was seething inside him. Despite my hesitation, I knew I had to reach out and try to pull him back from the edge upon which he was teetering. "This silence is going to smother you, Reg."

His eyes opened and he stared up into the sky. For all I knew, he might be examining the individual water molecules in the fluffy clouds above us. He didn't feel like he was getting lost, though, so I let him think a bit. Eventually, he lay one of his hands upon my hand where it stroked gently in his hair. Drawing it to his lips, he kissed my palm, putting a large splash of warmth and tenderness into the gesture. His eyes met mine as he let go of my hand again, his fingers trailing slowly over my skin. "I feel as though I am about to shatter," he said.

"I know."

"I'm afraid." I could feel a wave of it from him, sharp and cold, but I was surprised that he'd admit it. His face had barely shifted.

"Come here." I tugged him up to me and tucked my arms about the Jeevesian corpus, pulling at his shirt so that I could slip a hand beneath and rest it on the bare skin of his back. He did the same to me, and buried his face against my neck, and I could feel him trembling from holding everything inside. "I want you to tell me about the dreams you've had about that fox," I said, then applied my lips to his temple.

"Why?" The word held more than a twinge of puzzlement and anxiety.

"Because he's been poking at me constantly of late. They're both dashed worried about you, you know. The fox and the ferret, I mean. They won't leave me alone and they're quite insistent that I get you to talk. Apparently they think it'll help somehow."

There was a whirlwind of a tussle going on inside him, with an added shaker of agitation, though the only outward expression of it was a harsh swallow and a shaky breath. He kissed the skin at my throat, adding a tiny nibble with his lips that sent a shiver down my spine, then settled back a little to face me, his hands slipping down to rest on my thighs. "He... he led me to you," Jeeves said, "over three years ago when I was looking for a new situation." He wouldn't meet my eyes and I knew that he thought I wouldn't believe him. I was actually quite intrigued by the whole wheeze.

"Tell me about that, old thing." I raised a hand and gave his temple a soft caress. He sighed. "I'm not going to laugh and I'm not going to think you're loony, I can promise you that."

He nodded, not quite believing me but at least vaguely willing to go with it. "I had been with my previous employer for only two months," he said. "Mr Montague Todd was a very difficult man. He was able to charm those clients whom he used and offended but, for me, being in a room with him was like walking through a thicket of thorns. By the time I left his employ, as the police were putting an end to his financial confidence schemes, I felt... battered. Raw."

I nodded and waited for him to continue. It was obvious that talking about this was costing him dearly. "I spent two weeks in a room at the Junior Ganymede before I even opened the club book to begin a search for a new gentleman. It took that long for me to be able to tolerate human company again."

"It sounds awful." I rested my hands on his and he raised his eyes to meet mine again.

"It was."

"What happened then?"

"I spent another week perusing the book thoroughly. Yours was one of the names that stood out, for reasons I could not determine, but at that point you still had a valet and I did not seriously consider you as a possibility for that reason." That seemed fair enough. One doesn't generally engage two valets for only one gentleman, after all. "Reynard..." He hesitated for a moment. "I do not believe he actually has a name in any human language, but that is what I have always called him for the sake of convenience."

"Right ho." I didn't think the ferret had a name, either, really. Not one that a person would likely recognize or be able to pronounce, anyway.

"Reynard was quite insistent that I should go to you, despite the fact that you were not seeking a valet at the time. In a dream the night after I first read of you in the club book, he led me through the streets of London to your door. When I entered, I saw you there; I was lost in you even then, long before we met. I had never actually seen you physically -- not even a photograph of you -- but when I finally laid eyes on you for the first time..." Jeeves blushed. "Reynard's insistence was so strong that I declined to take a new position for over two months after that dream in the hope that you might be in need of a new valet before I ran out of funds to support myself. The image of you had haunted my dreams for months by the time we met."

"I had no idea." I was stunned.

"I thought myself a fool for waiting with not a single breath of evidence that you would soon be in need of a personal attendant, or even be the man I had seen in my dream, but I could bring myself to do nothing else. I had to know." He looked away again, taking a breath. I could feel the prodigious tangle of emotions welling in him again, pushing against the cracks inside him. "In those dreams, Reynard was often accompanied by another animal. It was, in fact, a ferret that answered to the description you gave to Mr Crow and Mr O'Brien."

"I say." That was even more of a stunner. "I thought you didn't believe in that whole fate thingummy?"

"I could have made myself find employment elsewhere. It would have been difficult, but possible, just as all my other situations had been. I chose to wait for you, to follow the image of you from that dream, beyond all reason. It was, I think, the best decision I have ever made."

"I think I agree," I whispered. I reached up and slipped my hand into the hair at the back of his head and pulled him forward the few inches it took to bring our lips together. The kiss was a corker, brimming with the tender pash and buckets of breathless enthusiasm. We were at it for quite some time, though we didn't dare get closer than we already sat. It was like being blown about by a windstorm and I felt pulled toward him with a barely resistible force.

We were both gasping for breath when the k. ended. Jeeves, eyes closed, said, "I need you with the most desperate intensity," and I could hear his voice breaking.

My fingers were tight in his hair and I didn't want to let go. His were knotted in my jacket's lapels. "Soon, Reg. Just a few more days, until the doc says you're all right."

He pulled himself together, suddenly almost predatory. "If I wasn't certain I would do myself harm, I would have you right here, this instant," he growled, looking me in the eyes with a force that jellied my spine. By Jove, I'd have bally well let him if I thought we wouldn't leave him injured again. Desire whipped out of him, sharp and painful, tangling in my gut, and I barely managed to hold steady against it. It was only the Code of the Woosters and all those generations of parfit gentil types I'd descended from standing between me and oblivion at that point. "I've fought this desire for you from the moment I first saw you, Bertram. I thought it would be my undoing. I've tried to flee it, tried to bury it, tried to burn it out of me by pursuing others, but nothing I've ever done has made so much as a scratch in the surface of it." His eyes closed and he leaned his forehead against mine, both of us still breathless. "Being in your presence was a blessed relief from the noise in my head for the first time in my life. You've made everything more bearable." I could feel something volcanic in him, rumbling under the surface, barely under control.

"I love you, Reg," I said, and I felt the tension in him snap, defused in that instant. Shaking, he took me into his arms, a brilliant blaze of love flaring between us. It had nothing at all to do with his corking profile when seen from the side, or from any other angle you'd wish to mention for that matter. It had nothing to do with soppiness or God's daisy chains or specific dream rabbits, either -- though one might possibly suspect a certain specific dream mustelid or vulpine. What it did have to do with was the absolute rightness of the two of us together, always. I held him close and we sat silent in the sun for a very long time.

***

The next few days were the most difficult of all. Jeeves was so distracted and distressed by what was happening between us -- or perhaps more accurately by what wasn't happening -- that at one point we lost him for most of a day. I was utterly beside myself about it and couldn't get him back on my own. I didn't think it bode well for our impending doom at Aunt Agatha's nightmarish domicile.

"I can't stand this," I told Peter and Neil a little later, while Jeeves was asleep after the whole ordeal. I was feeling a touch out of sorts, not just from wanting the man, but from having spent hours doing the guide wheeze and not getting anywhere. It had taken three of us to finally get Jeeves back.

"Believe me," Peter said, "the instant Dr Collins thinks it's safe for him, he'll give you the okay. Everyone here is being driven nearly to distraction by the lust coming off the two of you. We all want it to be over."

"What, really? I say! That's... terribly embarrassing."

Peter shrugged. "You live with a dozen sentinels in the same square mile, you get that happening. It's inevitable. It's not like you can hide it; there are some things you just can't shut out, no matter how hard you try. And really, Bertie, we've all had that need to bond. It's more difficult for you because of your circumstances, but you have us here to help you."

"We'll try some other things to keep him busier," Neil said. "He's been doing well enough with the training exercises that we could add something more, and it would likely distract him at least a bit from the rest of it."

And so it was that Jeeves spent time doing things like being tested for whether or not he could taste a single grain of salt in a gallon or more of water, learning to identify every bally flower in the garden by scent from a considerable distance upwind, or finding out how far away he could see something in its smallest details without the object actually dropping over the horizon, and other experiments that seemed singularly useless to this Wooster. He did admit it gave him something other than the Wooster corpus to focus his attention on and, so long as I was right there with him, all went reasonably well.

There were other minor incidents of him slipping into that frightening catatonia, but none were nearly so bad as the one above mentioned. I was grateful for that small favor.

It was with waves of relief to rival those sue-thingummies -- Jeeves says they're tsunamis, with a silent 't', though why anyone would want a silent 't' I haven't the foggiest; it's like that useless silent 'p' in pterodactyl or psychiatrist -- that we were finally given leave to get thoroughly indecent with one another.

One might think, after all that has been described above, that we'd have been ripping one another's clothes off the instant said doc ankled out and closed the door, but when we got right down to it, we were both hesitant to start anything. Frightened, I mean to say. We were staring down the gullet of a beast that looked dashed similar to a state of matrimony, after all. This was the sort of permanence that would see us to the old six feet under, 'til death do us part, etc. and anon. While marriage could, under a few closely regulated circs, be undone, this bonding wheeze was as fixed as it got. There wasn't a court anywhere that could pry the strands of a guide's soul apart once it was woven in with their sentinel's.

This is not to say that I didn't want Jeeves on a death do us part basis. Lord knows I did. The thought of him ever biffing off left flutters in the Wooster tum to rival the size of mastodons. It was just a matter of having spent so much time avoiding marital bliss that it was a deeply ingrained reaction to the very thought of being bound to someone else in that manner. Well, and there was that matter of the whole 'I am about to do unmentionable things with Reginald Jeeves, who rarely cracks a smile, much less talks about men mutually pleasuring one another' idea, as well. Dashed intimidating when one thinks about it.

We'd both got far better at intimacy since Jeeves was accidentally sentinelized. It was, after all, rather a requirement of the job, particularly for someone in my posish. Not knowing how he was feeling about something had become effectively impossible, and it was hard to tell whether a given emotional whatsit was Jeeves or self most of the time. That sort of thing tended to bend one's perceptions of what was acceptable between two chaps who hadn't previously tended to discuss emotional thingummies. There were moments I thought I was drowning and I worried there would be no Bertram left at all when this was done. I'd been assured it got easier afterward, but doubts still rung in my belfry like so many uneasy bats.

In sum, we both sat on our bed for half an hour or so after the doc left, doing nothing but holding onto each other as though the world were about to end. I suppose, in a way, it was.

It was Jeeves who finally broke the silence. "Are you certain you wish to do this, sir?"

Well, I mean to say, I didn't think it was right that he would go back to sirring me at this point. "What is this 'sir' wheeze, Reginald?" I asked, and I meant it to sting.

"You... No, we. We are both hesitating," he said. "I feared you might be having second thoughts. It..." His voice wavered. "If that were the case--"

"Pish-tosh," I said. "Any sane chap is going to have a slight case of cold feet before he finally ankles up the aisle to the altar. Why would this be any different?" I gave his hand a friendly squeeze.

He nodded. "I had not considered that, but perhaps you're correct." He sighed and tilted his head, resting his forehead against mine. I could feel everything inside us tangling again, filled with heat and need and dread and love and hope and a thousand other things I had no names for. One hand came up and he gave a caress to the damask Wooster cheek. "May I, Bertram?" he whispered; his voice was heavy with all of it.

Not wanting to trust my own voice, I nodded, then turned my face and kissed the palm of his hand. He shivered. I kissed it again, open-mouthed, tracing the hollow of it with the tip of my tongue. Both of us gasped at that and I could feel cracks opening in all the walls we'd been trying to keep solid between us. Said w.'s weren't actually needed now, after all. It was just a matter of letting them fall, or possibly taking a whack at them with a bulldozer. The temp. in the room shot up considerably.

I almost expected things to devolve into ripping off buttons and passionate groping at that point, but it did not. On the contrary, it was slow and unutterably tender as we peeled off the outer crust. Buttons were slipped open one at a time, necks and faces and eyelids were kissed, and we spent a great deal of time just breathing one another in, Jeeves more literally than self, I suppose. We found ourselves with shirts open and skin exposed, lying on the bed with him above me, my hands buried in his hair as he kissed and licked his way down my body with a slow but fevered intensity.

I felt his mouth on me, his tongue tracing a trail over my chest, teasing at one nipple before he took it between his lips and sucked. It shot through me, electric with arousal, but it wasn't the physical sensation of it that undid me. As we touched each other, pulling clothes away to reveal more skin, it felt as though we were peeling each other's hearts open as well, baring our souls to one another in the quiet sounds of pleasure we made. The fear and hesitation in Jeeves's chest dissolved, vanishing into the air, and I felt a wild, blazing desire washing through him.

"You don't need to go so slow," I panted, breathless with my want of him. He covered my mouth with his own, kissing me ever so intensely as he pressed his hips into mine, letting me feel the growing hardness of his prick. I couldn't help but groan and rock back up into him, wanting him desperately. We rolled and twisted, pulling shirts and braces and undervests all the way off; they were tossed away without thought, and Jeeves nipped his way down to my belly, running his tongue in a little circle around my navel before diving in and tickling me in the most amazingly erotic manner.

Shoes and socks and trousers and pants were disposed of, everything dropped or tossed or flung across the room with increasing abandon, until we were thoroughly naked together, our bodies tangled like eels as something inside us both came loose. I needed him like I needed to breathe; this was what we'd tried to stop so many times, holding back with all our strength. There was no more need for it, no more reason to break its rise. I reached into him with everything I was and felt him reaching back like a drowning chap grabbing for the floating ring that would keep him above the waves.

Suddenly, we were no longer separated by our skin.

I could feel every last thing Jeeves felt with absolute, crystal clarity. These weren't the aching, murky waves of emotion we'd been fighting since the accident, it was being immersed in someone else's soul. It was being someone else's soul, and I could feel just as clearly that it was happening to him, too. Every touch, every breath, every sensation, every emotion was clear as sunlight, vibrating between us the way strings in a piano resonate together, yet we were the same string, vibrating as one.

I felt his pleasure, the delight he felt in the taste of my skin, the warmth of my body moving with his, the slight tug of pain where the surgical incision was still bothering him, the way air filled his lungs, the completely indescribable depth of the love he had felt for me from the moment we met. I felt his shock at the suddenly open Wooster heart, as he felt everything I did in exactly the same way I was feeling it in that moment. It was like an earthquake, tearing down every wall that had ever existed from the foundations of the world, shattering everything either of us had known as it tore us open and jumbled us together in an inseparable knot.

It was joy and terror and ecstasy and love and I was coming apart at the seams, much like a cheap dinner jacket if one tugged too hard at the sleeves. Through it all, there was the physical pleasure of our bodies -- warm, slick skin moving on skin, mouths seeking, hands caressing, and hair being tugged, and hard, heated pricks rubbing and pressing on skin and wiry hair, thighs moving and thrusting, and the aching want of tight bollocks, and tongues slipping through wet mouths against hard teeth.

There was nothing in the world that could possibly help someone else understand what it was like to fall into another chap's soul the way we fell into each other. I felt a hand on a prick and didn't know whose was which; there was no way to tell and it didn't matter. We were the same body, rutting our way toward la petit mort while everything within us was flying, blended together the way honey melts into warm water, swirling and dizzy and powerful.

I had no idea why I'd been so afraid of this bliss. It wasn't loss, it was sudden, brilliant understanding, like one of those Eastern chappies with all their bally talk about enlightenment, yet thoroughly sensual and wrapped in throbbing, aching, wanting flesh. The scent of sweat and skin and sheets surrounded us, grounded by the solidity of teeth on muscle. There was nothing in the least disembodied about it. And I knew -- I had loved Jeeves from the moment I'd seen him and hadn't recognized it for what it was. I realized that the beazels I'd thought I was in love with were just my sub-whatsit trying to steer me away from something that might be too powerful to bear, trying to urge me to be something I wasn't, to listen to aunts and society and churches and laws. I'd been trying to erase myself. Here, mingled with my lover, making love with him, indistinguishable from him, I was finally where I was always meant to be. I was finally what I was always meant to be. Maybe that fate thingummy had something to it after all.

We breathed together as one, harsh and deep and tasting each other's breath as our bodies moved. Pleasure was the air we were breathing, sharp and hot, growing and echoing and ringing. I heard a pulse rushing under skin, felt it throbbing, blood flowing at throat and wrist and ankle. It was racing, galloping toward a release that I could feel would be more powerful than anything I'd known in my life.

When it hit, it was like vanishing into light. It wasn't just a physical moment of coming off, breathless and shaking, with helpless cries of ecstasy, though it was that, too. It was everything dissolving. We were so tightly bound together that I knew nothing -- not time nor distance nor the reaper himself -- could ever part us. It would be like trying to pick atoms apart with a sledgehammer to pry us out of one another. We had gone for the cleaving unto each other wheeze with a vengeance.

Eventually, the air in my lungs was mine again; I could tell which body was which, and what parts belonged to whom, in a physically attached sort of way. We lay tangled together, still drunk on each other, utterly exhausted in each other's arms, body to body and absolutely basking in the relief we felt. I could feel the quiet thrum of Jeeves's presence under my skin, but it wasn't urgent and uncontrollable and overwhelming like it had been before. It was a subtle awareness of him that I found I could tune out if it were distracting, or follow like a string strung round our hearts. The look in my man's e.s was filled with wonder and he tilted his head a bit and kissed me, eyes open, his mouth damp and sweet.

"I love you, Bertie," he said, his voice raw and breaking. "I love you with everything in me." He was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life.

"I know, love. I know," I whispered, my fingers still in his hair, and I meant it to soothe.

***

We spent the rest of that day wound together, making love when we felt a need, which turned out to be several times. It was never quite like our bonding experience, but there were echoes of it each time we let ourselves touch one another and allowed the walls to fall. It should be said that when one's lover is a sentinel, he's much more likely to be able to figure out one's hot spots, so to speak, with a mere glance or a touch. Even though our other efforts were nothing like the bonding whatsit, they could in no way be considered inferior! Jeeves was the real tabasco, no question. He seemed to think I was, too, which pleased this Wooster to no end.

No one came to check on us until the next morning. We thought this was just spiffing, as it took most of the day for us to settle into the bond comfortably. The chap in charge of the place had us come to his office after breakfast. We'd only talked to him once, right after we'd got here, so neither of us quite knew what to expect.

Bartleby Timms was the chap's name. He was a guide, and his wife Jane was there as well. Of course, one would suspect that the people in charge of an institute for sentinels would be among that crowd themselves. "Good morning, Mr Jeeves, Mr Wooster. I trust you're doing much better today."

"I should say so!" I said. "That bonding wheeze was something else. Thoroughly spiffing, old thing. The feline's nightwear."

"I can see you're settling into it," he answered. "Now that you've bonded and things are more stable, we need to give you these." He held out a hand and Jane dropped a couple of things into it. "All sentinel and guide couples are issued identity bracelets upon successful bonding. They are meant to alert medical personnel to your special requirements if you are injured -- as you have seen personally, Mr Jeeves -- so that you will be treated appropriately and so that your partner can be found and brought to you if you are not already together. It is also, in cases where the sentinel and guide are of the same sex, a way for you to avoid trouble with the law."

He handed them over to us. Jeeves gave his a suspicious look, holding it as he might one of my fruiter ties, between thumb and forefinger. I ran the old e.s over mine. It was a string of letters and numbers that didn't make any sense to me. Jeeves looked up at the bird and his beazel. "I take it there is some central registry?"

"Each country has its own system, but yes, Mr Jeeves," Jane said. "I understand that the Japanese government tattoos identification on their sentinels and guides. Barbaric, if you ask me. One may remove one's bracelet, certainly, though it is not recommended, considering the various risks." Jeeves nodded, though I could tell he was still feeling a considerable dose of uneasiness. "The bracelets indicate your status with a leading G or S. The numbers indicate the year and date you bonded and where in the sequence you are in that year. As you might guess, each year there are a considerable number of pairs who bond. The final letters are your initials. The bracelets themselves are made of surgical steel, which is less likely to trigger a reaction in a sensitive sentinel, and unlikely to be destroyed in an accident."

"I see," Jeeves said, the stuffed frog making a strong showing. I wasn't sure why he was so out of sorts about the whole thing and slipped mine about the slender Wooster wrist. It was smallish, and the engraving was so tiny that I could barely read it. The thingummy consisted of a narrow engraved plate and a sturdy chain that clasped at one end of said plate. It would be hardly noticeable under a cuff. Mine fit perfectly, resting snugly against my wrist.

"Here, Reg, let me put that on you." It was the closest thing we were likely to get to a ring, and it was a public acknowledgment of our relationship. That was something I wanted very much. It would help me protect him against Aunt Agatha at the very least, I thought. Hesitant, he proffered it and held out his arm to me. I fastened it around his wrist and sealed it with a kiss. That seemed to calm him a bit. I don't think he was thinking of the thing in nearly the same way I was.

"Tomorrow," Bartleby said, "we are informed that you will have a visitor from the Ministry of Sentinel-Guide Affairs." I could feel Jeeves go cold, though his taxidermied amphibian mask was utterly undisturbed.

"I say, what could the Ministry want with us?"

"I would hesitate to say, sir," Jeeves responded, and I knew he was completely out of sorts when I heard that, having spent all day yesterday softly Bertraming me.

Bartleby leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "There will no doubt be an evaluation of your talents to assess where you might be most useful."

"Useful? I mean to say, I thought we were going to be shoved off and allowed to go our merry way, what?"

Jane raised an eyebrow. "It's possible you will be allowed to do so," she said, "however the government does take an interest in sentinels who manifest suddenly in adulthood, as Mr Jeeves has done. There are a number of potential positions you might be considered for. Regardless, you are most likely going to have six months to a year to stabilize in your bond and to be certain you are able to function well in society, before any service might be requested of you."

As she spoke, I could feel the tension spiking in Jeeves and reached out to rest a hand over his wrist. I didn't understand why, but I knew he was upset, and I didn't think he wanted to discuss it here. I didn't ask.

We were given a list of exercises to try for the day, and told to be ready for the folks from the Ministry in the morning. Much of what he wanted us to do were things we'd done previously, though this was to see if Jeeves was able to stretch himself a bit further now that we were bonded. Apparently it was common for that to happen. Peter and Neil were supposed to work with us, as they had been doing all along. After a few more minor details that Jeeves noted and I immediately forgot, we were dismissed like a couple of errant schoolboys, though without any unfortunate incidents with a cane.

"What was that all about?" I asked, as we ankled off for Peter and Neil's cottage.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Jeeves said, a bit of edginess showing about his edges.

I gave him a full-on glower. "Yes, you do." I raised my left hand and waved the bracelet at him. "What is it about this whole thingummy that makes you so nervous, old fruit? I think it's just the ticket for keeping us out of trouble, and it might just be what we need to keep the aged a. off our backs as well. Anyway, I don't like to feel you so upset." The man was nervous as a cat in an adage, while the Jeevesian exterior was cool as the proverbial cucurbit.

"I shall rectify it directly, Bertram."

"Stuff and nonsense, Reginald. Something about this has thoroughly set you off. You're positively fretting."

He looked for a moment like he was about to say something, then paused, stopping in his tracks. I stopped with him. He took a deep breath. "Have you ever considered what the government might mean by 'useful," Bertram?"

I shrugged. "God knows. I've never had a useful moment in my life. I'm sure they'll take one look at this Wooster and agree with the aunts."

"I'm not so certain," he said, his voice going a bit darkish.

"Well, really, what's the worst they could do?" I was as unlikely a candidate for the military as ever lived, and I certainly wasn't cut out to be a doctor. I always went into a bit of a flutter if blood was involved.

"I do not wish to consider it," Jeeves said, brooking no nonsense. He was obviously taking lessons from Balaam's ass. I knew better than to argue it then and there.

Our day with Peter and Neil did, in fact, net more impressive results from Jeeves and self than we'd had previously. They said he wasn't in the top range of what some sentinels could do, but he was impressive nonetheless. I have always known Jeeves was a paragon among men, but I'm quite certain it could be said that he is a paragon among sentinels, as well, even if he's not the most far-seeing or far-sniffing, or whatever else one does, among them. It's what a chap can do with all he's given that makes him as astonishing as Jeeves.

My man later told me, after all was said and done, that his hearing and sight were far more acute than they'd been before the whole mess began, and he was slightly less inclined to queasiness about things like paisley in motion; he regarded that as a distinct relief. I held out some small hope that I might be in for a few exciting additions to the Wooster wardrobe, but he was quite adamant that I would still not be allowed such fruity delights while he remained my valet. "It may not be actively nauseating, but it is still entirely unsuitable, Bertram," he said.

That valet thingummy, I thought, was the very nub of the issue. What were we now? Would we still be a gentleman and his valet, as we had been before? Everything had changed for us. I didn't know what we were going to do when we left here. I'd thought we could just biff back into our old lives, but now I wasn't so certain.

***

The next morning, shortly after breakfast -- which came far too early for my taste around these parts, I might note -- we were escorted into a small office and into the company of a couple of older beazels. They weren't quite of auntly vintage, but one suspected that they were hard on its heels and might be shaping up for a bit of nephew crushing any moment now. I suspected they were practicing so they'd be in mid-season form when they finally got to it.

"Have a seat, gentlemen." The one who looked a bit sharkish waved a hand at the chairs in front of the desk.

The one next to her looked like the mousey sort of older beazel you'd find behind a desk in a library, but something about her made my hair want to stand on end. Unnerving, that. One didn't expect librarians to be dangerous, but this one felt like she'd stick a shiv in your back quite without warning, like some black widow in a murder mystery.

The dangerous librarian eyed us both. "Good morning, gentlemen," she said. "You may call me Anthea."

"You may address me as Medea," the sharkish one added.

Jeeves had gone a bit stiff beside me as we sat. I just tried to suppress a shiver. "Good morning," I said, being a preux chevalier and whatnot.

"We have been sent to evaluate you and decide upon your next steps as sentinel and guide," Call-Me-Anthea said. When she turned her eyes on me, I felt like I was being x-rayed. I hoped all my bones were in order.

"We have reviewed your files," Medea added, folding her hands on the desk like a schoolmaster. I was reminded unpleasantly of the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, who had been a terror when I was but a tender stripling. She looked at Jeeves and I could feel a curl of cold go through him. "We are most impressed with your progress, Mr Jeeves."

"Thank you, madam."

"Mr Wooster, you present some interesting possibilities," she continued. Something very like fear joined that cold curl in my man, though his expression hadn't shifted a single molecule.

"Oh. Erm. Right ho." I was feeling just as unsettled. I had never seen a pair of gals who were quite so chilling, and I'd been engaged to a few icy ones, I must say. I had no idea what was going on, but it certainly wasn't cricket. It wasn't even baseball.

"The Ministry has assigned you to two weeks of training and evaluation at a facility in Hampshire." Anthea said. "Depending upon circumstances, your presence may be required for longer than that."

When Jeeves spoke, his voice was cold and slightly brittle. "Do we have a choice in this matter, madam?"

The look she gave him would have withered a charging rhino. "Your loyalty to the Crown has never been in question, Mr Jeeves." There seemed to be an unstated and quite menacing 'yet' tacked onto the end of the sentence that left me wondering what else I was missing in this conversation.

"Of course, madam. Thank you."

I looked at Jeeves and he lay a hand over mine where it rested on my thigh, giving it a squeeze. That contact left me with a much sharper sense of just how rattled he actually was. I gave both of the old biddies an infinitely more careful once-over; anything that could rattle Jeeves absolutely bore keeping at least one eye nailed to it. I was beginning to think Jeeves was onto something with his being suspicious about the bracelets wheeze.

"We shall depart this afternoon, gentlemen," Medea said. "You will be prepared to depart with us."

"Yes, madam." Jeeves gave a slight nod, now completely buried under his taxidermied frog impression. Whatever we might be to one another, to the rest of the world he was still the consummate valet and he was playing that part to its hilt. I was finally seeing how very much of it really was just an act. There was so much that I had never suspected about the man before I'd been able to see into him like this.

We were sent off quite abruptly, but I was relieved to be away from them. I would almost rather have been under the gimlet eye of Aunt Agatha than spend any more time in their presence. "Dash it, Reg," I said, as soon as we were back in our own little room, "what is bally well going on here?"

He had already set himself to packing our bags. Frustrated, I threw myself into one of the chairs.

"I believe they are taking us away to determine our suitability for the Secret Intelligence Service or the Security Service, Bertram." He didn't look at me as he spoke, pulling things out of the wardrobe and folding them into a small travel trunk.

"What?" I rocketed out of the chair. "You can't be serious."

"It is possible," he said, a spark of hope blooming inside him, "that they will find us unsuitable for the task."

"I don't know which of those possibilities I find most disturbing, old fruit."

"I do." There was a certain grim finality to his words and I was too stunned to say anything else.

It wasn't until a little after luncheon that I thought to ask Jeeves what should have been an obvious question. "Are you going to be all right to travel, old fruit? You had to be pretty heavily squiffed to be put on the train out here, after all."

"I believe so. I was still quite badly injured when we were transported here, and we had not yet bonded. I should not have any trouble at this juncture." He didn't feel worried about the transport issue, at least. I found that somewhat reassuring.

"Well, it is awfully quiet out here. That was why they brought us here in the first place, so that you'd not be overwhelmed by all the alarums and excursions in the metrop."

"Bertram." He drew me to him and wrapped me in his arms. "I appreciate your concern very much, but I truly am far more stable now than I was. We are going to have to return to the wider world at some point. If I am unable to ride in a train, I will certainly not be able to return to London."

"I suppose that makes sense." I tangled him in the Wooster arms. There was still a current of tension inside him that I found bothersome and I wasn't sure how I could help with that. Knowing what my man actually felt was a bit of a mixed blessing; I'd always thought of him as unflappable. Now I knew it was only the external Jeeves I'd been seeing, his inner works carefully guarded and filtered for public consumption. It had been far more of a mask than I'd ever guessed.

While it was good to know he was actually just as human as everyone else, and that he loved me like the dickens, it was a just a touch frightening to realize how uncertain, flapped, and flustered he could be. I'd always thought that was my territory, as it were -- dodging maritally-minded fillies and avoiding nephew-crushing aunts was nerve-wracking, and Jeeves had always been my mighty fortress and bulwark never failing in such circs. I'd always imagined he had perfect confidence in his mastery of the Unusual Situation, unlike self. Not so, I had found. While all this made him much easier to love, being more approachable and whatnot, it also left me dashed worried about him. I felt so much more responsible for him, though I supposed at least some of that was the whole guide wheeze, and that I'd have to get used to it.

What bothered me most was that I hadn't thought Jeeves would even blink at something like being called upon for spy duty. The man was, after all, ready with a cosh or a Mickey Finn with nary a qualm to be found. He'd never been bothered by a spot of feloniously impersonating a policeman to extract the young master from the soup. I couldn't figure out why, now, he didn't seem to be able to screw his courage to the sticking point. He did move in mysterious ways, though. This seemed to be another of his mysteries. I could see why Bertram wasn't exactly a likely candidate, having only about half the brain of your average chap, but Jeeves seemed like just the ticket.

I was not equipped to answer the q., and I knew it.

***

It was an overnight train from the coast of Wales to the coast of Hampshire. We barely had a chance to bid Peter and Neil a fond farewell before we were snatched away by the matched matronly terrors. Our destination was Beaulieu, and it was with deeply mixed whatsits that I departed from Porth Dinllaen. Peter and Neil said they'd write, and I found that quite delightful. It was nice to have a couple of new chums who actually understood what we'd been through. Jeeves allowed that it might be pleasant to hear from them now and again though, beneath the surface, he was actually entirely chuffed by the whole thing. He did quite like them, and they'd been very kind to both of us through some dashed difficult circs.

We'd been stuffed into a private compartment for the journey and the Greek Chorus had their own as well, further down the car. I was relieved, hoping it would grant us at least a bit of solitude and shelter from the storm. I didn't particularly want to have to talk with Jeeves while they hovered about like aunts or vultures or other menacing things that hover or skulk. He was still unsettled, like a lamb under the watchful eye of a pack of wolves, though not a molecule of it showed on his face. To look at him, one might think he were about to bung a well-placed b. and s. in front of the young master back at our flat, but I could feel a jittery flutter in him from across the compartment.

I could tell he didn't want to talk just yet, so I got up to lower the blinds over the windows into the train's tiny passageway for a bit of being left alone, perched the Wooster corpus next to him, and pulled out one of my spine tinglers for a perusal. Aunt Dahlia had, at my request, sent along one of Jeeves's volumes of Spinoza when she'd had our clothing and other thingummies shipped out to the Institute, and it was this that occupied the fish-fortified Jeevesian intellect as I leaned into him on our shared seat.

After a few minutes of reading, I could feel the jitters starting to seep out of him, and he slipped an arm about me as we read. It was the most topping sensation, feeling that sense of peace and contentment finally begin easing through him as the pages turned and the Welsh countryside rattled by.

After tea in the dining car, we ankled back to our own compartment. Jeeves finally felt settled enough that I thought I might pry a few words out of him, so I edged into it when we'd got the door shut behind us. "Reg, old thing."

Jeeves oiled over to his seat and I joined him, dropping the willowy Wooster frame beside him. "Yes, Bertram?"

"You've not really said anything since we got on the train. I just wanted to make sure you were all right." I'd felt the occasional twinge of pain or distress from him, but I needed him to talk with me.

"I will admit the train's whistle has been somewhat irritating, but the difficulty is controllable, particularly in your presence," he said. "I am fine otherwise, thank you."

I gave him a close look. There was only the barest hint of strain on his dial. Beneath that were ripples of emotion that I was still working on sorting. There was just so much of the bally stuff. "I always thought you were so calm, Reg. Most of the time, you never seemed to so much as turn a hair, and now I find that beneath the stuffed frog lurks a veritable ocean of emotional thingness. Can oceans lurk? I don't think that's the right--"

"Bertram." I'd embarrassed and upset him and I hadn't meant to.

"I'm sorry, old thing. I only mean to say that I don't understand why you hid all that from me. You'd be hiding it still, if this hadn't happened to us."

He flung an eyebrow at me, feeling slightly mollified, though not by much. "It would not have been proper."

"The feudal spirit runs deep in you, Reg, but in this you are wrong. Your ramparts should lower the old portcullis, my dear. The Jeevesian heart may at last be worn upon the sleeve."

"Tell me, Bertram," he said, with a touch of asperity, "when would it ever have been appropriate or permissible for me to display emotion while I was working?"

"You didn't seem to be terribly shy about it with Bingo's horseshoe tie," I said, and I meant it to sting. "Or Rocky's report of the wearing of pyjamas and a sweater as dinnerwear."

He blenched just a bit, looking somewhat like an overdone cauliflower. "Those were egregious incidents of utterly irresponsible sartorial mayhem. It really could not be countenanced."

"You could allow that out, but nothing that was actually important, you mean."

"And I ask again, when would it have been appropriate? Should I have laughed at your friends' jokes or expressed dismay at an impending visit from one of your aunts, when bringing an unsuitable woman as a marital prospect?" There was anger and frustration and an echo of old jealousy -- presumably about the u. w. -- rumbling beneath the surface now and I slipped an arm around him, pushing a little bit of calm at him, as Neil had taught me. It seemed to settle him slightly.

"I'd always thought you were so confident, Reg. Now I find out it was a mask, and a dashed effective one at that. I'm not criticizing, mind you, nor am I complaining." I sighed then leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Please don't feel that you have to defend yourself; I just want to understand. I would never have been upset with you showing a flash of the true self."

He melted a little and leaned into me just a touch. "You have always needed me to appear confident, Bertram. You were often afraid and unable to extract yourself from a situation, and those circumstances required me to provide schemes that you, at least, believed I knew would produce the appropriate and desired solution. Sometimes a confident façade can bring about results even when doubts assail us." I felt a swirl of emotions stirring in him -- exasperation, love, regret, uncertainty. I slipped my fingers into his hair and gave a gentle caress.

"I would never have been upset or disappointed in you for that, you know."

He turned slightly and took me in his arms, resting his forehead on my temple. "I have spent my entire life practicing the mask of impassivity for many very good reasons," he said. "I shall have to maintain that mask whenever we are in public, even with this change in our lives. I cannot allow myself to become complacent and I will not allow either my professional reputation or your social reputation to suffer because of this. To allow anyone else in the upper classes to see me as you do would be problematic."

"But you're a sentinel now and I'm your guide. People know what that means. We could change everything about how we live together now." My fingers kept moving through his hair and he settled slightly, though I could feel his frustration. "Why shouldn't we just say so and have done with it?"

He raised his face and looked me in the eyes. "I am still your valet, Bertram, and as such I cannot allow any overt familiarity while we are in public. It would reflect badly on you, and I cannot imagine your family would be pleased if I did not meet the required standard." There was something else he wasn't saying, but I was dashed if I could figure it out.

"There's something else you're not saying, old thing."

Jeeves nodded. "I would prefer to reserve comment until I have more information about what, if anything, the Ministry will want from us," he said. "I am, as you must surely know, very uncertain about our future right now."

"This usefulness wheeze the Greek Chorus has in store for us."

Amusement bubbled in him and I smiled to feel it, but the underlying nervousness remained. "Indeed."

"Well, I mean to say, how bad could it be?"

The jolt of fear that went through him at my q. suggested he thought it could be badness on the order of Aunt Agatha's worst. "We will go to Beaulieu, we will endure their testing and their training, and we will then be able to make some sort of informed decision." There was more to that one, as well, but I wasn't sure of the right q.s to ask.

"What are you so afraid of? I'll be dashed if I can figure it out."

"Please, Bertram, might we discuss this later, when we know more? Perhaps my fears are groundless. It may be that we are unsuitable for their purposes." He didn't believe himself on that, though I couldn't exactly call it a lie. More like a hope he couldn't bring himself to actually hope for.

I nodded. "All right. But I'll hold you to that, old fruit."

***

The next couple of weeks had them teaching Jeeves how to do disturbing things like tell if a drink was poisoned just by the smell of it or find hidden weapons by the way clothes wrinkled or read things that had been written a dozen pages up on a pad of paper by the dents the pencil left or listen to echoes to figure out if there were hidden passages behind walls. I was with him through all of it, helping out as best I could.

Bertram was not left to his own devices during this, however. For me, it was learning how to be something of a human lie detector. Not that I would necessarily be able to figure out what the nature of the lie was, mind you, but just the emotional thingness that someone who's lying often has curling just under the surface. I couldn't do it easily, or with everyone, but they said I could tell rather more reliably than most other guides, in their experience. In fact, they said it was a pretty rare talent, as most guides' empathy only extended to their own sentinels' emotional thingummies. It was nice to think I was good at something for once, even if it wasn't a particularly preux wheeze.

It was all extraordinarily disconcerting and I can't say that I liked it at all. I wanted desperately to just be shut of it and to go back to the Drones and Anatole's cooking and listening to Gussie rattle on endlessly about newts and hearing Bingo bleat about his marital bliss. I'd even take dodging the occasional accidental engagement, if it would get us out of this.

Among all the disturbing whatsits, they also taught me how to talk to the spectral ferret who had attached himself to me, without having to be asleep and dreaming to do it. Jeeves had apparently already figured some of the trick out on his own, but this Wooster had been running rather behind the pack in that matter. That wheeze, at least, was a bit of all right. It was nice to feel like I had some control over the whole whatsit after all. Dreams never felt like I had any control; dreams just happened to me. Probably entirely arranged by that Morpheus bloke, all things considered. This was something I could actually do by choice. And the ferret was a rather jolly little chap, as it turned out.

We were summoned to Call-Me-Anthea's office one afternoon, toward the end of our two weeks. She and Medea were there, as frightfully menacing as ever. "Please, gentlemen, have a seat," Anthea said, and waved a hand at a pair of chairs. We settled ourselves in, both of us having a touch of the fretful porpentine in our attitude.

"You have both shown remarkable promise," Medea said, flipping through a thickish file folder. "Mr Wooster, you are in an ideal position for some of our needs."

"I am?" I asked, feeling like I'd been beaned with a sizeable sack of potatoes. "I say."

She nodded. Anthea continued, looking dangerous and librarianly. I rather expected her to lob an improving book at my head if I took the old e.s off her. "You are a gentleman from a minor but respectable family. You are well enough placed to be invited to certain places without arousing comment or suspicion, and unimportant enough that your valet's manifesting as a sentinel -- and you as his guide -- has gone essentially unnoted by society."

"Oi!" I said, but without much heat. She was right, after all. The Woosters weren't all that important among the peerage. Uncle George was well regarded as Lord Yaxley, but he wasn't terribly influential, or really even noticed, in the House of Lords. I've never cared at all for politics. When it isn't boring, it's dashed alarming.

"Had this happened in one of the more important families, the press would have got hold of it, and there would be a great deal of talk. Your relative obscurity is excellent cover, and your traveling with your valet is entirely unremarkable."

Jeeves sat next to me, still as marble, but I could feel something near panic in him as Anthea spoke. I looked at him, but he didn't react at all. "What is it you want from us, then?" I asked, seeing as Jeeves was doing a corking impression of a glacier.

"You may occasionally be called upon to go to certain places and look for certain things. Generally, your role will be solely one of observation. The bulk of that responsibility will fall upon Mr Jeeves, as the sentinel in your partnership, but you will be called upon to maintain the fiction that you are no more than a gentleman and his servant. We would prefer that you did not widely announce the change in your status. We realize that your family and some few of your friends are already aware of this change, but steps have been taken to prevent a wider spread of that information at this juncture." I wondered what she meant by that.

"You assume that we will agree to this, madam," Jeeves said. His voice was even but there was something cold and angry in him, along with the flash of panic I'd already felt. I reached out for his hand, and it was cold as a flounder. When I squeezed his mitt, he s. back.

"It is, of course, your choice," Medea said. "Service to the Crown will not go unrewarded." A wave of menace under the words swept over me and I shivered. I presumed that a refusal might, equally, not go unpunished.

There was a snap of resentment in my man at that. "Of course, madam."

Medea gave a tilt of her head, not unlike a hungry eagle eyeing a tasty rabbit, if the eagle were actually a shark and the rabbit a... some kind of rabbity fish. "We shall expect your response by mid-day tomorrow, gentlemen. You are dismissed."

We got up and legged it for our room. I was awash with uncertainty and Jeeves was a seething mass of thingness. "What's really going on here, old fruit?" I asked, as he sank into one of our chairs, all sicklied o'er with that pale cast of thought wheeze. I perched myself on the arm of it and slipped my own around his broad shoulders. My arm, that is.

"They are asking you to put yourself in harm's way, Bertram."

"Well, we Woosters did come over with the Conqueror, Reg. There was a Wooster at Agincourt. We biffed off to the Crusades, as well. Preux chevaliers to a man. Shouldn't I follow in the old noble footsteps? They're only asking us to go round to visit people now and then, I thought, and to listen a bit. It's not like they want us to go somewhere we'd be shot at, what?"

He looked up at me for a moment, deeply troubled. "Ultimately, the decision will be yours," he said, "but I want you to think about something for me."

"Bung the thingummy before me and I shall cogitate upon it, old fruit."

He reached up and took my face between his hands, looking deeply into the Wooster e.s. "I am not concerned for myself, Bertram. When I served in the Great War, I was asked to gather intelligence in places that a sentinel and guide could not go; a single man might travel where two would be detained as highly suspect. My hearing was acute enough that I was able to acquire information a man with normal hearing would be unable to overhear."

"Well, I would never take you for a coward, Reg. Your feudal spirit stands alone. It glimmers like a city upon a hill or one of those lights under a bushel the makers of adages are so fond of. But what is it you wanted me to think about?"

"Among the cinema serials that you so enjoy, and the mystery novels you often read, I would like you to think about those stories that feature a sentinel as the hero of the tale."

I nodded. "Right ho." There were some truly corking yarns out there. Quite exciting, in fact. One might almost like to be one of those heroes, off doing heroic deeds of derring-do.

"When the villain wishes to coerce, blackmail, or otherwise harm the sentinel, Bertram, what is the one thing he ultimately falls back upon as the most devastating action he can take?" His hands were cold and slightly clammy on my skin, and I could feel the knot of panic alive in him.

"Why, he kidnaps the gui--" I stopped, suddenly realizing what I was saying. I took a breath and gave a bit of a gulp. "He... he kidnaps the guide," I whispered, shocked at the thought that this might actually now potentially apply to one Wooster, B. at some point. Of course Jeeves was having a panic. He wasn't at all concerned for himself. He was terrified for my sake.

I slid down into his lap and wrapped my arms about him, holding him close. He held onto me with all his strength and I did my best to help calm him down. I wasn't overly chuffed at the thought that I might actually be used as bait on a hook for Jeeves's fish-fed brain someday because of this, but my immediate concern was how thoroughly discombobulated my man was. "I could not bear to see you hurt," he whispered, his warm breath tickling at my ear. "If the choice were mine, I would refuse this and face any consequences that might fall upon me, so long as you were safe. Yet, it is your life we are discussing and I cannot make that choice for you. I will abide by your decision, Bertram, but know that I am extremely concerned for your well-being."

I sighed. "If King and Country call upon this Wooster, Reg, I can't very well refuse; I won't. It wouldn't do a bit of honor to the family and I'm not a coward any more than you are. I am a chap of iron will and determination, after all. Filled with fortitude and whatsit. One doesn't run from the fray, old fruit. Well, unless it involves aunts, or possibly nicking silver cow creamers."

"I did not mean to imply anything of the sort," he said. "You must understand that what you have become to me has triggered an instinct within me that is very difficult to fight. I have what can only be described as a compulsion to assure your safety. It has resulted in occasional irrationality on my part, for which I must apologize."

"No, Reg." I shook my head. "Don't apologize. I've got a bit of first-hand experience with that whole wanting to protect you wheeze myself. You might recall that it dragged me out of the Drones Club and across several miles of busy streets in the metrop to your bedside when you were hurt, and that was before our bond." I did understand what he meant, quite viscerally. I didn't relish the thought of him being in any danger, either. "The thing is, I know you're quite clever enough to get us both out of any soup that might start lapping up about our knees. I mean to say, I trust you with my life, Reginald. I do. Absolutely."

He nodded, still afraid for me. I don't think he could quite help it. "I only hope I am worthy of that trust, Bertram. I suppose I cannot talk you out of this?"

"Not really. The family honor rests upon my shoulders, old thing. I can't very well refuse without disgracing every Wooster that ever drew breath, and probably a few that didn't for good measure. It's just not on." I'm sure Aunt Agatha would somehow hear of it if I refused, and I'd be roasted like a martyr at the stake within moments. Possibly after having my liver removed with a dull teaspoon. It was a fate to be avoided most assidu-something-ly. Assiduously. With vim and v., I mean to say. "I'd never hear the end of it. You know that."

Drawing back, he looked into my eyes again. I could feel pride and fear having a wrestle inside him. Pride seemed to be winning for the mo. "Very well. We shall give them our answer tomorrow."

"I don't mean for you to worry, Reg," I murmured, placing the Wooster lips upon the Jeevesian brow. He drew my face down with one hand on my cheek and kissed me back, soft and longing.

"There is little to be done about my worrying," he said. "It will continue, regardless, given that we have chosen this path. But I shall endeavor to keep it within limits." I do think he meant that, but there was still quite a bit of it floating around inside him. I mean to say, he didn't need to be worried right that moment, dash it all! There were no villainous cads here waiting around a corner to cosh me on the back of the head and drag me away to some dank cave or other gruesome fate.

"Come here," I told him, popping out of his lap and offering him a hand. He took it as he rose and I tugged him toward our bed. One of his eyebrows rose and I could feel him hesitate. "It's all right, love. They're not going to bother us for the rest of the day. They said we had until tomorrow afternoon to make up our minds. We might as well take advantage of being left in peace for a few hours for once." Most days we'd been busy from far too early until much too late for this Wooster's tastes. It usually left me knackered.

"Indeed, Bertram." He nodded and came to me, taking me in his arms by the bedside. We kissed for quite a while, eventually sinking down to sit on the bed, still tangled together. It was just topping, being able to offer him a little comfort when he was feeling so out of sorts. He had always been ready with a b. and s. or his morning-after concoction for my out of sortsness.

I tugged at his tie and his hands came up to remove it. We undressed one another slowly and carefully, with a good deal of the old tender pash and nibbly kissing added into the proceedings. Jeeves finally started to relax as I peeled the outer crust off him, and I got him to lie back on the bed, gently running my hands over his skin. "Just close your eyes and feel what I'm doing," I murmured to him. "You don't need to think about anything else, Reg. Just let me make you feel good."

He sighed and nodded, closing his e.s as the tension seeped out of him. I loved to do this, to give him pleasure; he always did so much for me, and I rarely got a chance to do anything that expressed just how chuffed I was that he was a part of my life. This, at least, was something that showed him how his Bertram felt about him. I'd never really even hoped to have him, given our relative stations in life, and the fact that both of us were chaps. The odds were distressingly low, even for someone with sporting blood like mine, so I'd tried not to think about it at all. To hear his sighs and the catch in his breath as I touched him with hands and kisses and tongue and teeth, to feel him tremble for me and the hot rise of his prick against my body -- it was blissful. The fact that I could touch what was going on inside him as well gave me a window into a world I'd never imagined could exist between us.

Jeeves was always so dashed private. I knew he'd not had much choice about letting me in at first, given the sentinel and guide wheeze and what it had made us into, but now that we were more used to it he would let me in much more easily, and I loved knowing him like this. I loved touching more than just his body, and feeling what it did to him. It was something that no one else would ever have with him; no one else ever could.

He let himself be much more sensitive when I touched him like this; he could do that just as easily he could let himself see or hear more than your average chap. The slightest trace of my fingers on his skin made him shiver and gasp. My breath on his neck raised gooseflesh all over his body. The wet warmth of my mouth on his prick had him panting and digging his fingers into my hair. He whispered my name over and over, and I could feel the passion and desire in him, drowning out all the fear and worry that he'd been clutching so hard after we'd talked to the Greek Chorus.

I loved how he felt on my tongue and the slick, thick hardness of him between my lips, filling my mouth. I loved his body moving slowly with my own, his legs wrapping round my shoulders, his hands in the wavy Wooster curls. His hips rocked between my palms and he groaned, soft and desperate. Teasing and sucking him left me hard and aching as well, wanting him as much as I could feel he wanted me. I knelt on the bed between his legs, leaning over him and wrapping my arms around his waist, wanting to embrace him with my whole body.

As I moved, he gave a louder groan and tumbled us, landing me beneath him, his entire weight on me. It felt wonderful. I loved having his body on mine, how heavy and solid he was, and I kissed him with a sharp spark of the tender pash expanding in me. He rolled a little so that he could reach into the bedside drawer and pull out something to slick us up with and handed it to me. I got the little blue jar open and got a good bit of the contents on his hard prick before tossing it away, not caring where the bally thing went. Jeeves gasped at the cool of the thick jelly and the feel of my hand stroking him, then tucked one arm under my knee and hiked my leg up so that he could press himself into me.

I welcomed it, wanting it rough, wanting him to bugger me hard and fast. I liked how it felt when he went in, the way it stretched me open, and the hard length of him penetrating me. My back arched and his teeth grazed along my throat, making me cry out with overwhelming need. He felt so dashed good as we moved together, one of his arms under my knee to hold me open and his other hand stroking my prick. My eyes were closed so I could feel him better -- not just his body but his lust and his love and his need and his pleasure blowing through me like fire in my veins.

I reached out for him, digging my nails into his back and making him moan, making him want more and thrust harder and suck at the skin of my shoulder as he panted for breath. Being something of a babbler, Bertram was in fact babbling by then, begging for my lover to bugger me harder, to give me his prick, to show me all his strength, and he picked up a frantic pace, pounding into me and driving both of us mad with the pleasure of it all. Our bodies were slick with our sweat and his skin was salty and hot under my tongue. I was trembling, trying to wrap my free leg about his waist, to pull him into me even harder, when he shouted, wordless, and his body stiffened and stilled as he came off. He shook for a few moments before he could move again, just slowly rocking his hips into me as he stroked my prick with one slick hand, rubbing his thumb around the wet head of my cock and playing with the foreskin in the most delicious way. It took him only a few moments to bring me off as well, my body jerking and tightening, my toes curling; I gasped his name, feeling thoroughly overcome with pleasure and love.

He held me through it, whispering words of love to me as I panted, trying to catch my breath. My e.s fluttered open to find him gazing down at me with the sappiest look plastered on his dial. "You are a mad thing," I said, and he grinned at me, absolute adoration pulsing out of him like waves on the ocean. I felt rather aglow with it myself.

"Thank you, love," he said, both of us relaxing and easing ourselves into a comfortable tangle on the now-ruined bed. "I very much needed that." He ran one sloppy hand through my sweat-dampened hair and kissed me. "We should, no doubt, bathe as soon as our legs stop shaking."

"Absolutely, old fruit. Never a better idea." We would get to it eventually, I was sure. Right then, I was far more interested in nibbling on his ear.

***

"If King and country require me, this Wooster is your man," I told them. The Greek Chorus both gave me something vaguely resembling smiles, if smiles can be thin and dangerous as razors. I'd been around the old beazels for two weeks and they just kept getting creepier, rather like one of those gothic novels, with misty moors, howling wolves, and midnight excavations of the restless dead. I'm not sure which of them was more restless. Dashed unnerving, what?

"And you, Mr Jeeves?" Medea asked.

"I shall abide by Mr Wooster's decision, madam," he said.

Medea and Anthea nodded in unison. "Very good," Anthea murmured, looking down into her file and making a few notes.

Medea picked up the thread of it. "You will not be called upon immediately, of course. It remains to be seen how Mr Jeeves will adjust to his talents outside of the cloistered environment of the Institute and the Ministry's facilities. It is possible there will be some difficulty with a higher population density. London may yet prove to be a challenge."

"Very good, madam." Jeeves looked perfectly confident on the outside; smooth as glass, I mean to say, but beneath the surface rumbled a quiet strain of doubt.

"We won't be there more than long enough to pack our bags, old thing," I told him. "Lest you have forgotten, Aunt Agatha has summoned me, and I'm certain she'll be quite strident by the time we arrive, given the fact that I haven't had an opportunity to return her increasingly aggravated telegrams. Steeple Bumpleigh is a guaranteed dampener of spirits, but at least it won't be throwing you into the deep end of the swimming bath immediately."

He nodded. "As you say, sir." A slightly tilted eyebrow above his stuffed frog map was the only outward sign that he was filled with the apprehensions that come in crowds. I wasn't pleased with the sirring, but we'd been told we needed to let everyone think that nothing had changed between us, at least in public. I'd been getting used to his 'Bertram's and 'my dear's and was loath to part from them, but one must heed the patriotic call when it comes.

Anthea looked up from her notes. "You will be under observation from time to time for the next six to twelve months. If there are any problems whatsoever, you will report them to us via the Ministry." She handed Jeeves a calling card. "This is our contact information. We expect you to use it."

"Yes, madam."

"Pack your things, gentlemen. You may leave on the afternoon train. You will no doubt be home before the dinner hour."

"I say!" I grinned at Jeeves. "Home at last, old thing!"

"'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, sir." A tingle of relief went through him.

"I'm not sure about the consummation bit, but being home is certainly d. to be w.'ed, old fruit." We'd done rather a lot of consummating already, I mean to say. There was, however, some privacy in our own home to be anticipated. That surely was what he meant.

"Good luck, gentlemen," Medea said. They each offered us a paw, and we shook on it, then legged it back to our little room so that Jeeves could pack our worldly goods for the trip back to the metrop.

London was much as we'd left it a month or so ago -- noisy, crowded, smelling of smog, and thoroughly busy. It was just as I loved it. We were, in fact, back at the flat by the dinner hour, but there was nothing useful to be had in the pantry, so I told Jeeves I would be off to the Drones and that he should biff off to the Junior Ganymede to dine with his chums in all their valetly glory.

He seemed to be steady enough while he was unpacking our things. Jeeves insisted upon returning his clothing and other belongings to his lair, rather than bunging them in amongst the my own. "If we are to continue as we always have, sir," he said, "then our flat should remain as it was prior to the accident."

I tilted my head in a quizzical manner. "But aren't you going to be slapping the Jeevesian corpus into the young master's bed as we have been of late?"

He nodded. "Of course, Bertram. Yet we must in all other ways return to our life as it was. Anything else would arouse suspicion. When we arrive at Bumpleigh Hall, I will be sent to the servant's quarters, as I have always been. I have no doubt that Lady Worplesdon would object to our sharing a bed under her roof, and it would certainly be a public acknowledgment of the change in our lives -- one that cannot be countenanced if we are to serve the Crown in the manner that the Ministry may wish from us."

"Oh. I say. I hadn't considered that." My face fell, much like a disturbed soufflé. "Dash it all, Reg, I've got used to having you with me. I don't like the thought of sleeping with you so far away. I mean to say, what if there's a problem of some sort?"

He nodded solemnly and wrapped me in his arms. "If I am to function at all, Bertram, I must be able to do so away from your presence. Your family is aware of the change in our status. If a problem arises, I am sure you will be summoned, but we should be circumspect as much as is possible." I could tell he didn't like that sleeping apart wheeze any better than I did, but of course the man wouldn't show it on his dial. It would be a violation of the valet code, or some such thingummy. I'm sure valets had codes, just as Woosters did.

I took his hand and pushed his cuff up a bit, exposing the bracelet around his wrist. "This was supposed to make a difference for us, old thing."

"It does, sir," he murmured. "An extremely significant one. Yet we have chosen to serve if called upon, and for that we must maintain a public façade. Privately, within these locked doors, we may do as we wish." He laid on with the lips, reminding me just what we could do in p. if we wished. "If for some reason I am unable to function well enough for the Ministry's purposes, then we may declare this change to the world, for there will be no need to conceal it; it would, in fact, be all the more reason to disclose it, for I would need to have you near in case of a mishap." That displeased him greatly. I knew he didn't like the thought of not being able to carry on as he always had. I can't say that I would have liked it much either, if this Wooster had been the one so afflicted.

"Right ho. How are you feeling, old fruit?" I knew he was out of sorts, but I wasn't sure what the source of it was. He seemed to be feeling a bit of a headache, from what I could tell.

"The noise and sensory chaos of the city is difficult to ignore as yet. I'm sure I will become inured to it soon enough."

I nodded. "All right, then. Go have dinner and I'll meet you back here after bunging a bit of food down the gullet. I wasn't planning on staying out terribly late, given that we must make our way to Steeple Bumpleigh on the morrow. Do remember to send out a telegram informing the aged a. of our impending arrival. 'Dear Aunt A., arriving tomorrow, etc. and whatnot. Slay the fatted calf. Sorry for the delay. Bertie.' The usual, you know. Wouldn't want to show up unannounced after all this. She'd likely throw me to the crocodiles."

"Of course, Bertram. I should not like to see you eaten by crocodiles." He smiled. "Or aunts."

There was a final application of the labial press and we both legged it in our separate directions, to accost our various chums. I was sure the chaps at the Junior Ganymede would wonder where Jeeves had been this past six weeks or so, since he hadn't told them we'd be off to America or something, and he'd disappeared quite suddenly. Given how I'd last departed the Drones, I expected to be given the old third degree, like a suspect in a murder mystery, sans the bright lights and being cuffed about the ears. Pelted by dinner rolls was far more likely.

As predicted, the Drones wanted the full tale from this Wooster, but I wasn't able to give them much if we were to keep Jeeves's sentinelizing from public view. Telling them he'd been in a rather nasty accident covered why I'd been absent all this time -- they knew I wouldn't leave the poor chap in a time of need, given how often he'd ladled this Wooster from the bisque -- but they were curious about my odd behavior before I'd dashed out the door. I was able to put them off by saying I'd had some sort of episode. Everyone thought I was a bit loony to begin with, so that wasn't too hard for them to believe. Bingo Little, though, tugged me aside after we'd supped on the finest the Drones had to offer, wanting to speak to me privately.

"Bertie, old bean, I thought I'd heard that Jeeves is a sentinel now. You haven't said a bally word about it. What's really going on?"

I took a suspicious sip of my b. and s. "Where did you hear that, Bingo?"

"Well, Tuppy, of course. He said your aunt was going on about it."

"Oh. Well." It would be Tuppy.

"Well?"

"Come sit with me, young Bingo." I tugged on his arm and hauled him away to a more private location, with a door we could lock behind us. Having ankled up the stairs and into said p. l., we sat and I took another sip of the needful. "I can't really talk about this, Bingo. It's too complicated. I've... let's just say I prefer not to broadcast our circs to all and sundry."

"Why not? I should think it would be interesting, at least. Did they find him a guide? Or was it you? Tuppy said something about it being you, but one can't always trust what he has to say unless it has to do with food, you know."

I nodded. "Yes, it was me. And I don't want it bandied about. Don't you think that Jeeves deserves a little privacy about the whole thingummy? It's not like he had any control over it, and he's had rather a rough month and a half, after all. The explosion hurt him quite badly. Terrifying, really."

"I say, I suppose I wouldn't want it bandied about either. I mean to say, some people just won't trust a sentinel. And with him being your valet? Rather not on, that."

"What's happened has happened. The writing hand hath writ. It is time to move on." I gave a dismissive wave of the hand.

He peered at me a bit of a sideways eye. "Is it true what they say about sentinels and guides? I mean, it all sounds so salacious."

"Bingo, old thing, that would be bandying on the order of bandying a lady's name about, and a Wooster does not bandy. I don't ask what you and Mrs Bingo get up to behind closed doors, do I?"

His eyes widened a bit. "By Jove. It istrue."

"That depends entirely upon what 'it' you have heard," I chided.

"Well, that you... erm..." He went a brightish crimson, like unto a tomato or a baboon's fundament. "That is to say, I've heard that a sentinel and a guide are in a marital way, if you know what I mean."

I glowered at him with a withering glower. "Don't get too imaginative, Bingo," I said, and I meant it to sting. "That's my valet you're imagining. Jeeves is not to be imagined, particularly not in a familiar way by the likes of any of the Drones! I include you in this, you bounder."

"I don't want to imagine it, Bertie! It seems rather distasteful is all. I mean to say, two chaps? That's hardly natural."

I wasn't about to tell him that I hadn't been particularly natural to begin with. I didn't think he'd take it well. One doesn't admit to such things, even to a close pal, but at least the whole guide wheeze was a good enough excuse for anyone, even if they didn't care for the idea. "Sentinels are just... they're different, Bingo. If something goes wrong with their senses, it can hurt them terribly, and they need someone when that happens; that's what a guide is for, getting them through the slings and arrows of outrageous f. There were times -- well, I mean to say, I've been very worried about him until quite recently. If I hadn't turned out to be his guide, he might well have died before they found one for him. I shudder to think of it. Even now, we're not sure he's going to be all right in the metrop, and tomorrow I have to go and face Aunt Agatha."

Bingo shuddered. "Good Lord. She's an absolute terror, that one. I wouldn't want to be either of you tomorrow."

"I don't particularly relish being me tomorrow, myself. Such things are apt to induce panic in the unwary. They induce panic in me, and I'm as wary of aunts as they come."

He put a hand on the slender Wooster shoulder. "Are you all right, Bertie? I have no idea what any of this is like for you, but I can't imagine it's been a holiday. It sounds like your man was dashed badly hurt."

I relaxed a bit at that. I'd been worried Bingo would be hostile about the thing, having made comments about the whole 'unnatural' wheeze. Perhaps he wasn't going to be such a problem about it after all. "It has been a bit of a whatsit, Bingo. Nightmareish, in places. And he was badly hurt, yes.

"I've... well, that is to say, one doesn't often know one's valet terribly well. There's no call for it, and Jeeves has been a private bloke from the starting gun. He'd never countenance familiarity; you know how much of a stick in the mud he is about such things. It would have wounded his feudal spirit. Gored his ox. Put him entirely in a tizzy. And being a guide is no easy task, I can tell you. There's getting to know someone, then there's being a part of them, like being their lungs or their liver, if you see what I mean."

"You're Jeeves's liver?" He sounded thoroughly confused.

"More like his heart, actually," I told him, my voice quiet, because it was rather too sensitive a thing to say loudly. I stared down at my hands for a moment. "And he's become mine. I don't know how else to describe it." I looked up at him. "You can't imagine what it's like to suddenly be able to feel another cove's emotional thingummies. To look at Jeeves, one might have cause to think he didn't have them at all, what with the whole stuffed frog exterior, but one would be very wrong. He... he'll never be able to hide anything from me again, and that's a bit frightening, what? No one should be able to see into another chap like that."

His brow wrinkled. "That does sound dashed inconvenient."

"Thank heaven we can't read each other's minds. That would be horrid. A chap's thoughts should always be his own. I'd hate to think what a brainy type like Jeeves would make of the hollowish inside of the Wooster lemon, anyway." I really did worry about that. Not that Jeeves would leave me for being mentally negligible -- he hadn't before, and I knew now that he loved me, not to mention the whole sentinel and guide bonding wheeze -- but one does sometimes feel a slight concern.

"I say."

"So you see, old thing, if we're going to get anything resembling our lives back, it's just best that we don't have everyone noising it about. It's not what we wanted to have happen, but now that it has, we have to figure out how to live with it. Telling everyone about it, well, we'd have to change everything about the way we live. You know I'm rubbish with the Unusual Situation, and this is a U. S. if ever there was one."

Bingo nodded thoughtfully. "I can understand that, Bertie. I don't know what I'd do if it happened to me. You hear such odd things about it all. Nobody really knows for sure, no matter what the stories tell you."

"You're right on that. It's nothing like the stories. It's nothing that could ever be described, I mean to say. I don't think anyone actually slapping those tales on paper is a sentinel or a guide, or they'd be saying entirely different sorts of things altogether." I sighed and took another desultory sip of my drink. "Bingo, old thing, if you could put people off if they ask you about this, I'd be eternally grateful."

"Right ho, Bertie. You've always been a pal, and Jeeves has done everyone here a good turn more than once. I'll do what I can, what?"

"Thanks awfully." I finished off the old nip of the blushful Hippocrene and deposited the glass on a table. "I really must be off, Bingo. We'd only just got home and I sent Jeeves off to his club so he wouldn't have to splash up some dinner for me. I told him I'd be along early, to make sure he's all right. He wasn't feeling well when he left, you see."

"Oh, right then. You should be off." We spent a few more moments doing the departure foxtrot, then I legged it for Berkeley Mansions to see if Jeeves had put in his evening appearance.

I found the poor chap sitting slumped on the chesterfield with his head in his hands, looking remarkably peaky. Jeeves never slumps. He's always straight as a pole, so I knew it was serious. I stuffed my own things in the closet and biffed over to him. "Reg?" I kept my voice soft, because I could feel the pain vibrating off him. "What happened?" Depositing myself next to him, I wrapped my arms about him and let him rest his head on my shoulder. He was shivering slightly.

"I had a much more difficult evening than I anticipated," he said, his voice rough and tired.

"You're hurting everywhere, aren't you? Let me bung you into bed, old thing. All you have to do is lie there and breathe."

He nodded microscopically, as though just moving his head hurt. "Very good, sir."

The sirring was a bad sign all by itself. I wedged him up to his feet and helped him stagger into my -- our -- bedroom. It took us a few minutes, but I did manage to get the rind peeled off him. I didn't think pyjamas would be such a good idea tonight, given that I knew how much touching bare skin helped him. After I tucked him betwixt the sheets, I dashed out to turn off all the lights and then did a quick scrub of the teeth and the like before slipping myself in next to him.

He curled around me like a terribly sensitive plant and I just held him, gently rubbing his back and whispering softly, reminding him to take slow, steady breaths and having him crank down on those imaginary knobs on the wireless of his senses so as to dampen whatever was bothering him. It was about twenty minutes before he felt at all like himself again. "Did you actually manage to eat anything, Reg?" I asked. "Or did you even get to your club?"

He nodded. "I was able to eat, but being exposed to so many people and so much... chaos -- it was very painful." He took a few more deep breaths, relaxing slightly. "I thought I would be able to manage it alone," he said, allowing a grudging hint of the plaintive into his voice.

"You're going to be just fine, love," I told him, planting a kiss on his cheek. He sighed quietly. "Tomorrow we'll be out of the metrop again, and you'll have a little more time to collect yourself."

"I am concerned about being in the vicinity of individuals who will, no doubt, react with some hostility."

"You mean Aunt Agatha."

Worry rippled through him. "Indeed."

"I'll take care of you," I promised. "I don't care what we have to do, I'll make certain you're all right. That's this Wooster's purpose in life, now."

"It should not be," he whispered, miserable. I could feel a wave of despair in him.

"Sleep," I said. "They said it might take time for you to get used to this again. And really, Reg, if I have to have a purpose, I'd rather it be taking care of you than spawning Woosters with some beazel I don't care for at all."

He nodded against my shoulder. "I had hoped it would be easier than this."

"It is what it is. Your viking blood will no doubt prevail, old thing. It'll just take a little time. We'll have to ease you into it gently. At least you didn't go into one of those horrifying cata-whatsit states, and I do distinctly remember a couple of months being mentioned as a potential wait before you really settled into things once we got home again. That's why they said six months or more before they'd even think about calling on us, what?"

Disappointment welled in him, but he nodded again. "You are correct."

"Even a paragon has off days."

"I should not like to have another."

I applied my lips to his. "I'll drive tomorrow. We'll take things slowly. For now, though, you should make the acquaintance of that Morpheus chappie. I hear he's all the rage for raveling the sleeve of whatsit."

He quirked a tiny smile at me, still hurting, but amused. "Thank you, Bertram."

"Hush, you. Sleep. I won't be able to if you don't, and you know it."

"Of course," he said, settling in and tucking his arms more closely about me. He nuzzled my face. "I do love you," he whispered. I could feel it in him, warm and glowing.

***

We were, collectively, called before Aunt Agatha when we arrived at Bumpleigh Hall. Jeeves stood by my side, slightly behind me, completely stuffed frog to all outward appearances, but I knew this was not the case. I could feel unease thrumming through the chap like a buzzing hive of bees. It was enough to make my knees knock together. I was used to his steadfast imperturbability to prop me up, and it was apparent there wouldn't be any of the stuff.

Uncle Percy was nowhere in evidence, though I'd seen Angela on the way in, so I figured Aunt Dahlia must be around the old heap somewhere as well. I wasn't sure how much of the family was clustered round, but I didn't have a good feeling about it. Rather, I felt entirely surrounded, without the cavalry to come charging over the rise to our rescue.

"I expect you to comport yourself properly, Bertram," Aunt A. snapped. She tossed in a glower simply because she could, and a sharpish one it was, too. Like daggers, or a serpent's tooth. "I will not have you dallying with your valet, regardless of what happened. It is not proper and will not be tolerated under my roof."

"We hadn't planned on changing anything about our lives, my wrinkled relation," I answered. "You needn't worry about midnight assignations or the like."

She turned her draconic visage upon Jeeves. "Just because you are now a sentinel does not give you an excuse to get above yourself, Jeeves. I expect you to respect the privacy of the family and to remember your place. If I find you have been eavesdropping or otherwise interfering, I shall see to it that my nephew dismisses you."

"I say!" I said. "I will not dismiss him for any reason! You absolutely cannot make me. You know the law's on my side on this one, Aunt Agatha, strange as that may appear to the naked e."

"I am speaking to your valet, Bertram. You will not interrupt."

I fumed, while Jeeves nodded, still icy calm on the outside. "I have no intention of changing my behavior simply because I am now a sentinel, Lady Worplesdon." Given that his previous behavior had always included said listening at windows and keyholes -- from a discreet distance, of course, and perhaps without even intending it -- he wasn't giving so much as an inch here, but she didn't need to know that and I wasn't about to tell her.

Her glower was steeped in suspicion. "You have always been an inordinate influence on my nephew. I strongly suspected his continual avoidance of marriage was your doing and now I know it to be true. Had I known this was coming I would have got rid of you years ago." She turned her ire upon me. "Do not think you can avoid continuing the family name because of this, young man."

I was staggered. Flummoxed, even. I nearly swooned. The eyes bulged and I was rocked back on my heels. There may have been a bit of chest-clutching as well. "What? I mean to say, what?" Jeeves didn't so much as flinch but I felt his anger and dismay at her words as clearly as my own.

"A suitable marriage can be arranged with a girl who understands that you have been saddled with this creature, and who will be willing to bear you heirs to the Wooster line. Your worthless Uncle George has not seen fit to produce an heir to the title, which means you are the family's final," she cringed, "hope in this matter. It has certainly been done before."

"Let Claude spawn, then. He'd be next in line if I biffed off to the pearly gates anyway. It could pass from me to any son of his, just as it would pass from Uncle George to me." I was starting to work up a good head of steam about the whole thing, while Jeeves was absolutely arctic beside me. "There's no need to drag me into any of this. I really think you're just doing this to spite Jeeves now."

"I would never lower myself to spiting a servant, Bertram. You will do as I tell you, and you will marry the girl when I find her."

Well, at least there was no beazel already here waiting in the wings to ambush me! "We shall see, aged a., we shall see." I was determined and raised a defiant chin to her. Now that I had Jeeves, I had something besides just avoiding a walk down the aisle to fight for, and I would not let down the side. If it meant crossing swords with the old dragon, I would do so, with all the Wooster courage screwed to the sticking point. I'll admit I would rather have faced a Saracen or perhaps a Visigoth, but one can't be choosy in these circs. Faint heart never won fair valet, after all!

"We shall speak of this again later, Bertram. I will not forget your defiance." There was a cloud of menace hovering in her words like an entire plague of locusts. I could sense a plague of boils lined up right behind them in thoroughly Biblical fashion. I legged it as soon as she looked away, with Jeeves oiling out beside me in a silent huff.

"Well," I said, grim as a pile of skeletons, "that went about well as could be expected."

Jeeves said nothing until we got up to my room, where my bags had been bunged by one of the footmen, seeing as we'd been summoned the moment the two-seater stopped in the drive. "I did not anticipate her attempt to force you to wed once again, sir," he said, getting a start at stuffing the young master's glad rags into wardrobe and dresser. I lit a pensive gasper and sat upon the bed, fretting.

"Can she do that?" I asked. "Force me on some poor gal for the sole purpose of procreation? What an absolutely horrifying thought."

"She is correct in that it has been done when a family line is in danger of extinction and the sole remaining heir was a sentinel or a guide with a male counterpart. Given that your cousins are equally capable of producing heirs to the title, she has very little legal standing for such an act. I do not believe, however, that she will attempt to follow through on this."

"Dash it all, what are we going to do if she does, Reg?"

He flung an eyebrow at me in lieu of wrapping the arms about the Wooster corpus. "If she actually attempts the act? What we have always done, sir. Find a way to gently discourage any young lady who has set her sights upon you."

"Convincing people I'm a loony seems to work well enough most of the time," I grumbled.

I felt a dash of sympathy from Jeeves's direction, though he was as stuffed frog as ever. "Until she produces a young lady, sir, there will be no need for any action on our part."

"Well, perhaps we can keep her from producing one, what?"

"It would require her to inform any potential young ladies of your status, sir, which the Ministry has actively discouraged. It is unlikely that any modern young lady would be eager for such an arrangement, knowing that your commitment is already engaged elsewhere. I suspect that, ultimately, this is an empty threat. I do not believe she would flout a request from the government in this matter, regardless of her dislike of me or her desire to manipulate you."

"You mean you think this is just a lot of intimidating noise, then?" I felt the spark of hope bloom within the Wooster bosom.

He nodded. "Indeed, sir. She is, as the Bard said, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." There was a tiny quirk of his lip in a smile-ward direction, and a wave of warmth came with it. At times like these, I rather liked the whole guide wheeze. I gave serious consideration to wrapping him in a warm embrace, given that we were in private.

A tap came at my door just then, though. Jeeves oiled over to the offending portal and opened it. Angela bolted in and tossed herself into my arms in the most alarming manner. "Oh, Bertie, congratulations! I'm so delighted for you!" She gave me a cousinly peck on the cheek then turned to Jeeves, looking like she might give him the same treatment, though lacking the cousinly attribute. She hesitated before she pounced, thankfully. "I don't suppose I can actually hug Jeeves, can I?" she asked, giving him the once over with a chary eye.

He was looking thoroughly stiff at the mere idea. Uncertainty tinged with a slight shade of horror welled within the Jeevesian breast. "I should prefer not, Miss Angela."

"He's still a bit of a sensitive plant, my young shrimp," I told her. "He's been having a hard time of it, getting used to the whole sentinel thingummy. Best not to disturb his sang-whatsit."

"Sangfroid, sir." He relaxed just a touch when it became apparent that there would be no undue flinging of Angelas upon Jeeveses.

"The mater told me what happened, though we were visited by some shady characters from the government a few days later, who said we shouldn't mention it outside the family," she said, dropping herself upon my bed with a bit of a bounce. Jeeves closed the door behind her. "I don't know why they want it all hush-hush, but one doesn't argue with chaps like that. Oh, and welcome to the family, Jeeves. It's about time Bertie settled down."

"Thank you, Miss Angela." There was a pleased aura about him and he gave her a polite nod.

"Is Aunt Dahlia here?" I asked. It was best to know what one was dealing with when it came to auntly relations. "Or Uncle Tom?"

She nodded. "Aunt Agatha's summoned everyone. I saw Claude and Eustace. I think I saw Aunt Julia lurking about, though I've not seen Uncle George anywhere. I think he's in America for the next few months."

"Just as well."

"I would have thought Aunt Agatha would be happy for you, Bertie. We've not had someone like you in the family for just ages. I'd think she would be proud of you, but she's been snarling like an ill-tempered terrier for days."

"She snarled at both of us when we got here. Pinned the old ears back with her enthusiasm, in fact. She was going on about finding some poor gal to marry me off to despite my being a guide, so as to produce a Wooster heir."

"What? That's ludicrous. She can't do that! And who would stand for it? There's no one desperate enough to marry half of a sentinel and guide couple anyway. Everyone knows people like that are inseparable, and no woman would want to play second fiddle to Jeeves. It would be impossible. Like competing with perfection on the hoof."

"That's what Jeeves was saying. Except for the fiddling part. Fiddles were never mentioned." I quite agreed about the perfection bit, though, and gave him a bracing smile to show my approval.

"Oh, Bertie."

"Do not 'Oh, Bertie' me, Angela," I said, with some asperity. "I will not be 'Oh, Bertie'd." I could feel amusement growing in the Jeevesian corner of the room.

"You are such a dear sap, Bertie." She biffed me in the shoulder and turned her attentions to Jeeves. "I'm so glad you're all right, Jeeves. Mother said you were badly hurt in the explosion; we were all quite worried about you. You've been good for the young squirt, and I do hope he's being good to you, as well."

He gave a slight incline of his noble head, which sticks out at the back to make room for all his brains. "Indeed, Miss Angela. Thank you." There was a pleased thingness about him that delighted the Wooster heart. I think he was chuffed that Angela was so happy for us. We hadn't anticipated any support from the troops beyond Aunt Dahlia.

"If there's anything you can do to keep the nephew crusher off me, Angela, it would be just topping. I'm rather afraid she'll try something that will hurt Jeeves. She still wants me to dismiss him because she dislikes him. This whole sentinel wheeze seems to have left her a bit chapped."

Angela glowered with an aspect like a displeased thundercloud. "That is just the frozen limit! How could she?"

"Will you help us, then?"

"Of course! You can count on me." She bolted to her feet. "I really must dash. Tea will be ready soon and I have a few things to do before that." She planted a peck on the Wooster cheek and then, with only a slight hesitation, dropped one on Jeeves as well. His cheeks colored a bit.

"Miss Angela," he said, reproving.

"Oh, hush, you. I know you can't really change how you act toward one another in public if you have to keep all this under your hat, but I know you're much more than just his valet now, and I don't mind at all if you act like it when I'm around. I think it's just darling."

Both of us developed a furious blush on the damask cheek at that assertion. Angela whooshed precipi-something -- not the word for falling rain or snow, it means quickly; precipitously! That's the chappie -- precipitously out of the room before either of us could respond. Jeeves and I exchanged alarmed glances as the door closed behind her. "Women, Reg. I mean to say."

"Just so, Bertram." His heartfelt agreement washed over me.

***

Tea was a bit of straining at gnats and gobbling up camels instead, as far as this Wooster was concerned. Aunt Agatha was testier than an entire cricket side, muttering dark imprecations under her breath. She was, no doubt, practicing incantations for the upcoming human sacrifices at the full of the moon. I was far down the table from her, more or less safely away from her dire clutches. Angela was wedged in on one side of me, and the twins perched at my other hand.

Claude goggled at Jeeves, who was wafting about the room bunging things before the young master, and Eustace accosted this Wooster with a cheery, "So Jeeves is a sentinel now? Make him do something, Bertie."

I gawped. "Do something? What do you mean, 'do something'?"

"Well, some kind of sentinel tricks, I mean to say. They can do all kinds of odd things, can't they? Like smell a hidden dirty sock from a mile off?"

"What? No!" I glowered smartly at Eustace. "Jeeves is not some bally performing circus animal, you blighter, and you'd do well to remember that!"

"Well then, how do they know he's really a sentinel?" Claude asked. "Maybe he just says he is. I mean, how would anyone know?"

"We are not discussing this," I said, and I meant it to sting.

Angela piped up with a bit of a rescue for us both. "You know what those chaps from the government said. We're not to discuss this outside the family."

"This isn't outside the family," Eustace insisted.

"Do desist in this squabbling at the table," Aunt Agatha said, making a pointed gesture with her fork.

Aunt Dahlia weighed in with her own, "Really, Claude, the government wouldn't have sent people to talk to us if Jeeves weren't a sentinel. Do attempt to have a molecule of thought in that empty head of yours."

"We are absolutely not discussing this," I hissed at Eustace, intending to get in the last word even at the risk of an aunting.

Claude leaned in and hissed back at me. "We have not had the last of this, Bertie. We want to see something."

At that, I snapped up an angry boiled egg and rose from the table. "I'm not feeling all that well," I said. "Jeeves, I'm off to my room."

"Very good, sir." He shimmered after me before Aunt Agatha could protest. I heard sputtering behind us as we legged it for the stairs.

Once we had a door locked between us and the rest of the familial heap, I dropped myself into a chair and nibbled at the egg. "I am dashed sorry about all of that, Reg."

Jeeves nodded, appearing unperturbed. "Thank you, sir. Lady Worplesdon's muttered imprecations were calculated for me to overhear. I was not deliberately listening, you understand, but she did speak my name several times, and one does tend to notice when one's name is invoked."

"Of course, of course," I said, gesturing airily with the ovum. "I hope she wasn't too awful to you. And those blasted twins are simply the frozen limit."

"It was nothing I did not already expect, given her greeting upon our arrival. She is attempting to discomfit me so that she can prove I am deliberately eavesdropping upon private conversations. I shall not give her the satisfaction, sir. Your cousins may yet pose something of a problem, but I am not immediately worried about them."

"Right then. I'd rather you hung about here for a bit anyway."

He shook his head. "I am sorry, sir, but I have duties to perform while you are a guest here."

"But you're not expected anywhere at the mo. You're supposed to be attending me at tea, what?"

There was an air of disappointment about him, though nothing showed on his map. "If we are to act as we always have, I cannot stay, sir. I would be expected to see to your comfort then make myself available belowstairs for my usual afternoon duties." He gave an almost-sigh. "I am sorry, Bertram," he said, allowing a touch of that disappointment into his voice. I could tell he would really have preferred to stay, probably as much as I wanted him to.

"Oh. Well." I held out a hand to him and he materialized next to me, taking hold of said appendage. It felt good to touch him and we stayed like that for a few shakes of the ovine extremity, just looking at one another. I tugged him down and applied the Wooster lips to his for a mo. "I suppose if we must wear the mask, we must. I can't say that I'm fond of this whole wheeze, though."

"Of course, sir." There was a distinct hint of 'and this is all your fault, you blister' behind it, but one must expect these things from a valet disappointed by circs.

"Aside from this mess, are you all right?" He didn't feel like he hurt, which was a vast improvement over the metrop.

Jeeves nodded. "I am well for the moment," he said. "I am having occasional incidents of one sense or another suddenly slipping from my control, but there have been no serious difficulties."

"Spiffing," I said, and gave him a dash of the Wooster smile. "Right, then, if you've any trouble with it at all, I expect you to let me know. Are we agreed?"

"Indeed, sir." He gave the old paw one last gentle squeeze then shimmered off for the hinterlands, leaving me alone with the remains of my egg.

***

Afternoon passed into evening, as days are wont. There was a spot of golf and a distinctly uncomfortable brush with dinner. The slings and arrows of outrageous f. were slinging and arrowing with a vengeance. Claude and Eustace were absolute pills of the worst sort at every opportunity. Jeeves gave every appearance of ignoring them, but I could tell he wasn't exactly chuffed by some of the things they said.

When he came up to bung me into bed, there was a strange undertone of thingness in the man. It wasn't anger or wariness or frustration. There was more than a hint of disappointment in it, though. "Reg? What's wrong, love?"

"It is nothing, sir," he said, a little too quietly. The feeling of disappointment welled a bit.

"Oh, no you don't," I said. "If it were nothing, you'd not be feeling like that. You can't fool me, old thing." I was in the coral pyjamas by then and about to slip myself betwixt the sheets, sadly bereft of my man. I sat on the bed and looked up at him expectantly.

He looked away for a moment. "Perhaps, rather, I should say it is unimportant."

"I don't think that's it either." I patted the bed beside me. "Here, come sit and talk to me." There was a vague rumble of discomfort beneath the calm exterior, but he did sit with me after a slight hesitation. "Now," I said, "tell me what all this is about."

"There are..." He let out what might have been a hint of a sigh. "Some of the staff, sir, have been talking, thinking I could not hear. As I said earlier, I have not been attempting to overhear what is not intended for my ears, but at times one cannot help but have one's attention called to certain things."

"Right. Go on, then."

"Some of them are afraid of me," he said, and the disappointment expanded in him, almost overwhelming.

"What? Why?"

"Everyone has secrets, sir. The proximity of a sentinel is quite disconcerting to some, particularly those whose secrets might prove problematic if voiced in the wrong places."

I rested a hand on his thigh. "But why wouldn't they trust you? You've never--"

He covered my hand with his and the emotional whatsits all became much more clear. "I thought that some of these people were my friends," he murmured. "I did not realize how fragile that sense of friendship might be, or how little it might take to disrupt the trust between us."

"I'm sorry," I said. "That's bally well unfair of them."

"Fairness has nothing to do with it, Bertram. Knowing how I have changed, they no longer feel safe around me. They will not spread gossip, given the warnings from the Ministry, but I will no longer be welcome in a number of activities that used to be open to me here. I was..." He paused for a moment, still looking calm, but obviously trying to collect himself. "In the evenings, there are often card games or other amusements in the servants' hall, and I was told tonight that I would no longer find a place at the table."

I felt a cold, hard anger of my own on his behalf. "But that's--"

"There is nothing to be done about it," he said. "To argue would only cause more ill will, and I must still work with everyone. There is a certain discomfort about the change in my relationship with you, as well, which I find even more difficult to countenance. It has caused some speculation about our relationship prior to this, and there have been private comments which I was not meant to overhear regarding the possibility of scandalous conduct between us before the accident."

"I say! That's not on at all."

"I am more concerned for your reputation than my own."

I glowered, angry as a wolf with a thorn jammed into its paw. "That's just the frozen limit."

"There are still people among the staff whose attitude has not changed substantially, Bertram. I am not without friends. What I find more disconcerting than the lack of trust is the way some of them watch me. They regard me as... as some sort of freak, as less than human."

"That just will not do!" I bolted to my feet like a rocketing pheasant, ready to dash off to the rescue of my valet in distress. "I'll put a stop to this!"

"No." He rose with me, still holding onto the Wooster hand. "There is nothing you can do, Bertram. Nor should you. To attempt to interfere would only aggravate the situation. It is something that I shall simply have to tolerate. It is quite likely I shall encounter very similar attitudes at Brinkley Court when we visit there, as well." Under the disappointment, I could feel a wave of intense sadness, and I wanted more than anything to stop them hurting him like this. "I should have anticipated such a response. We do not live here, and that makes a great deal of difference; I shall not have to suffer their distrust or derision for very long. We will depart soon. It is bearable."

I hated the thought that he was right. "Maybe we should just tell the Ministry that we won't go along with it. Then at least I could have you here in my room with me, and you'd not have to deal with the staff and their dashed awful treatment of you."

Jeeves shook his head. "We cannot renege on our agreement with the Ministry at this point, Bertram. I suspect the consequences of such an act would be far worse than any minor discomfort I might suffer here or at Brinkley."

"I never thought people might treat you like that." I'd only been worried about the physical thingummies that came along with all this, and the potential that he might be hurt if something went wrong. I hadn't even considered that his friends might turn against him because of how he'd changed.

"I shall certainly survive the affront," he said, resigned. "Eventually, they may lose that suspicion, realizing that my situation has, essentially, not changed at all."

I wrapped the Wooster arms about him and he relaxed into my embrace, winding himself around me in return. I could feel some of the tension and sadness easing away inside him. "I don't want people to treat you differently. You are such a marvel. Everyone should appreciate you properly."

"It was inevitable," he murmured into my ear. "I will become accustomed to it, as will they. There's really no alternative."

I sighed. "I love you, Reg. You know I'm here for you. If there's anything at all I can do, you must tell me."

"I know, beloved," he whispered. "Thank you. There is nothing to be done at the moment but endure this." He kissed me, soft and slow, and I rather melted a bit. Finally, he pulled away. "I must go, Bertram. I wish that I could stay here with you but we both know that is not possible." I could feel the regret curling in him.

"But we haven't slept apart since... I mean, will you be all right, old fruit?"

Jeeves nodded. "Yes. I know you're near, even if we are not in the same room. And I will be here again in the morning with your tea, as I always am." He planted the lips on mine again, briefly, then tucked me under the duvet. "Goodnight, love," he said as he snuffed the lights and shimmered out the door.

"Goodnight," I whispered, once the door was closed. I knew he'd heard me. I felt the warmth of his affection through the door as he shimmered off to his small, lonely bed.

***

I spent a fair bit of the next day avoiding my cousins Thos and Lady Florence Craye, and Nobby Hopwood, Uncle Percy's ward, all of whom were treating me like some bizarre curiosity. They were slightly less obnoxious about the whole thingummy than Claude and Eustace, but all of them seemed to think that Jeeves and I could perform circus tricks and whatnot. I'd never felt quite so like a bug under a microscope before in my life. I was not in the habit of producing rabbits from hats and was in no mood to begin. Every one of my hats was singularly rabbitless.

I truly felt for Jeeves, who must have been getting even worse treatment from everyone belowstairs. Now and then I'd get a hint of something distressed from him, though he wasn't anywhere I could see him when it happened. I thought it had to be awfully bad if I could feel it from so far away. I had some slight idea of how far he could be from me and still hear my heartbeat, as it was one of the things the Greek Chorus had been curious about. As it turned out, the answer was 'quite far.' They'd never inquired about the Wooster end of the connection and I hadn't thought much about it, given that Jeeves and I spent most of our time rather close to one another by both habit and preference. They'd regarded my reaction to Jeeves's accident as a one-off incident and doubted that anything like it would happen again.

There was nothing much I could do about the attitudes of the staff at Bumpleigh Hall, particularly given Jeeves's asking me not to say anything, but I did my best to keep the family away from him, at least. Aunt Agatha's hostility and the twins' inappropriate thingness were sharper than a serpent's t. and thrice as venomous. All I wanted was to be back at our flat in the metrop, away from prying eyes, ears, fingers, and other random appendages. I'd hoped that there would be a little quiet here for him to start settling back into life as we'd always known it, but we were granted very little peace or q. Aunt Dahlia and Angela stepped in from time to time to try and sort things, but I felt entirely put upon.

Early in the afternoon, Angela took me by the hand and we beetled off into the garden for a bit of an escape from the gloom and doom back at the old heap. "They're being just beastly," she said. "I often wonder if those two don't think anyone else is even human."

"They certainly don't seem to think Jeeves is," I grumbled. "He's having trouble belowstairs, too, from what he said last night." I cast a worried e. in her direction.

"Oh, dear. Is there anything we can do?"

I perched myself on a bench beneath a chubby and rather rude-looking Cupid. "I wanted to go after the blighters, but Jeeves said it would only make things worse." Angela slapped herself down beside me and tucked her feet up into my lap.

"You're worried about him."

"Dashed right, I am!" I wanted him to be right there with me, in fact. "No one should treat him poorly because of this."

She tilted her head at me. "You love him, don't you, Bertie."

The question stopped me and I gave an uncomfortable gulp. "Yes." I nodded.

"Did you love him before this happened?" She sounded curious, but not in the sort of way that implied she might think less of me if I answered. Still, I hesitated for a moment before I said anything. I'd too many years of worry about such circs to do otherwise.

"I... well... Yes, actually." It was dashed hard to say out loud. I barely managed to squeak it out past the lips. "You wouldn't hate me for feeling that way, would you, Angela?"

Angela shook her head. "No, Bertie. I'd always wondered. You just seemed to worship the man, even when you were angry with him. I thought it was rather sweet."

"You did?" No one thought things like that were 'sweet.' Perverted, yes. Wrong. Illegal. Perhaps even damned for eternity, but not sweet.

"And I always thought Jeeves cared for you a great deal. He's put up with an incredible amount of fat-headedness from you, after all."

"I say!" That was not on, even from my favorite cousin.

"I'm just glad it worked out like this, I mean to say. Things could have gone so badly for you, and I never wanted to see that happen to either of you." She rested one hand on the willowy Wooster shoulder.

"That's what Aunt Dahlia said when Jeeves was in hospital." I stared off at Bumpleigh Hall in the distance, wishing I were back in Mayfair. "Not those exact words, of course, but that thought. Did everyone know?"

The young shrimp started to say something but was interrupted by the distant sound of a dog howling from the auntly heap. It stopped for a moment then started again, frantic, and I was slapped with a sharp Jeevesian sensation of Something Wrong. "Something's wrong," I said, on my feet and legging it for the stately pile before my brain quite caught up. Angela was right on my heels.

"Bertie? Is that McIntosh howling?"

"Something's wrong," I insisted, and put on a burst of speed. A moment later I could see someone dashing across the grounds in our direction.

I was half out of breath by the time we met the young squirt in the middle. "Mr Wooster -- it's Mr Jeeves," the little sprout of a page gasped, all breathless. "Something's happened to him."

"Blast it! Where?"

He turned and ran like the hounds of unpleasant places were after him -- there may have been a Baskerville involved -- and I was right behind, with Angela trailing at the clubhouse turn. The howling got louder as we got closer and I followed the kid through the kitchen garden and into the servants' entrance; he led me down into the servants' hall, where an absolutely awful sight slapped the Wooster e.s.

Jeeves was curled up on the floor with his hands over his ears, his eyes squeezed tight shut, writhing and making quiet but absolutely awful sounds in his pain. No one was trying to help him -- they were all standing in a wide circle around him, staring and looking terrified to touch the man. McIntosh was upstairs, still howling, but he was doing so in entirely too healthy a voice for my taste, and it was obviously agonizing for Jeeves.

"Somebody go shut that dog up!" I snapped. A couple of chaps dashed out of the room, looking grateful for an excuse to leave. By that time I was on my knees next to Jeeves, with one hand on his back. I could feel pain and panic coming off him like water off Niagara Falls and pulled him into my arms, resting his head on my chest, trying to muffle the noise at least a little. Sometimes, if he could listen to my heart beating, it helped with this sort of thingummy. I wasn't going to try anything with bare skin in front of the help if I didn't have to, though. Jeeves would never forgive me. I jabbed a finger at one of the startled footmen. "You, help me get him up to my room. Now! The rest of you, out!" People scattered like things that scatter in a high wind, and the footman came close but seemed hesitant to touch Jeeves. "Damn it, man, I can't carry him up the stairs myself. Help me!"

That seemed to snap him out of it. Angela came panting in as the two of us heaved Jeeves to his feet and got arms under him enough to haul him along. "Bertie, what happened? Is he all right?"

"I don't know! Find out why McIntosh is yowling like that and stop him, for God's sake!" Angela gave a nod and bolted for the door, like a good cousin.

It took a couple of minutes to drag Jeeves up the stairs to my room -- he stumbled instead of being able to walk, so he wasn't much help -- but by the time we'd got there, the horrid howling had finally stopped. We lay Jeeves down on the bed and I told the footman to leave, and close the door behind him. I could hear Aunt Agatha raging in the distance, muffled by walls and doors and such, for which I was inordinately thankful. That, however, did not mean that Jeeves wouldn't be able to hear it all too acutely.

Once he was on the bed, Jeeves curled himself up into a ball again, and I had to wrap the Wooster corpus about him, letting him bury his face against my chest. I held him in my arms and whispered to him, trying to get him calm again. At least he hadn't gone off into that horrid state where nothing at all could reach him. It might have taken hours to get him back if that had happened. After a moment, he was still panting in pain but no longer had his hands welded to his ears. He held onto me and I could feel the pain and confusion rushing through him.

"What happened?" I asked, careful to keep the old pipes in that guide voice range that soothed him so, and soft as a gentle summer's breeze while I was at it.

He was trembling and trying hard to catch his breath and calm himself. "Wh-whistle, there was a whistle." He shivered and gasped again. "L-like icepicks driven into my ears."

"By Jove." That sounded just horrifying.

He flinched as McIntosh started howling again, and covered his ears, for all the good it would do him. There was really only one thing to do about it now. I had to find out where that bally whistling was coming from and stop it, but I couldn't do that until I'd taken care of my sentinel. "Can you hear me, Reg?" He nodded, though he was whimpering in pain. "I want you to turn the ears right off," I said. "Turn that bally knob down until it gets to zero, all right? When I've got this figured out, I'll come back."

He nodded again, but needed help to get his hearing sorted so that he was essentially stone deaf. Finally, he lay on his back, gasping with relief as the whistling got blocked out entirely. Jeeves looked up at me with bleary, half-open eyes, obviously still in pain but at least no longer being actively hurt by whatever was going on. I brushed sweat-damp hair from his e.s and laid a soft kiss on his cheek. He reached up and took my hand, giving it a squeeze. "Thank you," he whispered.

I gave his a squeeze back and got up, intending to look for the cause of all the commotion. McIntosh sounded like a full-on fox hunt all by himself and it was nearly deafening to me; I was only glad Jeeves couldn't hear a bally thing now. Aunt Agatha was bellowing and I thought going to the source, frightening as the idea was, should be my first act. I found her in the drawing room holding McIntosh as the noisy little chap wriggled and fought to get down. She was shouting at everyone within range and when I biffed in the door, she turned her considerable auntly wrath upon me.

"Bertie, what is the meaning of all this?"

Angela was by my side in a breath. "I have no idea, aged a.," I shouted -- solely to be heard above the howling, you understand.

"I told you," Angela added, equally loudly, "Jeeves couldn't possibly be responsible for this. The poor man's in agony. Whatever has McIntosh upset was hurting him, too."

Aunt Dahlia came sailing into the room with Uncle Percy bringing up the rear in tight formation. "Do quiet your dog, Agatha!" Uncle Percy bellowed. McIntosh stopped howling, but continued making yips. Everyone took a breath as the wall of noise fell. It had been like smacking into bricks.

Uncle Tom came in a moment later, dragging Claude by one ear and Eustace by another. "I've found our culprits," he said, giving them both a shove.

"I didn't do anything!" Eustace said, shaking his head like a horse trying to rid himself of a fly. "It was Claude!"

Claude had something clutched in one fist and I was there in an instant, twisting his wrist to get him to let go of the bally thing. When his hand opened, I realized what had happened. "It's a dog whistle." I snatched the thing, furious, and flung it to the floor. Giving the thing a stomp with one well-shod hoof, I mashed it flat. "Do you have any idea what you've done, you blighter?" By Jove, I wanted to mangle the cad. I had his lapel in my fist and was giving a good windup for a fast bowl when both of the uncles grabbed us and pulled us away from one another. "You've hurt him, you blister!"

"Jeeves could hear it?" Eustace asked. "You owe me a tenner, Claude!"

"For a -- you did that for a bet?" I tried to go for him again, but Uncle Tom had a firm grasp on my collar and wasn't letting go. I'd read some purple prose about chaps seeing red when they were in full fury, and now I knew what they meant. I was barely sensible and the only thing I could see was Claude, through a haze of absolute rage. There was something of an altercation that ended with Uncle Percy hauling Claude and Eustace away while Uncle Tom and a couple of the footmen sat upon young Bertram to keep him from tearing said Claude limb from limb.

Aunt Dahlia finally took charge of the whole mess, sending everyone but Uncle Tom and the footmen out of the room. Even Aunt Agatha was given the boot. "Bertram, get hold of yourself," my better aunt said.

"That bloody pillock hurt Reg," I shouted. "If he's within ten miles of me when I get up, I'll break every bally bone in his miserable corpus!"

"Julia will be departing with them immediately," Aunt Dahlia said, nodding. "You'll not have to deal with them. Their behavior was inexcusable." I could feel that she was nearly as furious with them as I was.

Something in me finally let go, knowing that. I wasn't calm by any means, but I didn't feel an immediate need to go and strangle the blister now, either. When I stopped fighting, Uncle Tom and the footmen relaxed. They let me go when I didn't try to dash after Claude.

"As soon as Jeeves is well enough to move, we are leaving," I said, and I bally well meant it to sting.

"I don't intend to stop you, Bertie. I'm not sure what Agatha will say, though."

We didn't have to wonder at all, because she came right back in, sans slavering canine. "That was utterly disgraceful."

"They certainly were! With knobs on!" I agreed.

She glowered and I wondered if that Medusa beazel might have been giving lessons, as it was quite petrifying. "I was speaking of your behavior, Bertram."

"What? My behavior?" I got to my feet. "Claude was the one who started all this." I scooped up the flattened dog whistle from the rug and waved it at her sharply. "He hurt Reg and he set McIntosh to howling like a dozen banshees tuning up for the opera. I think I was dashed well justified in trying to strangle the young blot."

"Your over-familiarity with your valet will not be tolerated, Bertram. I--"

"That is enough, Aggie," Aunt Dahlia snapped. "You've been stewing in your own juices ever since Bertie became a guide and I will not have you taking your jealousy out on the poor boy or his man."

"Eh?" I stared at her, baffled.

Aunt Agatha drew herself up and made a valiant attempt to tower. Lightning may have flashed from her eyes. I'm fairly certain one of the potted palms in the corner was cowering. "That he should be a guide is just shameful, Dahlia. Wooster men are not guides. If this had to happen, he should have been a sentinel! And that he's a guide to some servant--"

Aunt Dahlia advanced on her, and it was like watching one of those knights of old on the jousting field. "No one gets to choose, Agatha. You never became a guide and you are just going to have to live with that. Trying to keep Bertie from doing what he needs to, and insulting his sentinel because you could never have one of your own, is a disgrace to the Wooster honor. Great Aunt Hortense would have been proud of the boy and you know it as well as I. He's doing everything he can and he's doing it very well, and you know that if the Ministry is trying to keep this quiet, they obviously have something important they want the two of them to do. Are you going to be the one to get in the way of Bertie finally doing something useful and honorable with his life?"

"Jeeves is his valet." Aunt Agatha looked like the word tasted bad.

Aunt Dahlia poked a finger at her. "And that matters for exactly nothing. They are sentinel and guide now, and that is the only important thing about this. Just because most of the Wooster guides have been women doesn't mean that Bertie is any less of a man for it." Well, I did feel chuffed at hearing that, I must say. "There are thousands of male guides out there. You've never said a word against any of the ones you've met. He's a guide and you are not, and you simply cannot stand that fact. I will not have you being cruel to either of these boys as a sop to your jealousy."

Aunt Agatha didn't say anything to those words, but she did look like she wanted to excavate Aunt Dahlia's lungs with a dull paper teaspoon.

"I'm taking Jeeves home," I told Aunt Agatha. My better aunt got a few words from me as well. "Thank you, Aunt Dahlia. You're an absolute pippin. I won't forget this." I beetled off to my room before either of them could send another volley Bertramward.

Jeeves was still lying on the bed when I got back to my room, watching the door anxiously and looking pale and wan, like some chappie in one of those gothic horror films. About the color of a fish's underside, if one wanted to be precise about it. I went to the bed and sat with him, giving his forehead a soft c. He still felt like he hurt, but it wasn't nearly so bad now. I traced the curve of his ear with a finger and nodded to him, letting him know it was safe to hear things again. "It's all right, Reg," I whispered.

He reached up and drew me down into his arms, holding me close. We lay there breathing together for a while before he asked, "What happened?" His voice was quiet and I figured he was still awfully sensitive, so I was equally q. when I answered.

"Claude happened, love. He had a bally dog whistle." I couldn't help the anger in my voice. I was still furious with the blighter. "He and Eustace had a bet that you couldn't hear the damned thing." I did manage not to growl. "As soon as you feel up to traveling, I'm bunging you into the two-seater and taking you home. Someone can send our things back on the train. I don't care. I'm getting you out of here."

Jeeves nodded. "Thank you, Bertram." I could tell he was still a bit discombobulated, but only part of it was the dog whistle wheeze.

"I don't understand why no one tried to help you before I got there."

Jeeves's eyes closed for a moment, then he looked back at me. "I believe they were uncertain whether touching me would only hurt me further."

"Oh."

"It was not malicious, Bertram. None of us knew what was happening and I was in too much pain to ask for help."

"Well, all right, then. But I'm just as glad to get you out of here. The metrop might be a bit noisy and chaotic for you, but at least we'll be in our own flat, and we can get used to this in our own time. We're going to have to send off a note to the Greek Chorus, though, when we get home. I'm sure this is the sort of thing they wanted to know about."

"As am I." He didn't seem terribly gruntled by the whole thingummy, but we both knew it had to be done.

There was a soft tap at the door. I got up to open it and told Jeeves to stay there on the bed, as he wasn't quite up to dealing with anything just yet. He wasn't pleased, but did as I told him. I was slightly surprised by what stood on the other side. "Aunt Dahlia?" She poked her nose in.

"Are you all right, Jeeves?" she tootled, biffing into the room. He started to get up. "Oh, no, young man. You will stay right where you are."

He leaned up on one elbow and nodded. "Yes, madam. Thank you, madam."

"Not permanently damaged by those frightful poxes upon the backside of humanity?"

"No, madam."

"Ready for the road soonest?"

"Quite so, madam."

She gave a glance at me. "Agatha didn't like being put in her place under her own roof, but someone had to do it."

"I'd no idea about that whole guide thingummy," I said. Jeeves raised a curious eyebrow. "She wanted to be one," I told him.

"She's frightfully jealous of Bertie and was being quite awful about the whole thing," Aunt Dahlia said. "There was no excuse for it, and I wasn't about to let her have one. For once the young blot is doing something right, and I won't have him badgered over it. Or you."

"Thank you, madam." Jeeves seemed a bit overcome by the whole idea, though he was still a little wobbly. "I appreciate your intervention."

She nodded. "Well, Jeeves, no one deserves to be treated as you were today. Agatha will just have to get over herself. She might be able to treat you like a servant to keep up whatever ruse the Ministry is pulling, but that doesn't mean we don't all know what's really going on here. I won't see you abused." She took a quick look at me. "Bertie was ready to turn Claude inside out when he found out what was going on. Tom and two of the footmen had to sit on him to keep him down."

There was an impressed flash of pride from Jeeves, though the only thing that showed was a tiny upward twitch of one corner of his lips. "I see."

"I just wanted to know that you were going to be all right, Jeeves. It's best you both dash as soon as you're able. Agatha is likely to want to salve her wounded pride on something very soon. I don't want you in the splash zone for it. Having her fangs in your ankle would be terribly inconvenient."

"Jolly good idea, my wrinkled relation," I said. "We'll be off in just a few minutes. Have someone send our things after us, would you?"

She nodded and ankled over to the bedside. "Of course." Aunt Dahlia smiled, planting a cautious hand on one Jeevesian shoulder. "Do be careful, both of you. I know you're still working all this out. I want to see you come out the other side in one piece."

"As do we, madam," Jeeves said, slightly uneasy at the aunting.

"Thank you, Aunt Dahlia." She biffed over and tossed an auntly hug at me. I returned the gesture with all the affection a grateful nephew could muster. I would bally well be pleased when we were back in our flat again, alone.

***

The next three months were a touch difficult for both of us. It was, at first, hard for Jeeves to leave the flat without me. Too much noise, too many people, too many awful smells, and far too much going on, is what he told me. He looked for all the world like everything was spiffing, but I could feel the tension in him and, when we finally got to bed at night, it might take him an hour or more to feel well enough to sleep. I did what I could at home, but he refused to let me go out with him. "I would never have done the marketing and other errands with you before this happened, sir," he said, "and if I were to take up the habit now, it would certainly be noticed."

I couldn't fault his logic, of course. The chap's brain is the size of a bally planet. I hated sending him out into all that without me there to watch out for him, particularly with him coming home again afterward feeling so dashed awful. We did our best to maintain our ways, though I took to coming home from the Drones earlier in the evening so as to let Jeeves take off the mask a bit sooner.

We got occasional visits from people from the Ministry, who asked rather a lot of questions about how Jeeves was getting on. Gradually, like lofty oaks from small acorns and whatnot, things got better. He would still have the occasional spot of trouble, but nothing like what had happened with Claude and the dog whistle out at Bumpleigh Hall. At least in the metrop, Jeeves knew to expect loud noises and odd things happening without any notice. It all took its toll on him, but he kept up the stiff u. l. and carried on with his dignity wrapped about him like a cloak. I admired the man more than I could possibly say. I'd always known he was a marvel, but now when I watched him biffing about, his wonders to perform, I realized what he was going through as he did all of it. That I was able to help at all him left me with a warmth in the old thorax that was of the distinctly soppy variety.

We learned that there were any number of ways we might touch one another in public without anyone taking note. Golf clubs needed to be passed, a tie might require straightening, arms might brush if we were walking together, and other opportunities arose more often than one might suspect. It helped Jeeves and reassured this Wooster like billy-o. Sometimes even the briefest brush of hands made all the difference for him. Jeeves said that as he got used to the whole sentinel thing, he was much more able to listen for my voice or my heartbeat from several rooms away if he needed a bit of steadying when a touch wasn't possible.

None of my friends seemed to realize anything was different about Jeeves now, beyond that he'd been badly hurt and was taking a while to recover, which had been the effect we wanted. By six-ish months after the whole sentinel thingummy had exploded, our lives had fallen back into their usual tracks. Jeeves didn't come home to the flat with horrid headaches or odd rashes he couldn't explain, he was able to do everything he'd always done before, and he could usually keep his senses where they properly ought to be with only the occasional minor mishap. We were ordered out to auntly environs and invited to the country houses of some of my oofier friends, as we had always been.

Just as Jeeves had prognosti-somethinged, circs at Brinkley Court and Bumpleigh Hall cooled off and eventually people were treating him as they always had, once they realized that he wasn't doing anything differently and that no sensitive secrets were suddenly floating about in public view. He still stood at the ready to fish Bertram and his various and s. friends out of the soup at the drop of a ladle. Romances were repaired. Potential Wooster fiancées were fended off with the usual fish-fed brilliance, though I could now detect much more than a subtle hint of self-satisfied possessiveness in the man when he got rid of the beazels.

It was eight months after Jeeves's accident, on a warmish spring day, that the Greek Chorus summoned us. Notice arrived via the morning telegram, placed carefully next to the equally morningish cup of tea. I thought, at first, that it must be a missive from one of the aunts, but I was sorely mistaken. I found myself wishing it had been an aunt.

A second, less important but far more pleasant telegram from Oofy Prosser took up a bit of space on the tray as well; it turned out to be an invite for a week or so at a friend of a cousin's acquaintance's stately country pile. Naturally, Oofy wasn't the host, being more Scroogely than an oyster about its pearl when it came to parting with the ready, but he was happily willing to have Bertram along to eat someone else's bread and salt. It certainly wasn't the first time such a thing had happened. I knew it wouldn't be the last.

That bit, at least, I could look forward to without trepi-whatsit -- that state where one is fearful of auntings or having a filly flung at one's head. Trepidation. A gathering I could attend without trepidation. A bit of horse racing seemed in the offing as well, and a sporting Wooster never passes up a chance to test himself on the turf.

"What could the Gorgons possibly want, Reg?" I asked, taking sip of the life-giving brew. Our presence was being requested -- or perhaps demanded -- by Call-Me-Anthea and Medea, early that very afternoon at a house in Hampstead.

"No doubt it will be explained to us in some detail when we arrive at the appointed time, Bertram."

"Oh. Right ho. I suppose we should reply to the telegram and tell them we'll be on our way sharpish."

He nodded. "Very good, sir." I could feel a vague undercurrent of uneasiness in him, but I knew he wasn't keen on doing anything that might put me in harm's way. He obviously thought the Greek Chorus had something nefarious in mind, as Greek choruses are so often wont. I reached up to him and took his hand, drawing him down to sit with me on the bed.

"You know they said they would only want us to have a look about at things, Reg. It probably won't be exciting at all." He leaned in to kiss me, all soft lips and tongue, rescuing my tea from certain spillage as he did so.

"You are all too well aware that I shall worry, regardless."

"You always manage to fish me out of whatever bouillon I manage to find myself in, even when you're pipped with me. I have every confidence in you. Besides, we have a week in the country to look forward to. If I know you, you'll be making book on the race with the staff there as soon as we get through the door."

Jeeves didn't smile, but his aspect did lighten considerably. "I might, perhaps, be tempted to lay a wager upon the outcome. Such things often make the time pass more pleasantly." I was sure he was looking forward to our day at the track. Seeing that my man was sufficiently cheered for me to begin the day, I had him bung me into the bath and the outer crust of an English gentleman, then slap some kippers before me ere we made haste on our appointed rounds.

Upon our arrival at a more-or-less nondescript stately hovel in Hampstead -- as far as anything there can be described as nondescript -- we were shown to a study, where we awaited Anthea and Medea's appearance. I wondered if they might not skulk into the room via hidden passageway, but they beetled in through the door, like anyone else would. Dashed disappointing, that. One could hope that secret agent types might be doing secret agently things, what? There ought to have been cloaks and daggers involved, at least.

"Mr Wooster, Mr Jeeves, please be seated," Anthea said as they shimmered over to well-stuffed chairs of their own.

"It has come to our attention," Medea said, "that you were invited to call upon Lord Randall Wibbley-Pringle."

I gave them a look. "I just got the telegram this ack emma. How did you know about it? Did you arrange for Oofy to invite me?"

"No," Medea answered, "but your presence there is quite convenient for us. It will serve our purpose and save us having to find a way to get a more experienced team onto the grounds later."

Anthea nodded, elbows on the arms of her chair, her fingers steepled. "We would have preferred to wait another three months or so before sending you out on your initial mission, but the concatenation of circumstances proved too useful to ignore."

"What is it we will be required to do, madam?" Jeeves asked.

Medea continued the pitch. "It has recently come to our office's attention that Lord Wibbley-Pringle may be peripherally involved in a smuggling operation."

"I say!" I'd always thought smuggling was only the stuff of moving pictures involving pirates and suchlike. "Do people really do that sort of thing? I thought it was only in moving pictures involving pirates?"

They both gave me an odd look. Medea answered me. "Trust me, Mr Wooster, far worse things are afoot in the world than smuggling operations. Your part of this mission is simply to be a guest at Lord Wibbley-Pringle's estate. Your presence will be utterly unremarkable, as the invitation was entirely genuine and through ordinary channels. Mr Jeeves, you will be tasked with determining if there is reason for further investigation by a more specialized team."

"Shall I be alert for anything in particular, madam?"

Anthea nodded. "If there is mention of a Herr Herzog Pfalzgraf Kirschtorte zu Bremen, it should be reported. That would be sufficient proof of Lord Wibbley-Pringle's involvement to justify further investigation. You should also make note of whom the participants are in any conversation involving the German. In addition, the names of any other Germans that might come to light in conversation should be reported. It is possible Lord Wibbley-Pringle might be connected through a more circuitous route to the rest of the network."

"Very good, madam."

"We do not expect you to involve yourselves directly in any physical investigation of the grounds or of the other individuals at the estate," Medea said. "You are not currently considered qualified for such activities."

"Right ho," I said. I could feel Jeeves relax a bit at that. I'd been right that we would only have to be listening for something. It couldn't be that dangerous, and I didn't have to do anything but the usual sort of whatnot I did as a guest -- less the occasional accidental engagement, of course. One never wanted an accidental engagement. One didn't particularly want a deliberate one either, considering. Neither of the beazels seemed in the least concerned about the whole wheeze. I didn't feel that particular emotional curl of any lies or omissions from either of them, so I felt pretty secure about it all.

"Do not engage in any unusual behaviors if it is avoidable and, if you do hear mention of the German, you are not to leave the estate early to report in. It might be seen as suspicious. Our investigations are at a very preliminary stage with this branch of the operation and time is not of the essence in this instance," Anthea added.

"Very good, madam."

Medea finished up our brief conversation with a way to contact them in an emergency, complete with secret passwords and whatnot, though she said she doubted any of it would be necessary. The circs were unlikely to be terribly complicated, and the rumor may have been nothing but utter tosh anyway. We were then summarily booted from the study, and the house, and sent on our merry way.

"Well, Jeeves," I asked as we tossed ourselves back into the two-seater, "what do you think of the wheeze?"

"It seems straightforward and relatively safe, sir."

"That was certainly my impression. I suppose we'd best pack tomorrow for the train trip. Oofy, his cousin Perky Prosser, and Perky's friend Rupert Grendelstone will be traveling with us. Or, rather, we'll be traveling with them."

"Indeed, sir. I believe that our keepers intend this as a test of our abilities. I am fairly certain that they felt sending, as they said, a more experienced team would be a waste of resources."

That stung the Wooster pride just a bit. "That stings the Wooster pride a bit, Jeeves."

He shook his head. "It is an accurate assessment of our current situation, sir. We are an unknown quantity and the mission itself is of only minor importance. It is a very reasonable way to determine whether we are suitable for further and more complex missions at a later date."

"Well, perhaps, but I do still feel a bit pipped by the circs, old fruit."

"You should not, sir. If we are to do this work when called upon, we must know for ourselves that we are capable of completing any missions they might set before us. One does not expect a newly-trained pup to lead the pack on a hunt. We are, if you will excuse the analogy, newly-trained pups and this is our first time pursuing our quarry."

"I suppose if you put it like that, it does make sense. Still, the Wooster pride is wounded. I am stung. Dispirited. Dejected. Perhaps even forlorn."

"Of course, sir." He didn't seem terribly sympathetic. There was an undertone of 'you chump' in his demeanor that pipped me. I realized that the Wooster wardrobe would need some cheery updates to bring back the old sunny disposish.

***

We arrived at the windy coastal Wibbley-Pringle demesne a little before the dinner gong, with only about enough time for Jeeves to bung me into the old soup and fish before I had to present myself at the trough for the strapping on of the nosebag. Jeeves had seemed slightly agitated upon our arrival, but I couldn't ask after him in front of anyone. I didn't have much time to look around, but the views out over the cliffs toward the sea were breathtaking, and one got a bit of the old surf sound even from the grounds surrounding the house.

"You seem slightly off your feed, old fruit," I said, once we were safely ensconced in my chambers. "What is it weighing upon your brow?"

His answer was of the distinctly quiet variety. "There is another sentinel somewhere in the area, sir," he said. "As yet, I do not know who it might be, nor where."

"You can tell?"

Jeeves nodded. "Yes, sir. This was covered during our time in Wales. I have only a sense of it; I cannot tell the identity of the individual, nor precisely how far away he might be. It may be someone here at the estate, but it is also entirely possible that the constable in the local village is a sentinel."

"Why would it make any difference?" I asked.

"Sentinels and their guides may be employed as private security, sir. If there is a sentinel on the estate, it could be an indicator that something untoward is in need of securing. We shall, therefore, have to act with an extra measure of caution."

"Oh. I see."

"It may also mean that I have been similarly detected, sir."

"If it's the local constable, it shouldn't be any problem, what?"

"I trust not, sir, though the uncertainty does concern me slightly. Fortunately we did arrive with six other individuals, so even if there is an issue, it may take some considerable time for my identity to be pinpointed."

"Six?"

"Your friends do each have their valets with them, sir."

"Oh. Right. Well, then. I hadn't thought of that. I suppose it's no harm done if we came in a largeish herd. Safety in numbers and all that." I tugged my new lilac cummerbund and matching bow tie out from among my other togs as he dealt with the studs in my shirtings.

Jeeves's eyes narrowed with a very soupy attitude. "Not the lilac, sir."

"Nonsense. The lilac is just the thing for the downtrodden Wooster spirits."

"It is not advisable, sir." There was a trickle of ice in the Jeevesian voice.

"Pish-tosh. I shall wear the lilac, Jeeves. There isn't the slightest hint of quease-creating paisley about it, so there is absolutely no cause for complaint. It is my neck and waist these items are to adorn, after all, not yours. I believe it presents a thoroughly spiffing appearance."

"No, sir."

"I am wearing them, Jeeves, and that is final." I had the bit in my teeth now and was not going to be disappointed by his sartorial fossilization sometime in the Victorian era. One must never be a slave to one's valet, even if he is also one's sentinel and most dearly beloved.

"If you insist, sir," he said, with an 'it's your funeral' air about him. He fastened my cummerbund and tied my bow into the perfect butterfly effect with a pained and disdainful knot that expressed a deep wounding of his spirit.

Randall turned out to be quite a jolly host, and there was much to-do about the race coming up later in the week. The spread was corking, as well -- nearly as good as something Anatole might slap together. The crowd was large and sporting, though I found myself seated next to Randall's sister, Clara. The gal was built like a steamship, with a prominent prow and an overly colorful paint job. Voice like a foghorn, too. Rather like her brother, actually, in both lineaments and vocal cords. I mean to say, the general effect was a bit overwhelming.

"That is a smashing ensemble, Mr Wooster," Clara told me. "The lilac quite does something for your eyes."

"Ah, er, thank you." I detected a splash too much interest from her for my tastes and hoped to make a clean getaway after dessert was bunged before us and consumed. I didn't think she'd be up for the spot of darts that had been proposed as a post-prandial activity for the chaps.

"Makes him look like a bally lilac bush, you mean," Oofy said.

"Oi!"

"Completely the wrong color for you," Perky added. There was a hint of self-righteous Jeevesian amusement from across the room, but I didn't dare glare at him for fear of giving us away. "Makes you look a bit of a poofter, actually." That bit drew a snap of tension from my man, overlaid with worry.

"I don't know, I think it's just the thing for a spring evening," I said, determined to hold onto my dignity. "Not at all lacking in manliness."

"Oh, I quite agree," Clara agreed. She was eyeing me like a cat pondering canary pie.

I asked a few questions about the horses in the upcoming race, which shifted the conversation enough for me to feel rather less like a prime cut of beef before a starving lion. A dasher named Simon's Trousers, belonging to a chap in the next county, was apparently the favorite. I thought it a singularly inauspicious name, personally.

An invitation was issued for the guests to biff off to the stables the next morning to see Randall's thoroughbreds, which was really more of an opportunity for our host to preen like one of the peacocks I'd seen wandering about the place. Noisy whatsits, peacocks. The blighters sound like they're screaming for help. Terribly disconcerting, that. Quite startling, the first time I heard one, back when I was a wee sprout. I still found them entirely creepy.

I thought I might rather have a round of golf than muck about in the stables, but Oofy and Perky were quite keen on ogling the competitors, so I was talked into committing to a somewhat earlier rising than my usual -- we were to meet and wander down to the stables at ten in the ack emma. I mean to say, that was approximately that golden hour when Jeeves would just be shimmering in with the morning cup of Darjeeling. It shouldn't be sullied by tramping about in equine detritus whilst half-awake. Nonetheless, this Wooster had committed himself and would stay the course.

After dessert had been dispensed with, I found myself happily bereft of Clara's company. Perky, however, had other ideas. "Bertie, old chum, isn't that Clara a pippin?"

"What, you mean Randall's sister? The one that's built like a steamship?"

He smiled and shook his head. "You mean the woman with the magnificent, erm..." He made a rather suggestive gesture about the chestal area.

"Oh. Right. That would be the one."

"Isn't she gorgeous?"

I shrugged. "If you say so, Perky, old fruit. I tend to like a somewhat less overwhelming profile, myself."

"I keep hearing that you've helped some of the Drones with their romantic entanglements. Oofy says you're quite the champion at it. Well, your valet is, anyway. Jeets?" There was a ruffling of Jeevesian feathers behind me. I chanced a quick look back and saw him mixing a snort for me. The room was filled with at least twenty coves smoking or shooting billiards or talking about the upcoming race, milling about the place.

"Jeeves," I said, and I meant it to sting. "Yes, he has occasionally assisted me in reuniting aching hearts, causing them to beat as one."

Perky flung a dart across the room, narrowly missing the dartboard. "Well, you must help me catch her eye, Bertie. She seemed quite well-disposed toward you and she might just listen if you pitched a bit of woo at her on my behalf."

Said statement caused me to entirely miss my throw. I was lucky it didn't fetch up amongst the bottles of brandy and other strong drink on the sideboard, or possibly skewer one of the footmen wandering about offering gaspers and refreshment to the assembly. "Oh, no, Perky. No. Absolutely not. This Wooster long ago learned his lesson in re. the pitching of w. on behalf of others. Why, I once spoke to Madeline Bassett as a favor to Gussie Fink-Nottle, only to have that soppy beazel convinced that I'm still breathlessly pining for her, as a thing that pines and dies. I am ever her fallback fiancée whenever she's feeling pipped at Gussie. What was it that Byron chappie said about women? That they're a fearful thing? I've never met one more fearful. I mean to say, she thinks that every time a wee fairy blows its nose, a baby is born! Such things are not to be chanced! What if this Clara is one of the same type?"

"No, no, by Jove," Perky said, "she's much more level-headed than that, I'm sure. Haven't you spoken to her?"

"Not if I could avoid it," I grumbled. "She was doing most of the speaking over dinner, and she's shown a bit too much interest in the Wooster corpus for my comfort. One should avoid taking chances when an accidental engagement is in the offing. If she's not the soppy sort, I suspect she'd be far too molding for my comfort. She'd probably want me to give up drinking or smoking, or something equally awful. Becoming a vegetarian perhaps."

Perky gave me a chary glance. "Are you sure you're not a poofter?"

I gave him my best shocked look. "I say! One doesn't noise that sort of accusation about in public. And anyway, I've been engaged at least a dozen times, if you must know."

"Maybe, but you're not exactly married, are you?" He gave me the look of a man who thought no other bloke could possibly resist the apple of his e.

I glared. "Really, Perky. Each and every one of the beazels parted brass rags with Bertram. I was shown the door. Handed the mitten. Told in no uncertain terms to not darken the old homestead again."

"All of them dumped you?" He flung another dart.

Jeeves shimmered up. "Your drink, sir."

"Thank you, Jeeves. Would you please inform Perky here that yes, indeed, all of the various fillies I've been engaged to have tossed me out on my ear?"

"Of course, sir." He looked at Perky, who was eyeing him curiously. "Mr Wooster's various fiancées have declined to marry him for reasons ranging from suspicions of minor criminal activities, or his refusal to engage in said minor criminal activities on their behalf, to being certain that he is not entirely sane."

"Well, and then there are the ones who have got engaged to me to make their original betrothed saps jealous." I tossed a dart myself, then took a sip from the fruits of Jeeves's excellent labors. "God only knows why the gals think it would work, but my mere presence has sent a few of them -- the betrothed chaps, I mean, not the fillies -- into fits of frothing rage."

"Oh, that is bad luck."

"Not as such." I shrugged. "I'm rather fond of the unfettered status. Nobody telling young Bertram what to do." No one except, perhaps, Jeeves.

"Well, I suppose you do seem a bit off your nut from time to time, old thing. Several bats flapping about the belfry. Much more likely than my previous suggestion, despite the lilac. But you'd help a chum, wouldn't you?" Perky asked.

"I say!"

Perky shook his head. "One wonders what the women see in you, Bertie."

"I have my charms." I drew myself up with all my dignity mustered.

"The ladies would certainly agree with you, sir." Jeeves did, too, I could tell.

I looked over at Jeeves, quite sour about Perky's whole romance enhancement wheeze. "He's got his eye on Randall's sister and wants me to put my oar in on his behalf." I could feel a bit of 'oh no, not again' from my fish-fed marvel.

"You're Jeeps?" Perky asked.

"Jeeves, sir." Jeeves felt singularly lacking in gruntlement, though neither voice nor demeanour gave him away. It was stuffed frog all the way.

"Jeeves, right. Bertie says you're a bit of a dab hand at fixing up the old romantic prospects."

Jeeves's right eyebrow twitched up a hair or two, suspicion in the air. "Indeed, sir?"

"As long as it doesn't involve getting this Wooster into the soup, old thing, you might apply that great brain of yours to the sitch. It might save me from her overly-enthusiastic attentions." He shot a short but withering glare at my festive clothing. I allowed him to see that I was gloating gently but gleefully in my lilac-tinged victory. I knew he couldn't leave me dangling with matrimony as a threat against my cheerful vestments because now I knew exactly how he really felt about me. I will admit, I wasn't entirely above using it as incentive.

"It would be appreciated," Perky said.

"I shall give the matter some thought, sir."

I gave Perky a beneficent smile. "There you go, Perky. Once Jeeves is on the case, love's labours are no longer lost. They are only temporarily misplaced." I certainly meant my praise with every beat of the old Wooster ticker.

"You are too kind, sir."

"Oh, no, old fruit. You're like one of those bottled chaps."

Amusement sparkled behind Jeeves's stuffed frog exterior. "Genies, sir?"

"Well, no. I don't think any of them were named Jeanie. Isn't that a filly's name, anyway?"

"I refer to the genie in the lamp, sir, otherwise known as the djinn, from the Thousand and One--"

"Right, yes. We have no use for that sort of gin, Jeeves. If it doesn't mix with a splash of tonic, I won't have it."

"Yes, sir."

"Put any and all Jeanies and, likewise, non-potable gins from your mind. Expunge them entirely."

"It has already been done, sir." There was a smug bit of something lurking about in him as he biffed off, his wonders to perform.

Once it was time to retreat to the old smooth-swarded bower for the night, Jeeves accompanied me to my room to stuff me into the pyjamas. "Anything of interest today, old thing?" I asked.

"Not as such, sir," he said, quiet. "I am still attempting to discern the identity of the other sentinel. As to the other matter, I have heard little of import."

"What about this thing with Perky and his inexplicable enamoring with Clara?"

"I shall attempt to discern if her interest might be diverted toward him rather than you, sir." He tugged off the lilac tie with a disdainful motion, obviously still pipped at me over that and the cummerbund.

"What is it that has you so disturbed about the lilac, Jeeves?"

There was a rumble of discontent within him. "One might as well wear a green carnation as one's buttonhole, sir. Mr Prosser's comments were of the sort one wishes to avoid."

"I'll say. But do carnations come in green?"

"One does see them occasionally, sir, more often in some districts than others."

"Well, a green carnation would clash with the lilac, anyway."

There was a slightly pained look on his noble brow. "Indeed, sir." He whisked away the outer wrapping and bunged me into the periwinkle pyjamas in the twinkle of an eye. I leaned in and applied the Wooster lips to his own lovely pair, holding his warm face between my hands. He allowed a soft return of my affection, but it was all too brief. "We cannot, sir, particularly not under a stranger's roof. You know that."

I sighed, defeated. "Yes, yes. I know. I'm sorry, old fruit, you're just too much to resist." There was an easing of the Jeevesian disapproval and he held me close for a moment before he asked if I needed anything else. "Only you, Reg," I whispered.

"I am afraid that I cannot provide for that particular need tonight, sir, much to my regret." He tucked me between the sheets, alone, and left me with a gentle caress of the damask cheek. "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Jeeves."

***

The rummiest things happen in dreams, you know. I'd got used to the little ferret, whom I'd taken to calling Spats because of his white feet -- he didn't seem to mind at all -- showing up in said state. It wasn't enough to keep Bertram from the arms of that Morpheus chappie, but they tended to stick with me once the e.s were opened in the morning. Sometimes I would mention them to Jeeves, but most often they were just guide and furry creature becoming better acquainted.

Dreams feel different than being awake, even when I'm able to move about in them as I wish rather than as the dream carries me. There's rather a sideways feel to it, if you follow me. Things are at odd angles, whatsits don't always stay the same shape, and sometimes thingummies mean something rather than actually being what they appear to be. Sorting it all is not a thing best done first thing in the ack emma, I mean to say.

When Jeeves bunged the morning tea before me the next day at an ungodly early hour, I felt I really needed to tell him about the humdinger I'd had the night before. "It was different than the usual," I said. "Not in the usual places, I mean to say. Spats led me off through locales I've not been before and we ended up wandering through some rather spooky caves. Absolutely festooned with those stag-tights. Or are they stalac-whatists? I can never remember, nor have I the first idea why a stag might require tights. Anyway, it was dashed dark, but eventually it opened out onto a great drop off a cliff into the sea.

"What was really odd was that there was a hawk there. I hadn't seen one looking quite like it before. It was more... more real than something in a dream, if you know what I mean. In the same way Reynard is more real than something in a dream."

Jeeves's eyes narrowed a hair. "That seems quite significant, sir."

"That wasn't the end of it, though."

"No, sir?"

"The little chap didn't want me to talk with the hawk at all. He was quite insistent that we remain hidden. He was all in a fluster about the whole thing. I got the impression the hawk was dangerous, in fact. Maybe it's just that hawks might eat ferrets?"

His eyebrow tilted slightly and he felt nervous to me. "If that were the case, one would think he might be equally wary around Reynard. Foxes also might prey on smaller members of the family mustelidae."

"Musty-what?"

"Ferrets, stoats, weasels, otters, and other such creatures."

"Oh, right. I see. But what could the whole cave thingummy mean, Jeeves?"

"It will bear some consideration, sir. It may suggest this location at least symbolically, however, given that Lord Wibbley-Pringle's lands do extend to the cliffs on the coast." I could almost feel him turning the cranks to get that great brain of his started into the whole cogitation wheeze. "Considering my suspicions about another sentinel in the area, it could well be a warning of sorts."

I pondered that as I sipped my entirely-too-early cup of the refreshing leaf. "So you think Spats is trying to say the other chap is dangerous?"

He nodded. "I believe so, sir. It would be best to act with great caution."

"Do be careful, then, Jeeves. Stock up on the kippers so as to be at your brainiest."

"Of course, sir. You should be careful, as well." He drifted over to start my bath. "Breakfast will be served in half an hour, sir, and the tour of the stables will begin after that. It is a fine, fair morning and no doubt the horses will be in the exercise yard when you arrive. It should be an excellent opportunity to evaluate some of the competitors in the upcoming race."

"I say, have you been down to the stables yet? Talked with any of the grooms about the odds for the purposes of having a flutter on the turf yourself? Bets must be placed, after all."

"Not as yet, sir. The opportunity has not arisen."

"Oh, well, do when you have the chance. You'll no doubt get the juiciest of insights into the psychology of the individuals. Do horses have individual psychologies?"

"Undoubtedly, sir."

"Well, then, I expect you to let me in on said insights when you get them."

"Of course, sir." He bunged me into the bath and shimmered about the place getting the morning's vestments ready for the Wooster corpus.

"Any progress on the Clara front, old thing?"

"Not as yet, sir. It is quite early in the day."

"You'd best hurry it along. Wouldn't want her to set her sights on my exceedingly satisfactory bachelor status."

"Of course, sir. I am exploring the options."

When I got out of the bath, Jeeves wrapped me in the tweeds of the day and sent me off with a quiet kiss and a curl of warmth in my chest that echoed from his own.

Having departed from Jeeves's bracing presence, I found myself Wibbley-Pringled in the worst possible way; Clara was practically hanging from my shoulder like my own arm once breakfast had been breakfasted. Perky shot me increasingly aggravated looks during our tour of the stables. I think he honestly believed I'd been lying to him last night and wanted the filly for myself.

I found the sitch quite distressing, made moreso by the odd emotional thingness I was getting from Randall. There was something furtive about him, not to the eye but to that bit of me that seemed to tune into those things now like some bally radio dial. It wasn't just that there was furtiveness, but it was loaded down with a bit of a gloat. It got stronger in the stable, but stayed with him the entire time we were out leaning on the rail to watch his horses dashing about the track. I wasn't sure what to make of the whole thing. I couldn't help wondering what might be up.

I wasn't able to focus on it terribly well, what with Clara and Perky on either side of me. She was intent on working her wiles upon young Bertram while Perky stewed and one of his eyes started to twitch. I lit up a pensive gasper to try to distract myself from all of it.

"Which of these dashers is going on the track at the race, Randall, old thing?" I asked, gesturing out to the horses.

He nodded toward one of the bays. "Burton's Delight," Randall said. "Two others as well, but they're running a little later this morning. This one's my favorite for the contest, really. He's got the most amazing legs."

They looked like typical equine appendages to me, with suitable hooves on the end of each, but I had never been quite so concerned with horseflesh as dear old Aunt Dahlia in her hunting days. My only real interest was in laying a few of the finest on whomever might be the favorite for the quarter-mile. "He does seem like a fast one. What's the story on this Simon's Trousers beast?"

"Pah! Milman's horse is little more than a knobbly-kneed nag. No contest at all."

"I'd heard he was the favorite," Oofy said.

"Not here," Randall said, blowing a puff of smoke into the morning breeze. "Most of the speculators haven't seen Burton's Delight on the track yet. It's an early race for him; he's quite young yet, but he's got heart. Spirit. And did you see how he did just now?" He waved his stopwatch. "An excellent run! Better even than yesterday!"

"We have every confidence in Burton's Delight," Clara said.

"Oh, dashed right," Perky said, giving her the glad eye. She smiled at him but kept her claws dug into the Wooster arm.

I shrugged. "I'd rather like to see Simon's Trousers on the turf before I bet the chemise on any of them. Can't say as I like the name much, but he might be a goer."

That chilled both Randall and Clara, who loosed her clutches from my elbow just a tad. It was now more a strangling vine than the hangman's noose. I hoped I could pry her off and fling her at Perky by the end of the week, otherwise I was sure some sort of engagement was on my immediate horizon. This was not a prospect of which I was enamored. I was certain Jeeves would save me, though. He'd dashed well better.

"You'll see, Bertie. You'd do well to put your money on my boy here. He'll be going places. You'll see him at Goodwood and the Ascot, mark my words."

"Well, after we see him at the race, we can talk about whether or not I think he's a sound investment opportunity," Oofy said. "I won't be putting any money into an enterprise I don't think will work out."

"I'm sure I can convince you, Alexander," Randall answered. "If not the horse, I do have other business interests, though that's a matter for closed doors, you understand."

Oofy nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, of course. Confidentiality of the boardroom and whatnot. Though, I've made some of my best deals on the golf course."

"Perhaps we'll get in a few holes later this week, what? My course is a most challenging one."

Now, that sounded like my sort of pastime. "Well, if you decide to haul us around the back nine without the requisite business discussion, I'm up for it. Haven't the head for business, mind you. I let my financial wizard take care of it all. He's never steered me wrong."

"A game of golf would be a lovely way to spend the afternoon with you, Mr Wooster," Clara said. Her eyes went all fluttery.

"Do you have a gnat in there?" I asked.

"What? A gnat?"

"In one of your eyes. You're batting them like you're in agony. Thought perhaps you were trying to flush the beggar out."

She turned a bemused expression upon me. "There are no gnats, Mr Wooster. I haven't the first idea what you're on about." Her grip lessened the slightest amount. It gave me hope for my future.

"You could have Perky take a look, just to make sure," I said, laying it on with a trowel. I thought a thick layer would be best and gave old Perky a nudge.

"What? Oh! Oh, yes. Do let me have a look, Clara. One can never be too careful about those pesky gnats and midges. You can blind yourself if one gets stuck in there." I was pleased to see he'd got with the program, and I handed her off to him, ankling over to the other side of the assembled crowd at the rails. I hoped to lose myself among the masses.

***

It was after the dinner gong, whilst the old soup and fish was being slapped upon the corpus, that I was finally able to speak with Jeeves again that day, beyond the usual sir and Jeeves rigamarole that was expected of a gentleman and his gentleman's personal gentleman. We had another tussle over my choice of dinner wear, but Jeeves won the round with an underhanded comment about how the canary yellow tie made me look bilious. I was willing to let it pass this once.

"Clara, Jeeves."

His nose wrinkled slightly. "I can smell her all over you, sir," he murmured, distaste oozing from his pores.

"She was clinging to me like a bally wisteria vine, but I seem to have put the beazel off at least slightly," I told him, and felt an answering sense of relief. "Gave Perky the old 'gnat in her eye' wheeze and set him to making sure she didn't have one lodged in there, then made the mad dash for safer environs."

"I am glad to hear it, sir. I am still working on a solution to your dilemma."

"Spiffing. Did you have a chance to biff off to the stables and talk with the grooms and such?"

Jeeves nodded. "Indeed, sir. It was... more enlightening than I expected, though I am uncertain what to make of it all." There was a soupiness in his voice that raised my eyebrow.

"Oh?"

"I cannot put my finger on it as yet, sir, but something odd is happening there." His voice was very quiet and I had to listen carefully to hear him.

"I say. Any idea what?"

"No, sir, but there is a hollowness under part of the stable floors back near the head groom's office that is rather unusual. Things were said between some of the stable hands that seemed out of place."

"Really. Randall did seem a bit off to me while we were out there, you know. Rather like gloating with a dash of furtiveness that was entirely unexpected. I didn't think much of it at the time, but if you've noted something as well--"

"It bears further examination, sir." Worry burbled just under the Jeevesian taxidermied amphibian mask.

"Yes. Right. That. Do you think perhaps Randall's got a ringer in the race or something equally nefarious?" I could see a chap gloating furtively about something like that.

Jeeves shook his head. "I do not believe so, sir. It would not explain what I observed."

"What was that?" I asked as Jeeves knotted my tie.

"It might be best if I did not go into detail, sir. We do not know who might be listening."

"Hm. Right-ho. I'm sure you'll sort it." I tugged at the old cuffs a bit. "There may be some golf tomorrow afternoon, old fruit. Sounds like a dashed fine course he's got."

"I am quite certain you are correct. It is supposed to be one of the most challenging courses in England."

"Well, then. I suppose we'll have to warm up the old putters, what?"

"Indeed, sir."

I rested a hand on his shoulder and touched my lips to his as he finished straightening my lapels. A heady surge of want rose in him, pushed sharply back down. "I know, love. I want you, too," I whispered, slipping my arms about his waist. He kissed me again, swift and hard, and left me breathless. We both needed a moment to reinflate the old lungs and make sure we wouldn't give ourselves away. I wanted him so dashed badly.

"You must go now, sir."

"I know," I grumbled. "I'll be glad when we're home again."

"As will I," he murmured.

***

The evening passed as evenings will, with a beazel flinging herself at me and a pal giving me looks sharp enough to shave with for the sake of said beazel. The company was otherwise good, as was most of the convo surrounding me. Some of the chaps were more about business than others. I was one of the least involved among them, being mostly interested in golf and the upcoming race, as well as getting in a little fresh sea air on one of the walking paths along the cliffside.

Jeeves had expressed some interest in walking with me after the golf game we'd arranged for tomorrow afternoon, and I'd be glad of the time alone with him, away from everyone else. I would be biffing about the course in a foursome with Oofy, Perky, and Perky's chum Rupert, who had actually cadged us the invite; I hadn't much time to actually talk to the chap as yet because there were so many guests at the old heap. Time alone with my man afterward would be as a precious gem.

Jeeves was a comfort when I needed my final gasper and a snort of b. and s. up in my room that night. I encouraged him to stay just a whisper longer than he otherwise might have, and offered him a smoke as well. His feudal spirit made him a bit reluctant to accept, but our need to be together after having been in our separate realms most of the day won out. It was wearing on both of us, though I knew it affected him more.

"How are you holding up, old fruit?"

"There have been a few challenging moments, sir, but overall I am doing well."

I wrapped an arm about his waist as we sat together on my bed. "I'm bally well glad to hear you're not playing the part of the toad under the harrow! I have been rather worried for you."

"Indeed, sir, I am quite relieved that things are going so well for the moment. I am also pleased to report that I have made some progress on your problem with Miss Wibbley-Pringle."

I gave Jeeves a dash of the sunny Wooster grin. "I say, I'm awfully pleased to hear that. What's our wheeze?"

"The young lady is highly allergic to cats, sir."

"Ah! Tell the gal my flat is filled to the gills with moggies and I'll be done with her, what?"

He nodded. "It does seem likely, sir."

"Couldn't hurt to tell her the story about Sir Roderick Glossop and the twenty-three cats, I'm sure. Only I suppose I ought to tell her that they actually were my cats, what?"

There was a certain satisfaction humming within him. "It should prove more than sufficient."

"What was that saying? Sufficient unto the day are the felines thereof?"

"Roughly, sir." He allowed himself a tiny smile, reflecting a deeper warmth beneath the mask.

"Well done, old thing. Well done, indeed."

"I endeavor to give satisfaction."

I sighed and rested the Wooster lemon on his shoulder. "You always do."

We sat, quietly smoking together until our gaspers were finished and my tissue restorative was sipped to its dregs, just leaning against one another with arms about waists. Being able to simply sit and hold onto him was a stiff reminder of just how much both of us needed it, and how much we missed having the freedom to indulge whenever we wished, in the privacy of our flat. I could feel tension and worry seeping slowly out of him, nearly drop by drop, as he relaxed with me. "I love you, Reg," I whispered to him. "I wish you could stay here with me all night."

He planted a soft kiss upon my lips. "As do I, beloved," he murmured back at me. "Yet we both know I must leave very soon, so we should prepare you for bed."

I nodded. "Right, then." I didn't move to get up. Neither did he. Not for several more minutes, anyway. We both knew what we'd rather be doing.

***

The next day started at a far more ordinary hour for this Wooster, for which I was overwhelmingly grateful. I spent luncheon avoiding Clara and telling Perky to mention loudly and often that I had a whacking great collection of moggies in hopes of turning her attention elsewhere. The afternoon's golf game meant I could spend rather more time in close proximity to Jeeves than the previous days had allowed. This suited both of us like billy-o, though he was radiating a disconcerting uneasiness that he refused to talk about until we were alone.

Once we were off on our walk along the coastal path, I was finally able to get a bit out of him. "I have, in fact, been hearing several disturbing things," he said.

"What sort of disturbing t.s, old fruit?" We walked close, shoulder to shoulder, even here not willing to risk walking hand in hand lest we be seen.

"A number of Germans have, in fact, been mentioned, sir. I have no doubt at this point that sinister things are afoot, though I do not yet know their lineaments."

"Rummy, Jeeves," I said. "Just rummy. What should we do, do you think?"

"Nothing, as yet. It would be noticed were I to attempt to go into the village to send in a report, and any telephone call I might make from the house would no doubt be observed and probably overheard as well. It is not worth the risk."

"I see. So Randall really is involved in this smuggling thingummy the Gorgons suspected?"

"All evidence has begun pointing in that direction, sir, and perhaps other matters as well. A significant number of Lord Wibbley-Pringle's servants and employees are likely implicated and, I believe, some few of the guests here may also be involved, whether knowingly or not."

"What? Really? Well, who, then?"

Jeeves shook his head. "Please trust me, Bertram," he said quietly. "I should not tell you as yet. I believe you will be safer if you do not know the details until after we depart from the manor. I shall be able to explain in some detail once we are back in London, when we go to file our report with the Ministry. I shall attempt to contact them as soon as is practicable before we leave." There was a trickle of genuine fear in the man that sat very poorly with me.

"Is it that bad?"

"I don't know. I am aware, however, that there is some concerted effort being put into discovering our identity. We must not give anyone reason for suspicion. Our walk alone today was only possible because several of the other guests have done so already, and the path does not lead into the village. I fear it would have looked questionable had no one else taken the path before us."

"Oh. I say. Is there anything I can do to help?" I lay a hand on his arm and felt a rather stiffer belt of fear and worry in him than I'd expected.

Jeeves shook his head. "No. Not as yet. If things become more tangled or I find that the situation is more dangerous than I already suspect, however, I would advise we decamp and make our way back to London immediately. This is much larger and more far-reaching than we were led to believe. I find myself wishing we had come out in the two-seater rather than taking the train with your friends. It would have allowed for a swifter and less-noticed departure in an emergency."

"I know you're worried about my safety, old thing, but are you going to be all right? I mean to say, are you safe?" It was dashed disturbing, having to ask such a question.

"For the moment, yes, but if they discover our identity I may not remain so for long." He stopped and turned to me, looking into my eyes with serious intent. "Nor might you." Jeeves took a deep breath. "It is entirely likely they will wish to observe us for a time before taking any action, to determine if we have uncovered any useful information about their operations. I doubt they would wish to disturb the uninvolved guests with anything untoward in the light of day, particularly if they believe we have found nothing as yet. But if anything happens to me, sir, you must leave the premises immediately and make your way back to London. You must use the contact information we have been given and tell them to send a team at once, preferably from the first telephone box you happen upon."

That sounded entirely too serious for my liking. "I don't like the sound of that at all. Not in the least. I'll not leave you, Reg. If you're in trouble, I have to get you out of it." The very thought of leaving him behind, in any kind of danger, curdled the remains of luncheon in my stomach. It was terribly unsettling. Adventure was sounding less and less jolly all the time.

"Please, Bertram," he whispered, "Promise me. I believe rather more is going on here than a mere smuggling operation."

"I can't promise to leave you here alone and in trouble, old thing. Would you leave me here, if I were the one they were after?"

A cold shiver ran through him, invisible on the outside. He hesitated a moment, but I knew what his answer would be. "No." He looked down at the ground, then back up at me. "You know I could not."

"Then don't ask me to. It's both of us out of here or both of us staying, and that's the end of it."

"All right." He nodded. I could feel resignation in amongst the rest of it, wrestling inside him. "It will be as you say. But if I decide we must leave, for our own safety, I will not countenance any argument. Do you understand?"

"Right-ho. If you say we leg it, we leg it." It was the least I could do, promising to listen to him about the whole thingummy.

"Thank you, sir." Relief joined everything else swirling about within my man. "I shall not call for a retreat unless I believe it is genuinely necessary. If we are lucky, we might make it through the next three days without mishap and then we will be able to leave as scheduled, without trouble."

"I bally well hope so, old thing."

Sadly, such was not to be. I may not have had any pricking thumbs, but something wicked was definitely this way coming. The rest of the day passed without incident, at least until we got to dinner. There was an odd tension in the air, not just from Jeeves, but all around. The air was thick with it, like unto a particularly weighty blancmange. I didn't notice anything untoward going on, but I did see Jeeves give a slight twitch of a flinch as he leaned over me at one point, pouring more wine into my glass. There was a flash of panic in him, quickly stomped down and done away with. He recovered instantly, but I knew something had happened.

I gave him a quick raised eyebrow but he didn't respond and I knew that meant he couldn't speak to me right then. Worry crackled inside him like electrical sparks, but his stuffed frog mask was firmly affixed.

It wasn't until we were up in my room again after all the various festivities of the evening had ended that he said anything at all. "We have been discovered, sir," he murmured, directly into my ear. "A dog whistle was used, one short blast, very loud, and I was unable to suppress my response. For that, I apologize. I have, very likely, put both of us in danger."

I shook my head. "No, not your fault," I told him, equally quietly. "We knew they were looking for us. Dashed clever of them."

"With luck, they will attempt to discern what, if anything, we may have learned before taking action."

"I hope you're right."

We had a more or less normal nighttime conversation while I was bunged into my pyjamas and then the bed, as Jeeves thought it best that we should act as though nothing had happened. His hope was that this might put them off, or convince them that we didn't actually know anything, if we didn't change how we acted. I found it was mine, as well. Our convo ended with a brief embrace and a soft kiss. "Be careful," I whispered to him.

"Sleep well, sir," he said, giving the damask Wooster c. a tender caress. He shimmered from the room and closed the door.

I found myself entirely unable to sleep, though, being too nervous to really calm down at all. I worried incessantly about Jeeves, belowstairs among what might well be considered the enemy. Who knew what sort of trouble might come to him while I was too far away to help? I sighed, tossing and turning the old corpus restlessly, hardly able even to close my eyes.

Some time later, there was a nearly silent sound from the back wall of my room. Nervous, I rolled over to see what it might be, hoping for a mouse or the like. Instead, there were dark, shadowy shapes coming from a hidden door in the wall. "Dash it," I said, intending to roll out of bed and leg it for the door into the hallway so I could make a midnight escape with Jeeves.

"Bloody hell, he's awake."

A brace of muscular blokes were on me in an instant and, though I struggled, the two of them grabbed me, popping a rough, smelly bag over my head. Before I could do more than squeak, I was firmly coshed on the back of the old onion. Pain exploded through my skull and I dropped like a distressed and somewhat agonized stone into sudden unconsciousness.

***

I came round with a sick, blazing headache and a groan, my stomach rebelling rather insistently. For one bright moment I thought I'd had an overly rousing night at the Drones, or perhaps it had been Boat Race night, and that Jeeves would be shimmering in at any moment with his pick-me-up, but that didn't explain why my arms were so tightly and entirely too painfully bound behind my back. I didn't have a lot of time to think about it before my dinner made an abrupt and terribly uncomfortable reappearance.

"Hmm. Awake at last, are you?"

I blinked a few times and looked up from where I was lying, chilly as a trout on ice, on a very rough, cold, stone floor. There was only a little light from a kerosene lantern, but it stabbed into the old e.s like a stiletto in one of my Rex West mysteries, and I shut them tight before I'd actually seen anything. I recognized the voice, though. "Randall? What's... where am I?" The Wooster vocal cords were creaky and hoarse and my throat was sore.

"None of your business, Wooster. Why are you here?"

The innards roiled again, but there wasn't much left there that hadn't already launched itself violently and with great enthusiasm into the open air. I rolled back slightly to get away from the mess. The back of my head thumped painfully on the stone floor and I hissed before I tried to speak again. "D-don't know where I am, so you'll have to... to tell me why I'm here."

All that got me was a boot to the gut. It drove the breath out of me entirely and I gasped hard, trying to breathe again. "My home, Wooster. Who sent you?" Randall's voice was further away than the boot had been. Must have been one of those blokes who had grabbed me doing the kicking. I found myself grateful I didn't still have that bloody bag over my head. That would have been dashed unpleasant. Well, more unpleasant than things already were, I mean, which was bad enough all on its own.

Once I could inhale again -- painfully, mind you -- I let out a little squeak. "Oofy invited me."

There was another kick, more painful than the first. "I know someone sent you and your sentinel to spy on me. I want to know who it was and what you know."

I shook my head. That was a terrible mistake, because it only served to send a railroad spike of pain through my head. I couldn't help the sound I made. I only hoped Jeeves wasn't tied up somewhere nearby, having to watch all this, but I couldn't feel him at all. "S-sentinel?" Even if Randall knew about us, I could still play stupid. It wasn't a far stretch for me, after all. I have rather a reputation for mental deficiency.

"Your valet."

"Where is he?" I asked. My eyes opened just a slit. Randall stood in front of me with two extremely thug-like chaps accompanying him. I thought I'd seen at least one of them wandering about the stables when we took the grand tour. He had been the one making rather free with his boot in my corpus. It was a very heavy boot. Workmanlike, I mean to say. Perhaps made of something akin to concrete. I could see the dullish glint of steel through a gash in the dirty leather of the toe.

"Tell me who sent you."

"W-was invited."

"Wrong answer." Randall nodded and I got another hearty kick, this one to the ribs. I felt something crack and cried out in pain. "I didn't expect you to be nearly this stubborn, Wooster." He sounded rather more astonished than I liked. I have always been a chap of iron will, after all. Except when it came to aunts. I suspected even tigers had qualms about their aunts. "You act like a half-witted twit. Very effective cover, I must say." I didn't have the breath to object, but the accusation stuck up my nose. "Regardless, you'll tell me what you know. Again, why are you here? Did Denningshurst send you?"

"In-invited," I insisted, knowing I'd probably only get another kick for it. It was the truth, dash it. The whole Ministry wheeze had been completely incidental and I hadn't the first idea who this Denningshurst cove might be. I was right about the kick, though, and it hurt like the dickens. I thought I felt another rib snap. Breathing was agony.

Randall sighed and shook his head. "Really, Wooster, this reticence will do you no good. You're just going to keep getting more of the same. Tell me what you know and it'll stop."

"A-and then what?" I gasped, still trying to discern where my lost breath had scarpered off to. The old onion was spinning like a dizzy top on a carnival ride. "You'll kill me? I don't know anything. I don't. N-nothing." I didn't. Jeeves had seen to it that I couldn't tell anyone the first whisper of anything at all and, under the circs, it seemed he'd made the right decision. Randall didn't seem like the type to mess about, though. In the dim light like this, with a matched set of thugs at hand, he was entirely menacing, with a bit of hair-raising thingness thrown in for laughs. There was something hideously cold and dark in him that he'd not shown before and it made me shudder. It was like reaching into a puddle of freezing slime.

I hoped Jeeves was safe and very, very far away. Preferably summoning the cavalry. I couldn't let myself think anything else. Every alternative that poked its nose out of the underbrush was too awful to contemplate.

"I shouldn't like to see you too badly damaged. I do have other uses for you," he said. There was something about the way he said it that absolutely terrified me, as if I hadn't been frightened enough already. I wondered if I'd ever see Jeeves again. I prayed he'd be all right without me, but I knew what a mess I'd be if the sitch were reversed.

"A f-fourth for bridge?" It was worth suggesting, at least. Perhaps he'd be open to the possibility. One never knew.

He scowled at me with almost auntlike fervor and snapped, "Green, I'm tired of his insolence. Shut him up."

The thug with the concrete b.s hefted me up by the breast of my periwinkle pyjamas and gave me such a sharp, painful whack across the face that it dropped me back into the dark with a quite sickening thud.

***

Waking up the second time was far worse than the first, if such a thing can be imagined. It must have been hours later, because a trickle of weak daylight was coming from somewhere. The air smelled strongly of the sea, and there was roaring that might have been waves, or possibly just my ears. I couldn't tell which parts of me hurt the worst -- head, arms, or ribs -- and I was dashed cold. Shivering, in fact. I really wanted a word with the management about the service here, but I realized after a mo. that I would have had to get the gag out of my mouth before I could lodge a complaint. The Wooster brain felt slightly sloshy inside the old cranium, and every breath brought stabbing pains. Unfortunately, my teeth weren't sharp enough for the whole knot-intrinsicating wheeze that Shakespeare chappie had once mentioned.

I was still lying on rough, cold stone, though I was fairly certain it was an entirely different patch of r., c. s. than my previous uncomfortably-swarded bower. I was in more of an open space than a tunnel this time. It echoed and I could feel some sort of a breeze wafting through. There were people moving around me, but I couldn't quite focus enough to see them.

My insides felt like they wanted to make a break for the outside and settle down somewhere in the countryside with extensive gardens and perhaps a topiary maze but, thank God, there was nothing to come up. The gag would have been something of a disaster, had that been the case. I'd been dumped in what passed for a corner, from what I could tell, and left there quite carelessly. I considered attempting to stagger to my feet and leg it for kindlier climes, but the very thought of standing upright made my head swim like an entire school of mackerel. I understand they're awfully good at that swimming wheeze. All I could do was lie there and keep taking painful breaths; everything else seemed beyond me. I wished I had a gasper. A slurp of the old blushful Hippocrene wouldn't have gone amiss right then, either.

Some time later -- I don't know how long, because I kept drifting in and out, you see -- a pair of rather frighteningly familiar boots hove into view. I was poked amidships with a desultory toe and couldn't help moaning, as he'd hit a bad spot. "He's conscious again, guv," the blighter, whose name I seemed to remember being Green, shouted.

It was only a few moments before Randall biffed over, with the other thug in tow. "Get him on his feet," Randall said. "Tide's finally low enough to get him up the stairs to the upper chamber."

They hauled me up but my knees buckled when I tried to stand. That didn't stop them, nor did the fact that I felt desperately sick, being upright. They dragged me along between them and I had no choice but to get my feet under me if I didn't want them and my knees scraped raw. I staggered down a longish slope into a stony area, replete with barnacles that cut my bare feet and left them bleeding and almost too painful to put my weight on. There was a plenitude of toe-stubbing going on as I bumbled along between the thugs, as well. It wasn't long before we were wading through the shallow waves that splashed into the mouth of the cave, seaweed slipping beneath my feet in the most distressing manner. It was, at least, slightly less painful than the barnacles, though that whole thing about salt in one's wounds applies equally well to sea water, as I learned to my dismay.

Randall led the way, while Green and Thug Two shoved me along and kept me on my jellified legs as we ankled up a steep, narrow stair cut into the cliffside. It was entirely terrifying and would have been so even if I weren't too dizzy to balance on my own. I'd certainly have fallen to a damp demise if they didn't have hold of me. There was a shallow wall of natural rock, about knee height, left on the seaward side -- even a sentinel wouldn't have been able to see the stairway from the water, it was so well concealed. We went up about thirty feet before we reached the mouth of another cave.

This one was significantly drier, but equally cold and rocky. A pulley thingummy had been bolted to the roof of the cave near its mouth. It was the sort that would swing in or out like a crane, and there was a box like an open lift cage attached. It was quite sizeable. They could probably easily haul a horse, or something equally large, up or down on the thing.

I was chivvied along into the bowels of the earth from there, back around a few corners. We passed smaller chambers filled with equipment that looked for all the world like it belonged on the set of a mad scientist motion picture, or perhaps in that Shelley filly's Franken-whatsit novel, laden with chaps doing dastardly mad scientistly deeds, the likes of which I wasn't sure I wanted to ponder in any depth. In the very back of the salty maze there was a smaller alcove that had been equipped with metal bars, a small table, and a metal pitcher and cup. It bore a most unfortunate resemblance to several of the cells I'd spent nights in for minor misunderstandings with the constabulary. They shoved me in and I stumbled, falling against the back wall, from whence I slid down into a heap on the cold, hard floor. The door shut with a most decisive clang.

Sadly, I was not alone in said cage. Randall and both of his thugs were on my side of the bars. "Are you ready to talk?" Randall asked.

There wasn't anything I could say that would make a bally slip of difference, and I knew it. My only hope was that they didn't have Jeeves, and that he was looking for me. I shook my head slightly, flinching at how much it hurt. No one even bothered to take the gag from my mouth. Needless to say, I took another sharp one to the ribs and felt something inside tear; I shouted into the gag. I thought the whole thing, while hideously painful and seriously threatening to the structural whatsit of the Wooster corpus, was getting a bit repetitive. One might think a cove like Randall would be more creative in his attempts to extract information from a chap. Upon further consideration, however, I realized I was grateful that creativity was not actually on the slate. I could imagine several far too disturbing possibilities for the application of agonizing but not fatal mayhem, having read all those spine tinglers over the years. I wanted my spine to remain distinctly un-tingled when it came to my own willowy form.

"Thirsty, Wooster?" Randal asked, pouring some water into the cup. I was. Desperately so. But I wasn't certain that anything would stay if I drank it. Regardless, if he was offering, I wasn't going to turn it down. It would at least get the gag out from between my teeth. I nodded, carefully, so as to minimize the dizziness and the agony of movement. "You can have some, if you've anything to tell me."

Well, that was a bit too much of the old Ancient Mariner for me. Water right there, and not a bally drop to drink. Not for young Bertram, at least. I heaved a sad sigh and shook the old onion again, closing my eyes for a moment against the pain and whirling. Randall smirked and drank the water. "I might consider giving you a blanket if you cooperate." I could only remain shivering and silent. "Thought not. You really are a hard nut to crack, Wooster, I must hand it to you. I thought you'd cave with the first kick. You're not nearly the coward I took you for. Bravo."

I wondered if I would have said anything if I'd actually had anything at all to say. It occurred to me that, perhaps, quite a few chaps of the heroic mold may have simply been too ignorant to give the game away. "If you're working for Denningshurst, I'll pay you double what he is to keep your mouth shut." I just stared at him.

Randall gave me a thoughtful look from stem to stern. "I've no doubt that sentinel of yours will try to find you eventually. They're like that." My heart leapt like a gazelle through the brush of the Serengeti and I felt a rush of relief that was nearly as dizzying as the spinning in my head. "Happily, you're in a place he'll never find, but I have no doubt that we'll get him while he's looking. Of course, once we have him, I'm sure we can persuade you to talk. Or him." He sounded quite grim and I suddenly realized that I'd fallen into the whole 'guide kidnapped to get to the sentinel' cliché from all those adventure novels and cinema serials. Just my luck, if I was going to have an adventure, I'd end up playing the part of the Wooster in distress. The thought of it replaced the relief I'd felt with a despair unmatched by anything except, perhaps, one of those dreary, suicidally-depressing Russian novels.

Randall looked over at his henchmen. I'm sure they were henchmen. All the evil masterminds in the adventure novels had henchmen. I think it was a requirement for the job. There might also have been a standard checklist, including such things as secret hideouts, arch-enemies, cowed peasants, and bribed local officials. Perhaps this Denningshurst chap was Randall's arch-enemy, what?

"Green, Devon, get the table out of here." Randall picked up the pitcher and they, the table, the pitcher, and the cup all ankled out, leaving me behind bars with nothing but cold, empty space. More accurately, the henchmen ankled out with the table and Randall took the pitcher and cup with him. The table and suchlike certainly weren't going to beetle off under their own steam. There may not have been any waters of Babylon present, but I sat down -- well I was already lying down, really -- and wept regardless. If I'd had a harp, I'd have hung it from some nearby protuberance, due to suffering a distinct lack of trees to bung one onto.

At least they didn't have him. Whatever had happened, they hadn't got Jeeves, and that was enough for this Wooster. It distressed me that I couldn't feel him anywhere near, no matter how hard I tried, but at least he was safe for the mo. I thought about the whole sitch as well as my throbbing, spinning head would allow, and eventually the dawn broke over me. Jeeves might not be able to find me, but there was surely someone who could, and it was a someone I could bally well call to for aid and succor from here, even trussed up like a turkey, with a gag in my mouth.

I wasn't sure if I could concentrate enough do it, hurting as badly as I was, but I had to try. I closed the old baby blues and tried to put myself into that half-awake state that would slip me sideways into the not-quite-a-place where Spats might be found. It was so hard to breathe without my chest reminding me very sharply that I'd broken something. Maybe several somethings. It took what felt like a very long time for me to finally settle into it through the awful pain. Yet, finally, I found myself in that exceedingly queer forest clearing where I discovered, much to my relief, that I wasn't bound and gagged.

I shouted for my diminutive furry friend and, after a moment, he bounced into view, terribly agitated. "Spats, old chum, I need your help quite desperately." He ran up my leg and scrambled onto my shoulder, nuzzling my face in a way that suggested he was trying to reassure himself as well as me. "You must find Reynard and tell him to bring Reg to me. I mean to say, I've no idea where I am, but I'm sure that the two of you can figure it out and lead Reg to the right place. If you're able to warn him that they're waiting for him, so much the better. Oh, and tell him to bring the cavalry over the rise with him while he's at it. There are a lot of people here, and he'd surely run into trouble if he came alone. Can't have that." Reynard had led Jeeves to my door once, before he'd even met me. I was sure these particular circs wouldn't pose much of a problem to a dashed clever little chap like that silver fox.

Spats chittered and seemed filled with the old v. and v., ready to spring into action. I was glad he was feeling so chipper, as I was anything but. One of us ought to be, I thought. "Hurry, old thing. I've no idea what Randall has planned for me, but I'm willing to bet the chemise that it's more than a bit not good. Nefarious would be the word, I think. Dastardly, maybe. Certainly villainous, abomi-something, and despicable while we're at it." He gave me a shot of absolute agreement that was as clear as a hearty 'right ho' from someone with my Aunt Dahlia's lung capacity. "Please find him," I begged.

The little fellow scarpered and there was nothing else I could do but wait.

***

I lay there shivering on the cold stone in a spinning haze of agony for what felt like forever before someone came by again. The old e.s fluttered open when I heard feet and voices and the scrape of a key in the metal lock. There were more of them this time. Randall and his brace of thugs were accompanied by a rather severe looking blond woman who bore a nerve-wracking resemblance to a hatchet and a tall, equally severe and hatchetlike man. "So this is the guide," the beazel said. Her accent was about as German as bratwurst, though bratwurst, of course, doesn't have an accent.

Randall nodded. "He's been considerably more trouble than I expected. Perhaps you can extract more information from him."

She gave me a sharp look, and it reminded me suddenly of the hawk that Spats had shown me in my dream the other night. I shivered. She was the sentinel? She bally well felt dangerous. "Get him on his feet. I want to look at him," she said.

Green biffed over to me and grabbed me by one elbow, jerking me to my feet with such violence that my shoulder did something awful. My arms were already useless; I could barely feel them, and what little I could feel was cold and painful and tingling. My eyes clenched shut and I groaned at the feel of my shoulder giving out, unable to help myself. The sharpness of the pain made me break out in a sweat and shot sharp nausea through me. I panted, trying to catch my breath, which only made my ribs remind me of how badly they'd been abused. I couldn't get my legs under me at all, and I dangled there by one arm, too weak to move, whimpering.

"Take the gag off," she said. Someone else's hands were at the back of my head, untying the cloth and pulling it away from my lips, dredging another wad of the stuff out of my mouth. It felt like it had been considering a tryst with my uvula, so ditching it was a relief. My jaw ached from having been forced open like that for so long, and I was dry as an entire stack of deserts. The Gobi and the Sahara could easily have been put to shame by the state of Bertram's tongue. At least I could breathe a little more freely. It was the only good thing about the sitch.

"Well, Wooster, are you ready to talk now?" Randall asked. He sounded like 'no' wasn't on his agenda.

I tried to speak, but my mouth and throat were too dry and all that came out was a rather disturbing, gravelly sound.

"We should give him some water, Herr Wibbley-Pringle," the tall chap said. Another German, which I thought was entirely two too many for my taste. "He will not be able to speak without it. Too dry." I didn't detect the slightest bit of sympathy from him, or from anyone else in the room, for that matter.

Randall nodded and Thug Two poured a little water into a cup and held it to my lips. It was hard to get a sip, what with my jaw hurting and my mouth not working quite right just yet. Most of it ran down my chin, but I got a little in to wet the Wooster whistle. It wasn't enough to drive away the horrid thirst I was feeling, but I thought I might finally be able to speak without sounding like my throat was coated with sandpaper and broken glass.

"Did Denningshurst send you?" Randall asked. I wondered who this Denningshurst blighter was and why Randall was so worried about him.

"Don't know... Denningshurst," I rasped. I hadn't the first clue. Everything was blurring with the pain I was in. It was getting harder to focus on anything at all.

"He is telling the truth," the German beazel said, sounding surprised. "If he was sent, it was by someone else."

"But who, Gerta?" Randall asked. "It must have been someone." I knew that if I told them the Ministry had wanted Jeeves and self on the grounds, they'd know some sort of jig was up. God only knew what they'd do to me then.

Gerta's eyes narrowed. "Oh, ja. Someone has sent him. The heart has suddenly speeded up considerably." I'd been afraid she might be able to tell that way. It had to be the reason Randall had brought a sentinel into the whole mess in the first place. I'd been told most guides couldn't do what I could with the whole feeling other people's emotions wheeze. And Jeeves had thought the sentinel he felt was probably one of Randall's miniony types. I suppose I should have expected her to appear at some point before the denouement, though I'd been sure Randall would have his sentinel out looking for Jeeves instead of interrogating Woosters.

"What exactly are you here looking for?" Randall snapped, grabbing me by the hair and tugging my throbbing head up so that I had to look at him. It only succeeded in making me even dizzier. I was too queasy to speak, even if I'd wanted to. There was a weighty pause while Randall waited for my nonexistent answer, then I saw him nod, and I was dropped back to the cold stone, wrenching my other shoulder and knocking my head harshly against the stone when I hit. I yelped, but it turned into a pained, breathless huff when Green booted me in the ribs again. There was another sickening crack. I didn't even have the strength to curl into myself to try to protect my body.

As I lay there gasping, tears running down my face, I began to worry that Jeeves would never find me at all, and that I'd die here, alone and in horrible pain. All I could hear was the rush and thunder of my heart in my ears, and my own pained whimpers. Warm blood trickled down my brow from where my head had struck the ground.

There was a fair bit more of the same, with questions asked and further violence against the Wooster corpus, and Gerta telling Randall if I reacted in ways they thought meant I was deliberately hiding something. It took them a while, but they did figure out that we'd been sent by the government, and that it had something to do with his smuggling operation, and with Germans. No names were mentioned in front of me, but they didn't have to be. I think they thought the government knew rather more than it actually did, but I never breathed a word during the whole thing, being too weak and in too much pain to do more than cry out when they hurt me again.

I could feel Randall's frustration and fury growing as the whole thing went on. There was a goodish bit of worry and resentment in it, as well. I could tell he thought we'd ruined his whatsit, but Jeeves was never mentioned, so I imagined they'd not found him, and that had to be a bit grating on the bounder. It was the only pleasure I had left. Once they were done with me, I was gagged again and left there, still bleeding, feeling sick and feverish and terribly badly broken.

I wanted so dashed much to just be able to feel Jeeves, even from a distance, just once more before Randall did me in. I knew he meant to. At this point it was only a matter of time. I could feel it boiling in him like something from out of the depths of hell. I think he was hoping they would get Jeeves first, but there was no question in my mind that I was going to die soon. If they didn't kill me outright, I thought I was likely to expire just lying there from everything they'd already done to me. Something was awfully wrong inside of me, beyond just broken bones. That Humpty Dumpty bloke came to mind, all smashed on the ground so that nobody could put him back together.

After a long, fuzzy blur of pain, spiced with periods of unconsciousness, there was some kind of rumble in the distance. At first, I just thought the sea had got stirred up. Maybe there was a storm and the waves were dashing against the cliffside. Then I realized through the haze that was left of my mind that I was getting something distinctly Jeevesian at the very edge of my awareness.

He was in an absolute panic.

He wasn't alone.

I reached out to him with everything I had left in me, and I could feel the moment he realized that I knew he was near. His panic didn't abate. If anything, it grew more intense.

The next little while was filled with noise and fear and gunshots and shouting, everything echoing in my ears and my mind and my heart. It wasn't long before Randall dashed in alone and unlocked the cell. He hauled me up with one arm around my chest and a knife in his other hand, then dragged me out toward the front of the cavern. I couldn't even move to struggle with him. Nothing bally well wanted to work in the least. The legs were like particularly limp, mushy strands of pasta. His arm around my chest made breathing next to impossible. All I could do was watch, terrified, with half-open eyes as he hauled me along like a broken rag doll.

People were dashing around, shouting, screaming, bleeding. It was more chaos than I'd ever seen, and in a few moments Randall had me in the main chamber of the cave, with a knife at my ribs. "Call them off! Let me leave, or I'll kill him!" Randall shouted. I saw Jeeves stop in the middle of a mad dash in our direction, a gun in his hand, while half a dozen other people were trying to make some progress in capturing Randall's minions. There was a bluebottle and a chap who had a whiff of Scotland Yard about him, a couple of huge, hulking chaps who looked like they were probably from the Ministry, a tall, broad-shouldered bloke with very short hair, and a much shorter but quite sturdy young cove with long, curly hair, who looked awfully bohemian to be mixed up in a mess like this.

The Yarder with Jeeves turned toward Randall and raised a gun as Jeeves shouted, "NO!"

I felt the blade go in, sharp and cold and burning and, within a gasping breath or two, I felt myself drowning. Jeeves gave an incoherent scream, his panic and despair exploding outward, everywhere, as he raised his gun. Randall died in a bloody splash behind me as the cave echoed with the gunshot. I collapsed with him. I could taste blood on the back of my tongue, gurgling in the back of my throat, blocking my nose, thick and coppery.

Jeeves was beside me in an instant, but I knew it was already too late. I could feel everything blowing through him -- horror and grief and absolute agony -- as he fell to his knees and ripped the gag from my mouth. I coughed, spitting blood, and choked as he gathered me up in his arms. "Bertie, no!" I could feel myself dying, the life draining out of me with my blood, choked off with my gurgling breath. My eyes slipped closed, his anguished face the last thing I saw as my heart fought to keep beating. I faded into terrible cold with his beloved voice in my ears, telling me he would not let me die, God damn it.

I thought that would be the end of it. Finished. Mortal c. shuffled off. Biffing up to the old pearly gates. That was it for young Bertram; my final curtain call, if you will. But, rather than nothingness, or either of the afterlife-ish thingummies that I'd been taught all my life to expect, I found myself in that Other Place. I was in a bubble of uncanny stillness, standing beside myself amongst the ferns and shrubbery, my battered and broken frame lying limp in Jeeves's arms as he wept over me, speaking to me in words I couldn't hear. Seeing myself like that was a shocker and I found myself drowning in my man's raw, overwhelming emotions. Jeeves had never been in those environs with me before, but I hadn't ever been dead, or almost so, before either. One can never tell what might happen in such circs.

Spats and Reynard were there, too, circling frantically around us, yipping and chittering in distress. Jeeves looked up and saw them, though he didn't seem to see me. "Please," he begged, "please, help him. He can't die. I can't let him die." The agony in his heart was as great as my own body's had been before I'd slipped out of the old corpus. I didn't want to leave him, not like this. I was so afraid for him; I loved him with everything in me and the thought of leaving him this way was too much to bear. "I'll die without him," Jeeves whispered, broken. I was certain he meant it. The way he felt right now, I thought he might just shoot himself on the spot if he couldn't drag me back with him.

Reynard and Spats looked at one another. There was the slightest hint of a convo. flashing between them, quicker than the quickest thought you could think of, and then they both clambered up onto my chest, whirling together in a tight little circle, faster and faster, until they dissolved into light. Blazing, the light sank into my chest and burst out through my skin, radiating everywhere.

Everything blinked out.

***

The first thing I felt was a muffled, drugged haze of intense but distant, almost disconnected agony. I was lying somewhere soft and warm, with Spats tucked up next to one ear. Breathing was a struggle, shuddering slowly through me, but I was quite pleasantly shocked to find that I was still actually doing it. The next thing I felt was Jeeves, his presence twining inside me: thoroughly shaken, deeply distraught, and utterly knackered. I couldn't find the strength to open my eyes, though I wanted desperately to see him.

I couldn't stay awake.

***

Jeeves was with me, clinging to our bond with utter desperation. He was so afraid for me, so worn down with exhaustion and misery. It felt like he was keeping me breathing and my heart beating by the sheer force of his will. I fought to reach out to him, to let him know I was still with him. There was a slow brush of warmth across my cheek as his fingers caressed me. He was trembling, he was so exhausted. "Please, Bertie, come back to me," he whispered. "Come back to me."

***

The Wooster e.s fluttered open and I squinted against the dim light coming in through the half-drawn blinds of a hospital room. My head throbbed. Jeeves was sitting next to my bed, half asleep but sticking himself firmly to consciousness with all the determined stubbornness of a barnacle on a boulder. He looked like he'd been through the wars, with rough stubble on his face, his black hair mussed and disarrayed. He was dressed in hospital clothes that looked like he might not have changed them in days. There were dark, bruised arcs under his eyes that made him look like some miscreant had been at him with brass knuckles. He blinked, and I felt him flood with hope as he saw that my eyes were open.

"Bertie." His voice was broken and I could tell he'd been crying recently, though I was sure he'd deny it if anyone asked. He was holding my hand, and he reached out, trembling, with his other h. and laid on with the soft c. on the damask Wooster cheek.

I didn't really have a voice. Breathing hurt like the dickens. So did everything else, for that matter. I felt hollow. "Reg." It wasn't even a word, just a shaky breath with his name on it.

His own breath caught. Tears shimmered in his eyes, not quite convinced to fall just yet. I felt the careful shift of his arm as he reached out to hold me, so very cautiously, as though I might break if he breathed on me a bit too hard. "Thank God." He sniffled and the t.s made a slow escape, trickling down his face. He shivered and I could feel the warmth of his arm around me, barely touching me. I knew he was trying to avoid hurting my ribs; they ached so badly. "They kept telling me that you... that you shouldn't have survived what he did to you, th-that you were going to die." The pain in his voice and his heart echoed in me, a dizzying whirl of too many things I couldn't sort right now if I tried. My poor, dear man was completely shattered.

I squeezed his hand with what little strength I could muster. It took everything I had.

"I love you," he whispered, filling me with every atom of love and need he possessed as I slipped back into the dark and dreamless.

***

It felt like days later before I was really aware of anything. I would wake for a few moments, then slip back away. Every time I woke, Jeeves was with me, growing more and more ragged and shaky. What little anything I had in me was wrapped up in worrying about him. I wondered if he slept, if he ate, if he even moved from the chair next to my bed. I wanted him to lie with me in the bed but it was obvious he didn't dare, for fear of hurting me. He was probably right to think so.

Other people would flit in and out while I was vaguely present. I knew Angela and Tuppy and Aunt Dahlia were about, though I never actually saw them. I caught a brief glimpse of a couple of the chaps who had been there in the cave with Jeeves; the tall cove and the short bloke with the long, curly hair. They'd speak reassuringly to Jeeves from time to time when I could hear, but I wasn't strong enough to open my eyes or aware enough to sort what they were saying to him. They had American accents. I thought that was rather curious but couldn't summon up the ginger to wonder why they were hanging about the place.

Doctors and nurses beetled in and out, poking me and looking into my eyes and stuffing pills down the Wooster gullet and jabbing needles and thingummies into my arms and just generally making a blasted nuisance of themselves. Jeeves would bristle terribly when anyone touched me, but he knew he had to let them. I could tell he would much rather have separated them from their arms and beat them soundly with said detached limbs than let them near. He was a regular fretful porpentine, stoked with extra fret and a dose of distemper.

I had vague memories of being fed or given something to drink from time to time. I wasn't conscious of feeling awfully hungry or thirsty, so they must have been giving me some kind of sustenance. I hurt in places I hadn't realized existed, both inside and out. While I wasn't by any means chirpy, nor very likely to biff off for a game of rackets in the next week or two, I finally thought, perhaps, I wasn't actually going to die.

When I finally opened the Wooster e.s with enough sense behind them to offer a word or two, Jeeves was dozing with his head propped on an arm on my bed, near my shoulder. He was radiating exhaustion in quiet, buzzing ripples. I managed to move my hand the few inches from where it lay beside me to where Jeeves's hand rested. My fingers trailed over his before I couldn't move any longer, but Jeeves's eyes snapped open and a burst of joy swept through him.

"Bertram?" he whispered, not quite believing I'd just moved. His dark, exhausted eyes met mine. The room was very dim, and I thought it might be nighttime.

My mouth was so dry. I moved my lips to form his name. "Reg." Hardly any sound came out. He sat up and offered me a sip of water, slipping a hand gently under my head to tilt me up just enough to take it. "Thanks," I murmured.

"Are you really with me?"

"Th-think... so..." Speaking took so much effort. It was like that pushing boulders uphill only to have them roll back down wheeze.

A weight fell from him with such visible effect that I could swear I heard it hit the floor with a thud. He leaned over me and pressed the gentlest kiss imaginable to my lips. "You must rest," he said, his voice soft in the darkness.

"Talk... to me." I just wanted to hear him speak, wanted his voice to wash over me. It was more comforting to me than he probably realized.

Jeeves nodded. "We are in the sentinel ward at St. Bartholomew's." Back in the old metrop, then. I had to have been out of it for a geological age. Glaciers had probably receded while I was unconscious. "Lord Wibbley-Pringle is dead." The absolute, cold hatred that snapped in him at Randall's name was a bit of a shock, but I could understand it. I wasn't too keen on the chap myself. That, I'd known, though. "You are safe, Bertram." Relief. Worry. Love. "It will, however, be some time before you are on your feet once again."

I managed a tiny nod. "Right."

"His entire operation was shut down. It was much larger than the Ministry imagined, and included far more than smuggling." A fierce satisfaction echoed in him. His breath caught and, when he spoke again, his voice shook. "I am so sorry that I was not able to find you sooner." There was so much pain and regret in him over the whole sitch. "I tried so hard." His voice cracked.

"You... did find..."

"Rest, love," he whispered, a bit on the overcome side. "I'll tell you everything when you're stronger."

"Reg." He raised an eyebrow. "L-love you."

My words broke open a wall he'd been trying to hold closed, and he reached over and curled himself carefully around me, hot tears springing into his eyes. He loved me so bally much, and blamed himself for what had happened to me, when it was really all down to Randall and his goons. There were towering waves of pain and guilt inside him, leaking out the cracks, and I knew he'd been trying to spare me the weight of his emotions while I healed. I could barely move, but he was close, and I pressed my lips into his hair. He whispered over and over that he was so sorry, but I couldn't stay awake any longer. I drifted off as he held me.

***

Over the next few days, in tiny bits, I finally got the story of what had happened after I'd been sacked and socked by Randall's goons in my room. Jeeves said some blokes had come for him, too, but he'd managed to stop them grabbing hold of him and left them lying unconscious in his little room in the servants' quarters. He'd tossed on shoes and a robe and run for my room, only to find I'd already been spirited away.

He said he'd known they'd probably taken me out to the stables, where there had been that suspicious hollow under the floor, but he was quite certain he wouldn't be able to rescue me alone by then, and getting some word out to the Ministry before he dashed off on that fool's errand was going to be necessary, in case he was killed or taken prisoner himself. The information he'd got had to be passed along. With that, and a heavy heart, and quite probably a lot of fear and panic he wasn't going to mention, he'd shimmered back to his room, put some clothes on, made off with one of Randall's cars, and legged it for the nearest village.

Upon finding a telephone box on the village green, he'd put in a call to the Gorgons. Apparently, Randall was, himself, posing as at least half a dozen Germans so as to throw off suspicion and confuse the opposition. Jeeves had overheard a whole raft of phone calls while we'd been guests in Randall's prize heap, and had started putting a few things together. Smuggling was certainly on the plate -- alcohol from England and Europe, and rather a lot of poor young gals from immigrant families who couldn't object too loudly, being kidnapped and sold into prostitution, all being shipped off to America in violation of the prohibition laws, not to mention common human decency. It was entirely horrific. "There had been nearly fifty young women in the lower caves," he told me, "being held in squalid cages, awaiting a boat to ship them to New York."

More was going on than that, though. Apparently, in addition to the whole smuggling wheeze, that Herzog Pfalzgraf Kirschtorte zu Bremen bloke was secretly entirely mixed up in research on poison gasses and chemical weapons, which Randall was funding with the smuggling, and some of their lab space was what I'd seen in the upper caves. It had been even more of a mad scientist scheme than I'd thought. Some of the guests at the soirée I'd been attending -- like Oofy Prosser -- were being courted as potential financial partners, though most of them had no idea what Randall was really up to. Certainly, Oofy had no idea. This, Jeeves said, he'd discovered after he'd made his phone call to our friends Call-Me-Anthea and her partner, having biffed back to the property and started searching for where they might have taken me.

He'd had to spend the better part of a day waiting for reinforcements to arrive and, lacking a way to get into the tunnel under the stable without being nabbed, he'd concentrated on finding out more as he attempted to discover my location. It seems the cave being so close to the ocean cliffside had very efficiently muffled any trace of my heartbeat under the waves, and nearly any other clues that might have led Jeeves in my direction. I got flashes of the panic he'd felt at not being able to find me, though he said he was certain he'd have known if they had killed me because of our bond. It had taken rather a while for him to be able to speak again after he'd told me that bit.

As Jeeves crept about the demesne, he kept an ear out for anything at all unusual among the servants and staff. The more he heard, the more horrified he became. Randall had been blackmailing people -- important and powerful ones -- some of whom were in the government, to finance his schemes and keep things quiet.

"Who's Denningshurst?" I asked. "Randall kept asking if he'd sent us."

My question led swiftly to another phone call to the Ministry, as nobody else had found that piece of the puzzle, and a conversation with the chaps from America. They knew Denningshurst rather too well, as he was an immensely powerful criminal cove in Chicago who wanted to take over Randall's stock in trade, as it were. It was, as I'd thought, one of those arch-enemy thingummies, though both of them had turned out to be bad guys.

I spent a bit of time talking to the young bohemian bloke from the cave. He said his name was Blair Sandburg, and that he and his sentinel worked for the Bureau of Investigation. They'd been sent from America to try to find out what Denningshurst had been up to in old blighty. The pair of them had been working with the Ministry and with British intelligence to track down a handful of Germans whose names had recurred a number of times and who had, in the end, all turned out to be Randall. It was Jeeves who had slotted all the pieces together, with the exception of the whole Denningshurst thread.

Blair was a jolly young chap with a corking sense of humor, but it seemed we had more in common than just being a couple of guides to overly buttoned-up sentinels. He'd apparently had an experience entirely too much like the one I'd had in the cave. "She held me down in a fountain," he said, referring to a thoroughly unbalanced beazel who had recently lost her guide and thought Blair would make a spiffing replacement. Unfortunately, at least for her, he'd already been bonded with someone else for a number of years, said someone being his partner, Jim Ellison. "I drowned, Bertie. I was stone cold dead by the time Jim got to me. He... well, he brought me back."

"You weren't just a little bit dead?" I asked. "Maybe a little breath left in you and they only thought you were dead? I mean to say, I was pretty sure I was a goner, and I think Reg might have thought I was dead when he yanked me back, you know, but I hadn't entirely expired. I don't think." I honestly wasn't sure.

Blair shook his head. "No. The doctor on the scene said there was no pulse, no respiration. I was gone. But I remember being in the spirit world and Jim came for me. He brought me back. It's vanishingly rare, but it can happen, if the bond between sentinel and guide is a particularly powerful one." He took a breath and calmed himself, as he'd been a little overcome by the memory. "When Wibbley-Pringle stabbed you, we were all afraid that was the end of it."

He hesitated, then continued quietly. "I really thought we were going to lose Reginald if you died. One of a few things tend to happen when a sentinel loses a guide. Some sentinels, if another compatible guide can be found quickly, they'll suffer immensely, but they are capable of bonding again. That sort of thing tends to happen when the initial bond wasn't a deep one. Sometimes people can lose a husband or a wife and still survive it, maybe find love again eventually, after they've dealt with the grief. It's a very similar sort of thing, emotionally.

"Sentinels whose bonds are deeper, well, some of them are driven insane by the loss, like what happened to Alex, the woman who tried to take me from Jim." He looked away from me, toward the window, distress burbling softly inside him. "Others, they'll close themselves off from the world entirely and just fade slowly away, and nothing anyone does can bring them back. Some of them... some of them can't handle it at all. The loss is too devastating, and they suicide." He looked back at me. "It was obvious to all of us that Reginald would have been one of those."

I found myself entirely too close to tears at the thought of it and closed my eyes, not wanting to acknowledge the whole painful wheeze. My heart felt squeezed in a vice. I hoped Jeeves was asleep and wouldn't come bolting in to see what was wrong with me. "He told them he would die without me," I whispered. "When we were in that other place, with our furry friends, he begged them for their help, and that was what he told them. I knew he meant it. I was sure he'd shoot himself if he couldn't bring me back."

Blair took my hand. I looked back up at him, blinking furiously to prevent ocular leakage. "It didn't happen, Bertie. You were very gravely injured, but you're going to be all right and so is he. It was touch and go for days, and we weren't certain you were going to make it, but you did. The doctors were telling Reginald you weren't likely to survive and that he should try to prepare himself for that eventuality. It took several of us to keep him together during that time. It was an effort to get him to eat or sleep at all while you were out of it, but at least he's calming down now that you're recovering. What happened to you -- and to me -- it's a blessing. We got our lives back, where so many others don't. Hold onto that."

I told him I dashed well would. I knew the feel of a miracle when it settled around my shoulders.

Later, Jeeves said that once reinforcements had arrived, including Blair and his partner, and a couple of dozen others -- most of whom had gone into the lower caverns via the tunnel under the stables as Jeeves and his team came for me -- they weren't quite certain how to proceed, not knowing where I was being held. It was at that point that Reynard had shimmered up in all his invisible furriness and insisted upon Jeeves's attention, showing him the hidden stairway to the upper cave and this Wooster. I told him how I'd called Spats and arranged for the what ho from the spirit realm. With the information provided by his furry friend -- unquestioned by the other sentinels and guides in the group, given that they had spectral companions of their own and knew what they could do in moments of pressing need -- Jeeves and his cohort commandeered a motor launch from the nearby village docks, since it was high tide. The entire mouth of the sea level cave was hidden below the waves by then, and no one would have been able to either enter the lower caves or get to the stairway from the caves by that route, but they could get to the stairs by boat if they knew where to find the bally things.

It was a horribly hazardous job, but they found a chap who'd been under Randall's thumb and who usually piloted a boat for him when they had to haul things up and down from the upper caves by the crane thingummy. He'd been more than willing to help with anyone wanting to shut Randall down and had got them safely through the rocks to the cliffside, where they could clamber up the stairs to where I was being held. I knew most of the rest, having been there, more or less, but what I hadn't known was that, as a result of the whole raid, our cover had been blown, as they say, in the most public possible way.

The combination of smuggling, blackmail of politicians, and chemical weapons research in cooperation with that Herzog Pfalzgraf Kirschtorte zu Bremen bloke added up to something very like treason, and our unwitting wheeze had cracked open a huge scandal in Parliament that hit the papers like a shower of rotting tomatoes at a country fête's entertainment, where half the musicians are cranking out a performance of Sonny Boy one right after the other. In other words, our first mission for the Ministry was also our last. I found myself entirely comfortable with this arrangement, given how badly it had all gone. Jeeves was of identical mind on said subj.

I was in hospital for the better part of a month before the docs thought I was well enough to go home and spend several weeks mostly in bed. The hospital sitch was a bit of a strain but, once I was well enough to talk to people for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time, I was shifted out to a normal ward and allowed visitors. It helped pass the time until I could be shoved out the door.

Aunt Dahlia, of course, was right there the moment that anyone other than Jeeves, Blair, or his partner Jim were allowed into my room. She brought Angela and Tuppy with her, and they were all, in their own ways, a balm to young Bertram's bruised and battered spirit. Several of the Drones biffed on through, having finally had things cleared up in re. Jeeves and self, and Bingo was at the head of the queue, heart-warmingly concerned for my health. I thought it was a dashed relief to see so many of my chums without any of them wanting to touch me for a few of the finest, fix up their floundering engagements, or pinch things for them. The milk of human k. surged in the Wooster breast. When I wasn't completely exhausted, I was really quite chuffed by the whole thingummy.

Jeeves hovered at my bedside the whole time like a jumpy guardian angel whose halo had been tied on too tight, ready to toss anyone out on their nose if he thought they were making me too tired, or upsetting me in any way. On more than one occasion, I found it a relief, as some of my pals did tend to go on, rather. I wouldn't have had the heart to give them the old heave-ho, knowing they meant well, but Jeeves had no such qualms. He was considerably more selective about the Wooster guest list once we were back in our flat, and the number of visitors was reduced considerably for a few weeks.

***

A few days after we'd finally got back to our flat, Aunts Dahlia and Agatha arrived unannounced, as a matched set of plagues upon the Wooster doorstep. Jeeves and I were both a bit taken aback by the whole wheeze, particularly as we hadn't exactly risen for the day yet. Jeeves tossed his clothing on quickly, looking perfectly turned out as always, and brought them into our room, since I still wasn't well enough to be up and walking much. One can't refuse to entertain aunts, even if one feels half-dead and has just been released from hospital. I hoped that my better aunt would be a moderating whatsit to Aunt Agatha's usual enthusiastic bouts of brimstone distribution.

My werewolf aunt, however, looked almost contrite when she entered. Jeeves bunged seats beneath auntly posteriors, produced tea for the ancient relations in record time, and then sat on the bed with me, positioning himself at my hip, not-terribly-subtly parked between the wrinkled relations and the Wooster corpus. I could feel his dislike of Aunt Agatha, and his willingness to pick her up and fling her if he thought she was getting out of line. It was a most unusual feeling, and one of which I highly approved for once. Young Bertram was not exactly capable of fleeing when their backs were turned and beetling out a convenient window, should it become necessary.

"You needn't look so terribly defensive, Jeeves," Aunt Dahlia said, taking a sip of the tea that Jeeves had prepared.

"I shall not allow Bertram to be harangued or distressed in his sickbed, Mrs Travers," Jeeves said, with an air of finality that could easily have been punctuated by a bullet.

Aunt Agatha was obviously pipped by the statement, but kept an outer calm that quite astonished me. "I am not here to harangue or distress my nephew, Jeeves." He shot her a look that suggested cold disbelief. She looked back at him.

Most of the time, when Aunt Agatha looks at Jeeves, there is an air of angry superiority to her. She has never liked him and has repeatedly schemed to pry him from my life like a bent and horse-laming nail from a horseshoe, to be replaced by a valet with far less pep and intelligence. This look, however, was nothing at all like what I was used to seeing from her. I might almost have described it as kindly, if I thought she were capable of such a thing.

"I understand that you saved my nephew's life, Jeeves," she said. She sounded quite nearly human. You could have knocked me over with a f., had I not already been propped upon pillows in my bed.

Jeeves still hadn't really come to terms with everything that had happened while we were out at Randall's murderous domicile. Guilt welled inside him far out of proportion to any actual responsibility for what had happened. "I was very nearly too late," he said, his voice suddenly rough and filled with a soupy thingness.

"I do see him sitting right there, continuing to draw breath, which I am told was your doing, young man," Aunt Agatha noted, with a pointed look. "Do not deflect me when I am attempting to offer an olive branch."

Jeeves nodded slightly, conceding the point. "Very good, Lady Worplesdon." There were legions of doubt rising within him and he was awfully uncomfortable. I reached out and took his hand, which calmed some of the distress in him. He gave the old digits a bit of a forlorn squeeze, needing a dash of reassurance. I was quite happy to send some his way.

"I have heard a number of reports about the incident at Lord Wibbley-Pringle's estate." Jeeves went cold beneath the stuffed frog mask at hearing the name, but I was rather expecting that. He reacted very badly whenever it was brought up. "What you did--" She looked over at me for a moment. "What both of you did," she continued, quiet, "can only be considered heroic." I wondered if I were suddenly hallucinating. "I... I fear that I misjudged both of you, substantially."

Aunt Dahlia patted Aunt Agatha's arm encouragingly. Aunt Agatha took a steely breath and ploughed on. "I realize, Jeeves, that you most likely believe I do not care for my nephew. Perhaps I have not shown my affection for him in a way that you, or he, might recognize as such."

I found myself nodding. I always thought she'd rather be shut of me. Jeeves was as still as a particularly motionless marble sculpture on the outside but whirling with confusion under that glacially calm exterior.

"I was only attempting to ensure that he would find his proper place in society, and trying to keep him safe. I did not believe him capable of it on his own; I thought he would waste his life and eventually end up disgracing the family. The safety of a proper marriage was, I felt, the only thing I would be able to give him after his parents died. We were all quite aware that he had less interest in women than was proper. I was concerned there would be a scandal, particularly given your close association with him. I did not want to see him imprisoned over an affair with a servant."

Both of us sat in silent shock at her confession. She'd certainly answered my question to Angela about whether everyone in the family knew about my particular leanings. That she had never shoved me into the arms of the law over it boggled me entirely.

Aunt Dahlia nodded and gave Aunt Agatha's arm a squeeze. "It's all right, Aggie. The poor fish are both too stunned to bite."

"I am not a woman inclined to apologies," Aunt Agatha said, "yet I feel compelled to offer one to both of you. I have..." She looked at Jeeves again. "I have treated you abominably because I believed you were interfering with Bertram's ability to find his place in the world, and that you would ultimately only bring harm and disgrace to him. I was wrong."

"Lady Worplesdon--" Jeeves whispered, utterly poleaxed with disbelief.

She shook her head and waved his words away with one hand. "No one else would have done for him what you did, Jeeves. For that, I can only offer my gratitude. I cannot say that things will ever be easy between us, but I hope that we might at least declare a truce."

Numb, Jeeves nodded. There was a bit of 'believe it when I see it' to him, but he was, at least, willing to make the assay. I thought it would make everyone's lives easier if they managed it.

Aunt Agatha sighed. This was so much harder for her than I'd ever have imagined. One might almost feel a twinge of sympathy for the old dragon. "Bertie, I am sorry that I treated you so poorly when you came to me with your sentinel. As Dahlia so bluntly revealed before you left Bumpleigh Hall, a good deal of that was the result of my own jealousy. All my life, I had very much wanted what you suddenly had. It was... difficult. I felt, irrationally, that you did not deserve what you had been given. I can see now that you were far more deserving than I could ever have imagined. The incident revealed a streak of strength, courage, and tenacity in you that I never suspected might exist. You have done the family proud, young man."

"I..." There really wasn't a word floating loose in the Wooster lemon at that point. I was even more poleaxed than Jeeves had been.

"What was done to you..." Aunt Agatha seemed a bit overcome. She took a shaky breath. "Bertie, I'm glad you're still with us." There was a great deal of thoroughly immense thingness swimming beneath those words, but I couldn't sort it, and she seemed about ready to hit a brick wall where the whole speechifying wheeze was concerned.

"Thank you," I murmured, hardly able to believe what had just happened.

"When next you come to Bumpleigh Hall, you will be received as sentinel and guide. I have interfered in your lives more than enough. I shall do so no longer."

Jeeves and I were both thoroughly discombobulated. After a moment he rose, almost without thought, and went to Aunt Agatha, offering her his hand. She hesitated for a breath before reaching out to him, and he bowed and raised her wrinkled paw to his lips in an exceedingly courtly gesture. "Thank you, Lady Worplesdon," he said. "I am honored." It was going to take a while for the immensity of all of it to hit us, I was sure. I was certain none of this was real.

She blinked up at him and gently withdrew her hand. "Mr Jeeves, I expect you to take care of my nephew."

If Jeeves had been more astonished by her words, I think he'd have swooned. He looked like he'd been biffed soundly over the old onion with a sock full of steel bearings. "I shall, Lady Worplesdon," he whispered, quite thoroughly staggered. "I will guard him with my life."

Aunt Agatha nodded, satisfied, and looked over at Aunt Dahlia, who looked almost as astonished as I felt. "I think that will be all, Dahlia." Aunt Dahlia's head bobbled up and down as though on a spring. Aunt Agatha rose, and Aunt Dahlia with her.

"I shall see you to the door," Jeeves said, tucking himself back into his valet role for a moment. He shimmered out with them and returned sans aunts.

Jeeves stood beside the bed for a moment, looking down at me. "Did... did that just happen?"

"I think so?" I said. "Maybe?"

He sank down onto the bed with me, taking me cautiously into his arms. I might be home from my ordeal in hospital, but I was still entirely too fragile for his liking, and he treated me with a reserved delicacy. I would have preferred otherwise but, sadly, I knew he was right. I still hurt quite awfully much of the time, and I became exhausted far too easily. Nonetheless, I wrapped the Wooster arms about my man and we held one another close.

I was completely incapable of anything even the least bit sprightly between the sheets, but I could still love my man with every bit of my tender pash. We'd had no real privacy while I was in hospital, and Jeeves hadn't started sharing a bed with me again until we'd got back to the flat. I'd missed it terribly. I needed him. I needed his body next to mine, the touch of his bare skin, the rhythm of his heartbeat under my ear when I lay my head on his chest. I needed his arms about me and the caress of his lips against my own.

He pressed gentle kisses to my face and threaded his fingers in my hair. I could feel his love and his uncertainty and the depth of his need for me. "I'm going to be all right," I assured him. He nodded, letting my head rest on his shoulder. "I need you, old thing," I told him.

"I'm right here, Bertram."

"I know." I let one hand drift down his body, across his chest and over his belly to his hip. I could feel a stir of want in him. He'd been holding himself back for weeks now because I'd been so badly hurt; he hadn't wanted even to take care of his own needs without me, much less touch me with any sort of erotic intent. He reached up and took my hand, shaking his head gently, thinking he knew what I was asking.

"No, Bertram. You're not in any condition--"

"Reg, just because the Wooster corpus is weak doesn't mean the spirit isn't willing."

"I will not do anything that would result in injury to you."

I drew his hand to my mouth and kissed it. "Not asking you to, believe me." I slipped one of his fingers into my mouth and sucked gently, feeling his whole being respond to it. "Just because I can't do anything doesn't mean you can't. You need this, too." I laid on with the Wooster charm. "My mouth and my hands still work, you know. Well, more or less with the hands, anyway." Having my arms tied behind my back the way they were for so long had done damage that was going to take a long time to set right. I might never play golf again because my shoulder had been so badly mangled but, the doctors had said, if I worked at it, I'd probably be able to play my piano again eventually. I fully intended to.

"Bertram," he whispered, a little breathless when I took his finger back into my mouth and gave it my finest attentions. "What about your shoulder?"

I sighed, letting his finger slip from between my lips. "I don't think I need my left shoulder to use my right hand, what?" I aimed a smirk at him. His eyes closed and he shivered a little, letting it roll through him and spark something inside. I gave him a slightly more serious answer. "Do you really think that, just because I'm hurting, I don't need to be touched? Do you think I don't miss making love with you like the dickens?"

"No." He shook his head, reconsidering. "I'm certain you do. I'm sorry, love. I have, perhaps, been somewhat overprotective."

"I think you have, though I can easily understand why. The little Wooster might not be able to cooperate just yet, but I can still feel so much of what you feel." I caressed the damask Jeevesian cheek with one thumb and kissed him gently. "Whatever pleasure you feel is going to end up sloshing over into me, old fruit, and I could really use a bit of that right now. I've hurt so much lately and I'd like to feel something pleasant for a change. I want you to feel something pleasant for a change, too. So, would you? Please?"

Jeeves nodded. "What would you like?"

I smiled at him. "You could start by peeling off the outer rind and slipping back betwixt the sheets with me, my dear."

That drew a smile from him, and a curl of excitement and arousal, shaded with concern, went through him. It felt so bally wonderful. He shimmered out of his togs so quickly I almost thought they'd simply vanished. He slipped under the duvet and made short work of the buttons on my pyjama top, laying my chest bare. His body was so warm against me, and he finally let himself really touch me, softly and carefully, focusing into it and running his fingers gently over my skin. I sighed and settled back into my pillows, happy just to have his hands on me like this again after so long.

After a little while, he began pressing kisses to my body, his rising desire fluttering in him and stirring him. His heated breath quickened and he sucked at my nipples and licked my skin, keeping his weight entirely off my chest. I moaned softly, enjoying every sensation, letting his need flow over me. My reaction echoed in him, pulling more arousal from him.

Encouraged, I slid my hands down his body, laying on with the tender caresses, and circled his hardening prick with my fingers. He groaned, a sharp spike of need and passionate desire driving through him; I began slowly stroking his prick, loving the way his skin felt, slipping over the hardness beneath. His breath caught and his hips started a slow undulation, seeking more. My hand tightened and he shivered, gasping a soft, "Yes."

I'd been entirely right when I'd said he needed this. I ran my other hand through his hair, pressing kisses into the dark strands as I pulled at his hard, heated cock. There was a ripple of intense emotion through the bond between us, joining us -- love and need and relief and desperate desire. It swirled and glowed and grew, filling us both.

He held himself up on his elbows above me, rocking his hips into my tight fist, kissing me with so much love and need. There was nothing at all wrong with the Wooster legs, and I wrapped one around him, though carefully, because it did pull a bit at my side and chest. He groaned again and sank down to rock into the cup of my hips, pressing against my body there. I hurt too much for it to stir me up physically, but the pleasure he felt flowed through me and I reached deep into him, needing more, letting myself feel how intensely he loved me. The contact sparking between us was electric, and he gave a breathless moan of, "Oh, Bertram, I need you so."

My fingers curled in his hair, tugging a bit, and he gasped at the feel of it, sharp pangs of desire rising in him with the surge of his hips. I pressed kisses along his neck and shoulder, loving the warmth of him so near, the feel of his chest brushing against mine without putting pressure on it. He shivered again, his fingers tightening in the sheet beneath me when I sucked at the place where his neck met his shoulder, biting down, though not too hard. I could feel him getting close and knew it wouldn't take much more -- it had been far too long since either of us had taken any pleasure. My lover gasped and whimpered as I squeezed his prick firmly again, stroking more quickly and rubbing my thumb in a circle over the wet, slick head of his cock.

"Please, yes, please--" His breath caught again, and he shuddered, gasping my name, his hips suddenly jerking as his release pulsed out between us, sending a hot flash of overpowering erotic pleasure through me. It was nearly as intense for me as if I'd come off myself, and Jeeves drooped above me, still balanced on his elbows, his chest heaving as he gasped for breath. I wrapped him in my arms and kissed him thoroughly, rolling us both to lie on our sides, still facing one another.

Carefully, gently, he pulled me to him, still panting harshly. He felt dizzy and thoroughly overcome with love and a heavy, lazy contentment. When he could open his eyes again, he whispered, "Thank you, love. Did you get what you needed from that, or should I find a way to offer you more?"

I was a bit out of breath myself. "No, Reg, that was absolutely spiffing. I feel ever so much better now." I really did. It felt so dashed wonderful to be able to give him that pleasure, and to share in the depth of it in such an intimate way. "I'm still tired, though, and the aunting woke me far too early. Stay here with me and sleep, would you?" I could feel him giving thought to the time and worrying, probably about breakfast. "I need you here with me. You can make tea and breakfast for us when we wake up later."

He tilted an eyebrow at me. "Are you certain you are not able to read my mind?" he asked, suspicious.

"No, old thing. I just know you too well. Of course you'd be fretting about bunging the old eggs and b. before me at this hour."

Jeeves allowed himself a smile that actually reached his eyes. "Very good, Bertram. I shall delay breakfast until you are ready."

"Thanks awfully. Now, lay your head down and sleep, old thing." He did, and we did, settling in comfortably, our limbs twined together.

***

A few weeks later, about the time I was starting to be able to biff about the flat more easily on my own, we received a telegram from my better aunt. She asserted that the willowy Wooster form had looked entirely too much like a dried twig for her taste when last she saw me and insisted upon our presence so that Anatole could work his culinary magic on the old corpus.

"I'm not sure I'm up to a drive of that length yet," I told Jeeves, with more than a little regret.

Jeeves leaned down over me as I lounged on the chesterfield in the sitting room, reading a desultory spine tingler. I'll admit they'd lost a good deal of their appeal after my own adventure; reading about danger simply wasn't nearly so appealing anymore when I'd been in so much of it myself. He pressed a soft kiss to my lips. "I will drive," he said. "There are any number of pleasant places along the way where we might stop for a little while to let you rest under the shade of a tree or in a village green."

I pondered the possibility. Jeeves obviously thought getting me out to Brinkley Court was a spiffing idea. He was probably right about it. He usually was when it came to such things.

"All right," I said. "As long as we can stop for a bit when I get too tired or achy along the way. I would dearly love to sample Anatole's masterpieces again."

"She is quite correct in thinking you need to regain some weight as your health improves."

My clothing hung a bit more on me than was proper, though Jeeves had altered some of it so that I had things to wear about the flat that didn't make me look several sizes too small for my shirts and trousers. "I suppose she's right," I said. "Send Aunt Dahlia a telegram saying we'll be up tonight, then bung the luggage into the two-seater and we'll be off."

"Very good, Bertram." He shimmered off to do the deed. I insisted that he'd not be biffing up there in uniform. It didn't sit well with him, but he understood why I wanted it that way. I wanted people to see us as sentinel and guide, not gentleman and valet. Aunt Dahlia and the staff at Brinkley were likely to be the easiest environs for this public declaration. They'd been aware since the beginning of this whole whatsit, and there had been time for them to work out how they'd handle it.

We'd been trying to adjust to the whole wheeze ourselves. Jeeves still took care of the flat as much as he took care of me but he had asked me to hire in someone to deal with things like the laundry and other heavier tasks so that he'd have more time to take care of his Bertram. I'd agreed, and it began a shift in the way we lived together, and the way others saw us. I had to continually remind him that he wasn't actually my valet any longer, he was just answering doors and cooking and such because he wanted to. As far as I was concerned, everything I had was his, and his name was on all the financial accounts now instead of just the household expenses one, so there was no need for a separate weekly envelope. Jeeves had access to all of my worldly wealth whenever he wanted, for any purpose he might desire. He seemed rather bemused by the sitch but was slowly coming to accept it.

We needed to stop several times along the way to the auntly domain; rattling along the roads was harder on me than I'd expected but, perhaps, not as hard as Jeeves had feared. We made our appearance at Brinkley a little before the dinner hour. Jeeves made to take things out of the two-seater and haul them up my usual Brinkley domicile, purely out of habit, when Seppings stepped up with a footman. He shook his head and launched the footman at our luggage. "You are a guest here now, Mr Jeeves," he said. "You are no longer required to carry Mr Wooster's bags, or your own."

Jeeves looked a bit pole-axed. He looked at me, then back at Seppings, then over at the footman, who was already biffing off with our b.s in hand and tucked under his arms. "I... had not fully considered this aspect of the situation," he said. There was a certain amount of trepidation whirling about inside him. I think he was at a loss for what to do, not having his hands full at this stage of the proceedings, as he always had before.

"It's all right," Seppings said to Jeeves, giving me a quick glance. "When we heard what had happened to Mr Wooster, we anticipated this change. Mrs Travers was quite clear about your position in the household from this juncture forward. Please don't be concerned, Mr Jeeves. You are more than welcome here in this capacity."

The words eased a bit of Jeeves's worry and he nodded. "Thank you, Mr Seppings."

Seppings allowed just a hint of a smile. "Seppings, sir."

A flush of embarrassment zipped through the Jeevesian corpus beneath his usual stuffed frogginess. "Of course," he said. "My apologies, Seppings." It was odd to see the two of them working out what Jeeves's place was now; they'd been friends since I first brought Jeeves here a few years back, and I hoped this wouldn't change that friendship too much. I hated to think of Jeeves losing anything by this rearrangement of our arrangements. I think Jeeves felt far more awkward about being a guest now than Seppings did about serving him. Seppings gave us an approving nod and brought us into the old heap.

We ankled up to my -- now our -- room. I had enough time for a brief lie-down before the dinner gong sounded and I intended to take advantage of it. The trip, while pleasant, had been thoroughly exhausting. Jeeves sat on the bed where I lay, looking around him in a species of stunned disbelief. I reached out for his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "It's all right, Reg. You'll get used to it."

He looked down at himself, togged out in traveling tweeds rather than a valet's uniform. "It feels very strange," he murmured, restlessness shimmering under his skin. "I should be doing something."

"You can still bung me into the old soup and fish as always, you know. It's just you'll be sitting with me at dinner instead of serving."

"I know," he said, with a nod. "I suppose I would feel less awkward if we were at a household where I had not spent so much time belowstairs. I would regret losing my associations with Paul -- with Seppings -- and the others because of this, and I do not know how we are to negotiate the social barriers as yet."

"I have faith in you," I said. "You know you're free to spend your time here as you like, now, and if that includes biffing off to the butler's pantry for a visit now and again, I'm all for it."

There was a tap at the door and Jeeves rose to open it. "Mrs Travers," he said. The wrinkled relation swept into the room.

"Seppings said you'd arrived," she said. "How are you feeling, my young blot?"

"Not the usual chirpy Wooster self," I admitted.

"Well, we'll see to it that you'll soon be gamboling about the place like a spring lamb." She settled herself into a chair and Jeeves stood by in a striking imitation of a valet awaiting instructions. Aunt Dahlia looked up at him. "Oh, sit down," she said, waving him toward the bed. Hesitant, he sat. "I've come to settle how we're going to handle this whole thing."

"Very good, madam."

She tossed him a friendly glower. "Now, that's exactly the sort of thing I mean. You know that you're not to be treated as a servant here anymore. The first thing I need to know is if you would prefer to be addressed as Mr Jeeves or as Reginald by the family."

Surprise flickered through my man. "I say," I offered, "I'd prefer everyone address him as Reginald. Unless you have any strenuous objections, old fruit?" I felt it would kick the barriers down far more quickly if he were treated as family; he was, now, after all. People needed to accept that, and so did he.

"I... I honestly don't know," Jeeves said, a slightly lost feeling emanating from him. There was a vague defrosting of his taxidermied amphibian mask. "I am quite cognizant of the protocol regarding sentinels and guides in a household; they are generally to be regarded in the same manner as spouses, save that they are always seated together at table. I am simply having some difficulty applying the concept to myself, particularly in a house where I have served for so long."

Aunt Dahlia nodded. "Perfectly understandable. We do have to call you something, though. 'Jeeves' is no longer appropriate."

"Very true, Mrs Travers." He looked over at me. "In deference to Bertram's preference, Reginald is acceptable." Jeeves seemed a bit wary but willing.

"Right, then. You know that 'Mrs Travers' is perfectly proper, but you are also welcome to address me as Aunt Dahlia if you think you can stick it. Tom is a bit of a pill yet, and generally prefers Mr Travers. Angela is all abuzz to have you call her Angela. She's quite nearly vibrating with excitement that you're both actually here now. Young Glossop, well, he'll tell you himself."

"I believe I shall use 'Mrs Travers' for the time being. I shall respect the wishes of the rest of the family and guests as they are expressed." That seemed to set him a little more at ease, though he betrayed a flash of surprise at the aged a.'s willingness to allow that familiarity of address to him if he wanted to use it. I was quite chuffed by the proceedings.

"Good. Now that's settled, I must remind you that you are here as family, Reginald. I've discussed this quite thoroughly with Seppings and a few of the other staff -- you are still entirely welcome to socialize with your friends belowstairs so long as it doesn't interfere with anyone's duties, but you will be expected to adjust to being here as Bertie's sentinel. I don't want to see you acting as his valet. Are we clear?"

"There are some duties I will continue to perform," Jeeves said. "I am content to continue dressing him and attending to his more personal needs as I always have, but I will not object in the least to someone else bringing his tea in the morning or serving him at table." There was a wave of possessiveness under Jeeves's words. I was fairly certain he simply didn't want anyone else laying hands on me unless it was absolutely necessary. I had to say I approved of the sentiment. I didn't want anyone else's hands on me, either.

"That's a compromise I can live with," Aunt Dahlia said, with approval. "I suppose the feudal spirit is a bit too strong in you to expect otherwise."

"Indeed, Mrs Travers."

Compromises having been reached, the wrinkled relation rose. "You don't have to see me out, Reginald," she said, smiling. "I'll see you both at dinner." And with that, she beetled out the door.

Jeeves gave an actually audible sigh once she was gone and sank down to lie next to me, resting one hand on my chest. I reached over and pulled him into a warm embrace. "Trust me, old thing, you'll survive the ordeal. There's no need to kick."

"I know," he murmured, nuzzling my hair as a vague bit of worried embarrassment floated about in the Jeevesian breast. "But I just realized that I agreed to have someone bring tea up to us while we are in bed together in the morning."

***

Jeeves is, generally speaking, a master of the Unusual Situation, but it took him over a week to become comfortable with his new status at Brinkley. There were moments where I'd feel a twitch of valet coming up under the surface before he could quite help it, but he'd stomp it flat quickly and carry on. No one else seemed to notice, but I didn't expect them to. He'd had too many years as a servant for him to relax very much in front of anyone but me. I hoped that would change, given time.

There were moments, though, when he'd very nearly smile while others were around. More difficult for him was the idea of committing any sort of public display of affection. He would occasionally deign to let me hold his hand openly in the presence of others, but anything else was a bit of a stretch for him. I wanted -- needed, in fact -- more than that after having been so physically wrapped up in him for so long, when he'd been in hospital, when I had, and then in our flat when I'd been released. It wasn't that I wanted anything more than would be appropriate for any couple in the public eye, but he found it a bit challenging to sit close to me with an arm about my waist when anyone was near, and even a brief peck on the cheek seemed beyond him if we weren't behind closed doors. If we were supposed to be allowed our affections legally, I wanted to exercise those rights, by Jove. I wasn't ashamed of what we had together, nor was I embarrassed by him.

We were at Brinkley for a little over two months, during which time I was stuffed to the gills with Anatole's finest, taken for walks through rose gardens in the gloaming, and generally encouraged to do things that helped me once again bung this Wooster's snails upon thorns and set larks upon their respective wings. I couldn't claim to be quite the same after everything I'd been through, but I knew I would eventually regain most of what I'd lost to Randall's violence. I had nightmares from time to time, but the presence of my beloved in the bed with me at night was a comfort, and Jeeves was often able to wake me before they really got going, given that he could sense them sneaking up on me, what with the way one's heart and breathing speed up as they approach.

It had taken a couple of weeks for people to stop treating me like a sensitive plant and I was grateful as that behavior faded. I knew I'd nearly died, but I didn't like to remember it and didn't want to be reminded of the whole awful thing every time someone looked at me. Surprisingly enough, it was Tuppy who tended to treat me with more exaggerated concern than anyone else -- other than Jeeves, of course, but that was his prerogative as my sentinel and my lover. I wouldn't have thought Tuppy, the chump, had that sort of concern for his fellow man's wellbeing buried in his heart.

It was a mixed blessing at best. I just wanted to be Bertie, not the resident invalid. Tuppy tended to fluff pillows on chairs for me or ask if I needed to walk a little more slowly or stop for a rest when we were ankling about the grounds. There were moments when it was dashed disturbing. I wondered if he were attempting to make up for the whole tying back the final ring over the Drones Club swimming bath before daring me to swing over the blasted thing, dunking me into the drink in correct evening costume.

Unfortunately, the days of my being able to swing on rings in that manner were behind me now. Everything else was mending pretty well, but my left shoulder didn't seem like it was ever going to work properly again. Randall's thug had torn something in it that couldn't be repaired, and I found myself in a something-collie sort of mood over the whole thing. Saddish and downhearted, I mean to say. Melancholy, that's the chap. I was feeling distinctly melancholy.

Jeeves reminded me frequently of all I was regaining, and that kept my spirits up. My hands were getting better and I was getting to the point where I was able to play the piano again, though it was slow going and occasionally a frustration. He encouraged me at every turn, and would sit sometimes in the evenings and play duets with me. I could feel the joy in him when he would sit and watch me at the keyboard, gradually regaining the ability to play a few songs in a row without some of my fingers going numb unexpectedly. By the time we were ready to return to the metrop, he'd decided I was well enough for a little vigorous nighttime exercise on a regular basis, which both of us thoroughly enjoyed.

Finally, we bid a fond farewell to the relations and biffed back to the flat; I was able to drive us home, a thing which cheered the Wooster heart considerably. We took it all in one shot, unlike the trip out.

One unexpected and, frankly, unwelcome consequence of Jeeves no longer being my valet was that he was not eligible to be a member of his club any longer. While they had emeritus members, they had usually retired at some advanced age and spent their time dozing in chairs at the Junior Ganymede, growing moss and cobwebs. They'd never had a valet suddenly become a sentinel before, and none of them were quite certain how to handle the whole thingummy. Eventually they handed him the mitten, given that he was now a chap of leisure. They said it wouldn't be proper for him to be a member of a valet's club without actually being one anymore, and not having actually reached the age of moss-growing or cobweb generation.

I offered to stand Jeeves for membership in the Drones, but he didn't think it was quite his milieu and declined. Knowing the Drones, and the Jeevesian habits, I had to admit he was probably wise to do so. This said, it had taken a bit of the starch out of him, to lose the society of his old friends. I suspected his being a sentinel had as much to do with them showing him the door as his no longer being a gentleman's personal gentleman. He had, after all, had problems at both Bumpleigh Hall and Brinkley Court before everyone there got used to the sitch. Regardless, it had to sting pretty badly.

I still spent time at the Drones, but not as much as I used to, given that Jeeves hadn't his own place to go in the evenings. Instead, we took to biffing off to the theatre or the opera together, which he said was a more than acceptable substitute for the society of his former fellows. I did my best to make him happy, but we both knew our lives had changed, and not all of the changes were of the sort we'd have made by choice.

There were still things in both our lives that needed sorting but, for the most part, we managed to settle into a comfortable and relatively happy life together. As far as I was concerned, being able to be with Jeeves and not worry that the law or the public would take offense was worth what we'd sacrificed. He was less sanguine about the losses and that whole sacrifice wheeze, but he agreed that having one another fell on the positive side of the cosmic scales.

***

We'd been home again for about a month when we got a visit from Call-Me-Anthea and Medea. Jeeves went stiff as a board when he found them at the door. I wasn't too keen to see them myself, honestly. The Gorgons had lost none of their Gorgonity since last we'd met; their presence set me to quivering more than a bit.

"This is not a social call, gentlemen," Medea said. "Your presence has been requested at Whitehall."

Jeeves was flummoxed. "Whitehall?" The stiff as a boardness was suddenly a volcano thinly coated with glacial ice. I could tell he wasn't sure whether to be furious or terrified. A moment later, he'd settled on both. I was quite content with just terrified, myself. "Whatever it is you want, the answer is no," he said, leaving no room for disagreement. "You have done more than enough damage in our lives." He suddenly felt about three feet taller and terribly fierce. He was quite on the verge of auntly brimstone-spouting.

Anthea just raised an eyebrow at him. "I assure you, we are not here to send you into the field. We are fully cognizant of what happened and no one wishes to see either of you placed in harm's way again."

"What is this about?" Jeeves asked, not in the least mollified. He'd edged over a bit to stand between me and our visitors, without even realizing he'd done it. He absolutely vibrated with barely restrained fury.

"Come with us, gentlemen. Your questions will all be answered when you arrive." Medea gestured toward the door.

I laid a careful hand on his shoulder. The full depth of his wrath shocked me. I knew he'd been angry that they'd sent us into a situation without enough information, but I hadn't thought he blamed them personally. Apparently, he saw them as ultimately responsible for what had happened to me. "I suspect we ought to at least hear them out, Reg." The Wooster heart did not leap with anticipation, but I thought it better than refusing a summons from someone at Whitehall. One simply didn't do such things.

Jeeves turned his head and looked at me. "Bertram, no."

Anthea shook her head. "I assure you again, you are in no danger."

By now Jeeves was backed right up against me, one hand on my arm to keep me behind him. "How can you possibly ask me to trust you, after what happened?"

"Once you have been delivered to Whitehall, Mr Jeeves, our part in this is done. We are simply here to escort you to your meeting." Medea folded her arms over her chest, unmoving as a firmly rooted mountain on a calm, sunny day.

Nothing about them suggested actual menace, at least for the moment. They weren't lying about anything they'd said so far. "What kind of a meeting?" I asked.

"I'm sorry, but we cannot offer details at the moment, Mr Wooster," Medea answered. "The nature of the meeting, and the identity of those in attendance, are considered Most Secret. We are not permitted to discuss it. As I said, your questions will be answered when you arrive."

"Reg, I think we ought to go with them. Really." It sounded awfully important and now I was curious. I slipped my arm about his waist and tried to breathe some calm into him. Jeeves was too afraid of them and too angry over what had happened to me to be entirely rational about the whole thing. It was quite a change from our usual, with Bertram at wit's end and Jeeves pulling a solution from his size 14 bowler with a soft cough like a sheep on a distant hillside. "Please, Reg," I whispered, "they're not here to hurt us."

He was still for a moment then gave a tiny shiver. "All right," he said. I could feel resignation in him. I thought he would rather face down a tiger while armed with nothing but a toothpick than go with them, but he knew I'd insist. I held him to me and pressed a kiss to the nape of his neck. He relaxed slightly and let go of my arm.

"Right, then," I said. "I suppose we ought to be off."

It wasn't far to Whitehall, and the Gorgons had a car waiting for us at the curb. We were delivered to the War Office, which really left me in something of a flutter. Jeeves was absolute ice, inside and out. The old beazels led us along what felt like miles of corridor before Anthea tapped on a solid-looking unmarked door.

When the door opened, we were met by a shortish chap who leaned on a cane. He looked like he might have been one of Tutankhamun's old school chums. His hair and mustache were a distinguished silver and he wore a pair of spectacles perched on his nose. The most remarkable thing about him was an old, white scar on the left side of his jaw.

"Ah, you've brought them," he said. He nodded with a pleased thingness about him. "This way, gentlemen."

We followed him, leaving the Gorgons at the door. "My name is Penney," he told us, escorting us through a small office to another door. He opened the door and led us inside.

Within was a formidable chap of very similar vintage, seated behind a desk that must have been at least an acre in size. There were probably tenant farmers on it somewhere. Heavyset, with sharp grey eyes and an equally sharp nose, he put me in mind of a friendly but unnervingly perilous walrus. I doubted he could move very fast, but I still wouldn't want to raise the chap's ire. "Please, gentlemen, be seated," the walrus said, gesturing to the chairs before his desk.

Uneasy, Jeeves and I both perched as instructed.

"You may call me M," the walrus continued. "Murray, please do take the weight off your hip. I'll not have you complaining this evening after work." He shot the smaller chap a look, and Penney made his way behind the desk and seated himself next to M, running a hand over M's shoulder as he did so. They had to be sentinel and guide; ordinary chaps, even dessicated ones -- perhaps especially dessicated ones -- wouldn't touch one another that way unless they were.

Jeeves watched them with narrowed eyes. "Why have we been summoned, sir?" he asked.

M folded his hands on the desk and gave a quiet cough, rather like one of Jeeves's. "I wished to commend you, gentlemen, on your recent assignment for our office." Jeeves raised an eyebrow. "I was most impressed."

"Indeed?" Jeeves was more than slightly unnerved. I rested a hand on his wrist.

"Yes, Mr Jeeves." He leaned back a bit in his chair, which creaked under his weight like the timbers of a ship in a gale. "Your performance under adverse circumstances showed a number of qualities for which I have been searching." He harrumphed and continued. "I have looked into your backgrounds extensively. While I have seen sentinels with greater range and discrimination in their abilities, and steadier guides, I have not previously encountered a pair with your unique combination of abilities."

"In what sense, sir?" Jeeves asked, suspcious.

M's lip gave a little quirk upward. "I have spent many years, Mr Jeeves, looking for a man whose speciality is omniscience. By every report, you have that skill. You have a highly developed talent for manipulation, as well, which I find incredibly useful for what I require." A rumble of distress went through Jeeves at the 'require' comment.

M turned his eyes to me. "Mr Wooster, your ability to discern the truthfulness of others, while not one hundred per cent reliable, is certainly markedly better than that of any other guide I have met. I was also extremely impressed by your resourcefulness under conditions of exceptional stress, and your ability to conceal information when confronted with dire injuries."

Jeeves's breath caught, a spark of utter horror flashing through him, but he didn't so much as twitch. "But I didn't know anything," I said, confused. "There wasn't anything for me to hide."

M shook his head. "On the contrary, Mr Wooster. You knew a great deal that would have been extremely useful, had Lord Wibbley-Pringle known the right questions to ask. You were aware of the nature of your mission. You knew the identities of your contacts, their descriptions, the location of one of our safehouses, and the fact that they possessed very little genuine information regarding his activities. You knew the name of the primary German operative suspected in the operation. You knew the pass phrases for your contacts, which would have allowed falsified information to be passed to our office.

"We interrogated a Mr Green regarding your captivity, Mr Wooster, and he reported that you gave them absolutely no information directly, beyond denying knowledge of Denningshurst. Even when you were tortured, you did not betray any information and insisted that you knew nothing. A sentinel was required to gain any information from you at all and, even then, it was only through indirect means, not through your own failing. In fact, you left Wibbley-Pringle with the mistaken impression that more was known about his operation than was actually the case, which was a useful diversion." Jeeves was shivering very slightly in his chair and I felt cold as ice myself, not having realized what I might have spilled, even accidentally.

"Despite all this, you not only withheld vital information, you were able to gain valuable intelligence in the form of a name that allowed us to complete a much larger puzzle on an international scale, and you reported it as soon as you were cognizant and able to inquire about its significance. When you were gravely injured, you were able to contact Mr Jeeves through a most creative and unusual channel that allowed our agents not only to find you, but to shut down Wibbley-Pringle's entire operation before he or his primary agents could effect an escape. I would say, Mr Wooster, that your actions were supremely resourceful, deeply courageous, and entirely commendable."

"I say." I was more than a bit flummoxed. Jeeves was obviously unnerved, but seemed to have come to some kind of conclusion.

"What is it you want from us, Mr Holmes?" Jeeves asked. There was a hardness in his voice that showed more of his anger than he usually allowed others to see.

"What?" I said, looking at Jeeves, thoroughly confused.

Penney quite nearly smiled. M looked terribly smug. "Very good, Mr Jeeves," he said.

"Wait, what?" I looked at M again. "Holmes? You mean like Sherlock Holmes, the detective? Except, you're obviously not him."

"No, Bertram," Jeeves said. "This is Mr Sherlock Holmes's brother, Mr Mycroft Holmes. Dr Watson, when asking if Mr Holmes worked for the British government, once quoted the detective as saying, 'occasionally, he is the British government."

"I say." I stared at the old chap, rather befuddled to be in the presence of a legend. Or perhaps a myth. I was never certain which was which.

"The doctor always did make somewhat too free with his information," Mycroft said. It was obviously an old sore spot. "Mr Jeeves, I am getting on in years and have been wanting for some time to retire. I have spent a number of years looking for a successor, and I believe that I have finally found him."

Jeeves went a bit pale. "Successor?" he said. Had he not been sitting down, I thought he might well have swooned. This was far beyond even the shock of Bingo's horseshoe tie or Rocky's tendency to wear a sweater and pyjamas to dinner. Jeeves blinked, trying to collect himself again. "Sir? I don't understand. I'm completely unqualified for such a position."

"You are far more qualified than you realize," Mycroft told him. "I shall not be stepping down from my office for another year or two, which would give you ample time to learn what skills you lack. I have seen any number of sentinels with long military careers whom others would consider much more technically qualified, but none of them have had a mind like yours. This position requires talents that you have displayed in abundance. The necessary bureaucratic skills can be learned, but you are, by all reports, a natural diplomat, possessed of intellectual brilliance and an encyclopaedic memory, steady under fire, and capable of bringing about the most unlikely results through almost mystical means." He chuckled. "Your somewhat, shall we say, flexible morality is an asset as well. Really, the final test was whether you would be able to deduce my identity. You did so in under two minutes from the time you walked into the room, with very little information from which to draw conclusions."

Jeeves boggled slightly.

"Well," I said, "he's right about your fish-fueled brilliance, old thing. I always suspected you were destined for far greater things than mere valetry."

Drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Jeeves asked, "And what about Bertram?" He took my hand, twining his fingers with mine, and held on tightly, trying to steady himself. "Mr Holmes, he nearly died in my arms very recently. If the King himself were to command it, I would not put him at risk again. I cannot. It is not a question of loyalty, sir; I am entirely incapable of doing so after what happened to him at Lord Wibbley-Pringle's hands." There was more than a hint of desperation in him, invisible from the outside.

Mycroft nodded. "I do understand, Mr Jeeves, believe me. I realize that Mr Wooster is not, by nature, a man who would do well in a bureaucratic setting, and I am deeply sympathetic to your desire to protect your guide. Anyone taking on the position held by Mr Penney and myself would be at the center of a great deal of security and protection. The resources of the entire British government are concerned with the safeguarding of the individuals responsible for the information that passes through this office.

"We work from this physical location because I prefer to do so. The work we do could as easily be done from a secure flat, with occasional office hours, had that been our preference. While the job is not entirely without risk, it necessitates an extremely low profile, and your actual identities would be unknown except to His Majesty and a few select others within the government. As such, it is a relatively secure position, and you would both be closely guarded to ensure your safety and the secrecy of the information you would possess."

"I see, sir." Jeeves seemed to be worried, but actually considering it. He looked at me. "Bertram, if we considered this, it would make changes in our lives far more profound than my becoming a sentinel."

I nodded. "Well, Reg, I mean to say, I can see why they'd want you, but I haven't the first idea what anyone would expect me to do. I'm not exactly anyone's prize when it comes to brains. Or, well, anything else for that matter."

"Mr Wooster," Mycroft said, "Mr Penney has been my secretary, my aide-de-camp, and my bodyguard for a very long time. We chose to work together in this way, but there is no reason that you would have to act in anything resembling the same capacity for Mr Jeeves, particularly considering that your skills do not lie in that direction. Your particular skills as a guide would, however, make you invaluable during conferences and interviews as a check for veracity and an additional safeguard against omissions and the concealment of facts, while secretarial and other duties would be given to other individuals within this office. I understand that you have never been gainfully employed but, for our purposes, that is not particularly important. Your primary consideration would be as support for Mr Jeeves as his guide. At some point you will sit in the House of Lords. As your sentinel, Mr Jeeves would be allowed in the Chamber with you. I understand you have little patience for politics, but you would, again, be extremely valuable in such a position."

I really didn't know what to make of the whole thing, but Jeeves would, no doubt, have a firmer grasp on the whole wheeze. Jeeves seemed to be getting over the shock he'd been in. "Such a decision would need to be discussed between us at some length, Mr Holmes. It could not possibly be made here, today."

"Of course, Mr Jeeves. You and Mr Wooster may have one week to consider the offer. I'm not getting any younger, so I urge you to make your decision with all due speed. You will contact Anthea and Medea when you have done so and return to let me know. You may go."

Penney rose and escorted us back to the hallway, where the Gorgons awaited. "I think we want to go home now," I told them. Jeeves seemed essentially in agreement. I think both of us wanted to hide under the bed. Or perhaps that was just me.

It took three days for Jeeves to come to a decision, though we talked about it rather a lot. I'd been the one who had decided we'd work for the Ministry, and it had got us into more trouble than I ever wanted to even think about; it only stood to reason that Jeeves should make this decision, as he was better at the whole decision-making wheeze than I'd ever been. He was the one who would be most affected by whatever decision he made. I trusted him to do the right thing, whatever that might be.

In the end, Jeeves said, we weren't being asked to bung ourselves in front of a train or a speeding lorry. There would be some risks, but he thought they were both minimal and acceptable. It would mean the end of our ability to go biffing off to America on a whim, but I had to admit that most of my whims had been aunt-induced and, now that I wasn't subject to the imposition of fiancées by outside forces, such whims weren't really required. It didn't mean we could never go, just that our visits would have to be a little more planned out.

"If this is what you want, old fruit, I'll certainly get behind it. I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."

Jeeves nodded. There was still a bit of hesitation in him, but I think it was just because this was so different than anything he'd ever done before. Even a paragon is entitled to a bit of insecurity now and again, particularly when faced by something this immense. "Given the current circumstances of our lives, I believe it would be worth doing. If you are willing, Bertram, then I will tell Mr Holmes we have agreed to his proposal."

"I suppose you ought to give the Gorgons a call, then, what?"

He drew me into his arms and kissed me. "Perhaps in a few hours," he said, smiling at me with obvious intent. "At the moment, I have more pressing issues that require my attention."

I kissed him back.

~~fin~~