Ahhhhh. That’s the sound of contentment. Here we are at the close of Part 2 at last. It’s been a long haul, hasn’t it?

If you’re curious about how this whole epic has developed from the initial draft, there’s an Author’s Note at the end of this page that explains why this chapter took a surprisingly long time to post, where we’re going next, why the name of this chapter changed from the one previously advertised, and why in heaven’s name there’s an Eiffel Tower standing there doing nothing but taking up scenery. It’s a twisted tale, but I won’t bore you with it now.

The key thing is that this is the last chapter of Part 2. Next up is… You got it. Part 3. There’s also more about Part 3 in the Author’s Note. But I suppose we have to get through the chapter at some point, so…

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Chapter Eleven: Moonlight and Mercury

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“Holmes, would you be so good as to explain what in hell you think you’re talking about?”

In the moonlight his gray eyes shone almost silver as he half-turned toward me. He looked startled for an instant then he schooled his features into a mask of bland indifference and resumed his study of the Hotel de Gaspard’s white façade.

“Really, Watson,” he said. “That you should continue to defend this woman even now… Well, it seems over-generous even for you. I grant you I’m not the best judge, but surely her charms are not so remarkable as all that.”

“I’m sorry,” I said tightly, “I’m afraid you must make allowances for my unusually diminished capacity for understanding tonight. If you’d be so kind as to make plain exactly what you mean by waiting for Séraphie to betray us…”

“It’s simply enough stated,” he answered coolly. “In a very few minutes Séraphie will abandon her post and make her way to the street where she will meet the younger Moran. He is hiding, nearby no doubt, waiting to learn where he may find us– or more accurately, me– for a quick kill. Removed from all the trappings of double-blind and deceit, the central plot is actually notable for its purity of form.”

The last vestige of any sense of calm imparted by the drug was now fully exploded and my resolve of a moment before, to confront Holmes with the fact of the depth of my love for him, was swept away with it. For a fleeting moment I thought longingly of the black leather syringe case. I took a steadying breath. “Holmes, this is absurd. What possible reason could you have for thinking Séraphie will betray you? You sent her to us.”

“Yes,” he said in a tight undertone. “I blame myself entirely, have no fear on that score.” Without shifting his gaze he touched my elbow and it took me a moment to understand he was urging me to step back from the spreading patch of moonlight that striped the grass before us. It traced the sharp cut of his fine cheekbones making him appear strikingly pale.

“I had my doubts of the wisdom of bringing her into the game,” he went on when we were once again in the shadows. “But I was fool enough to think I’d taken sufficient precautions. I waited until the last possible instant to tell her where to find you. I took her to the Île de la Cité myself. Somehow she managed to get a message to Moran in the distance between the Pont Neuf and the café.”

“Holmes, I won’t hear any more of this,” I said. “I know neither you nor Francois trust Séraphie. I’m not unaware she has a checkered past. But throughout this affair she’s shown remarkable bravery and good grace. Not many women, or men for that matter, would have acquitted themselves so well after being exposed to gun fire in a public square.”

“Her performance has certainly been notable for its lack of hysteria,” Holmes said dryly. “I wonder, did she ask many questions about that rifle shot?”

“No, she didn’t,” I said readily. “She was in shock as you might imagine. The glass shattered directly in front of her.”

“Yes, it was a skillful trick shot.” Holmes kept his gaze fixed on the hotel where the window of our suite was one of only a handful still glowing bright in the smooth façade. “Tell me, what was the signal? Did she turn the glass several times? Or perhaps she adjusted her bonnet unnecessarily.”

I could not prevent my sharp intake of breath. I saw his mouth tighten in something approximating a smile even before I answered. “She touched my arm.”

Holmes nodded. “Uncomplicated and perfectly in character for a courtesan. I wouldn’t concern myself about an uncommon credulity, Doctor. She’s a gifted actress, by profession and by nature. I understand she was present as you made your plans to meet me in the garden at Auteuil?”

I felt the fabric of the day’s events unraveling like so many threads slipping through my grasp. “No, she– she was asleep was in the next room. When we reached Villard’s flat I urged her lie down and rest.”

“A very small flat, is it?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “But, Holmes, that’s immaterial. You know she couldn’t have gotten a message to anyone. Francois told you himself he locked her in while he followed me to the garden. And when he went back for the mannequin he brought her directly here to the hotel.”

“Thank you, I do recall being informed of that fact,” he said evenly. “Also that Villard found her working at the lock of his door when he returned. Which naturally presents the question, was she trying to get out? Or was she covering the fact that she had forced the door, or been let out, sometime before. An interesting line of thought, don’t you agree?”

I could muster no response. His inferences were devastatingly logical. As a courtesan, Séraphie’s livelihood depended on making men believe the things they wanted to hear. I had known that when I met her at the Bishop’s Cat that afternoon. I had seen the artifice in her sweetly confiding gaze and light laugh and enjoyed them for the pretty play that they were.

The art had become truth for me. When I had awakened to her gentle touch on my brow and the fragrance of lavender in the air, it was as though I had awakened into a dream where a courtesan might be a confidante. I wanted to believe her bright smile and the light in her sea green eyes were just what they seemed. Now my illusions of the lovely, warm Séraphie were shattered like so many others that day.

Holmes went on, casually tearing away the last shreds of my self-possession. “I gather Moran cultivated her in hopes of such a chance,” he was saying. “I’d had cause to rely on her in the past and somehow he learned of it. If it’s any comfort, he wouldn’t have told her his true object this afternoon. Séraphie may not live up to the promise of her name, but I don’t think she would willingly be a party to murder. She doesn’t yet realize she’s more pawn than queen in this game.”

As he spoke, Holmes pulled out his watch and held it up to the light. “I haven’t decided how much was skillful planning on Moran’s part and how much he owes purely to good fortune. Either way, the man seems to have the luck of the devil. Villard would not normally have let Séraphie get so close. His judgment was sadly impaired, I’m afraid. But we must make allowances for his preoccupation, mustn’t we?” He closed the watch cover with a snap.

I struggled to find my voice. “But I don’t understand,” I said, and nearly laughed at my own obvious understatement. “If Séraphie told Moran where to find you at the garden and followed you– us here, why did you allow her to stay as you made your plans this evening? Why did you let her leave to visit the hotel manager? For that matter why did she return?”

Holmes exhaled a long-suffering sigh. “I’ll allow I’ve shown precious little wisdom in this enterprise, Watson, but give me credit for hindsight at least. When I arrived at the hotel and found Séraphie waiting it was obvious what had happened. Even Villard grasped it instantly. We both knew our tactical position would be stronger if we didn’t let on. Still in those first few minutes I think either of us might have considered the pleasure of pitching her out the window worth the loss of any hypothetical advantage. Fortunately, we were at least as furious with one another.” He thrust his shoulders back and went on, “We assumed she’d want to stay close and continue gathering intelligence for Moran. The original plan was to give her the job of attending to the mannequin. Villard saw no harm in letting her think we believed Moran to be outside. He believes nothing of the kind, of course, which only shows up his regrettable tendency to narrow thinking. He doesn’t see the role of obsession in this little drama of ours. Moran must kill me just as Séraphie must protect his freedom even at the cost of her own. But he was willing to go along with what he termed a ‘so sad charade’ to keep Séraphie where we can make use of her. As to why she came back when she had the chance to make a clean escape, we may put the thanks for that squarely at your feet.” His mouth twisted in a wry smile. “It seems even courtesans are not safe from your charms. Your insistence on being part of the proceedings proved to be a valuable bargaining chip.”

It seemed I had lost my ability to follow even the simplest train of logic. “A bargaining…”

“Yes, while you were collecting yourself for this expedition I took the chance to work out my own arrangement with her. I explained we knew her role in the affair and suggested she might modify her allegiances for the sake of avoiding an unpleasantness with the gendarmerie. Her counter was that she would take her chances with the gendarmerie if she knew you’d be kept from harm. It was the only trade she’d accept in the end. I’m afraid the parlay won’t improve my standing with Villard. He was very much looking forward to arresting someone.”

The night breeze that brushed the back of my neck was chill against the sheen of perspiration there. Holmes, Villard, Moran, Séraphie… players in a grand game of skill and strategy. It all spun dizzily in my mind. At last I ventured, “So Séraphie betrayed us… and now Moran?”

“Woman is a changeable creature,” Holmes said tersely. “But it’s not so simple as that. She agreed to pretend to play along until Villard and his men were in position at the eastern end of the park and you were well away from the hotel. Then allowing a safe interval she would leave to meet Moran as they arranged this afternoon. Instead of giving away our location, however, she will tell him we’re aware of the plot and the best course will be to retreat and try again at a later date. The end result is she’ll escape arrest while keeping her two competing loyalties, you and Moran, safe from harm.” He gave me a steady look. “You, Doctor, should be flattered. You seem to be quite the wild card in this game. I dare say events would have played out even more entertainingly if Moran had had a chance to get to know you better.” His jaw tightened as he returned to his study of the hotel. “Unfortunately, all this means he will escape us today. Still, I wouldn’t let that concern me overly. There is more than enough blame to go around in this fiasco.”

At his final words, the harsh white light of truth flared up in my mind, washing out shadows and uncertainty and leaving one fact standing alone. I surveyed the barren landscape, stripped of self-deception, and was surprised to find I was entirely drained of emotion.

I removed my hat and wiped a hand across my eyes. “Holmes, my faculties are even less acute than usual. I want to be sure I understand. Abandoning your plans in London, your thwarted strategy here in Paris, your willingness to allow both Morans to escape after three years– more than three years of pursuing Moriarty’s gang… all of this wasted effort. It’s all my fault.”

When I looked at him again, Holmes was staring at me, his eyes wide. “Watson, that’s not– I never meant to imply…” he began, but I continued, speaking though my mouth was dry as leather.

“No,” I said, shaking my head despite the resurging pain at my temple. “Don’t feel you need to placate me. I know there’s no way I can go back and correct the past. The best I can offer is the promise that you won’t have to make allowances for my mistakes in future. I’ll find my own way back to London, don’t trouble yourself about that. Concentrate on the matter at hand. Capturing Moran is the only important–”

“Oh, Watson. John. Tell me–” he all but groaned. “Tell me how it is I can never make my words match what’s in my mind. Why am I so damnably incoherent when I’m with you?”

I stared uncomprehendingly. “Holmes, I don’t–”

“I know. I know.” He closed his eyes and exhaled a long breath. His dark lashes lay feathered against his cheeks, so pale in the moonlight. His eyes drifted open and the silver fire in their gray depths was like nothing I’d ever seen. A tremor ran through me, starting gooseflesh on my skin.

His voice was barely a whisper as he said, “John, I know I’ve ruined every chance that you might ever feel the same. Probably a hundred times over. I know you can’t forgive me. Just tell me you won’t turn away. I might live one more day if only I thought that were true, but–” He drew in a sharp breath and his voice dropped to a growl. “Damn it, John, why must you be so infuriatingly beautiful.”

Those silver-gray eyes never left mine as he leant toward me. I felt him take my hat from my numb fingers and a distant part of my mind heard it hit the ground. I felt his breath on my lips before I felt his kiss, so soft I might have thought I imagined it.

His quick, nervous fingers traced up the front of my jacket to my shoulders as though afraid to alight. His second kiss brushed my upper lip, grazing my mustache. I felt as much as heard his low moan then his fingers twined through the hair at the back of my neck. Thought fled.

My hands moved to his shoulders and waist and he drew a quick, gasping breath as my lips parted. His tongue traced between them and what had been a tentative, questing kiss deepened, quickened.

How little my imaginings had prepared me to feel his lips on mine again. The taste of him… strong French coffee and rich tobacco… was intoxicating. The very smell of his skin was like a half-remembered dream. I burned to taste that, too. I broke the kiss and with the heel of my hand, I turned his head. My lips brushed his throat and the rough texture of his unshaved skin was like electricity.

He gasped and the sound inflamed me. I groaned aloud, feeling his racing pulse against my lips and his shuddering breath against my ear. My lips reclaimed his and I felt his hands fist at the back of my jacket. The sensation was like nothing I’d ever dreamed. Blood burned through my veins. I crushed him to me and our light summer suits were no barrier as I felt his heartbeat thrum against my chest. I fit the length of my body to his. I recognized his passion as our hips met and at that instant he gasped and pulled back.

His hands loosed their grip and came to my chest, tensed as if ready to push away. My vision cleared and I focused on his eyes, dark and wild and staring into mine. I couldn’t read the emotion there. It wasn’t fear or desire, but something unknowable in between. For a moment I studied them, confused, then fragmented pieces of memory, disjointed from thought, slipped together in my mind. His quick, nervous hands. His startled eyes. His searching kiss, a tentative echo of my own six years before.

There weren’t words to match the knowledge that shimmered to light in my mind. If there were, I didn’t hesitate long enough to find them. I let my hold on his shoulders relax and bent forward. I pressed a light kiss to his lips before gently tracing between them. We shared a long, slow kiss that ended on a mingled breath something like a sigh.

When I leant away again I took in the sight of his wet rose-colored lips, his tousled black hair, his gray eyes, now dark with need. It was a memory and a dream and a perfectly etched vision all in one. I knew then there truly were no second chances. Every chance was new and precious and should be seized with both hands for it would never come again.

Holmes’s voice reverberated in my palms as he leant back in my embrace. “Imagination is a poor second to life,” he murmured. “If I’d thought it might be anything like this…” A strange, broken laugh escaped his lips.

My own answering laugh, I think, surprised us both. Holmes’s eyes met mine.

“John,” he said and his voice was unsteady. “I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t have an idea how to– If I had anticipated, I might have thought what to say…”

His words recalled Villard’s earlier admonition on being over-prepared. “Francois–” I began, but got no farther for on the instant the name passed my lips Holmes stepped back from my embrace.

He stared at me with a look as near to outrage as I had ever seen on his face. “Yes, what about Francois? Did he know the perfect words to say at such a juncture?”

I hesitated as he crossed his arms on his chest and studied me with narrowed eyes. “Just– while you were out of the room earlier…” I faltered.

“Go on,” he said tightly. “I look forward to hearing this. I’m sure it will be instructive should I ever find myself in such a situation again.”

“Just that he thought it might be possible to spend too much time preparing for a thing,” I said slowly. “That what you did after was often more important. But, Holmes–” I stopped as he held up his hand.

“A moment, please,” he said. “I must understand this. You and Villard…”

I must have looked very confused for he lowered his hand and leant closer. “You don’t… care for him?” he said, studying my face. “Like this?” His hand moved in a vague gesture in the air between us.

I blinked. “What? Why would you think that?”

Holmes pursed his lips then said carefully. “You will admit you speak of him a great deal. In the garden. In the carriage. Here. Now.” His eyes narrowed again. “What am I to make of that?”

My scattered thoughts flashed back over the events of the evening. I heard Séraphie’s low, sweet voice say, “John, you are awake, yes? You know over what these two men disagree, of course.”

Images and fragments of conversation slotted together. My eyes widened. “That’s what Séraphie was trying to tell me,” I breathed. “Ever since I woke up, she’s been trying to make me understand… she wouldn’t explain. She said you had to tell me yourself. This argument between you and Francois… the duel,” I murmured. “She was certain you two were going to come to blows. She said…” I met Holmes’s eyes. He stared silently. It seemed ridiculous to say aloud, yet as I watched him studying me, I had to finish the thought. “She suggested I try calling Francois ‘Villard’ and see if that might help.”

There was no glimmer of a smile on his face. “I don’t think it would.”

“No.” I shook my head. “That was her conclusion as well. Holmes…” I stopped to consider the unspoken question between us. The proposition that I could be at the center of such a dispute between two such extraordinary men was patently ludicrous and yet everyone… Holmes, Séraphie, and, as I remembered the anger in his eyes as he stared Holmes down, Villard as well… they all seemed to take the idea seriously.

My gaze drifted up to the rectangle of light in the distance and the shadow of the mannequin there on the curtain. “I don’t really understand how such a thing might have come about,” I said, feeling my way through the words. “I’ve only known Francois a little more than two days, yet I am more grateful for having met him than I would have thought possible. His is a remarkably generous spirit. And he seems to truly value my judgment.”

Holmes pursed his lips. “You haven’t actually answered my question, Doctor.” He hesitated for the space of a breath. “Or have you?”

I shook my head quickly, despite the surge of pain at my temple. “Holmes, what I feel for Francois is friendship and nothing more.” I met his level gaze. “I hope you and he are still friends. He’s a good man. And he admires you enormously.”

“Hum. I think you may find he’s revised his opinion,” Holmes said, his voice impassive. “We have recently said a number of things to one another that will be difficult to overlook.”

I thought back to Villard reading to me from the rust-colored book of poetry. “I’m sure he understands,” I said.

Holmes cleared his throat. “You know it’s not just friendship on his side.”

I shook my head. “That’s something I suppose I’ll have to discuss with Francois. There’s been far too much left unsaid as it stands.”

“Yes, that’s certainly true.” He exhaled a long breath and turned his gaze up between the breeze-tossed limbs of the trees toward the blue satin sky. “I suppose much of this could have been avoided if I’d just kissed you there in the garden. I wanted to.” He gave a little shake of his head and his gaze drifted to the trees behind me. “But you were so distant.”

“I had just decided I’d been an utter fool for six years,” I said.

He refocused on my face as a frown creased his forehead.

“I was sure I’d misread your intentions that night in the train from Birmingham,” I said quietly.

He inhaled sharply. “But… why?”

I gave him a small smile. “I have had my perceptions rather challenged lately. I’ve had to adjust to some… surprising revelations. Not always with a clear head, it seems.”

He studied my face for a long moment. “John, I know I owe you many explanations, but there is one thing, at least, that must be perfectly clear and free from misinterpretation.”

He moved to touch my cheek with his fingertips, guiding my face toward his. Our lips met and I felt his hand slip under my jacket to the small of my back, pulling me closer. His kiss was infinitely, painfully slow and careful as his lips moved from mine to trace lightly along my jaw and down to skim the edge of my collar.

My hands gripped his shoulders and I felt his breath quicken against my throat before his mouth reclaimed mine in an urgent, searching kiss that set my head swimming. When at last he broke away his eyes were closed and he inhaled deeply as if breathing in the moment. My own breath caught in my throat at the sight. His eyes fluttered open. They shone like pools of mercury.

“Yes,” I said thoughtfully. “If you’d kissed me like that in the garden, it would have clarified things.” A smile spread across my face. “And it would have startled Moran terribly.”

Holmes gave a snort. “I’d imagine he might have missed his shot by a wider margin.”

He stepped back and his gaze drifted past my shoulder again. I realized he was looking toward the Tower that would be visible as a set of silver lacework arcs between the trees. The thought sparked a memory.

I studied his face as I said slowly, “Holmes, what Séraphie said as we were leaving. About you taking care… She whispered something else. Something you couldn’t hear. She said I shouldn’t let you go to the Tower. Why would she say such a thing if there was no real danger?”

His eyes met mine and I saw a flicker of something in their gray depths that was gone so quickly I might have thought I’d imagined it were not my attention so fixed on his every fleeting expression.

His jaw tightened before the mask of impassivity fell back into place. “She was simply playing her part. I have mentioned that she is a skilled actress.”

My eyes narrowed. “Yes, I admit that statement gave me pause,” I said. “I doubted her motives for a moment, but I was wrong to do so. A courtesan, she may be, but she is also a very courageous woman. I don’t imagine Moran would be pleased if he learned of her bargain with you.”

Holmes frowned. “Surely you don’t think I’d put her in unnecessary danger merely for the sake of my own skin.”

“I don’t,” I agreed. “That’s why I wonder what else was in your mind when you negotiated her betrayal of Moran’s strategy.”

“Your thinking may still be a bit muddled, old boy,” he said mildly. “It is just as I said. Séraphie will tell Moran the hunt should be scratched for tonight. We will have other opportunities to take him. The Morans are a very patient family. I’d imagine it comes from hunting tigers. On one point you’re quite right. You shouldn’t underestimate Séraphie’s regard for you. That’s why I gave in to her wish to go in to see you privately before we left. Did she say anything else that might be considered a warning?”

As I thought back over our last conversation, nothing of the same sort came to mind and I saw Holmes’s posture relax marginally in the silence.

“But I know she was trying to tell me something important,” I persisted. I glanced around at the copse of trees that surrounded us. “Holmes, why are we hiding here among the trees if there’s no danger? Why were you worried that we’d be visible in the moonlight? There’s more to this than you’re saying.”

When I looked back at him, Holmes’s gaze shifted abruptly to mine. My eyes narrowed and I peered over my shoulder toward the Tower.

The persistent humming in my ears rose in pitch. “’This is no time for sight-seeing,’” I said, echoing his earlier words.

“That’s correct. It is not,” Holmes said abruptly and thrust his hands into his pockets. “I think we’ve kept Villard and his men up late enough tonight. And I would guess…” He glanced up at the hotel window. “Yes, while we’ve been engaged in this very diverting conversation the mannequin has not moved for several minutes. We may assume Séraphie is safely away and Moran with her. Villard will be growing anxious by this time. Before he storms the hotel it might be prudent to find him and let him know he may call off the hunt. If you’d be so kind, I think he might take it better coming from you. Give him my apologies. Tell him I admit I was wrong, that Moran clearly wasn’t waiting. That should please him enormously. You will find him near the eastern edge of the park. Meanwhile, I shall spend a few minutes questioning some of the hotel staff about loiterers in the lobby. Your description of Moran should prove useful. Afterwards,” he said, flashing a brief smile. “Perhaps we could resume this conversation.”

He bit his lip then in the same strange gesture he’d made before and something in his posture sent a chill through me. His hands were thrust in his pockets, his expression curiously expectant as he gazed past my shoulder. The picture was horribly familiar. My stomach lurched as I recognized it and the humming in my ears echoed with the sound of boiling white water.

“This night has not been a fiasco at all, has it,” I breathed. “It’s worked out even better than you could have hoped.” Pain seared behind my eyes. I reached up to scrub a hand across my forehead. I felt a trickle of wetness at my temple.

“John?” Holmes began and moved toward me.

“Stop,” I said stepping back. “You’ll not get around this.”

He took a quick step forward and caught my chin with his fingertips. He studied my eyes. A frown creased his forehead. “You don’t look– are you well?”

“Concussion,” I said tightly. “Do you mean it wasn’t obvious? I’ll have to reevaluate my own acting skills.”

His jaw tightened. “Why didn’t you tell me before? You have to go,” he said. “Now.” He reached for my elbow and I stepped back.

“No. Not if we have a chance to end this tonight. You’re to meet Moran at the Tower. That’s the message Séraphie is really delivering, isn’t it?” His lips parted, but before he could argue I said, “I can’t let you go alone. Not this time. Not again. And I don’t think you’ll take a chance on making the situation worse by trying to knock me down, so just tell me the plan. And hurry. Time must be running out. He may come looking for you if you fail to appear.”

He reached for my shoulder, but I shrugged him off. “No, John, wait,” he said urgently. “There is no master plan. I’m no wiser than I was then. But it doesn’t matter if I catch Moran tonight. It’s not important.”

I stared. “Not important… Three years, Holmes. If it’s not important then where did those three years go?” I took a steadying breath. “Nothing has changed, has it? You’re still behaving as if you’re in this alone. Can’t you see it’s no more true now that it was then? And this time, it’s not just me. Francois. Séraphie. Are we all just pawns to be swept from the board at your convenience?”

“John,” he breathed. “Listen. Let me–”

“Let you what?” My voice was rising and I struggled to keep from shouting. “Explain? How can you explain doing this to me again? How can you justify trying to make me walk away just like before? Have you no human feeling at all? Can you even begin to know– ”

My words broke off as Holmes took a quick step forward. I tried to back away, but he caught me around the waist, throwing me off balance and pulling me against him. Even as I tried to shove him away, he bent toward me. His lips brushed my ear.

“You’re wrong,” he said under his breath. “On several counts. And I will knock you down if I have to because the risk is less than giving in. I can’t take the chance, John. I can’t. Try to understand. I love you.”

Stunned, I felt his shoulders stiffen too late. Before I could pull away, the heel of his hand connected with my jaw. Bright pain flared as white light exploded behind my eyes and then there was only darkness.

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I stood at the bottom of the path to Reichenbach Falls. Holmes was at the knife’s edge of the cliff, staring down into the churning, crushing torrent. White mist boiled up around him.

I cried out a wordless shout of warning. He looked up and met my eyes. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear over the scream of the Falls. I stumbled down the ragged path, desperately calling his name.

My feet caught on the broken rocks and I fell forward. When I looked again, Holmes was gone. I staggered to the edge of the chasm. Nothing marked the spot where he’d been, not even footprints. I faced into the stinging spray and screamed out my rage.

“It’s not too late, my ange,” a sweet voice beside me whispered. I spun toward the sound and found Séraphie, gold and pink against the gray stones. “Tell me quickly,” she said. “Who do you choose?”

“Holmes,” I breathed.

She smiled, her sea green eyes shining. “Yes. Go to him, cher.”

I turned toward the yawning chasm. I didn’t want to fall. Not alone. But that was how it happened, wasn’t it? You had to fall alone.

Séraphie whispered in my ear, “You will not have far to look, John. He is waiting.”

I stepped out into emptiness. As I crashed through the icy water and watched the sunlight split into silver fragments high above me, flowing back together into a blanket of white, I felt no pain, no fear. There was only a spreading sense of peace as everything was washed away in white silence.

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Author’s Note: So this chapter was a surprise. See, what happened was, the chapter 11 I originally wrote, I was pretty happy with. It had a really cool action sequence and was an exciting capper to Part 2. It had air guns and fisticuffs and death-defying stunts and all kinds of nifty things.

What was really fun, to me, was that instead of taking place on the Tower (which is a nightmare to justify given all those steps) it took place in the elevator works under the Tower. So not only did it have a neat steam-punk vibe, it was weird. It was kind of inspired by the climax of the movie “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford. And, like I said, I was pretty pleased with it.

Sadly, while I was editing this chapter, a crazy idea popped into my head – what would happen if I took out the action sequence? Like an idiot, I tried it and… nothing happened. The chapter was perfectly happy to be unencumbered by my really cool, slam-bang, steam-punk finale. I was sad. But what could I do? There was no point shoving it in to be stubborn about it. The only lingering oddity is that now there’s an Eiffel Tower just standing around looking pretty. Which is okay because that’s what it does in real life, but it’s a little annoying anyway.

So the action sequence is gone… for now (she said ominously). If you’ve stuck around this long you may not be entirely shocked to find out I’m thinking about a sequel to this thing. (And if you are shocked, you won’t be by the time you finish Chapter 12.) There’s a good chance if I lose my mind and do the sequel you’ll see the missing action sequence there. Although it won’t take place at the Eiffel Tower because that would be a bit silly even for me. Instead there’s another setting under Paris I’ve been wanting to use and it could be even more fun. We’ll see. That’s down the road.

What’s coming next is Part 3. Just so you know, it’s now got 6 chapters. As promised, it’s quite romantical and a little racy in spots. Several chapters will be rated R (tho still pretty tame). You’ll have to have a tiny bit of patience at the start of Chapter 12, I’m afraid. There are still some loose ends to tie up and a couple of new hares to start. But there’s a fun and romantical mini-cliff hanger at the end of it, so that’s nice.

Overall, Part 3 should be a welcome change of pace. If you count angst, trains, angst, blighted love, angst, and a few bright spots as a change of pace. Hmm.

Any road, thanks for taking a look at this and thanks for reading in general. See you soon.

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-«oOo»-
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~ Coming Soon ~
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Part 3: Chansons and Souvenirs

Chapter Twelve: Pleasure and Train

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