A/N: Welcome back, everyone! This will be the conclusion of my "Elementary, My Dear Natsuki" braided novel. I don't necessarily rule out me returning to this Alternate Universe sometime again in the future; I had quite a lot of fun with it, indeed. But it was also an exhausting trip, to say the least, so I feel very happy that I've been able to work through to this point. I hope that this, the final story, will be able to tie up some remaining loose ends and bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion...since, y'know, that's what conclusions are supposed to do: conclude! ^_- Seriously, though, let us return to 1899 and to Shizuru and Natsuki!

~X X X~

Cutting from the Daily Telegraph

kept by Natsuki Kuga

Murderer Brought to Justice is Detective's Swan Song!

May XX, 1899: Chief Inspector Reito Kanzaki today announced his resignation from the Metropolitan Police in the wake of the shooting of suspected murderer Charles Hartwell two weeks ago. Hartwell, it will be remembered, was the private secretary of the late Mr. Robert Merridew of Kensington and the chief suspect in the murders of Mr. Merridew and of Baron Theophile Maupertuis. It is alleged that Mr. Hartwell sought revenge on the two gentlemen of finance over the notorious affair of the Netherland-Sumatra Company, whose collapse is still being debated even today. Mr. Hartwell is believed to have inveigled his way into a position where he would have access to Mr. Merridew's private papers, and to have committed his crimes based on certain discoveries he had made or believed he had made within them.

Unfortunately, it will now be impossible to determine if this new material sheds light on the Netherland-Sumatra Company's collapse or was merely the delusion of a revenge-obsessed fanatic. Such discoveries as might have been expected to be revealed at the trial were forever lost when, upon being presented with an arrest warrant, Mr. Hartwell chose gunplay rather than submit to the police's lawful authority and was fatally shot.

The coroner's inquest cleared Chief Inspector Kanzaki of any criminal responsibility in the affair, finding that he had acted with no alternative in defense of his life and the lives of others. Nonetheless, the aftermath of this violent confrontation has cost the people of London one of its most astute and celebrated police minds, as although the Chief Inspector did not specifically cite the case in offering his retirement from the Force it is unlikely that such a disturbing incident would not have played a part. Thus once again the deplorable increase in violent criminality that seems to have infected our society as the turn of the century approaches...

~X X X~

At some point in their childhood, I think that every little girl wants to be a fairy-tale princess. It's not the castle and the jewelry and the fancy clothes, although those might seem pretty nice to dream about. And it isn't being rescued by the prince, because it doesn't take too long to figure out that it would be better to pick up a sword or pistol and kill one's own pirates or slay one's own dragons—or at least to have the brains not to take poisoned apples from strange old ladies and so not have to be rescued in the first place.

No, the thing that's appealing about being a princess isn't the job itself at all. It's the fact that the princess is wanted and desired—by the prince, by the people (or else the wicked stepmother wouldn't be jealous), even by the damn dragon who wants her for a snack and the witch who demanded the right to carry her off on her sixteenth birthday. It's heady stuff, particularly when you're young and lonely or at least a little insecure.

I'd had my own princess dreams, I admit. Especially after my mother died and my father left me in the care of strangers, generous with his purse but not his time. And yeah, I even dreamed of a heroic prince on a white horse who'd ride in and fix all the problems in my life. When I got a little older, though, I set all that aside. Dreams of love, dreams of being desired and cherished, were replaced by another dream, a dream that fed on the loneliness instead of offering relief from it.

Revenge.

I gave myself utterly over to it. Instead of ladylike arts, I learned how to shoot a revolver, to pick a lock, and to take apart a man twice my size with my bare hands. Instead of meeting eligible bachelors at society parties, I met shady underworld contacts in cheap bars and dark alleys. I had no time for fairy tales. That was probably why it took me so long to realize that I'd fallen into one anyway.

That was it, all right. I, Natsuki Kuga, had become a princess. Or at least the object of desire for a witch. She'd crept into my life, dazzling me with her fairy glamour, enfolding me in her mysterious world while she concealed her true feelings, until I'd all but been ensnared.

Then, she went and used her witchcraft to offer me my heart's desire. She laid the bodies of my mother's killers at my feet, three men and a woman slain as a love-offering, and the illusion I'd lived in was forever shattered. I'd been terrified, by the reality of my hopes made real, by the revelation of her feelings, by the sudden shift in my world necessary to even believe such things were possible—but above all, by the realization that I was the object of feelings so overwhelming and intense that they could make the best and wisest woman I'd ever known throw away her ideals, her kindness.

I'd pushed her away in my fear, thrust her from me in a rejection nearly as cruel as anything she'd done. I'd thought I understood life, the people around me, but I was really like someone who lived in a tiny room hedged round with mirrors, who sees nothing but reflections of herself. But now the mirrors were shattered, my past life destroyed, and I was left alone to face the reality that lay beyond them.

And what, exactly, was left to me?

The driving passion of my life, the need to avenge my mother's murder that had plagued me since I was five, was gone. The ones who'd pointed their fingers and decreed "Saeko Kuga must die" were all themselves dead, and the organization itself that had used her, then disposed of her was nothing but ashes, its leadership and records forever gone in the fire that had consumed a certain home in St. John's Wood. The best friend I'd ever had, the woman who'd given me the closest human connection I'd felt in those long, lonely years, had rushed into those same flames when I'd pushed her away, and everything we'd had, everything we might have become was forever gone with them.

It was only now, when it was all over, with no hope of them being restored, that I truly realized how much I'd treasured those enchanted days. How much our Baker Street rooms had become, not just the place where I ate and slept, but a home. How much it had made me happy to come back from an errand, open the door, and find her there sipping green tea or sprawled lazily on the couch. How without her the rooms had turned cold and hollow.

How damned much I missed her.

"Shizuru..."

This was going to be a bad day, I realized. There had been a lot of them, these past six months, as I tried to cope with the ruins of my life. I'd spent much of the first three weeks trying to crawl into a bottle, something I'd been lucky to have been stopped at doing before I became unable to stop. But the feelings that had pushed me that way still remained. Some days—most days, lately—they were cicatrized over, like an old wound that hurt but only when you moved in a certain way. Other times, though, they came on their own without any reminder, and in so doing threatened to drown me.

A knock on the door jolted me. I'd been so lost I'd hadn't even heard the footsteps on the stairs.

"Yeah? Who's there?"

The door opened and our—my!—landlady marched in. Mrs. Moira Hudson was a brash, red-haired Scotswoman with a fiery disposition to match. I had no idea what her age was; she could have been twenty-five or forty-five or anywhere in between. It didn't really matter, anyway; she was one of those women who'd be a seventeen-year-old girl forever, even if she lived to be a hundred.

"You look bad, Natsuki."

"Thanks so much," I growled.

"All that time with Shizuru, I figured that I was as long-suffering as a landlady could get. Noises at odd hours. Callers when decent people ought to be in bed. Experiments in chemistry and stranger matters. And let's not mention the time arsonists tried to burn down the building—though come to think of it, that one was your fault, wasn't it? Anyway, the point is that at least your Shizuru's habits were only irritating, whereas you...I worry about you, Natsuki."

I blinked at her.

"She's not 'my' Shizuru," I sighed.

"She was then."

I sighed. "Yeah, I suppose that's true." Mrs. Hudson knew most of the story. She'd been the one to open up a bottle of Scotch the night I'd come back shattered and alone, without Shizuru, and sat down with me until morning. She'd also been the one to take the bottle out of my hand three weeks later when it had become clear I was at risk of losing myself to it. "You shouldn't worry about me, though."

"I can't help it. Stray cats, lost sheep, melancholic lodgers, it's just a weakness."

"Do I look like a sheep?" I demanded.

She pursed her lips thoughtfully.

"Runaway puppy," she decided. "Caught out in the rain."

I tried to be annoyed with her, but there wasn't enough anger in me to pull it off and I gave up, chuckling.

"Is there any chance of getting any coffee this morning along with the advice?"

"Of course. But what I actually came to tell you is that you have callers."

As if on cue, I heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs and voices from the landing.

"But, Lady Haruka, we still haven't been asked to come up."

"We don't have time to sit around waiting all day." A second later, the door was flung open. "Well, Kuga, are you awake yet?"

Inspector Lady Haruka Armitage swept into the room like a force of nature. Dressed in her customary shades of green and cream, her honey-blonde hair ruthlessly pulled off her forehead, she stormed towards me. She'd have made an almost comic figure, with her whirlwind manner and her malapropisms, were it not for the fact that she had one of Scotland Yard's best deductive minds and a genuine dedication to law and justice. The fact that she was the Metropolitan Police's only female detective officer spoke for itself so far as her strength of will went.

As always, Yukino Chrysant traveled in Armitage's shadow, a slender, freckled brunette with short, tousled hair and spectacles. She basically worshipped the ground that Armitage walked on, but had a sharp eye for detail that made her a valuable assistant rather than just a lady-companion kept around for propriety's sake.

I rubbed my temples. Haruka Armitage before my morning coffee was much more than I was prepared to deal with.

"What is it, Inspector?"

"The Adair murder case! Don't you read your own paper?" She pointed to the folded Telegraph, which Mrs. Hudson had set on the coffee table.

"Not since you got here. Mrs. Hudson only brought it up just now when she came to announce you. Speaking of which, don't you upper-crust types generally wait politely to be received?"

Armitage snorted.

"This is murder. Besides, Kuga, since when do you Bohemian writer types stand on ceremony?"

"When we're sitting around in our dressing gown," I said, waving a hand at my less-than-formal morning attire.

"Isn't that Viola's dressing-gown?" Armitage had the bad grace to ask. I had the sudden urge to ask her how she knew what Shizuru's dressing-gown looked like before good sense reminded me that Shizuru had received any number of clients while she was still in her dressing-gown, once including the Home Secretary.

"Mine ripped three months ago and it was easier to just use the one she left behind," I snapped in an admittedly lame justification. Chrysant gave me a look over Armitage's shoulder that surprised me: sympathy, maybe? Or an attempt at commiseration? I think she may have meant it kindly, but the realization that someone understood me so easily still stung.

Yes, it was going to be a bad day.

Then again, in that case, I had might as well go with Armitage. After all, on a day like today there would be no point in avoiding reminders of Shizuru because I couldn't get her out of my head anyway.

The reason Armitage was here at all was that since midsummer I'd been taking tentative steps towards a new career as an inquiry agent. It was a profession that I was genuinely well-suited for given my personal skills and contacts. I wasn't Shizuru, obviously, but I'd had several months' worth of close observation to learn her methods, and I had practiced them with, if not crushing success, at least not equally crushing failure. If I lacked her brilliance, I at least could let her fundamental principles keep me from making the kind of fatal blunders that afflicted so many members of the official force. This was especially valuable because with Shizuru's absence I had lost my source of writing material; after running through a couple of her cases that were suitable for being disguised and adapted, I'd nothing left to rely on but my own imagination. The mystery and magic seemed to have gone out of my life along with her. By taking on cases of my own I'd hoped to recapture at least some of what had gone.

That part of my idea hadn't completely worked out. In fact, the best story idea I encountered related to the disappearance of a special train that neither I nor anyone else was able to solve. It made a good tale, but was hardly an example of good detective work. I'd had better successes in the conventional business of an inquiry agent, to which my skills were well-adapted, but there was little of the romantic or grotesque in such business, none of the imagination that had seemed inherent in Shizuru's cases.

No witchcraft.

Even so, I had been able, by luck as much as anything, to once put Armitage on the right track when she'd reached a dead stop, and she was willing to consult me in situations similar to when she'd have called on Shizuru. In my case it was with the hope that I'd be able to shed some light on the matter rather than the expectation, but that was only fair. And for all that I didn't care for her sometimes-abrasive manner and assumption of authority, I was honestly grateful for her presence now. Right then she represented an escape from these four walls and a chance to focus my mind on some real-world problem instead of indulging in melancholia like a character in one of the Gothics Shizuru had liked to tease me about reading.

Damn. Couldn't I even get through one thought today without cycling back around to her?

"In any case, you're right. Mrs. Hudson, could you put on some coffee if you haven't already, and I'll change while that's being prepared. Once I've had a cup I'll be at your disposal, Inspector. Did you or Miss Chrysant want some refreshment?"

Armitage looked like she was going to take offense at the very idea of needing refreshment while there was work to be done, but Chrysant completely derailed whatever she might otherwise have said.

"Um, thank you, it's a bit cold this morning and a cup of coffee would help keep the chill out."

"Nothing for me, thank you, but if you wouldn't mind bringing a cup for Yukino, Mrs. Hudson?" Armitage ended up saying graciously.

"It's no trouble; it won't take but a minute."

I ducked into the bedroom and changed my clothes rapidly, putting on trousers, a white shirt and collar, dark waistcoat, and white cravat, casually knotted. I didn't dress this way quite so often these past months as I once had; I considered masculine-styled wear to be "work clothing" and with the end of the Obsidian Court there had come a clear line between when I was working and when I was not. I slipped a derringer into my waistcoat pocket, clipped to the other end of my watch-chain, and a knife into my boot-top. A decade's habits weren't easily undone, and I still got a very unpleasant itch between my shoulder blades when I went out and about unarmed.

Mrs. Hudson had already brought up the coffee pot and two cups when I came out. Chrysant had added cream and sugar to her cup and was sipping daintily, cradling it between her hands. I poured for myself, sipped once to test how hot it was, then gulped half the cup, sighing as I swallowed. Whomever had discovered coffee ought to be up for sainthood, I decided. Armitage seethed with barely-suppressed impatience while we finished drinking, and I toyed mentally with the idea of having a second cup just to see what her reaction would be. Shizuru would have quite possibly done that with her tea, but if she did she'd have rewarded Armitage at the end for suffering her little game by giving some deduction or other as a kind of quid pro quo for the entertainment value. I didn't have any particular insights to offer, so I'd just be being an ass if I were to yank Armitage's chain.

"All right," I said, setting the empty cup into its saucer with a clink and rising from my chair. "That should help me function something like a human being."

"You should not be so dependent on celebrants, Kuga," Armitage didn't seem aware that I'd decided to play nice.

"It's 'stimulants,' Lady Haruka," Chrysant provided. I wondered sometimes why she bothered with her corrections, since the Inspector's malapropisms didn't seem to have anything to do with a lack of understanding. It was more as if every so often something misfired in her brain and produced the wrong word. Yet, Chrysant's echo was inevitable, part of their routine together, like Shizuru teasing me about when I—

I was wrong. It wasn't going to be a bad day. It was going to be an awful day.

"Let's just get going, all right?" I snapped, to cover how badly I'd been rocked. "I mean, you don't want to waste time telling me how much time I'm wasting, do you?"

She looked at me in kind of cross-eyed fashion, my remark seeming to knock her off-kilter.

"Except that you don't smile, that sounded like something Viola would say," she accused, getting her revenge for my jab without even realizing it. I barely suppressed a wince, and Chrysant gave me another sympathetic look as I walked past her to the door. That surprised me, that she'd catch on so quickly that something was off with me.

The thought came to me out of the blue that maybe the reason she noticed was because she sympathized, recognized or thought she recognized something in me that she understood.

Does that mean that she—? That she has feelings for Armitage? She was certainly devoted to her mistress, but was there more to it?

I dismissed the thought, not out of disbelief but from lack of concern. Yukino Chrysant's love life didn't particularly interest me, and it wasn't any of my damn business either. Just like my problems were none of hers, I added, a bit spitefully.

We descended to the street, where Armitage had kept her carriage waiting. Very few Scotland Yarders had private transportation, but Lady Haruka's family had massive industrial wealth on her mother's side to match the agricultural holdings of her father, the Marquis of Penford. Her carriage was well-sprung and had a first-class driver and team for when speed was essential.

"All right," I said when seated inside and we were underway, "what's this case that I should have heard about from this morning's paper?"

"It was in the Stop Press in all the papers, so I'd have thought it was all over the city by now. The murder of the Honorable Ronald Adair."

I blinked at her.

"That Adair?"

She nodded.

"I'm not surprised you've heard of him," she said. "He was quite a well-known figure. Second son of the Earl of Maynooth, who is currently governor of one of the Australian provinces. Adair was a well-known clubman and sportsman, a sought-after bachelor until his engagement to Miss Edith Woodley of Carstairs was announced this past Season, although it was broken off by mutual consent in August."

Oh, I'd heard of him all right, but not in that context. I'd actually had face-to-face contact with the man. His last words to me had been, if I recalled correctly, "You interfering whore! I'll see you repaid for this if it's the last thing I do!" I'd managed not to actually laugh in his face at the time, but the petulant, whining tone had made me think more of a sulky toddler than a serious threat to my well-being. And sure enough, here he was, dead, without doing a thing to me.

"In this case, 'mutual consent' being the socially acceptable phrase for 'she refused to marry a sex-obsessed syphilitic,' Inspector?"

Armitage gave a start.

"What? What do you know about it?"

"I'm sure your police surgeon will tell you the same if an autopsy is to be performed."

"Which it is, if for nothing else than to extract the bullet that killed him from his skull." She frowned. "That wasn't easy to get his mother to agree to. There are still so many people who see an autopsy as desecrating the dead. I can name a half-dozen cases where the family's refusal to permit a post-mortem medical examination was the direct cause of a murderer going unpunished because the police didn't have any medical evidence to back up their theory of the crime."

"But you managed to convince her in the end?"

"Lady Haruka was very persuasive. She spoke of an aristocrat's duty to queen and country, and of the urgent need for justice for the dead man, and how while a woman's finer feelings did her credit so too must she find the courage to set them aside for the sake of her son and for justice, even as Lady Haruka herself had done so in order to serve in the police force."

Chrysant was almost starry-eyed as she recited what Armitage had done, while the Inspector herself turned to the window, flustered and embarrassed. I could barely resist making a comment, an opportunity Shizuru absolutely would not have passed up. Even so, I had to respect what Armitage had done; this was why she was so often assigned to cases involving the wealthy and titled, because she was "one of them" and so able to win people's cooperation in situations where others wouldn't be able to—nor, of course, was she the slightest bit intimidated by the presence of the upper crust.

"A-anyway!" she rushed on, "the point is, how do you know that Adair was supposedly discolored, Kuga?"

"It's 'diseased,' Lady Haruka."

"The Woodleys are cautious people. Their daughter was star-struck by the attentions of the Season's most eligible bachelor, but they were aware that they'd be entrusting their only child into the hands of a gentleman they themselves did not know well, and for the rest of her life." Barring a divorce, of course, but that was as scandalous a business as any and could leave her ruined socially if things went too far. A divorce involving a peer's son would be an instant cause celebre in the Press.

"So they came to you."

"They came to me," I confirmed. "I have a feeling that Woodley had heard rumors already, since hiring an inquiry agent to look into the activities and character of one's daughter's fiance is a bit outside the pale. In any case, he was right. So far as I could tell, Adair was more cocksman than clubman." Chrysant blushed at my expression. "Bluntly, he'd tumble anything in skirts he could get close to: actresses, maidservants, ladies of his own class whose virtue wasn't up to their title, to say nothing of regular visits to a number of different brothels catering to a wide variety of tastes. As you might expect, that kind of behavior has consequences; he was already paying to support one illegitimate son and I think, though couldn't confirm, that he had made lump-sum payments in a couple of other cases. He wasn't the worst offender I've known in that area—at least all his liaisons were consensual so far as I could tell—but Miss Edith would be lucky if they got back from the honeymoon before he cheated on her."

"Disgusting," Armitage said flatly.

"Of course, any number of Society marriages are based on the principle that husband and wife see each other as little as possible, so that didn't necessarily settle the matter, but when I learned that he had been secretly undergoing a doctor's treatment it was a very easy guess as to why. I obtained proof, and the Woodleys and Adairs arranged for the engagement to be broken off discreetly so the dirty laundry didn't need to be aired. He blustered a bit, but backed off quickly when I presented him with names, dates, and other details."

Armitage snorted.

"No one with any decency would engage in a liaison, let alone contract a marriage, while suffering from a venereal disease."

I couldn't argue that point.

"He struck me as a pampered child in the body of a man, unable to understand that he couldn't just have whatever he liked."

"The question is, did someone decide that a tantrum was reason enough to kill him?"

~X X X~

A/N: Sherlock Holmes fans will immediately recognize Adair as the victim in "The Adventure of the Empty House." The hideous slanders on his character which apply only to this story are, however, entirely my own! The reference to Haruka being the only female detective at Scotland Yard is even more ahead of its time than it appears—there were no female officers of the Metropolitan Police until 1919! Oddly enough, in fiction women detectives were well ahead of their time; the first female officers appeared in fiction in the 1860s! The case involving a disappearance of a special train that Natsuki mentions is an allusion to Conan Doyle's non-Sherlock Holmes short story "The Lost Special."