Posted on: 2013-05-23
A/N: This should belong somewhere near the end of chapter 12, probably in the middle of Lizzy's part somehow.
Oh God, no, Darcy thought in panic. Elizabeth had grabbed his hand. And in front of Col Forster and half the militia! Did she have no sense of decorum or preservation? His wolf felt proprietary toward her. He didn't understand how this action could ruin her, but he knew that Darcy had perceived some threat to her person. The wolf tensed, preparing to defend her with claws and fangs.
Please! Darcy begged his wolf, more fervently than he'd ever begged for anything in his life. Please, let me help her! His wolf still did not understand why it was important. But he did understand the urge to protect Elizabeth. The wolf side-stepped neatly. Magic suddenly thrummed along Darcy's senses. He couldn't have been more shocked than if his wolf had suddenly sat down to tea. His head swam with the magic like potent wine. He'd forgotten how much he'd missed this. But he didn't have time to revel in it, or to wonder how it had come about. He gathered his magic, thought-quick, and cast the tightest, fastest distraction spell he could over where Elizabeth touched him.
Darcy saw Col Forster's eyes follow Elizabeth's movement. His gaze narrowed suspiciously, but he was unable to see through the spell. None of the enlisted men could penetrate it either. Darcy felt a moment of triumph. He remembered being at the top of his class in the university. He remembered the great power and ability that came with his magic. No mere militia would be able to break a spell cast by one of the foremost spell-mages of the time!
Then his wolf stepped back into place. His magic leeched away like water through a sieve. It left him shaken, but not weakened. The spell held effortlessly. Perhaps he only had magic at the discretion of his wolf, but he knew now it wasn't destroyed forever. Even more important, he'd realized that the partnership he'd formed with his wolf was not a poor substitute for what he used to have.
His wolf was every bit as strong as the magic he sometimes wielded. In some ways his wolf was better, for it was a creature as fully rational and thinking as Darcy. The wolf had great gaps of knowledge in his understanding of the world, but every day those gaps were smaller, as was the distance between Darcy and his wolf. Just now, he knew that he'd do whatever it took to protect Charles and Elizabeth from the militia. If that required he shift and go on the attack, he could do that. If it required magic, he was now confident his wolf would give him access to that side of him.
On this point the wolf was exactly the same as Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley: they protected those around them. Whatever happened, he was not going to let Charles and Elizabeth be punished for harboring him. His life might be very short from this point on, but if he could exonerate those two, it would be worth it. He felt Elizabeth trying her magic on his wolf, but he was confident his soul-brother would not give in to her demands.
It was╔ sweet of her to think she could protect him. It was incredibly forward of her to do it as well. He couldn't think of a single lady of the ton that would put forth so much effort for him. For a second his old sensibilities tried to rise up. Well-bred ladies didn't do this! But╔ Elizabeth did. He tried to be affronted by her actions, but couldn't manage it. She was not afraid to stand next to him as his equal. The way his mother had stood next to his father. He had to admit, he'd rather have a brave--but forward--companion than any of the wilting flowers of the ton. That was another thing his wolf heartily agreed with.
But he couldn't afford the distraction of his thoughts right now. Col Forster strode forward. Darcy's eyes narrowed dangerously. Charles leaned into as if to hold him back. Elizabeth gripped his hand tighter. For her sake, he would stay his hand--and fangs--for now. There was no mistaking, however, that the fight had already begun.
Posted on: 2013-05-30
A/N: This would belong in the beginning of ch 8, as a continuation of Lizzy's POV. This is part of how I'm addressing her behavior at Netherfield.
There was one other outcome of the morning which was positive, besides the tea which helped Jane so greatly. Mrs. Bennet had a trunk packed with clothes for her two daughters staying at Netherfield. Most of the clothes were for Jane, and there were many items which were needlessly fine for a lady confined to a sickroom, but there were a few of Lizzy's own articles in the trunk.
With a sigh of relief, Lizzy was able to get out of Miss Bingley's embarrassing dress, and into something which actually fit her. She noted wryly that far less care had been taken in choosing her dresses. She supposed that as Darcy had already snubbed her, and Mr. Bingley was for Jane, her mother had not thought she required anything nice enough to catch a husband. It didn't matter if she didn't look her best in these old dresses. At least none of them had stains in obvious places, and if they weren't her favorite choices, they were still a sight better than the borrowed dress.
Lizzy folded Caroline's dress with particular care, though she doubted anything would appease her. Her face flooded with embarrassed color as she remembered the chaotic visit of the morning. She should have known it was inevitable that her mother would descend in all her state to visit Jane--and get a good gawk at Mr. Bingley as well. Mrs. Bennet was always chiding Lizzy about her actions in company. According to her mother, she was going to become an old, unwanted spinster if she never learned to curb her tongue.
Bitterly, Lizzy wished that Mrs. Bennet would take some of her own advice, and be silent sometimes. Perhaps the woman thought she was immune to criticism, as she was already married. As if the farce of her parent's marriage could be called such. Lizzy put her head in her hands and shook it despairingly. Misstep after misstep--was there never anything else? The horribleness of her family's actions caused her to evaluate her own behavior since coming to Netherfield. Was she any better?
She winced as she remembered shoving past Darcy, and then later Miss Bingley. She had acted more like Lydia! Now that was a horrid thought indeed, to realize that she compared to her most immature sister. She did not quite regret what she had done to Darcy. The werewolf was an avid danger that must be guarded against at all times. At the same time, she did wish she could have retained at least a little more composure in dealing with him. Had she really almost growled at him? As if the weak, pitiful growl from a human throat could threaten a werewolf of his stature! She was used to imitating the sounds of every sort of creature, and even using those noises to increase her communication with them, but the werewolf was very different. The only thing she wished to communicate to him was: stay away!
However when she thought about what she had done to Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst╔ then Lizzy felt nothing but shame. She glanced at the overflowing fern in the corner and felt even worse. She'd acted like a spoiled child. Miss Bingley was her brother's hostess, of all things! She saw to the management of his house, in which Lizzy and Jane currently inhabited. Lizzy wished she could blame her dreadful behavior on worry for Jane and fear of the loathsome werewolf, but that was no excuse.
She had acted rashly. Yes, she was protecting Jane, but she had also lost her temper. That was never a good way to get things done. In fact, if Lizzy intended to remain on good terms with her hostess long enough for Jane to get better, then she needed to apologize. She couldn't apologize to Darcy, but she owed Miss Bingley. Mr. Bingley deserved an apology as well. Her stomach clenched at the thought of extending such an apology. It wasn't the act that made her feel small and miserable, but rather her behavior that had led to such being necessary.
Let this be the difference between her and Lydia: her youngest sister never apologized for anything. Lizzy vowed to acknowledge her wrongs, and accept whatever condemnation might come her way because of her errors. Even though Jane was sleeping peacefully, thanks to that tea from Darcy, it still took Lizzy nearly a quarter of an hour to gather her courage to leave the room. She had Holly return Miss Bingley's dress and made her way steadily to the parlor where the others were gathered.
Once she had made up her mind, there would be no more hesitation.
Posted on: 2013-06-06
A/N: This comes in ch 8, right after the conclusion of Lizzy's part.
Darcy stood near the parlor window. The sky was still heavily overcast. Spats of rain came down fitfully, but it wasn't the heavy downpour that had caused such a mess in the first place. And such a mess it was╔ His hands shook for a moment, whether from that damn wolf clamoring to get out or from Miss Elizabeth's presence in the house he wasn't sure. He took a deep breath and gripped the windowsill casually.
The wood creaked softly under his hands, reminding him how careful he had to be about his strength. He flexed his fingers deliberately, listening to the complaint of the sill, before relaxing to a more human hold. He could do this. He could keep his shape human, could hide what he was in a house full of people.
It had never been this difficult before! Perhaps Charles was right, in thinking that the discovery of his ability to change during the day made him more unsafe than he'd ever been since his transformation. That elusive peace, the wholeness of that one run to Netherfield continued to escape him. He hadn't been able to reclaim that feeling. He had known, during that run, that he would hurt no one. Right now his temper and that wolf were so uncertain that he didn't know what he was capable of.
And Miss Elizabeth was in the house now╔ How was he to cope with that? He just had to think of his actions last night to cause heat to rise on his cheeks. The second Miss Elizabeth had rounded on him, chasing him off from her sister, his wolf had given him no choice but to flee. He'd felt the change rising in him. It had been all he could do to stave it off until he got to his room and undressed with trembling fingers.
He was beginning to see a pattern now. The more Miss Elizabeth warned him off, such as in the woods, and last night, the more the wolf needed reassurance from her. While the wolf had often been volatile before, causing his temper to turn foul, never before had it forced the change on him like that. And he had never been quite so╔ aware while a wolf. He had seen and experienced everything. He still had the memories of Elizabeth, clear and complete. He'd been as a dreamer, seeing it yet unable to influence his own actions.
Except for once. He felt a great shame as he remembered being in the room as Miss Elizabeth undressed. He had forced the wolf to look away from her. His principles were too great to allow him to see her. He wanted to be angry with Miss Elizabeth for exposing herself to him in such a way. There had been a maid there, but what was she thinking, with him in the room? She could only be trying to compromise him and force a marriage.
The wolf growled in warning. Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose as he felt a headache forming. He was not allowed to think ill thoughts of Miss Elizabeth, or the wolf would punish him. He already felt battered from their disagreements. He really had no desire to add to the mauling on his spirit. How was he to survive with her in the house?
His nose cringed as the scent of fermented flowers assaulted him. Miss Bingley's perfume could not hide the acid and lies in her personal scent. His headache was getting worse.
"Mr. Darcy, are you quite well?" Miss Bingley asked in a false tone. "Perhaps you would like to sit and rest for a time? I could play the pianoforte to soothe your nerves."
That damned wolf let him know in no uncertain terms that the woman didn't actually care for him one bit, and what he thought of her. As if Darcy needed enhanced senses to know that! He loved Charles as a brother, but the man's family was a different matter altogether. Darcy almost chuckled as he realized this was one point on which he agreed with his wolf. Miss Bingley and her ilk were not for them. They differed in how to deal with her. His wolf wanted to flash teeth and pin her to the ground like an errant pup. Darcy struggled to explain to his other half just how bad an idea that was. That would only force him into marriage with Miss Bingley!
No, if he was going to be forced into a union, let it be with Elizabeth than with Miss Bingley! The wolf turned suddenly smug, and too late Darcy realized where his thoughts had gone. No, not either of them! he snarled silently at the wolf. Lupine laughter was his only answer. Miss Bingley was still hovering, her overpowering scent making him nauseous. He shook his head, swallowing thickly. He wished he could sneeze to clear his nose, but he realized in time that the thought came from the wolf. Snorting in the middle of the parlor was hardly polite.
The door to the parlor opened, stirring the oppressive air in the room. Darcy took a deep breath, grateful for relief from Miss Bingley's perfume. He smelled╔ wildflowers. The light, airy scent of a spring morning, fresh with just a hint of rain. The rain he understood, given the weather outside. But this was the scent of a warm spring shower, not the autumn drenching outside. And the flowers? Where had they come from? They weren't the over-preserved oils of Miss Bingley's perfumes, but actual, living flowers he smelled.
He wasn't sure how he knew that. It wasn't like his wolf had ever experienced the springtime, but somehow the difference was very clear in his mind. His senses, particularly his olfactory ones, were just that keen now. He looked around for the source, wondering if someone had brought in a vase from a hothouse somewhere.
He saw╔ Miss Elizabeth. And yet, it wasn't exactly her he saw. Not the Bennet lady of impertinence that was such a vexation to him. He saw a young lady that for a moment seemed to be hardly more than a slip of a girl. She would be small compared to his bulk. Her dress was not fashionable, or expensive. Her carriage was upright, and yet also strangely vulnerable. The horrible tension in his wolf loosened at the sight of her. At the same time, something stirred in Darcy's stomach.
She was╔ attractive, he admitted reluctantly. Her beauty was not the refined artifice of the ladies of the ton, and yet it pleased his eye more than any he had seen before. And her eyes! They were uncommonly grave and cast down now. He longed to see her smile, to see that lively sparkle he'd found nowhere else. If he'd met her in a drawing room in London, if she was anyone but who she was, the daughter of an impoverished country gentleman with deplorable relations, then he could have seen her easily at Pemberley.
As it was, he imagined her and her family in a London setting, and winced hard at what society would make of her. He felt a low rumble in his mind. He wanted to shush his wolf, but he realized that half the growl came from him. He felt╔ protective of Miss Elizabeth. Yes, he could accept that. It was the duty of a gentleman to protect the ladies around him. He tried not to think that Miss Elizabeth was the first such lady not related to him that roused such a depth of feeling in him.
Darcy was already standing, but Charles rose when Miss Elizabeth entered the room. They performed the standard greetings, and then a pregnant pause fell. Darcy had the strangest urge to measure Miss Elizabeth's size against his own. He knew somehow that she would fit just right under his arm, that he would surround her, and be able to keep all the world away from this fragile creature--
Her eyes lifted to his for a fraction of an instant. His heart stuttered in his chest. Realizing that he had been caught staring, he turned to face the window again. The scent of wildflowers continued to tease him. It must be her magic, he thought desperately. With her magic, plants bloomed around her, and the scent still clung to her. That was all it was. He refused to think that the scent of spring wildflowers smelled like hope.
"Miss Elizabeth," Charles was quick to come to her side. His wolf shifted uneasily, but it was clear the gentleman's interest lay in the lady still upstairs. "How fares your sister? Is she resting? Does she need anything? Has all been provided for your comfort? I must apologize for the intrusion this morning, I hope Miss Bennet was not greatly disturbed by it."
Miss Elizabeth gave a soft laugh and held up a hand to forestall the flow of questions. "Jane is as well as can be for the moment, she is resting, and we have all that we need now, thank you," she said kindly, then paused and took a deep breath. His wolf reacted to her unspoken distress, becoming more alert. How was the creature so attuned to her? It was all Darcy could do not to face her. His wolf struggled with him, until Darcy realized that he could still see her reflection in the window. Only then did the wolf relax minutely. All Darcy's senses came alive as the wolf remained hyper-vigilant, keeping track of every occupant of the room. He knew, somehow, that he could be at Miss Elizabeth's side in an instant if she needed him.
She went on, "You have no need to apologize, Mr. Bingley, this is your house. Indeed, I feel I must apologize, both for my family this morning, and for intruding on your hospitality."
"Nonsense!" Charles cried, ever quick to forgive. His wolf chuckled, and even Darcy's lips tried to curve upward. They both liked Charles, Darcy realized with a start. During the full moon, his wolf didn't trust Charles, but for the rest of the time, they both had the same affection for the younger man. It surprised Darcy so much that he wondered what else he might have in common with his wolf. His wolf's response was only a deep sense of irony.
"No, I insist," Miss Elizabeth said, speaking quietly but firmly. Darcy could feel her steely determination, and admired her for it. How many other ladies of his acquaintance would admit to their mistakes, and take such pains to rectify it? "I barged into your house, and gave orders to yourself. That was unacceptable."
Darcy noted wryly that she did not apologize for pushing him out of the way. For a moment he remembered the feel of her hand on his chest, her fragile strength yet powerful resolve to protect her sister. She had touched his wolf before, yet somehow that touch had become his favorite.
Miss Bingley sniffed with offended pride as Miss Elizabeth approached her. Darcy couldn't help himself. His weight shifted as he tracked Miss Elizabeth across the room. "Miss Bingley, I am very sorry for pushing you aside, and for setting the fern on you. I greatly thank you as well for the loan of your dress."
That had been his idea, Darcy thought with slight pique. Shouldn't she thank him for that? His wolf flexed metaphoric muscles, not liking how Miss Elizabeth had turned toward Miss Bingley. Intellectually, Darcy knew that Miss Elizabeth was apologizing for her behavior and attempting to forge peace. However, in the wolf's mind, Miss Elizabeth's worth was set above Miss Bingley's. It should be the taller lady groveling before the shorter, not the other way around.
Miss Bingley's behavior did not help matters at all. Her head reared back like a striking snake's. Her eyes narrowed, and she regarded Miss Elizabeth with clear dislike. "Never have I been treated like such," she hissed. "I do not know how you were raised, but true ladies do not shove like a common dock worker."
Darcy's shoulders went rigid. The window sill groaned under the pressure he suddenly put on it. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, as if he had actual hackles to express his displeasure. Miss Elizabeth bowed her head under the onslaught, but Darcy could see how the tip of her nose had flared white with anger. There was a deafening snarl in his head, and he did not attempt to hold back his wolf.
"Caroline!" Charles said sharply, clearly shocked. His admonishment was the only thing that stopped Darcy from rounding on Miss Bingley in that moment.
Miss Bingley started in surprise, and snuck a look at Darcy to judge his reaction. He turned away from her, his finger trembling with definite fury now. "I am sorry, brother," Miss Bingley said with a bare courtesy, "It is just that my ribs are bruised so. They quite hurt, and the pain made me speak unwisely."
The blatant lie stole Darcy's breath. He had never raised his hand against a woman, but just then Miss Bingley had degraded herself in the eyes of his wolf. She deserved to be snarled at, to be cast out from their company. Miss Elizabeth's fingers clenched into fists. For a moment the wolf wildly hoped that she would strike the liar. Darcy felt a bit sickened at the wolf's bloodthirstiness. His desire for physical punishment made Darcy feel as though there was a stranger in his skin.
Miss Elizabeth's hands relaxed. She looked up and said with a clear voice, "I am very sorry to hear that, Miss Bingley. I could make a poultice for your ribs, if you wish."
The wolf wanted to impose himself between the ladies. No, Miss Elizabeth should not be wasting her talents on this Bingley woman! He wasn't sure what he would have done if Miss Bingley had accepted. Instead she recoiled from Miss Elizabeth.
"What, like some common herb witch? No thank you! It is not so bad as that," she appeared scandalized for a moment, then realized her misstep. Her face turned a mottled color. She muttered something that was supposed to be polite, stealing another glance at Darcy to see if he'd noticed her blunder. There were so many things wrong with what had just happened that he couldn't begin to describe them.
He stared resolutely at Miss Elizabeth's reflection in the window, trying to calm himself and his wolf. He met her eyes through the glass. He was caught again, but he didn't look away this time. No one else could possibly realize they were looking at each other in the refracted image. For the first time he was able to breathe freely. That wildflower scent reassured him. Herb witch, really! Her magic was so much more potent than that. He had no doubt that she had the strength of a full mage, not to mention the broadness of her particular talents.
Miss Elizabeth turned abruptly from him. He started in surprise at her sudden dismissal of him. His control slipped. The wolf struck. His bowels sudden roiled with the impending change. He forced it back in a panic, and the discomfort blossomed into terrible agony. It was all he could do to not cry out. He could barely breathe. Not now! he implored the wolf in panic. But the creature was forcing itself forward, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He was either going to change in the middle of this room, or he could attempt to make an escape. He fled.
He didn't know what excuse he gave as he left the room. His world was nothing but the pain of holding back the change and the fear of being discovered. There was no one else in the hallway. He tried to make it to his rooms, but a single step later he collapsed as a spasm of muscle took him. The change was coming now, whether he wanted it or not. His shirt and jacket grew uncomfortably tight on his shoulders. His waistcoat was confining his lungs.
He managed to get the jacket off mostly intact, but buttons flew as he pawed at this waistcoat and shirt. His breeches were easier to get out of, as were his foot coverings. His body was more than half fur by the time he was free of clothes, and the remaining change took him very quickly. Fully wolf, he stood. Darcy tried desperately to order his body to flee, to run away, but it would not respond. The wolf was in complete control.
Calmly, the creature nudged his clothes into a bundle, and then picked it up in his jaws. He cocked an ear at the next room over, discovered it was empty, and entered boldly. The wolf hid Darcy's clothes under a settee. Darcy felt the wolf leave him very clear instructions, that he was to retrieve them later.
Darcy kept struggling within the wolf, trying to wrest control back from the animal. It was impossible. He was well and truly trapped. He supposed he should have been grateful that the wolf hadn't sent him to sleep this time, even as he was still panicked about discovery. They returned to the hall, where the wolf laid down to wait.
A short time later the door to the parlor opened. Darcy cringed, but it was Miss Elizabeth. He felt deeply mortified that she would see him as a wolf so soon. She would realize that he could not control his form, and realize how dangerous he was. Charles was so very right, that the wolf was out of control.
They rose when Miss Elizabeth passed them. She started, then sighed and relaxed when she recognized them. "Fitz, it's just you," she breathed, then looked around guiltily. Now Darcy wished he really was asleep, that he didn't have to experience this first hand. Elizabeth placed her delicate hand on his head fearlessly, and then stroked his ears. If only that didn't feel quite so pleasurable!
The wolf leaned against her hip. She had to widen her stance to accommodate for his weight. Darcy admonished his wolf to be gentle with her. The wolf was confident that he knew better than Darcy how to handle Elizabeth. Darcy had the uncomfortable feeling that the wolf was correct. After all, Miss Elizabeth could hardly stand to have him in the room with her sister, and yet welcomed the wolf with open arms.
"I suppose I should apologize to you too," she murmured disconsolately. Remembering the fiasco in the parlor, Darcy felt like growling. The wolf wagged his tail, and Elizabeth rubbed his ears again. "Come along, then," she said with more of her usual cheer. "You can keep me company for a while, at least." Her fingers gripped in his scruff tightly. Both Darcy and his wolf noticed the way they trembled.
Miss Elizabeth led the way to her sister's room. Darcy could not be comfortable without a chaperone, and his uneasiness translated to the wolf. They were unable to settle in the room, and after only a few minutes Miss Elizabeth rose and opened the door for him. The wolf didn't want to leave, but Darcy took the opportunity to exert his will on the wolf. Reluctantly, they left.
Once out of Miss Elizabeth's presence, the wolf stopped fighting him so hard. Darcy was now able to direct their steps to Darcy's room, where he changed back to human. He dressed himself quickly. His hands shook sometimes when he thought about how close he had come to discovery today, making the task more difficult. For once, Darcy missed the services of his valet. Mr. Todd was one of the ones who knew his master was now a werewolf, but Darcy had chosen to leave everyone connected to him at Pemberley when he fled.
Mr. Todd was faultlessly loyal, even willing to keep Darcy's secret, and for that reason Darcy had been unable to bring him. With as unpredictable as the wolf had been in the beginning, it was too likely that he would harm those around him. So here he was╔ alone. Charles had of course offered the use of his own valet--who did not know--but except for services he absolutely could not perform for himself, he preferred to manage by himself.
Perhaps now it would be safe to send for Mr. Todd. The man would be overjoyed to be able to serve again. And yet╔ he'd just proven moments ago that he was not safe, even in company. He wanted to shake the wolf and demand what the hell he was thinking by forcing their change so close to everyone else. As always, the wolf remained tauntingly out of reach.
Darcy did not feel like joining the others just yet. He was still shaken and disturbed by how much power the wolf had over him. He stole downstairs quietly, and secreted his clothes back to his room. Then he selected a book from his traveling collection, and entered the library for some solitude. He was unable to concentrate on the pages in front of him. The wolf was too distracted by the thought of Miss Elizabeth so close to them. He was constantly testing Darcy, urging him to return to her. Darcy gritted his teeth against the wolf's prodding.
It was a relief when Charles wandered in a few minutes later. Darcy set the book aside gratefully.
"What was with you today?" Charles asked curiously.
The wolf informed him in no uncertain terms that if he tried to speak about Miss Elizabeth or their change, he would lock their jaws. Instead, Darcy said, "Stomach ache. Something I ate, maybe."
"Damn," Charles sighed tiredly. "Still too much silver for you? I thought it was getting better."
His tolerance to silver was improving slowly, mostly thanks to Miss Elizabeth's herbs. He shrugged silently. Sometimes it made him uncomfortable with how much he owed her.
"I'm tempted to tell Caroline that you have a sudden desire for finger sandwiches, or something like that," Charles said, only half in jest.
"No," Both Darcy and his wolf spoke sharply. Besides the need to maintain a normal appearance--which meant using silverware during mealtimes--neither of them wanted a closer association with Miss Bingley.
Charles chuckled, then winced. "She was a bit out of line today," he said awkwardly. Charles always hated speaking about the flaws in others. "I'm beginning to think she doesn't like Miss Elizabeth very much."
Darcy clenched his jaws, not speaking. His wolf wanted to snarl the truth at Charles, that he needed to restrain his sister before his wolf acted toward her. Charles suddenly grew uncannily perceptive.
"It bothers the wolf a great deal, doesn't it?" he asked shrewdly, his head tilted to the side. "If the wolf likes Miss Elizabeth, it wouldn't like any implied criticisms towards her, would it?"
Darcy swallowed hard, but said nothing. He felt his wolf sitting back and eyeing Charles more keenly. Until now, Charles had always referred to the wolf as this intruder beast that Darcy had to defeat. For Charles to infer the wolf's feelings meant that he was coming to accept that the wolf was a greater intelligence than he'd thought. Charles was not as oblivious as he had been. The wolf preferred to be underestimated.
Charles shrugged, and changed the subject. "Do you think we will see our guests at dinner tonight? I think Caroline gets along better with Miss Bennet, at least."
Darcy snorted his disdain. Charles gave him an odd look, and too late he realized it was a wolfish gesture he had picked up. "I think rest will most benefit the ladies," he forced himself to say civilly.
Darcy turned out to be right about the dinner meal. Neither Bennet sister made it downstairs to dine. His wolf pined for her, even as he suffered through the daily torture of mealtimes. The thick cotton gloves helped, but nothing could wholly dull the burn of silver. When Darcy returned to Pemberley, he swore he'd never touch silverware again.
Afterwards, they gathered for the last time of the evening. Mr. Hurst drifted off to sleep almost at once. His wolf curled a lip at the man's sloth. After a big meal, the wolf wanted to rest. After the small, silver-laced bites that were his standard fare at mealtimes, his wolf wanted to run. He wanted to purge the effects of silver from his body. He wanted honest, hot meat, without the taint of metal or herbs to dull the taste. Darcy's mouth flooded with saliva as his stomach clenched in hunger.
Damn the wolf, he thought absently, even as he planned a larder raid later. It was as undignified as a school-boy snatching biscuits, but his appetite had grown since becoming a werewolf, and normal human meals could not keep up with it. His wolf pointedly reminded him to fetch something for Miss Elizabeth as well. The wolf had the image of carrying a side of lamb up to her room, like a pack returning from a successful kill. Darcy rather thought talking to the maid assigned to the Bennets, Holly, would be more effective. His wolf snorted at his squeamishness.
Charles sat by the fire, tapping his fingers on his knees pensively. The only voices in the room were those of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, no doubt sharing some gossip or complaining about the quaint countryside. He did not mean to eavesdrop, but Miss Elizabeth's name came to his supernaturally sharp ears, and his wolf's attention was caught.
"--six inches deep in mud, did you see?" Miss Bingley was saying, while Mrs. Hurst nodded in agreement. "I think I should have to burn that dress she was wearing. Who knows what she might have done with it? I wonder how she got it? I never lent it to her! Perhaps that maid is stealing. I should have Charles dismiss her. But did you see how wild she was? Practically like an animal herself! No wonder, without a proper upbringing." Miss Bingley visibly preened herself, Mrs. Hurst quickly boosting her ego.
A slow flare of anger curled around the base of Darcy's spine, fed by his wolf. How dare Miss Bingley attack Miss Elizabeth like this, when the latter was not around to defend herself? Miss Bingley looked up and realized she'd caught Darcy's eye.
"What do you think, Mr. Darcy?" she half-crooned, oblivious to her danger. "Would you want your sister stomping about the countryside in such weather?"
Georgiana? "Certainly not," he replied curtly. Miss Bingley gave a small smile of triumph, misunderstanding him. Georgiana was a shy, quiet girl. That wasn't to say that Miss Elizabeth was brash or loud. Rather, it was the pulse of her magic that drew her on. There was such vibrancy, such life to Miss Elizabeth, that even walking through mud in a storm was as natural as breathing for her. It was as though Miss Elizabeth was part of the elements herself, as his wolf was part of him, and gathered strength from them much as his wolf strengthened him.
"She was quite dreadful when she came in, wasn't she?" Miss Bingley prompted. His wolf immediately had an angry retort. Darcy struggled to bite it back, while trying to come up with a reasonable answer. After a moment his expression turned sly. He thought of Miss Elizabeth, afraid yet still brave, letting nothing stand between her and her sister. It was more devotion than Miss Bingley had ever shown either of her siblings.
"I think the exercise brightened her eyes," he said, and a cruel smile curved his lips.
Miss Bingley blanched, but recovered quickly. "You admire her so, then? Tell me, when shall we congratulate you on your nuptials? You shall gain an absolutely charming mother, and Georgiana shall never lack for sisterly company now."
He remembered standing, opening his mouth to speak╔
╔And the next time he came to himself, he was a wolf padding calmly down the halls of Netherfield. Oh God, what had he done? He searched his memories frantically, there was only blankness. He implored the wolf, who was entirely too composed compared to the temper of earlier. The wolf snorted, but obligingly replayed the missing memories for him. Darcy had lost his temper. He had risen to confront Miss Bingley. He couldn't even remember what it was about her comment that had so set him off.
However, just like in the parlor earlier, the wolf had suddenly taken over. Instead of the forced change, this time the wolf had just turned him around, and they left the room. Darcy saw his body walking to his rooms, where he had stripped methodically, and then changed. The shift had been fast and nearly painless now that he wasn't fighting it. And then it was only the wolf, pacing the halls of Netherfield, avoiding the servants and waiting for him to wake up. It was unnerving to realize that the wolf had controlled his human body flawlessly.
The revelation that the wolf had actually protected Darcy was deeply disturbing. Where was his legendary discipline? Why was he so unbalanced and off-guard right now? It was more than the wolf in his body, more than Miss Elizabeth's distracting presence. He had faced the bitterness of society ladies before without ever losing his temper. Why was he so unsettled now? He desperately wished he could separate his thoughts from the wolf, to know which came from him and which from the creature inside him.
If he was still at the university, his masters would have set him down to meditate. His wolf found his turmoil to be unnecessary. Darcy was still berating himself when they stopped in front of a wildflower scented door. Not here again, Darcy begged. The wolf perked his ears, and they heard stirring in the room. Before Darcy could implore the wolf again, the door opened. Miss Elizabeth was wearing the same dress as before, despite the lateness of the hour. In the darkness she somehow looked almost ethereal.
Her eyes fell on him, and she laughed softly. "You always know where I'm going to be, don't you?" she said, crouching in front of him. She scratched under his chin, and then flawlessly went to his ears. She sighed, and looked at him curiously. "What's wrong, Fitz?" she asked soberly. Darcy stared into her face. For the first time he realized that his wolf was being very quiet. Not just the basking-in-awe quiet from Miss Elizabeth's presence. It was as if his wolf had withdrawn, to allow him to be near her.
For an awkward moment he wasn't sure what to do. Why had his wolf brought him here, only to abandon him? He stared into her face. Something inside him softened. It was more than the simple desire to protect her. It was seeing her before him, safe and concerned for him. Who had ever cared for him once his parents were gone? He had been his own master, independent and proud. But just here, this young lady, looked at him and asked him what was wrong.
If he had been human, he might have withstood her question. As a wolf, he felt vulnerable before her. If he'd been able to speak, he didn't know what he might have said. As it was, he only wagged his tail, then turned his head and licked her hand. He did it, not his wolf. She smiled at him, then stood.
"Would you care to accompany me, my gentleman?" she teased lightly. He did not protest being called her gentleman. At this time, he was. That was why Miss Bingley's barbs had sent him over the edge. He couldn't stand for Miss Elizabeth to be so mocked, when it was her company which was taming the savage beast inside him. His wolf had known, impossibly, that it was Elizabeth's presence that would calm him.
"Just warn me if anyone is coming," she whispered, touching his head and sending a pulse of magic through him. His wolf rose up to intercept the message Darcy could not understand. Despite his misgivings, he had to admire her deft use of magic.
Good God, why had her family never sent her to the university for testing as a mage? Yes, the price of the test could be steep for some families, but the opportunities that would have been afforded her--! He'd never heard of a nature mage with half of her breadth or talent. She worked with both plants and animals. She had not just power, but skill as well. She would have been in much demand. She could have received proper training that would have forwarded her natural ability. And he might have never met her here, in Hertfordshire.
The thought made him shudder. Miss Elizabeth stood in the hallway, her head tilted to the side as if listening. After a moment she started walking down the hall. Darcy wasn't sure what she wanted him to do, but his wolf moved at her side. They fell into a natural pattern. When his superior senses detected a servant moving toward them, he leaned against Miss Elizabeth's legs. She trusted him completely. She didn't hesitate to sink back into the shadows, or to hide in an empty room until the other people passed.