Chapter Thirty-Four:

Dinner that night was uncomfortable and strained. At least as far as Skinner had noticed. Mary and Kate said nothing the entire meal and glared at each other. Jane was silent for the most part, only occasionally answering her mother who had been chatting animatedly with Holmes, who, in his turn, kept tapping on the table top beside his plate in various patterns. Kate, Skinner noticed, was glancing at Holmes' dancing fingers and would occasionally tap her fingers whenever Holmes would stop. Skinner could only assume they were speaking to each other in Morse Code.

All Skinner could think of during the course of the meal was what possible punishments Kate could have been concocting for him. He knew that the bruised nose she gave him couldn't be all she was planning for him. The injury he paid her was catastrophic in retrospect. Marrying her sister was basically the worst thing he could have done to her. He saw her murder people for much less than that. And he was scared out of his mind.

After dinner, Kate complained of a headache and excused herself to bed. Holmes on the other hand, made his way to the library and sat down to read. Skinner followed him in hopes of getting any information about Kate out of him. "Mr. Holmes," he said, pouring himself a brandy. He sat in a winged armchair across from Holmes.

"Mr. Skinner," Holmes replied without looking up from his book. The two men sat in silence for several minutes before Holmes said, "I don't know what exactly you had with Miss Bennett, but your marriage to her sister has insulted her beyond all compare. You ought to watch your back."

"So, she's planning on killing me, then?" Skinner asked, trying to remain calm. But his hands shook.

"The thought had crossed her mind," Holmes answered, closing his book. "After all, when an ArchAngel willing surrenders their Grace to become Mortal for the sake of the one they love, they tend to lose their temper when they've discovered that the one they love has decided to love someone else entirely. You would do well to be on your guard. Do not seek her out to explain yourself. Do not seek her out to apologise. Do not seek her out to make your excuses. She doesn't want to hear it."

"I suppose she told you this," Skinner said softly, his fear and dread growing.

Holmes nodded. "During dinner," he said. "You'll find that Kate and I have the odd habit of communicating through Morse Code during dinner. You should know she is furious with you. She feels utterly and entirely betrayed." He stood and, leaving his book on his chair, left the library.

After waiting a moment to make sure Holmes wouldn't return, Skinner stood and looked at the book the consulting detective was reading: The Study of a Peculiar Mind by Sherlock Holmes. Flipping through it, his eyes caught a passage. Pausing, he read through it, his eyes growing wide. "Holy… shit," he muttered, dropping the book.

Five minutes later, Skinner found himself standing outside Kate's room, something urging him to go inside. When he noticed one of the maids walking down the hall, directly towards him, he turned Invisible, extending his Invisibility to his clothing, a skill he had perfected without Mary's knowledge, and hoped that she was heading towards Kate's room. She stopped beside him and knocked softly on the door, inches from his arm. "Begging your pardon, Miss," the maid said, holding out fresh linens for the basin. Skinner quickly ducked under the maid's outstretched arms and into the room.

"The ones I have will suit me just fine, thank you," Kate said sharply, shutting the door on the maid. She muttered something under her breath and walked to the window, pulling her dressing gown tightly about her shoulders.

Skinner watched her as she soundlessly and motionlessly stared out the window for ten or more minutes until a second knock at the door was heard. The door opened without Kate's permission and Holmes entered, shutting the door silently behind him. "He's read it, Kate," he said gently. "The passage you wanted him to read; he's read it. He knows what you're capable of." He crossed to her side. "Are you all right?"

"What streak of madness lies inside of me?" she whispered, still keeping her gaze out the window. "What is the truth my fears conceal? What evil force makes Ana Pryde of me? What darker side of me does she reveal? What is this strange obsession that's tearing me apart? This strange, deranged expression of what's in my heart." She looked up at Holmes. "Am I the girl that I appear to be? Or am I someone I don't know? I feel some monster drawing near to me, becoming clear to see… Will what I fear to be… be so?"

"Kathryn, listen to me," Holmes said, taking her shoulders in his hands. "You are as you always have been. Ana Pryde is nothing to fear. She is the darker side of your existence and without her, you are not whole. Without her, you are not real."

"I don't feel real," she said. "I can't remember anything of being an Angel. I can barely remember why I hate Mary. I can hardly remember why I loved Skinner. Or James. Or you." She rubbed her face. "I feel so empty right now."

"Kathryn, it will all be all right, you'll see," Holmes said, reaching to pull her into a hug.

She pushed him away. "You don't understand!" she cried. "I can't win! I am what I am because I am what you and James have made me to be! I am a result of society's restrictions. Women aren't allowed to have minds of our own. And when we do, we're shunned from polite society. We have no options; we have no freedoms; we have no future to speak of! You—men are able to go to college to broaden your knowledge to pursue a career and make yourselves happy with all you have accomplished. All we can call accomplishments are the fine arts—piano, painting, singing, needlework, cards, reading. But when any one of us—me, Mina, Elizabeth—attempt to make something of our talents, we are hunted down like diseased stray cats!" She sighed. "There is no justice in this world," she muttered.

It seemed Holmes almost allowed himself to smile. "Of course there is no justice," he replied, crossing to her side. He gently held her, his chin resting on her shoulder. "If there were, you would be dead."

"I'm well aware of that fact," she said briskly. "I'm also quite certain we are leaving for London in the morning, whether Mr. Skinner has come to his senses or not. I cannot stand to be in this house a moment longer. Beside the fact that you and I need to return to work. We've received a new case, have we not?"

"Ah, yes," Holmes said, releasing Kate and pulling a letter from his pocket. "The death of Lady Laura Glyde. According to the letter from the poor Lady's sister—" he opened the letter and read from it "—the circumstances surrounding the so-called 'accident' are suspicious and Miss Halcombe—the sister—wishes us to investigate the late Sir Percival Glyde and his friend and business partner, the late Count Fosco."

"So many dead persons involved in this case, Holmes," Kate said, draping her dressing gown across the back of the chair by the fireplace, leaving her to walk about the room in her shift, bloomers and corset as she readied for bed. Skinner could feel his cheeks flush with the memory of how she made him feel in the past. Then guilt quickly bubbled over the current lust as he remembered how he had betrayed her love for him. "Lady Glyde perished nearly seven years ago. Why is Miss Halcombe pressing us to investigate?"

"Perhaps because she needs to feel justified for hating two dead men," Holmes replied, returning the letter to his pocket and removing his jacket. The two readied for bed in silence while Skinner pondered their relationship. They were too comfortable with each other to be merely neighbours or business partners or even close friends. He thought perhaps they had been more than dearest friends to each other in their past. Kate was promiscuous enough for it. Pushing the thoughts out of his mind, Skinner silently slipped out of the bedroom.

Suddenly, Holmes turned to face Kate while standing in his trousers and undershirt. He scrutinised her while she drew a brush through her golden brown curls. She looked into the mirror before her and saw him watching her. Setting down her brush, she said, "What is it, Holmes?"

He walked over to her and leaned on the back of her chair. "Your family was close to the Fairlies, weren't they?" he asked. She nodded and picked up her brush. "So it would stand to reason that your mother would know of any daughters or nieces Mr. Fairlie would have, am I correct?" Again, she nodded. "Then why is it as she prattled mindlessly on throughout dinner that she failed to recall any such sisters as Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe?"

"She is an old woman, Holmes," Kate said, dismissing the query lightly, setting her brush on the vanity once again. "Perhaps she merely forgot about their existence."

Holmes crossed around Kate and knelt beside her, taking her hands in his. "Kate, I want you to be honest with me now," he said softly and gently, but still with an air of seriousness about his tone. "Are you Lady Laura Glyde?"

Instinctively, her eyebrow arched in surprise. "Mr. Holmes, are you accusing me of assuming an alias to, for whatever reason, align myself with a baronet?" she asked. He didn't respond. "I will take your silence as a confirmation of my question. Now, to what point and purpose would it serve me to create two women, marry a man, kill him, marry his friend, kill him, and stage my death, when neither man really made much money to their names and they really were only con artists?"

"Honestly," he replied, the hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, "I have never attempted to fathom your thoughts." He gently kissed her cheek, stood and walked to the bed, where he turned back to look at her. "My offer from years ago still stands, Kate." He turned out his lamp and climbed into the bed.

Kate sat at the vanity for a moment or two, contemplating what had just happened. She felt a storm of emotions whirling inside her. Sighing softly, she turned out her own lamp and carefully walked to the bed without tripping over anything that she couldn't see in the darkness of the room. She paused at the edge of the bed before slipping under the covers and laid close to Holmes, her head resting on his shoulder as she said, "I know. Good night, Sherlock."