Chapter Sixteen: A Brave New World

29th November, 1890

"Detain us?" Holmes repeated, showing no emotion.

"Now just a moment!" Watson exclaimed.

"I hope, my dear doctor, that it shall be only that. Though of course that is entirely up to you." The old man held up a finger, and at that action, the younger men in the party bustled in to the room. Holmes took an easy step back, making no attempt to stop them.

Calmly walking past them all, the white bearded old man seated himself in the chair Holmes had been occupying only moments before. His young compatriot took up a position beside him, clearly guarding him as the door was closed and the two friends were sealed in with their French visitors.

Watson's moustache twitched as he ground his jaw, his deep irritation plain to see. "This is hardly the time, gentlemen!" he told them forcefully. "Holmes here has a far more pressing engagement!"

"One must admire the upper middle classes of the English." Whitebeard smiled, glancing up at his young guard as he took off his gloves with easy grace. "Ever concerned with the niceties, even in the face of what appears to be considerable peril." His gloves removed, he turned his gaze back to the doctor. "I assure you, we are quite aware of that, Dr. Watson."

"I'm sure you are," Holmes spoke after a moment. "In fact, I'd venture to say it has been factored precisely into the timing of your visit."

Whitebeard smiled at him. "You really are more than I hoped, Mr. Holmes. I rude and unromantic as it may are correct. Your fiancée's party is even now on its way to the church, and we hoped that the...urgency...of your engagement might hasten you to a quick decision in advance of your departure."

Holmes took the few short steps to stand before him. "A calculated gamble, sir. It may also anger me and make me less inclined to give you any decision at all...let alone one that pleases you."

"Here, here!" Watson agreed.

Shifting, Holmes sat down in what had been Watson's chair. "Still, a request for a decision indicates that least initially...are not here to harm us. You have a proposition?"

"I do." The old man nodded before looking to Watson. "Please, Doctor, pray be seated."

Glancing over at Holmes, the doctor made to protest, but decided against it and stiffly took a seat, his back iron rigid.

"Before we begin," Holmes said conversationally, "might I compliment you, sir, on your network of informants and infiltrators. Only once or twice this past while have I felt in any way observed or tracked, and even then it was only fleetingly and no more than usual in my work. You must have made good use of the denizens of the city in order to keep track of us. Though I dare say in your profession that is standard."

"In my profession, Mr. Holmes?" Whitebeard enquired, still smiling enigmatically. "And what might that be?"

The detective sat back in his chair. "I feared at first that you were little more than the employees of some disgruntled past quarry of mine, seeking to take a timely revenge. But I should have been less hasty. While you yourself and the young gentleman are most elegantly dressed, your men here," he glanced towards the two on the door, "are wearing standard issue heavy soled French military shoes. Their coats, though of different colours and middling material, are of surprisingly good cut and undoubtedly from Ibanez & De Clerc, who are noted for their use in French civil service circles. I would say you are all employees of the Government of the French Republic...and from the mix of military and civilian attire on your men and your particular intelligence gathering expertise, I would say the Ministry of the Interior? From your deftness, a very specialised section within it. And from the ring upon your finger, sir..." he addressed the old man, "I would say you are its highly decorated head." Holmes inclined his head. "I am honoured you should be personally scrutinising me. But also somewhat puzzled."

"Puzzled?" Whitebeard repeated, once more giving nothing away.

"A venerable and decorated member of the Légion d'honneur sent to scrutinise me? Why? I have worked for the French government before. I have also been decorated by them, if not as prestigiously as you. They know my work; why the subterfuge? Am I suspected of something?" Holmes enquired, frowning slightly.

Whitebeard smiled again. "Merely an excess of reputation with little hard fact to back it up."

Holmes bristled, his pride not taking kindly to that at all. "I trust..." he said in far colder tones, "that this last while, under your observation, has put pay to that notion?"

"Oh quite..." the elderly agreed amiably, not reacting to the detective's annoyance. "In fact, I have been most impressed with both you and the good doctor. Though, with his pardon, we have decided we only require your services."

Watson frowned, still highly suspicious of the French men, that little announcement not allaying his qualms one bit. "And what, pray tell, do you need Holmes's services for?"

"Alas, dear Doctor, I am not at the moment at liberty to divulge the exact circumstances of the case Mr. Holmes undertaking on our part. That...shall be revealed to him, when he and his charming new wife..." he took out his watch from his waistcoat pocket to glance at it, emphasising the time, "visit our capital upon their honeymoon."

"So you know our destination too..." Holmes shook his head with a wry smile. "Naturally you do. Just as you appear to have known everything else. I am surprised, however, at the ease with which you infiltrated the Duchess's home. She spent much time on security, and invitations were closely numbered and secretly dispersed. Her servants have been with her years and are completely loyal." Enlightenment flashed upon his features. "Ahhh..." he breathed, relaxing, "how foolish of me. With fonts of information on individuals to your credit and the deep pockets you undoubtedly have, it should have been no trouble at all to source a weak point within her cadre…a trusted point of influence and information with far shallower pockets than yours. I trust the high living but impoverished Mr. Scott was well paid for allowing your man here access to the grounds and the well as all our wedding and travel arrangements?"

"Mr. Scott? The Duchess's own great-nephew?" Watson exclaimed, his eyes wide with surprise and shock at the revelation, before his jaw tightened once again as the desire to give the young nobleman a good thrashing swept through him.

A low chuckle came from the old man. "Mr. Holmes, I never reveal my sources as a matter of professional courtesy."

Holmes smiled nonetheless, confirmation enough in his own mind. "I confess, sir, that I should be furious at this point, and indeed a part of me is irked in the extreme...but I believe that after all this time watching me you have stumbled across the point of my greatest weakness."

"Curiosity and novelty?" Whitebeard ventured lightly.

Holmes steepled his fingers in response. " cannot expect me to either delay my wedding or interrupt my time in Paris with my bride to undertake something I have not the slightest understanding of. And you have still not answered my question as to why any of this was necessary."

Whitebeard grew more serious. "Because, Mr. Holmes, this is no ordinary matter. The work you have done for the French government has been sensitive, yes, but only sensitive to individual members of the government or to key areas of industry dealing with mere scandal or crime. This is altogether something more serious. This is something I would normally never dream of handing over to any it has to do with the national security of France itself.

"Needless to say, given the history of our two countries, an Englishman would be my last choice. But despite all my reservations, your name kept cropping up again and again...until I had to investigate your abilities for myself...and assess your trustworthiness," his violet eyes regarded the detective unblinkingly, "as well as your ability to put aside your nationality, your loyalty to your home country, in order to keep our secrets in this one matter."

Holmes's eyes widened slightly, and at once, past the surprise, Watson could see the intrigue flare in them. However, Watson's brow furrowed at the idea. He'd known Holmes to aid other governments and even monarchs of other lands...but to put aside his loyalty to the Empire?

"We will need an undertaking from you, Mr. Holmes, before we begin, that what you learn will never be revealed to any source within the British Government..." Whitebeard arched an eyebrow, "and I include your estimable brother in that. Any information you glean while working with us shall not be imparted to any source that might use it against the French nation in anyway blackmail or application."

Holmes's fingers entwined slowly before he answered. "I would be lying if I did not say my interest in the matter is piqued." He rose and crossed to the fire, looking into the empty grating before turning back. "And you require this promise now?"

"I do," Whitebeard confirmed.

"In writing?"

"No." The old man stood to face him. "I believe your word will do admirably."

The detective did not hide his satisfaction at that, though his hands moved to clasp behind his back as he paced in further thought around the room.

"Holmes," Watson said both warily and in low warning, looking at his pocketwatch.

His friend held up his hand to the doctor, silencing him, aware of the time, but concerned with what was occurring here and now. Swinging around swiftly, he faced the visitors once more, firing his next question directly at the elderly man. "What is involved will put the British Empire at no threat?"

"It is of no threat to them whatsoever. Your government's not knowing will do no damage, I assure you..." Whitebeard replied. "Though should our nation come to grief, who knows the repercussions for Europe and the British? We have had almost a hundred years of peace between the great nations. But an upheaval in France...!" He shrugged, leaving the point hanging in typical Gallic fashion.

Watson watched his friend closely, and though his irritation was lessening with his own growing curiosity, the urgency of where they both needed to be was not making him partial to this conversation.

Holmes raised his chin, eyeing the man. "Very well..." He moved to pick up his top hat before returning to stand before Whitebeard, extending his hand. "You have my interest and your promise."

Pleased, Whitebeard shook his hand on the bargain.

"Besides..." Holmes said as they did so, "how could I refrain from working with the near mythical Comté de Crenne? Spymaster extraordinare? I must admit, sir, I thought you long dead."

The Comté blinked in surprise as Holmes left him in mid handshake.

"Come, Watson! I believe we have a wedding to attend!" he called as he headed for the door.

The doctor stood rapidly and grabbed his own hat as he rushed to follow his friend.

But the two burly men at the door stood firm, looking to the Comté who was still rather surprised if gradually growing more pleased at Holmes's unveiling of his identity. Few had ever heard of him, and most of those assumed he was just a fabrication or, as Holmes had pointed out, long dead. He gestured slightly to them and they moved aside. "Congratulations on your wedding, Mr. Holmes, and good fortune on your marriage." He bowed to them. "I look forward to meeting you again in Paris. One of my men will be in contact."

With a tip of his hat to the man, Holmes exited the room and bolted down the stairs, passing the bewildered boy coming carefully up with the cognac. "How are we for time, Watson?" Holmes called back.

"We'll have to run! No time for a sedate carriage ride!" the doctor replied. "She should be arriving there at any moment!"

"Nonsense!" Holmes smiled as he skidded to a halt outside the inn, seeming to enjoy the sudden rush. "We shall take the carriage, and I shall drive!"

Watson paused to catch a breath. "Holmes...we don't have time..."

His friend ignored him, clambering up on the driver's seat. "Off you get!" he told the startled driver of the rig, grabbing the reins from him and gently but firmly guiding him down. "A change of plans! You can collect the carriage at the rear of the church!" He looked back at the doctor and held out his hand. "Well come on, man!"

Watson opened his mouth but promptly closed it. Snorting back a laugh, he grabbed the detective's hand and let him help hoist him up next to him. "Let's go then!" the doctor exclaimed.

Holmes smiled broadly at his friend as he grasped the reins more firmly. "Hold on!" he warned, the enthusiasm spilling into his voice, as he brought the leather down on the backs of the horses and pulling the whip out of the holder, cracked it over their heads, setting them off at a rapid pace.

Careening down the thankfully empty street, they turned the corner into rather more traffic at an alarmingly wide curve, barely getting back onto the right side of the street to avoid a collision with an oncoming brewer's cart. The calls of the driver echoing back at them, they charged down the narrowish streets of St. Albans, holding onto their hats, the spire of the church the focus of their attention, the distance covered in breathtaking and breakneck speed.

"Are you sure about taking this job on, Holmes?" Watson called over the thunder of the hooves and wheels, holding on for dear life. "I mean not being able to tell anyone?"

"If it conspires to be anything I feel shall hurt the interests of this country you need have no fear that I shall be part of it, Watson!" Holmes returned loudly.

The doctor nodded, sure of his friend in that regard. "What ever will Helen think? On her honeymoon yet!"

Holmes smiled a little before answering him over the din, "She will soon be the wife of the world's foremost consulting detective. Think of it as the first great test of her readiness for the role!"

Watson shook his head, a great empathy for Helen's future in that regard more than present from his own experiences. "And what are we to do about Cameron Scott?"

"Do?" Holmes whipped the reins again, calling back. "Not a thing! We have no hard proof of his accepting money, nor has any exact harm been done! He was under no obligation to us except that of his honour. Of which we now know he has little. I would rather not invite a dispute over the matter today of all days. I fancy neither the Duchess nor Helen would thank us for it!"

"Good point!" Watson agreed, tilting into another sharp turn, his hands clutching the rail of the seat beside him.

The horses skidded to a halt just out of sight of the front of the church, the two men having to dig their feet into the brake board to stop from being pitched off. Wrapping the reins around the driver's post, Holmes jumped down. "Hop to it, Watson! They've arrived!" He pointed at the bridal carriage just pulling up.

"Imagine that!" his friend replied with a look, having only mentioned the possibility of that occurrence several times already. Shaking his head, he gave Holmes a wide smile and clap on the arm and handed him the ring. "Good luck, old man."

Returning his smile and with a similar clap on the back, Holmes nodded, sliding the band into his waistcoat pocket. "I shall see you inside."

Watson gave a quick nod before jogging off towards the front.

Straightening his waistcoat, Holmes took a brief second glance towards the arriving carriage before looking to the path to the vestry across the way from him. Standing unmoving for a long moment, he finally nodded quietly and tucked his top hat under his arm before walking unhurriedly across the road to enter the church grounds through the small rear gate.

Helen inhaled slowly as the carriage drew to a halt, trying to still the nerves in her stomach that had made her already make two discreet trips to the WC since arising that morning.

Fidgeting with her gown, she watched as her brothers leapt from the carriage, Andrew getting dirt on his patent leather shoes and mussing the shine. But any words of reprove stilled on her lips as they both held out their hands gallantly to assist the ladies from the carriage, trying to keep the grins from their faces and behave like little gentlemen.

Margaret's smile, though, was broad as she took Matthew's hand and let him help her down. "Why thank you, my good sir," she told him, inclining her head as Andrew helped Emily from the carriage, his cheeks flushing a little at the pretty girl's touch.

"Do you think it's going to rain, Grandma Alice?" Matthew enquired, looking up at the sky as he helped the older woman down.

"Not at all, Matthew," Margaret replied hastily in Alice's stead, seeing the alarmed expression begin to form on her friend's face. "We are in for a perfectly dry and wonderful day, I am sure," she said emphatically.

Helen took another long slow breath as she shifted to take Andrew's hand, only to notice someone was missing. "Where's John?" she asked, a hint of worry in her voice, her stomach flip-flopping again.

"Here!" came the rather breathless response as the man in question walked briskly the last few steps, having slowed down from his jog. "I just went to take a cigarette away from the church..." he dissembled, glad his rather red face hid the flush of a lie, "and wandered a little further than I planned. Apologies. Helen, you look marvellous!" he enthused, changing the subject rapidly and in the sincerest way possible, taking her in with admiration.

Helen's cheeks flushed as she gave him a pleased and nervous smile. "Thank you," she replied gratefully as Andrew moved aside to let Watson help her down.

"Might I take a liberty as the best man and request the bride's first kiss of the day?" he enquired with smiling eyes once she had descended, still holding her gloved hands in his.

"Of course," she agreed, her eyes shining with happiness as she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Thank you for all you have done," she told him gratefully after pulling back, squeezing his hands, "and all you have yet to do."

Inhaling again, Helen was thankful that Margaret took that moment to hand her the best man's boutonnière. "Now...before I start making a tearful spectacle of myself, which really won't do at all, let us see if I can pin this on straight." She flashed the doctor a smile as she set about carefully pinning the favour on his lapel.

Watson smiled down at the special bridal favour, traditional for the best man. "I think that looks perfectly perpendicular..." he assured her before his look turned gentle. "Are you ready?"

She smiled up at him, nervous and jubilant all at once. "I believe so."

He nodded encouragingly at her as he smiled, immensely happy for them both. "He is waiting for you," he told her quietly. "I think a great deal longer than he knows." He took a step away from her and shared his smile among them all. "I shall inform them of your arrival." Turning, he headed into the church.

The interior of St. Albans Cathedral from mid main aisle to altar was festooned with white. Ribbons and lace hung from each pew, and massive bouquets of white roses and carnations decorated either side of the main altar, a fine spectacle for the relatively tiny and highly private congregation almost lost therein. No marriage had been advertised either in the banns or in the newsletter, so only a few passers by in the town noticed anything out of the ordinary, the privacy fully maintained elsewhere in the nation in accordance with Holmes's agreement with the press.

The groom himself, dressed in his dark grey morning coat, brocaded vest of black, and dark grey trousers, with folded pearl cravat, tightened his matching pearl coloured gloves, aligning their black embroidery with no trace of nerves as he emerged from the vestry with the vicar to stand at the altar. Watson, arriving from the main door, gave him a wide-eyed look of relief, barely able to believe still that the entire affair had not been completely disrupted. Taking his place beside the groom, he adjusted the favour of white ribbon, flowers, lace, and silver leaves on his shoulder that Helen had pinned there just moments before.

The vicar greeted him with a polite nod, which was returned by both men, and then acknowledged the small congregation of family and friends with similar silent greeting. A younger man, he had been surprised to be appointed to the ministry for the wedding by the bishop, whom he would have expected to take the task with so significant a number of notables in the invitees. But then he had been informed of the discretion required, the bishop making himself notably and publicly absent elsewhere that day and leaving both the wedding and the task of dealing with the Duchess's 'advice' to him.

Even with the small size of the congregation, it was obvious to see that the bride's side was significantly more populated then the groom's. In fact on the groom's side sat the sum total of Mary Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, who had declined the honour of a groomsman's position in favour of a more comfortable sojourn on a pew, and behind them sat Inspector and Mrs. Lestrade, there at Helen's express invitation. While she did not care for the man, Helen knew he was not totally without esteem in her fiancé's eyes. On the bride's side sat her mother, her mother's sister Helen's Aunt Estelle, Sir Nicholas, the Grufstreds, Sarah and Roger, Benjamin and Elizabeth Day, whose daughter Emily was acting as flower girl for Helen, and in elegant pomp and presiding over all, her mere presence flustering the vicar, sat the Duchess of Monmouth, accompanied by her nephew.

The vicar, glancing nervously at her over his missal, assessed the situation and on seeing everyone was ready, and having received the indication from the best man that the bride was here, raised his chin towards the church's standing usher, who moved towards the entrance to prompt the arrival of the bridal party. On his return, the vicar signalled the organist above in the gallery, and the soft strains of Bach filled the high vaulted ceilings to accompany the bride on her walk up the aisle.

As the music played, Emily walked slowly down the aisle, her young face a picture of concentration as she scattered the rose petals over the walkway. She was followed by the eye-catching gracefulness of Lady Margaret, who on any other day might have been the focus of all admiring looks. But this was another's day, and as the music swelled further, Helen appeared, flanked on either side by twin red-heads in matching morning suits.

Her gown of lace and silk in a soft ivory tone and fashionable long puffed sleeves adorned her as if it were a second skin, hiding and accentuating perfectly, and was complimented by satin slippers that had just the tiniest of heels. Her long, lace veil covered her face and came to a rest where her short train did...about a meter behind her. Her hands, which were wrapped around her brothers' arms, were clad in ivory gloves, ensuring that no sign of skin would be visible on this day.

Standing fore square onto the altar, Holmes and his best man kept their eyes forward, as was the custom, while those behind them turned to watch the bride's approach admiringly.

The party moved slowly but surely to the altar, the delay due to Matthew who insisted on counting under his breath the appropriate time lag between steps, and an awkwardly sedate Andrew doing all in his power to not stand on his sister's dress. When they finally arrived, it was all the boys could do not to sigh in relief.

Holmes, however, remained still and stoic, though the music and her approach seemed endless, until finally out of the corner of his eye he could see a flash of ivory just to the rear of his peripheral vision as the boys stopped just behind him.

Opening his missal, the vicar looked around at the small if prestigious group and then to the words in his hands. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the presence of this company, to unite Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Miss Helen Thurlow in holy matrimony. Marriage was ordained by God in Eden and confirmed in Cana of Galilee by the presence of the Lord Himself and is declared by the inspired Apostle Paul to be honourable among all men. It is, therefore, not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, soberly and in the fear of God."

He looked towards Helen and her entourage. "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

"We do!" chorused the boys.

"And her mama!" added Andrew.

The vicar raised a rather severe eyebrow at that last bit, levelling a look at the boy, who blushed and looked down with embarrassment. Clearing his throat, the vicar ushered them forward with their sister, as Matthew leaned around her to frown at his brother and huff at the loss of their perfect performance.

Taking her forward that final step, the boys looked up at Holmes, who finally turned his head to his bride and held out his gloved hand into which her brothers, both together, slipped hers, officially handing her over to him. Closing his hand around hers and drawing her arm around his, he gazed down at her through the veil, the beginnings of a smile on his face and only turning his eyes away when the vicar spoke again.

"Marriage is a joyous occasion. It is connected in our thoughts with the magic charm of home and with all that is pleasant and attractive as being one of the most important events of our lives. It is sacredness and unity. It is like the mystical relation between Christ and His Church and is therefore the most significant and binding covenant known in human relations." He looked at the two in front of him, his eyes falling on Holmes.

"It is your duty, Sherlock, to be to Helen a considerate, tender, faithful, loving husband -- to support, guide, and cherish her in prosperity and trouble, to thoughtfully and carefully enlarge the place she holds in your life, to constantly show to her the tokens of your affection, to shelter her from danger, and to cherish for her a manly and unalterable affection. It being the command of God's Word that husbands love their wives, even as Christ loved the Church and gave His own life for her."

The vicar's eyes turned to Helen.

"It is your duty, Helen, to be to Sherlock a considerate, tender, faithful, loving wife -- to counsel, comfort, and cherish him in prosperity and trouble, to give to him the unfailing evidences of your affection, to study, as time passes, to make the place he holds in your heart, broader, and deeper, to reverence and obey him, and to put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in God's sight, an ornament of great price -- His Word commanding that wives be subject unto their own husbands even as the church is subject unto Christ -- and forsaking all others, to cling to him with a love which fails not as long as you both shall live."

Looking from one to the other, he said solemnly, "Let me charge you both to remember, that your future happiness is to be found in mutual consideration, patience, kindness, confidence, and affection. It is the duty of each to find the greatest joy in the company of the other and to remember that in interest as in affection you are to be henceforth one and undivided."

His gaze rose once more to take in the congregation. "I ask you now...if there is any lawful or moral impediment to the joining of this man to this woman, speak of it now...or forever hold your peace."

The silence was profound.

With a nod, the vicar turned back to the couple. "If you are ready to assume the obligations and duties before God as I have defined them, you will unite your hands and pledge your love and your lives to each other." Holmes moved Helen's hand from his arm and took it once more in his as the vicar asked, "Do you, Sherlock Holmes, standing in the presence of God and these witnesses, solemnly pledge your faith to Helen Thurlow? Do you promise to live with her according to God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her, and through God's grace to promise to be to her a faithful and devoted husband as long as you both shall live?"

Holmes turned his hazel eyes to her for a momentary pause before nodding slowly, his words clear and deliberate. "I do."

Those among the congregation who had never thought to see this moment glanced at each other with small smiles as one of the most confirmed bachelors in existence unreservedly gave up his freedom.

"And do you, Helen Thurlow, standing in the presence of God and these witnesses, solemnly pledge your faith to Sherlock Holmes? Do you promise to live with him according to God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honour, and obey him, subjecting yourself to his counsel in all things while aiding him always, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him, and through God's grace to promise to be to him a faithful, gentle, mild, and loving wife as long as you both shall live?"

Helen's eyes had not left his since he had spoken, and with a smile, her eyes shining with tears, she replied with a clear voice, "I do."

From the Book of Prayer, the vicar picked up the ring given to him earlier in the vestry by the groom. It was a plain gold band, but on the interior engraved in beautifully intertwining calligraphy were the initials of the couple and the date of their wedding. Holding it up, he showed the congregation.

"The wedding ring is the outward and the visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond which unites two hearts in endless love. The circle, the emblem of eternity; the gold, the type of what is least tarnished and most enduring -- it is to show how lasting and imperishable is the faith now pledged. Let the ring, a fit token of that which is unending, continue to be to you both a symbol of the value, the purity, and the constancy of true wedded love, and the seal of the vows in which you have both pledged your most solemn and sacred honour."

In response to the vicar's indication, the groom turned to his bride and carefully opened the buttons on her glove, drawing it off her hand before turning back to the vicar, who handed him back the ring.

"Helen," said the vicar, "do you receive this ring in pledge of the same on your part?"

"I do," she answered, blinking back tears of joy and trying her best not to smile like a fool.

On her words, Holmes slipped the gold band onto her finger and wrapped her hand around his once more, drawing her close as they once more turned back to the vicar, his free hand covering her ring-bedecked one on his arm, stroking it imperceptibly.

Nodding in approval, the vicar turned his attention to the assembly once more. "By the authority committed unto me as a Minister of the Gospel of the Church of Christ, I declare that Sherlock and Helen are now man and wife together, according to the ordinance of God and the law of the Empire." He raised his hand and blessed them. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

"Dear ones, I strongly charge you both as man and wife, to preserve sacredly the privacies of your own home, your marriage state, and your heart. Remember our Lord's urgent counsel: 'What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.' Therefore, let no one ever presume to come between you, or to share the joys or the sorrows that belong to you two alone," he said to them both before smiling. "Go in peace."

The organist took up the wedding march as the couple turned, Holmes taking her arm once more, and they walked slowly down the aisle together towards the door, eyes never wavering to either side.

Once they arrived outside the church, Helen glanced up at her now husband and flashed him a smile. "That went well," she commented quietly.

Turning to her, he released her arm and carefully drew back her veil. "Yes," he agreed, looking down warmly on the face of his bride for the few fleeting moments they would be alone before everyone joined them. "Very well indeed."

Her smile widened as her eyes shone brightly, her face a picture of love.

His hand rose to touch her face, only for him to be disturbed by the arrival of her mother and brothers at the church door behind them, and straightening, he turned to face them as they, and then Watson and Mary, Mycroft, and the others appeared shortly after them.

"Mrs. Thurlow," Holmes inclined his head. "Boys."

Alice Thurlow smiled warmly at her new son-in-law, her amber eyes twinkling and yet still retaining their dreamy far away look. "Sherlock," she returned. "Welcome to the family."

"Thank you," he replied politely, "and you and the boys must of course consider yourselves part of mine." He glanced at his brother. "With my own brother's permission, naturally."

Mycroft gave him a sharp look before smiling courteously at Alice. "Indeed, madam…indeed."

"You are most gracious, Mr. Holmes," she returned with a nod and glanced down at Matthew and Andrew, who were busy peering at the line of guests forming and sneaking grins at their sister.

Andrew caught his adoptive grandmother's look and extended a hand to his new brother in law. "Congratulations!" he enthused.

Taking the boy's hand, Holmes allowed him to shake it vigorously. "Thank you, Andrew," he replied seriously and turned to take the more solemnly held out hand of Matthew.

"Congratulations, Mr. Holmes, welcome to the family," he copied Alice studiously.

Holmes grew even more serious, giving the boy a firm, grown up, business-like handshake as he inclined his head. "Thank you, Mr. Thurlow."

Matthew nodded and looked up at his sister. "Are you happy, Helen?" he asked her forthrightly.

Helen smiled down at her little brother and nodded. "Very," she assured him as Andrew grinned at her.

"We should return to the house, I think," Watson cut in, taking up his best man duties once more as he looked at the grey late November sky. "Get you underway so you can be there to greet your guests." He gestured towards the waiting open carriage with four white horses waiting to take them and her mother and two brothers back to the Twin Birches.

Helen nodded in agreement and turned to her husband. Proffering his arm to her, he led her to and helped her into the carriage before turning back to do the same for his mother-in-law. He then allowed the boys to clamber in before he too stepped in and sat beside his new wife.

"Hold hard there!" Roger strode forward from the small gathering of guests to address Holmes in the carriage. "I believe there's one thing yet, sir!"

Holmes regarded him with wary weariness, Roger's ebullience and bonhomie amusing at times to him and tiresome at others. "Indeed so?"

"A kiss, Mr. Holmes!" Roger slapped his hand on the carriage top. "A kiss!"

Helen blinked, partly having expected someone to mention it but also knowing that her husband was a private man, especially when it came to displays of physical affection. Her cheeks flushed as she tried to quickly think of a way to dissuade her cousin's husband from furthering his objective.

"By all means, Sir Roger," Holmes agreed. "Kiss whom you will. Though I suggest caution with your wife so nearby."

Roger chuckled. "Come, come, sir…you know perfectly well what I mean."

"I do," Holmes agreed. "And I thank you for the thought."

"But it's tradition!" Roger insisted. "You must kiss the bride! It's good luck!"

Helen bit her lip and tried to catch Sarah's eye, though it seemed her dear cousin had suddenly developed a fascination with looking elsewhere.

"What it is, sir, is a pandering to a voyeuristic streak in human nature. The idea of a kiss bringing good luck is irrational nonsense with no logical basis to the reasoning for it whatsoever," the groom answered, leaving Roger rather speechless.

"So is the concept of marriage, Holmes." Nicholas strolled forward, Margaret on his arm. "Yet we most of us succumb to that too…indulge us…I doubt your bride would object," he said in his usual reserved tones, though there was a definite glint of mischief in his eyes.

Helen looked caught between a rock and a hard place -- wishing to concede to her husband's desires but not wanting to look as if she objected to being kissed by him either.

"Kissing is horrid," Andrew stated with a wrinkled nose, earning him a sharp nudge from his brother.

Roger ruffled the boy's hair thoroughly, a smile on his lips. "You shall learn better in a few years, my boy. And I should warn you, Mr. Holmes, that I shall not let the matter rest. Does it not, therefore, seem logical to pursue the path of least resistance and enjoy a placid wedding morning, rather than stand firm and be plagued in a highly annoying and irritatingly persistent fashion by me?" he enquired innocently.

"He does seem to have a point, Sherlock," Alice told him in her quiet way.

The boys gazed at their new brother-in-law and their sister keenly and expectantly, mirror images but for Andrew's now rather mussed hair.

Helen sighed and looked to her husband, ready to follow whichever lead he gave, her hand slipping into his and giving him a light squeeze of support.

Holmes regarded his mother-in-law, noting the humour there too and reflected in one form or another across the small gathering. With a sigh, he turned to his wife. "It appears we are given little choice..." he informed her, a softness in his voice belying his irritation.

"So it would seem," she agreed, the corner of her mouth tugging upwards, warmth in her eyes.

Raising his gloved hand, he took her chin gently with thumb and forefinger and drew her lips to his, mingling them softly.

"Here! Here!" Roger applauded vigorously, looking to the others to do the same, which they did to varying degrees.

Her lashes fluttered closed as she breathed him in, trying not to react too strongly, but the urge to surrender to him battled inside her nevertheless. As he drew back, Helen's cheeks flushed further at her mother's obvious amusement as Andrew pronounced clearly, though more quietly this time, "I still think kissing is horrid."

Holmes's gaze turned to his comical tormenter. "May we consider the matter concluded?"

"We may indeed!" Roger beamed and boomed, "Onwards!"

The carriage took off without further preamble, whisking them back to the Twin Birches after a fifteen-minute drive. Helen felt a twinge of sadness as she spied the house that had been her home these past two years. Today, it would cease to be...just as she ceased to be Helen Thurlow. As much as she was overjoyed to have wed the man she loved above all others, it was still quite a change all the same.

Goodwin was waiting on the steps of the manor house as the carriage pulled up and opened the doors for them. "Welcome back," he said deferentially. "And congratulations, Mr. Holmes."

"Thank you, Goodwin," Holmes replied, stepping down to help the ladies out again. "The guests will not be long behind us if my best man has anything to do with it."

The butler nodded. "Everything is prepared, sir. The dining room is laid out, and the wedding, bride, and groom's cakes are all presented. Your guests for the wedding breakfast are gathered in the withdrawing room, and the reception area is ready for you and Miss..." he paused, "I mean, Mrs. Holmes," he hastily corrected himself.

Helen gave him a reassuring look, silently agreeing that it would take a few days to get used to the name change herself, as her new husband led her inside and they moved to the specially decorated reception area.

The main dining room had been completely transformed. Shifted to one side, the long oak table was covered with a long ivory table cloth and set with the finest china for the bridal party to dine on. There was also a long table that lined one of the walls, brimming with sandwiches, meats, and all types of fare. Flowers were set everywhere, not only adding to the delicious smells, but lending a needed touch of colour on a grey late November day.

It did not take long before a second and third carriage arrived with Watson, Mary, Nicholas, and Margaret -- Mycroft, being a man of large stature, electing to arrive separately in a carriage of his own. All new vehicles joined the carriages belonging to those who had not been invited specifically to the wedding, but rather to join the festivities at the breakfast.

The bridal party assumed their positions in the reception area, forming a receiving line, before the guests entered -- a mix of treasured friend and family and those whom, much like the engagement party, good manners dictated must be there.

The first led in by Watson was, of course, the Duchess, who took Helen's hand and quietly bestowed a kiss upon her cheek, much to the bride's surprise. "May your marriage be as happy as mine, my dear girl," she said in as quiet a voice as any of them had ever heard from her.

Helen smiled softly back at the older woman. "Thank you, Your Grace. And thank you for being here today. We are both so pleased and honoured you could come."

"I should not have missed it for the world..." the Duchess assured her, her affection for Helen lingering on her face for just a moment before she straightened and became herself once more. "And mind you do not allow your husband's career to become yours! You have your own good works to do in this world," she sniffed before turning to Holmes. "Congratulations, Mr. Holmes. I trust you will always keep in mind this day and how fortuitous you are."

"Between yourself and my best man, I doubt I shall ever be allowed to forget it." Holmes smiled a little and inclined his head to her.

"You may rest assured of that!" the Duchess replied forcefully, though her eyes glinted with amusement. "And now that I have seen Helen safely wed, I suppose I shall have to turn my attention to my great nephew here." She turned slightly to the young man behind her, Cameron Scott, who was standing beside a Watson with a strongly disapproving air wafting from him.

"A true prize for some unsuspecting young lady I'm sure." Holmes's smile remained fixed as he took in the young man who had cheerfully taken his great aunt's inside information on the detective's whereabouts and converting it to coin.

"In some respects, I suppose..." she replied before tutting at an open button on the young man's waistcoat. "Though of course he is without funds."

"I am sure that is only a temporary misfortune," Helen replied with a smile. Knowing the Duchess, Helen was sure she'd find her grand-nephew a wife with quite a pretty dowry.

"Indeed..." Holmes agreed with a shared look to Watson. "I'm sure you'll find Mr. Scott's entrepreneurial spirit will find him most comfortably situated."

"Entrepreneurial spirit?" the Duchess said in surprise. "Cameron?"

"Without doubt, Your Grace. I think one of these days you will be surprised at just how well Mr. Cameron knows the value of things," the detective answered.

"Dearest Cousin!" came an exclamation to the left of them, a mass of burgundy silk and blond curls descending on Helen.

Helen blinked in surprise as each cheek was kissed in turn before the whirlwind's owner pulled back to reveal a handsome face, green eyes, and perfectly made up features, just this side of daring, as she took in the bride. "Oh you look absolutely wondrous! The perfect blushing bride!"

Helen bit back the urge to groan. "Thank you, Fanny," she replied kindly enough.

The Duchess eyed the newcomer with extreme disapproval, the girl having broken both etiquette and the line of guests for which Watson was acting as usher.

The woman waved her hand. "Pish posh! No thanks are necessary at all! I..." she placed a hand on her ample bosom, "speak only the God's honest truth. It is so good to see you so happily married as well! Now you too will know how wonderful it is to be married to a good, decent man, like I was to my Freddy...God rest his soul." She gave a light sniff into a magically produced silk handkerchief. Dabbing her eyes at the corners with an ease born of practice, she just as rapidly whisked the hanky away and turned to Holmes. "But this is not a day for sad thoughts...but joyous ones! May I congratulate you, my dear sir!" She held out her hand. "Welcome to the family, my dear, dear Mr. Holmes!"

Holmes regarded her in silence, taking in the dress, the makeup, the affected manner. "Thank you, Madam..." Raising his hand seemingly to take hers, he swept it instead towards the Duchess and, more pertinently, the undoubted reason the woman had surged forward. "Might I introduce you to Her Grace, the Duchess of Monmouth...and of course, to her nephew, the Right Honourable Cameron Scott..." His hand led her eyes right to the young man...before he looked to his wife to introduce Fanny in return to the admiring gaze of Mr. Scott.

Helen caught the very familiar gleam, short as it was, in her cousin's eye. It was like a cat getting exactly what she wanted. Turning, Fanny smiled widely at both of them, greeting the Duchess with a perfect curtsey before her eyes turned to Cameron. "Mr. Scott, it is my deepest pleasure to meet you," she said to him, her eyes meeting his, though from under lowered deferential lashes and before Helen could say anything at all. The bride bit back yet another sigh and gave the Duchess an extremely apologetic look.

"Fanny," Helen cut in, trying to rein in the blonde and this time did sigh just a little under her breath. "Your Grace, Mr. Scott, this is my cousin Fanny St. Michael."

"Charmed, Mrs. St Michael..." The younger man bowed a little, his eyes staying on her. "A pleasure to find that such beauty is common in your cousin's family."

"You flatter me, sir," she replied, though her tone was lower and confidential, as she made herself look more demure and appealing all at once.

Helen, however, felt a bit nauseated.

"Cameron," the Duchess said in a sharpish tone, "I require to sit, and we are holding the line."

"Oh dear!" Fanny breathed, looking away and managing to look like a lost puppy. "I'm terribly sorry! Did I barge ahead? I'm afraid my enthusiasm...oh dear..."

"It's quite all right," Helen reassured her quickly, knowing where this was going. "We don't mind, do we, Sherlock. Your salutations are deeply appreciated."

"Still! It was rather rude of me and I must let you greet your other guests. I'll just find a seat quietly on my own," Fanny gushed with practiced sincerity.

"I shall not hear of it..." Cameron interjected. "Great Aunt, now that we are introduced, we cannot possibly allow such a charming member of Helen's own family to be alone on a day of celebration."

"Indeed one cannot," Holmes interjected firmly to both Helen's and the Duchess's great surprise.

Fanny blushed prettily. "Oh that is so wonderfully kind of you...but I don't want to be a nuisance..."

Recovering somewhat from Holmes's interference, the Duchess gave a smile that never reached her eyes. "No, my dear, of course you don't," she said to her in what sounded the kindest of tones, while Cameron extended his other arm to the younger woman. "Never fear that you are misunderstood. I think those with any eyes in their heads and the vaguest wits about them know what you truly desire to be."

Allowing the words to float there for a moment and with a flash in her eyes, the Duchess raised her cane to point to a comfortable looking chair. "There, I believe, Cameron," she instructed.

"Of course, Great Aunt..." he said agreeably and led the two women onwards.

Helen closed her eyes for a moment as she inhaled and then tried to put aside thoughts of her dubious cousin and her antics, knowing that a great battle for the future of Cameron Scott was about to begin between the two women and wondering why it was her husband was smiling in such a smug manner before he murmured to her, "We must talk in more detail about your relatives." She flushed in mild embarrassment.

To her great relief, however, it was Estelle Pembridge-Cooper, Alice's sister and Helen's aunt, who was next in line. A widow like her sister, Aunt Estelle was, like most of her family, very genteel and refined but impoverished, and she carried with her the air of the down at heel aristocrat as she swept forward under Watson's guidance and kissed her niece's cheeks. Helen spoke quietly with her, wishing she could do more for her mother's younger sister, who had been forbidden to associate with them while her mother had been 'incapacitated' and who was too proud to accept charity from them. No doubt, it was a form of self-punishment for allowing herself to obey the dictates of family when it came to those with an illness of a mind.

She was followed in turn by Estelle and Alice's brother, a highly aristocratic man whom Holmes recognised from the engagement party, and a man who had no qualms whatsoever about benefiting from Helen's largesse.

"Mr. Maximillian Pembridge and his wife Martita." Watson introduced Helen's uncle, one of several relatives who had received a placement at Balfour & Thurlow at Alice Thurlow's behest, despite Helen's exceptional reservations. Maximillian Pembridge had been architect in chief of her late father's unhappiness and discomfort with his unhappiness that had driven the wedge between her parents and helped destroy their lives.

His new position showed well in his clothes, cut from the best cloth and by the best Saville Row tailors, his iron grey hair shining and immaculate, his wife Martita in the height of fashion. "Congratulations, Mr. Holmes," Maximillian addressed the groom. "You have landed a very fine catch in our Helen."

"I was not aware I had been angling for her, Mr. Pembridge," Holmes replied, sensing Helen stiffen somewhat beside him. "But that I am fortunate in my wife...I believe I agree."

"We have not had much chance to talk, but I would like to speak to you further about your family background. I understand you come from landed gentry..." Maximillian said approvingly.

Helen's jaw twitched only a hint, just enough a keen observer such as her husband would notice.

"My family on my father's side were squires, it's true," Holmes replied. "Though I come from French stock on my maternal grandmother's. But perhaps later, Mr. Pembridge? Given the queue of others, a discussion of bloodlines is perhaps best kept either for later...or the stockyard, where in truth it is the only place such a thing matters."

Pembridge flushed lightly at the insinuation and then endeavoured to cover it with a smile. "Yes...well...something to discuss, I'm sure." He looked to Helen. "You made a ravishing bride, my dear."

"Thank you, Uncle," she replied kindly enough, though she had to admit secretly that her smile was not due to his compliment.

"The role of wife suits a woman far better than that of businessman, I think we can agree on today's evidence," he said with his own small smile. "You may rest assured that when you're gone your cousins and I shall take good care of the firm."

"Of course, I am sure you all will be wonderfully attentive and helpful to Mr. Gufstred in my absence until I return in three weeks time." She smiled, though her eyes were as clear and sharp as ever. "And I shall be in communication with him as needed should any problems arise." She may be a wife now, but she was most certainly not going to shirk her responsibilities to her brothers' inheritance either.

"Of course," he said stiffly. "Precisely what I meant, naturally. You have certainly fallen upon your feet these days, Helen -- your inheritance, your status and the air of breeding with which you have enhanced it, and now a fine marriage to a man of renown and high intelligence with the ear of many imposing figures. You have done the family proud."

"Why thank you," she replied, inclining her head and feeling more like a prized horse than a bride at that moment.

"It goes to show, that no matter the unfortunate circumstances endeavouring to hold it back...breeding will always out. Welcome to the family, Mr. Holmes," Maximillian finished with a smug smile, pleased with his final reference to the 'bad' blood she had inherited from her father and moved to lead his wife away.

"Thank you again, Mr. Pembridge…" Holmes halted him with politeness. "And I trust my own breeding and background will add a great deal to the family." He smiled, his tone light but his words cutting. "In fact when you speak so, I cannot see how it will fail to."

Helen's expression darkened as she watched her uncle go, his smile a deal less uncertain, unsure if he'd been insulted or not. It was as if, like the Queen herself, she and indeed her family had, by their mere patronage of her father's successful international firm, taken a common shop and elevated it to something greater. There were several words of her own she would have liked to say to him, but knew it was useless and would only cause a fuss. Turning her head she saw her mother's eyes dip, the undoubted pain they were hiding angering her further, but so too her mother's reaction was enough to keep Helen silent, knowing her mother would not want old wounds further opened. For now, she was pleased enough by her husband's retort.

Holmes's hand brushed his bride's delicately even as he moved to greet the next guests, the far more agreeable Grufstreds, the distaff member of which was virtually quivering with excitement over the big day. And so it went for the next half hour or so, beloved and not so beloved friends and family passing by until finally Watson introduced a sheepish and rather ill at ease Inspector Lestrade and his wife.

"Well then..." The Inspector rocked on his heels a little to hide his uncertainty regarding the exact etiquette at this level of society. "Though I never thought I'd see the day, congratulations, Mr. Holmes." He extended his hand quickly.

"Thank you, Lestrade." Holmes smiled as he took it. "It was good of you to take the time to come."

"Wouldn't have missed it for all the tea in China," the other man snorted softly. "Now you'll learn how us poor mortal men get on..." He nodded. "Nothing brings a man down to earth faster than marriage." He glanced at his wife. "In a good way of course. Isn't that right, Amelia?"

The mousy haired woman with the thin face and rather dainty nose nodded with a small meek smile. "Yes, George," she agreed in a soft-spoken manner as her hands fidgeted with her gloves.

"A pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Lestrade." Holmes bowed and took her hand. "I trust you are well?"

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Holmes," she agreed, her pale cheeks flushing and speaking in a voice so quiet those around them had to strain to hear her. "I...we...both wish you and Mrs. Holmes the very best. The very best, indeed."

His smile was genuine at her words. "On behalf of my wife and I, Mrs. Lestrade, I thank you." He straightened. "And perhaps...if you have no objections…my wife might some day call upon you? I'm sure after so many years as a wife to so prominent and renowned a police officer, your experiences of dealing with the pitfalls of such a profession might be of value to the new wife of a private detective?"

The little woman's eyes widened and her hands fiddled even more nervously at the thought of a visitor to her home from such a higher level of class and society than herself. "Oh...yes! Yes, of course!" she breathed in nervous excitement. "I should be delighted!"

Helen smiled kindly at her and took her hands, hoping to calm her, but that only seemed to make the small thin woman vibrate. "It is I who shall be delighted. And you must come to tea at our home as well. You and your husband both."

Mrs. Lestrade glanced over at her husband quickly before looking back at the new bride. "Oh yes...thank are far too kind..."

Lestrade cleared his throat, not entirely sure he approved of the exposure of his wife to this woman. Higher class or not, she was far too outspoken and meddlesome in his opinion. But it would be churlish to turn down the invitation, and Amelia seemed keen… "Yes," he sniffed. "Very kind, I'm sure. We'd be delighted."

"Excellent," Helen enthused. "I shall send an invitation around after we return."

Amelia Lestrade smiled back, though she quickly dipped her head and fiddled with her handbag hanging from her arm, blushing a vibrant shade of pink.

"Well then..." Lestrade looked at Holmes again, a vague smile on his lips. "Taking some time off and leaving the investigations to the qualified men to handle, eh, Mr. Holmes? However shall we manage without you? And however shall you manage without dipping your fingers into things you shouldn't?"

Holmes's expression was decidedly enigmatic as he glanced at Watson, whose eyes moved studiously elsewhere. "Oh I expect we shall both cope, Inspector...we shall both cope."

With all guests greeted properly, and all congratulations given to the groom and best wishes to the bride, both hosts and guests were then allowed to retire to the dining area, signalling the start of the brunch and short speeches.

Watson gave a short but endearing speech, eschewing too much sentimentality to spare his friend, though poking a few jibes along the way before reading out the telegrams from absent friends and well wishers...including one from the Queen herself, which surprised and impressed everyone present.

In the absence of a father of the bride, Matthew and a rather nervous and reluctant Andrew stood to say a few words. "We've only had our sister, Helen, for a little while," Matthew said soberly, speaking out well, "but she's a good sister. She's taken good care of us since our parents went to Heaven, and did what our Father wanted her to do. But she did more than just look after us...she's loved us too. And even though she's a girl and can't run very fast or climb trees...we like her lots." He glanced at his twin and nudged him. "Right?"

Andrew nodded, blushing to nearly the colour of his hair as all eyes were trained on them. "But she's wonderfully good at reading stories," he added. "Like Oliver Twist...Great Expectations...oh and Treasure Island!"

Matthew nodded. "We don't want her to get married and go away," he said rather sadly, "but we're glad if she had to get married that she's married to Mr. Holmes, because he's a hero...even the Queen thinks so. So we know he'll protect her." He paused, his eyes dipping. "But we hope he brings her to visit often...'cause..." his small voice faltered, "it won't be the same and we're...we're going to miss her lots..." He looked up at his elder sister, his bottom lip trembling slightly as his eyes filled up.

Alice rose and moved over to the boy, wrapping her arms around him and whispering soothing words in his ear as Andrew struggled with his own emotions and continued, "We love our sister...and we know she'll be very happy...and that Mr. Holmes makes her happy...and...well, that makes us happy too. Even if he doesn't play pirates." He paused and sniffed. "So, congratulations...visit lots...and if it's not too much to ask...we would like a nephew. Thank you." And with that he sat down, his freckles continuing to stand out in relief on his flushed face.

Helen stared at her brothers for a moment, deeply touched but not sure whether to blush, laugh, or burst into tears herself.

Led by the women in the party, who were either sniffing or smiling broadly, the boys were afforded a long and enthusiastic round of applause not usually reserved for children.

"Well done, boys." Watson stood and nodded at them enthusiastically. "Well done." He turned his attention towards his friend. "Holmes?" he enquired.

With a slow nod of his head, Holmes stood up and looked around him. "I'm not particularly given to making speeches," he said in a calm voice that still managed to carry to the far reaches of every corner. "Or at least not to an audience that doesn't consist of criminologists, police officers, and pathologists," he clarified somewhat self-deprecatingly, a small ripple of laughter going around. "I am especially not given to following such able speakers as those who went before me." His eyes turned to his diminutive brothers-in-law. "I'm afraid you have put me at a decided disadvantage with your eloquent speech." He inclined his head to both of them.

"But let me start by saying that you may rest assured that I shall keep your sister safe, and you shall see her often," he told them sincerely before looking down at Helen. "You may also be certain that I shall do all within my power to make her content...just as she makes me so." He drew his shoulders back, dreading the onset of public sentimentality. "I...have lived a very solitary life, and perhaps this life allows me more than most to appreciate the value of good companions as you journey through it.

"I have been fortunate to have one such good companion in my life..." He inclined his head to Watson. "And, through his good counsel and wisdom, I have been even more blessed to have found myself a second. Another of kind and caring heart and keen intellect, though far fairer countenance..." Another laugh went up as Watson nodded sheepishly. "And one who, I believe, will afford me a kind of peace that I fear I shall never be able to give her in return." He smiled at her almost sheepishly as he reached down and picked up his glass of champagne. "Nevertheless, I hope to give her all the benefits my companionship can, though they are not a quarter of what she deserves. Ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you to raise your glasses in a toast to my bride, Mrs. Helen Holmes!" he proclaimed.

The chorus of her name went up around the room, along with the glasses of champagne.

Helen stared up at her husband, her face showing her awe, touched beyond belief at his kind and eloquent public words, and found that the tears she barely restrained at her brothers' speech were now threatening to pour down her cheeks. Blinking them back, she picked up her glass and with smile, gave him a nod of gratitude.

Hiding anything else from the crowd by sipping on his champagne, Holmes sat down once more, slipped off one glove, and slid his hand under the table for her to take out of sight.

Slipping her hand into his, her own gloves already neatly on the table, she entwined her fingers with his, her thumb brushing over his as Watson rose to his feet once more. "Now..." he announced, smiling broadly, "as you can see, a splendid spread has been laid on, so by all means take your fill and on behalf of the bride and groom...enjoy!"

The level of hubbub in the room rose as guests mingled and plates clattered, the servants helping to put the guests at their ease for the celebratory luncheon. Holmes squeezed his bride's hand softly, his knee brushing against hers as he broke off a piece of the dark groom's cake that had been cut and served to everyone on arrival with his other hand. It had been ten days since he'd last been with her, and the feel of her near sent pleasure through him that warmed his blood considerably. He was never the most sociable of men, but even by his standards his desire to be away from all these people was profound. To be on his way with her to Paris, where he could let his guard down and let her warmth wash over him.

But a celebration was a celebration, and the time was passed by necessity in more speeches, toasts, convivial chat and questioning, swapping of stories, and other social niceties.

It was all very pleasant. So pleasant and inoffensive that Mycroft had absented himself to the library and Holmes was so bored and irritated that he was levelling icy glares at a distracted Watson, his watch very publicly and unashamedly in his hand.

The good doctor, absorbed in a conversation with Lady Margaret, was going to speak again when he felt Mary squeeze his arm and give him a rather meaningful look before directing his gaze towards the groom. "I believe the time has come, John, dearest," she whispered.

"Ah..." Watson nodded and coughed, giving his friend an apologetic smile. "Yes indeed."

Rising to his feet, he clinked his glass for silence. "A momentary pause in the revelry, my friends...but a most important one. The rail service beckons, and the bride and groom must depart." He smiled and looked around. "Now if the matron of honour and the bride's mother might attend the bride to help her change, we shall all meet again in the foyer in twenty minutes." He beamed another smile to the crowd. "And now, please back to your enjoyment."

In a flurry of good humour and last looks, the women departed with Mary Watson also in tow. Holmes rose to fetch his belongings and exchange last minute words with his brother and best man in particular before fending off yet more congratulatory remarks and prying questions about their whereabouts, most of which Watson handled charmingly.

A short time later, Helen re-emerged with her small entourage, having changed into an ensemble of grey skirt, jacket, and high necked cream blouse, a beautiful black and dove grey hat on her head, her small travel bag on her arm.

His coat and gloves already in place, Holmes walked up the first four steps to meet her, taking her hand with a private, approving smile, and led her down to the crowd below to help her on with her new grey wool overcoat, their outfits now mixing and matching quite elegantly. At the bottom of the stairs, she was embraced by friends and family alike as they made their way slowly through the crowd, and once outside, the large open carriage awaited.

As Helen said her goodbyes to her mother and brothers before joining him once more, a hail of rice rained down on the newlyweds as they rushed for the carriage, silk ribbons and slippers also following them into the carriage. One slipper landed in the bride's lap as the waving, laughing crowd sent them on their way, the driver, Watson beside him, taking them down the driveway on the short journey back to St. Albans and the train station.

Their luggage had already gone on an express to Victoria, checked all the way through to Dover and the steamer for France, to be there and aboard well before they got there.

Watson waited with them for the train into Victoria, watching them as they sat quietly arm in arm, looking at each other only occasionally, happy as they were. Though his friend's expression gave little away, the doctor was hard pressed to ever remember the kind of quiet contentment Holmes emanated now without being in the very heart of a three pipe problem.

Dipping his head, he smiled to himself, knowing he would have much to write about…even if it too would never see the light of day, let alone a publisher's house. His mind drifted back to the start, to the night Arthur Thurlow had interrupted them at Baker Street. Little had either of them known then where that encounter would lead. How much would be lost…he looked to the pair of them again as the train pulled in to the station…and how much gained.

It had been a long journey, he thought as he aided the couple aboard to take the next step of it. Waving them off as the train pulled out, life as a married man awaiting Holmes and the unexpected news of a French Governmental interruption of their honeymoon awaiting Helen, Doctor John H. Watson chuckled to himself as he turned to walk back to the carriage. The next leg of the voyage should be very interesting indeed.


Authors' Notes: And so we reach the end...for now. Stay tuned next year for Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, where we hope to (after a break) continue on with the tale of Holmes and his now wife, Helen Thurlow Holmes. Where will they go from here as the shadow of the greatest criminal genius and a certain Falls in Switzerland loom? But until then, thank you so much for all your reviews and comments and sticking with us as we tell this little tales. But for now, we alas must take a break -- not only for plot bunnies of a Whoish fandom, but because real life has dictated so. I'm afraid you can blame me for this, as my family and I get ready to welcome our latest edition to it this fall. :D Again, thank you for your patronage and your time, and feel free to check our yahoo group for any updates and announcements. Yours, Aeryn and Lfire.