Posted on: 2013-07-07
There was no more conversation as they approached Pemberley. Darcy kept to a fast walk until they had crossed officially onto Pemberley grounds. Then he picked up into a jog, Alain loping alongside to keep up. He fairly leapt the stairs to Pemberley's door, already shouting for Mrs. Reynolds. She came out of one of the parlors, where she had been comforting Georgiana. He quickly gave his instructions for Alain's travel. Georgiana hovered nearby, listening to everything.
"What is happening?" she whispered when Mrs. Reynolds had departed. The urge to protect his sister warred with the knowledge that she deserved to know. Unfortunately, just with Mr. Gardiner, he had forgotten to hide his emotions from her empathy. Her eyes grew wide. "Fitzwilliam, tell me!" she demanded. He could have ordered her away, but that would have helped neither of them.
He reached for her, and drew her into his arms gently. He tried not to notice how he was shaking with anger and pain.
"Georgiana," he whispered into her hair. "It is Wickham, as I said. He has taken a girl. Miss Elizabeth's youngest sister."
"Oh no! That poor girl! What is her name? I can't imagine what Lizzy must be feeling!"
"She is Lydia Bennet, and I'm afraid Li--Miss Elizabeth is quite upset."
"Then you must go to her! Brother, what are you doing here when Lizzy needs you?"
He bit his tongue sharply, but the physical pain could not stop the emotional damage from leaking forth. The tide of grief and sorrow he had blocked with a dam of rage and fury broke free, and Georgiana was there to witness everything. He shuddered once, then scrubbed his hands over his face, wiping away any suspicious moisture. "Miss Elizabeth is lost to me, princess. No matter the outcome, she will not receive a suit from me now."
"Fitzwilliam..." Georgiana shook her head. "Talk to her. Please promise me you will, before you say goodbye forever."
He was unable to make that promise. He turned away mutely, already composing the letter to Charles in his mind. With a short scream, Georgiana hit him. Her small fist, though surprisingly strong, failed to make a dent in his ache.
"I am going after Wickham," he said dully. "I intend to recover Miss Lydia, and then I will see the end of him forever."
Georgiana panicked. She clung to the arm she had hit in frustration. "Promise me you'll come back! That you won't do anything stupid! Li--I need you!"
"I will do my best," he said wearily. He already knew if he had to sacrifice his life to see Wickham dead, he would not hesitate. "I write you every day once I am in London, even if it is nothing more than a note to say I am alright."
"I will pray for you, Fitzwilliam. And Lydia Bennet, and Lizzy. Please don't give up hope, brother."
He shook his head. She hadn't seen Elizabeth's full reaction. She hadn't seen how desperate Elizabeth had been to get away from him, how she had thrown herself at Mrs. Gardiner in relief that she was no longer alone with him. He left his sister. He wrote the letter to Charles. He was so agitated it more resembled something Charles would send rather than receive. Alain was hovering outside his study when he emerged. The pack bonds had let him know he was expected, even when Darcy made no conscious effort to control them.
Darcy sat Alain in a comfortable corner of a parlor, where Mrs. Reynolds could wake him when it was time for him to travel. He had no idea how this was going to affect the boy. He didn't want Alain to come to injury if he should faint. The young werewolf only stared at him with trust and willingness. What had Darcy ever done to deserve that? He had taken the boy in, shown him how to live with his wolf. It was no more than any good Christian--who happened to be a werewolf--would do. So why was Alain so blindly devoted? Darcy knew, more than anyone, how wretched he truly was. He had already let a murderer go free, and now he set out fully intending to cause murder himself.
He shuddered. He couldn't let himself think of it. He crouched by Alain's couch, putting a hand on his shoulder. As always, touch made the pack bond become stronger. He reached for those bonds, disgusted at himself for what he was about to do. He had only ever sampled lightly from Alain's strength before. He had always been so strong, he never needed more. But now he was already tired from his long run and lack of sleep. Now he would go further, and there would be no rest for him at the end.
So he took that wolf part of him, and called to the strength of the resting boy. Alain gave willingly. Even had he resisted, Darcy felt how he could have taken the energy by force. He felt the lad as a fragile spirit in his hands. Without asking, he knew how much energy he could drain without causing permanent harm. Alain would sleep for the most part of three days, and remain tired for some time after that. He also knew how to take even more from the boy. He could leave him a shell of himself, and even call so much vitality to him as to leave his ward dead.
He was not tempted by the idea. He would not become more of a monster to catch another. He had never sought to increase his pack before. Alain had happened upon Charles by chance, and so by necessity Darcy had become a pack leader. He hadn't regretted it until this moment. He would have had a much greater reservoir to draw upon with several wolves. He also would have been able to spread out the cost, so that no one of them would be as drained as he was leaving Alain.
It was too late for regrets though. He wouldn't be seeking more wolves after this crisis was over, either. The way he saw it, once Wickham was dead, he had nothing to live for. Elizabeth would never take him now. He wouldn't kill himself, he wasn't stupid, but he foresaw little pleasure in a life without her by his side.
For now he shook off his melancholy thoughts. He left Alain sleeping on the couch, and quickly retired to his room to change. He was brimming with power. He was lightheaded with it. It itched under his fur, and made him want to throw back his head to howl. Bless the young, who were given such boundless energy. He would need it all in the days to come.
He left Pemberley. He was greatly tempted to pass through Lambton in a last effort to see his love, but he couldn't afford the distractions of heartache now. He ran even faster than he had the night before. He sprinted until his legs burned with fatigue, then slowed to a fast trot instead. His lungs heaved for breath. The summer day was warm, and he cursed his heavy pelt for slowing him down.
He reached London a few hours after dark. He was so exhausted it was an effort to place one paw in front of the other. Alain's energy was long used up. He didn't bother to hide, just slouched through the streets. His anger still burned in him, but was a dull ache that throbbed in time to his heartbeat. He felt so apathetic, wasted and worthless. The first flush of fury had long ago petered out, leaving only the hurt of Elizabeth's rejection. It was so much worse than the first time. In Hunsford, he had been so shocked. Angry and hurt, of course, but also reeling that he had read her so wrongly. He had been full of righteous indignation. This time, there was just the knowledge of how much he had lost. She had been in his arms, her sweet form pressed to his for comfort and support. And then she was ripped away from him!
He was forced to stop for a time, leaning against a sooty wall in a filthy alley. He was trembling, his memories threatening to overwhelm him. Elizabeth! His chest rose and fell, and a low moan broke from his throat. If he had any energy at all he would have howled his grief. Instead he shoved himself to his feet again. He wavered for a moment, then found his balance and pressed on. He broke into Charles' practice. Since he had started traveling to London so often for Alain, it had been convenient to store a change of clothes there. None of his servants at his London townhouse knew what he was. He would pay Charles for the repair of the window when this was over.
Once he was dressed, he went to his townhouse. The sleepy housekeeper was surprised to see him, but made no comment. He left instructions to be woken the next morning, then threw himself on his bed to sleep hard. Despite his turmoil, he was asleep instantly.
He was utterly senseless until he was shaken awake. He checked the windows automatically. It was still dark out. He wasn't hungry, but forced himself to the kitchens for food. He needed to keep his strength up, especially as Alain was already exhausted, and the distance would make it harder to draw from him. He felt as though he was moving in a daze. His head was full of half-defined plans, and his heart with pain and longing. The cook looked scandalized that the master of the house invaded her domain. He didn't have the time or patience to be polite, but he made an effort, thinking of what Elizabeth would say if she saw him snapping at the servants. The cook was slightly mollified by the time he left.
Darcy chose Charles' practice as a working headquarters. It was conveniently located, being on the edges of a not too savory neighborhood. He went there, and before it was fully light left in the form of his wolf. The first thing he did was search for other werewolves. He had never encountered any in London before, but he had not looked for them either. For some reason he was certain that Wickham's pack would be based in London. He trailed through the city, using his nose as he never had before. He was not an expert tracker, and the complex, busy scents of the city often threw him off. He was just one more stray on the streets, albeit one larger than most. He blessed that his wolf form resembled a dog close enough that he could pass at first glance.
It took nearly three days, but eventually he located a lair in the city. It wasn't where the pack stayed, but it appeared to be a regular meeting place from all the scent trails that led to it. He encountered magic he hadn't experienced before. It was similar enough to the pack-talents he was discovering with Alain that he knew it was wolf-magic. It confused the scents, and distracted him from his pursuit.
He had to push through it by main force, but once he had, he had the overwhelming sense of being in another pack's territory. It was alien to him. His hackles rose; even the ground underneath felt unwelcoming. There were four werewolves lounging in the den when he broke in. Only one was in wolf form, but the other quickly shifted and surrounded him. His instincts took over. He held his head and tail high, and refused to meet any eyes but those of the other alpha.
When they locked gazes, a silent struggle took place. Each warred for dominance over the other. The London alpha was much older and more experienced. He had a larger pack to draw from, and knew more wolf-magic than his challenger. Yet he could not match Darcy's raw power and rage. The only werewolves Darcy had ever met were Alain and Wickham. Wickham had bested him by cunning and speed. He was superior to Alain, but then rare was the fourteen year old that could win over a full grown man. Darcy had never realized how strong he was compared to other werewolves. The London alpha had won his position by being the strongest and shrewdest of the local werewolves. His will crumpled under Darcy's.
Darcy felt the pack bonds of the foreign wolves now. They were his to take, if he wished it. He did not. He growled a command to the alpha, and all five werewolves shifted back to human form. Nudity was not unknown in the pack, and Darcy concealed his discomfort as he made his demands known. Jack, the London alpha, readily admitted that Wickham was part of his pack, and that he had been sent to Hertfordshire to enact a scheme.
Darcy snarled, and the others cowered before him. Jack was quick to abandon Wickham, saying that not only was the scheme his idea, but that Wickham had been difficult to control from the moment that he had been changed. An alpha's command was stricter than human law, but Wickham had always been clever in getting around any restrictions. It did not surprise Darcy that Wickham's wolf should prove as cunning as the boy he had grown up with.
Through his manners and trickery, Wickham had become the second in command in the pack. Jack had little doubt that Wickham would even challenge him soon, and was eager to be rid of him. All Jack could tell Darcy was that Wickham was not currently on pack lands, which consisted of only the city proper. Wickham had been able to conceal his location even from his own alpha. Jack was more than willing to cut Wickham from the pack bonds. Where ever he was now, he would not have access to the powers of a pack beta now.
Darcy left the pack. He did not exact revenge on them. As one, they were wretched creatures, thugs and cheats. Jack had managed to keep his pack undetected in the capital city by maintaining strict orders. They were small-time thieves, not murderers. There were more wolves than just the ones he had seen, but not many. Save for Wickham, all were content with their lot. It would serve no purpose to kill them, or set the police on them. It would only waste time and energy, not to mention the risk of exposure to himself.
Now Darcy knew Wickham was not in London. Part of him wanted to despair, knowing the other werewolf could be anywhere. Another part of him refused to stop thinking. Assuming that Wickham had not yet killed Lydia, he was traveling with a young human girl. That would limit how far he could go. And he knew Wickham. The man was most comfortable in a large city where he could disappear into the crowd. Now that the London pack had cut him off, he would be limited to only his human contacts.
Perhaps it was time to look up Mrs. Younge again. But first, there was another task he must accomplish. Enough time had passed that surely both Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner were present in London. Little though he liked, he needed to include them in the search for their niece and daughter. It was their right, and was the least he could do to repair the damages Wickham had done to them. Plus, there were certain things that were safest for a human to do. The closer it was to the full moon, the more Darcy worried about Lydia's safety. From what he had seen, Wickham's wolf was not known for his self-control.
Darcy wondered London aimlessly for a time, half-heartedly searching for Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner. He dreaded meeting Mr. Bennet especially. Besides not knowing if the man knew he was a werewolf, he had caused damage to two of the man's daughters. Lydia by her kidnapping, and Elizabeth from the pain she was feeling. Not to mention what the rest of family in Hertfordshire was experiencing. His inactions had all but destroyed the man's family. It was within Mr. Bennet's right to demand redress from him.
He began to think that he might have to call on Jack's pack--eight noses were better than one--to find the gentlemen when he remembered a comment that the Gardiners lived on Gracechurch Street. He turned down that way, and soon located the residence. It was late by that point, so he returned to Charles' practice to change and retire to sleep. In the morning, he regretted not bringing Thor with him. He was reduced to walking across London to Cheapside. He dared not take a carriage, for fear of bringing attention down on the Gardiners' house.
He knocked on the door, and Mr. Gardiner opened it. He looked tired; it didn't take an empath to see the man's sadness. Mr. Gardiner's eyes widened in recognition, and he attempted to shut the door. Darcy set his shoulder to the door and pushed hard. The door flew open, and Mr. Gardiner staggered back into the arms of his brother-in-law. Darcy regretted not being more careful with his strength, but he couldn't afford to be locked out of the house now.
He entered and shut the door behind him gently. "You are not welcome here!" Mr. Gardiner hissed, straightening.
"Mr. Darcy, this is really not a good time," Mr. Bennet said coolly. He too looked tired, and was feeling his years heavily.
"With all due respect," Darcy said with a bow in their direction, "You do not have time to refuse me. I have been seeking Miss Lydia these last several days. Is there a place where we may talk in private?"
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner gaped at him. He wanted to howl in frustration. Didn't they know how precious time was? Mr. Gardiner recovered first, and led them to his office. Once there, he opened a cabinet and removed a handgun. Mr. Bennet started violently, and even more when Mr. Gardiner pointed it at Darcy and cocked it.
"Would this even hurt you?" Mr. Gardiner demanded.
"Edward, what is this about?" Mr. Bennet asked nervously, edging away from the path of the gun. Darcy looked at the gun sadly, but without surprise. It was all he deserved.
"Not everything you hear is correct," he answered. "It will hurt a great deal. It may even kill me. The damage would be worse though if your bullets were silver."
Mr. Bennet's head shot up at Darcy's confession. An expression of anger crossed his face. Darcy held up his hand, and without preamble laid out exactly what he had done so far to locate Lydia. "So I am confident that he is not within the area of London itself. The local pack will tell me if they find him within," he said. "However, knowing Wickham, I should think he is on the outskirts somewhere. I intend to locate Mrs. Younge, one of Wickham's former companions, and see if he has made contact with her recently."
By this point both older gentlemen were sitting down and staring palely at him. The gun had been placed on the desk, though the handle remained close to Mr. Gardiner's hand.
"Failing that, I will comb the countryside looking for Wickham myself. I am sure you understand that it is imperative to find him before the full moon, if at all possible."
Silence fell in the small room. A mantelpiece ticked steadily. Mr. Bennet looked stupefied. He was a man that had failed to protect his family. Darcy could understand how despairing he must be, but they didn't have time for it.
"Why?" Mr. Bennet asked hoarsely.
Darcy didn't answer. He reached into his coat and placed a purse with banknotes on the desk. He would have to visit his solicitor for more, but this was a start. "I would like you to hire a small contingent of Wolfkillers to begin searching the area outside London as soon as possible. That way they will be at hand when Wickham is located, and he will be dealt with. You can imagine that I might not wish to do the hiring myself."
Mr. Bennet grew angry. "We don't need your money, sir!" he said harshly. "You cannot think to buy our gratitude!"
"With all due respect," Darcy responded in a clipped tone, "You do need my money. The Wolfkiller branch of the militia does not run cheap. You could not afford one on your own. I can, and I have the money to spare. I am not trying to buy your gratitude, nor am I asking your permission to be part of this. I am doing it, and you will listen because this is the best chance you have to recover Miss Lydia."
Mr. Bennet gaped at his rudeness. Mr. Gardiner stepped in surprisingly.
"I think maybe you better answer the question my brother first asked you," he said astutely. "Why are you doing this? What business is it of yours to involve yourself here?"
Darcy couldn't answer truthfully. Neither man would want to hear that he loved Elizabeth so much he would do anything to alleviate her suffering. He didn't have the right to declare himself in such a fashion. It pained him to sit across from Mr. Bennet and know that had things been different, he would have been asking the man for his daughter's hand. His throat tightened, and he had to clear it before he could speak.
"This is my business. I have known Wickham's personality all my life. Had I acted in a more decisive fashion, none of this would have occurred. Wickham was not a werewolf when we were boys together. That is a change I was made aware of only a year ago, when he brought to pass my own altered state."
"So you do this for Elizabeth then?" Mr. Gardiner asked pointedly. Even knowing the man was an empath, Darcy had a hard time controlling his emotions as he should have. It was hard to draw upon his training and his wolf-side to hide his feelings. He knew the man was provoking him deliberately, just to read his reactions. He was afraid his heart was betraying him.
Mr. Bennet once more jumped in his seat. He eyed Darcy with open distaste.
Darcy said quickly, "I ask only that she not be made known of my involvement. I do not think any here will object to that? I do this because I should have taken care of Wickham long ago. He is my responsibility, and I will set to right the wrongs he has done, as best I can. I cannot bring the dead back to life though, which is why speed is of the essence."
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner exchanged a long look. Darcy suppressed the urge to start pacing the room. Perhaps he should have been more polite, but he was already fraught with his untouchable love for Elizabeth, and the fear for her sister. Finally Mr. Gardiner sighed.
"His heart is in the right place, Thomas," he said. "He's heavy-handed, but his intentions are good."
Mr. Bennet muttered about where Darcy's good intentions would lead, but took the purse from the desk. Darcy hoped his sigh of relief was inaudible. From the look Mr. Gardiner gave him, his emotions were all too clear. He stood abruptly. "I will seek Mrs. Younge now," he said. "I will have more banknotes for you this night. Spare no expense on my account." He left, before he could give himself away. All the way back to his townhouse, he worried about what Mr. Gardiner had sensed from him.
He had become better at blocking out Georgiana, but clearly Mr. Gardiner was a stronger empath, and more experienced. It had made him a successful businessman. Empaths did not affect the emotions around them, but being able to read the true feelings of another made it easier to act in such a way to inspire confidence and trust. Mr. Gardiner was no doubt a peerless negotiator, able to monitor every party's reaction and act accordingly. It was disconcerting to have those skills applied against him.
He reached his townhouse, and set his agents to locating Mrs. Younge. He disliked not being out to search himself, but he had to be rational. If he kept running about as a wolf, there was every chance Wickham might see him. If that happened, he would know he was being pursued. Why not cut his losses, kill the girl and be away? He already knew he was packless by now. He was most likely still trying to salvage what he could from the situation. If he felt truly threatened, he would not hesitate to turn vicious.
Darcy took his enforced idleness as an opportunity to write Georgiana. He told her that he had met with Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner, and they had accepted his help. He couldn't bear to put any more details than that. He didn't want his little sister to know of the low places he had gone, or the things he was willing to do to find Miss Lydia.
That done, he met with his solicitor, and arranged for more money to be withdrawn from his account. He had been a wolf so much over the last days, he had almost forgotten the delicacies of being human again. This seemed to be his day for writing letters, for he composed another to Charles, being slightly more descriptive of his travails. Finally, he reached for yet a third piece of paper, and wrote to Richard.
In this letter, he didn't hold back. Richard had dealt with him after his shameful ordeal at Hunsford. Eventually most of the details had been pried from him, and his cousin had never judged. The most he'd gotten was a knowing look that had caused Darcy to flush. That one expression told him that yes, he had indeed been an idiot. It was to Richard he turned to painfully as he began to correct his behaviors, and Richard had helped him.
Now he described Elizabeth's coming to Pemberley. He wrote down his hopes, his happiness at seeing her, and everything he wished to accomplish. And then he related the story of that awful morning. He raged on paper, crushing his pen beyond use so that he had to retrieve a new one. He cursed Wickham in language that would impress even a soldier like Richard, and put in minute detail everything he wished to do to the other werewolf.
He signed his name with a flourish at the bottom, then sat back in his chair with a sigh. He looked over the letter, nodding with satisfaction. Then he crumbled it into a ball and threw it into the fire. Pulling a fresh paper toward him, he began again. He told Richard of Elizabeth's coming, and that he looked forward to finally rectifying the wrongs he had done her. In the letter, he gave only facts, that Wickham had kidnapped Miss Lydia, and he was now in London searching for her. He outlined what he had accomplished, and what his future goals were. Lastly, he asked Richard to look out for Georgiana, should something happen to him. She was still the heir of Pemberley. If he had married and had children, that would have changed. As it stood now, he would never marry. Pemberley would fall into the hands of her family.
That was a much calmer letter, and he was able to put his name to the bottom of it and post it without qualm. Richard knew him well enough to guess the emotion that his first letter had displayed. He also knew how to keep his mouth shut. Truly, Darcy could not have asked for a better pair of people, Charles and Richard, to help him through his transition as a werewolf. They were his pack as much as Alain was. If they had been closer to him, perhaps he might have even been able to draw strength from them as well, if willingly offered.
After a moment of thought, he extended his definition of pack to include Georgiana. He couldn't feel her the way he could Alain, or even Elizabeth, but his wolf was usually aware of her on some level. Tentatively, he put Elizabeth in the category of pack as well. When he thought about the two people that had helped him in his early days as a werewolf, there really had been three. With Elizabeth to soothe his wolf, he would never have adjusted so quickly. To his wolf, she would always be a member of his pack. Before that hateful letter, he had begun to feel her in the way he could feel Alain. But... There was always a world of pain in that terrible word.
But she wanted nothing to do with him now. But she would never be part of his pack. But she would never be his mate. He felt somewhat shameful, applying such a base concept to the woman he would have made his wife, but it was true. It wasn't only his human side that loved her. His wolf loved her as well. For all intents and purposes, they were the same being. But--there it was again--she didn't believe his wolf sophisticated enough to have that complex emotion. He would never get a chance to tell her now.
He scrubbed at his face before he could become completely maudlin. He had a task to do, and could not afford to become weak now. It took two days to find Mrs. Younge. He occupied his time by meeting with Mr. Gardiner--Mr. Bennet had returned home to be with his remaining family--and by attending to matters of business. When his street agents finally brought him back information, he left at once to confront her.
Mrs. Younge now ran a boarding house for women. His lip curled at the thought of such a person guarding the safety of the vulnerable sex. She might as well declare a buffet for men like Wickham. He had never ascertained if she knew what Wickham was. He wanted to change in front of her and threaten her until she gave up Wickham's location. Because he was not wholly the sort of monster Wickham was, he took a thick stack of banknotes instead.
She was dusting a table in the entryway of her boarding house when he came in. She jumped, and tried to fake her surprise at seeing him. It was all the confirmation he needed. She would not have been expecting him unless she'd had recent contact with Wickham. He made his demand curtly. She pretended to be an honest woman now.
He placed a single bill on the table. Her eyes glittered with avarice. Slowly, he kept adding to the pile until her greed overcame her loyalty. She reached out eagerly to take the money. His hand slammed down over hers, hard enough that one of the table legs gave out under his force. The table clattered to the floor between them.
Mrs. Younge's fist tried to release her hold on the money, but his own hand locked her fingers in place. He pulled her to him and leaned over her. He allowed himself to feel the full rage that had been burning in him the last several days. His wolf gleamed brightly from his eyes. The wrath of the wolf was not less than the wrath of the gentleman. Together they were a terrifying prospect. Mrs. Younge trembled as she squeaked out her answer. She wasn't just frightened of an angry man. In her scent was the primal fear of her life. She knew enough about werewolves to recognize what he was. Let her realize that it was Wickham who had brought Darcy down on her, and hopefully she'd abandon him forever.
Mrs. Younge didn't know precisely where Wickham was staying, but on the one occasion she had followed him, he went south. Darcy dropped one more bill on the ruins of the table, and left without a word. He felt sickened by what he had done. It went against his nature to purposely intimidate a woman, even one such as she. He might find her and her chosen allies to be despicable, but she was still one of those he was supposed to protect. Instead he had coerced her; how did that make him better than Wickham? He found scant comfort in the money he had left behind. It was a greater sum than she could legally acquire, yet it did not assuage his guilt. He doubted Wickham had ever paid her for her troubles. He pitied her, and prayed she would use the money to better herself.
If only he could be sure that her direction was correct. Still, it was the only lead he had at the moment. South it was then. At last he had information to pass onto Mr. Gardiner and the Wolfkillers. He grimaced at the thought of dodging Wolfkillers in the countryside. The Wolfkiller branch of the militia was the only one available for hire. They had but one purpose, as revealed in their name. Unfortunately because of that, the members had the reputation of being thugs and mercenaries. It was made of the dregs of the militia, the ones that could not keep the discipline of the regular units. Involving such people was not his first choice, but it could not be denied that they were effective at their jobs. He just had to make sure they found Wickham before they found Darcy.
The next night was the full moon. Darcy feared what Wickham would do on that night, when his baser instincts were fully expressed. His own wolf had learned to see humans as interesting, weaker individuals, ones that had their own rights and were to be protected. He rather imagined Wickham's wolf saw people the same way as Wickham did: as cattle to be used. Darcy met with Mr. Gardiner. The man remained wary, but was willing to work with him. They spent the rest of the day plotting their next move.
Mr. Gardiner showed a grudging respect for what Darcy had been able to accomplish. Whether it was sympathy for the grief Darcy couldn't hide, or just shrewd business instincts, he had been able to set aside his personal dislike for Darcy and accept his help. Darcy had taken care to be polite and informative in his dealings with the empath. Elizabeth was lost to him, but he still cherished the family that had formed her. The least he could do for her was not let his despair make him cruel to others. He had been in great danger of that in the last few days.
He had finally shaken himself out of his funk, realizing that he was slipping into the Darcy of old, the one who had thought that a list of insults was a proper proposal of marriage. Even if he couldn't have Elizabeth, he would still honor the lessons she had unknowingly taught him. Once he had determined to do that, Mr. Gardiner's manners toward him had opened up. They were now able to work admirably well together, even if Mr. Gardiner could not quite forgive him for being a werewolf. Mr. Gardiner even went so far as to express his doubt in having Darcy search for Wickham at the same time as the Wolfkillers.
Darcy shook his head. "I have to do this. Wickham... besides this being my fault, I have to see the end of it. I have to see that Wickham goes down, by myself or someone else. I have to see Miss Lydia safe, it at all possible. I know I will do that. I have to right this wrong." The ugly rage had begun to fade, replaced by a sense of conviction. He liked to think it was what Elizabeth would have wanted, if she still cared for him.
Mr. Gardiner nodded slowly. "I see your point, young man. I suppose, if I had claws and teeth, I would put them to use as well." It was the closest he ever came to mentioning Darcy's other side. Darcy retired to his townhouse to rest. Even before dawn, he was awake. He had set his servants to rouse him, but there was no need. As soon as he was awake, he knew there would be no more sleep for him.
The moon was so close to full he could feel it like a thrumming tension in his blood. It made him feel strong, fearless and restless. He worried that Wickham felt the same. He ate heavily in the kitchen. The cook had taken to leaving bread rolls with meat in them out for him. His schedule had been too irregular for normal meals, and his appetite unpredictable. The bread was fresh and filling. The meat satisfied his wolf's craving for protein.
He set out without waiting for the sun to show. He reached Charles' practice and a moment later was a wolf running to the south side of London. The land below the city was mostly farms and empty fields. As tempting as it was to dart wildly from one to the other, Darcy forced himself to be methodical. His sense of direction as a wolf was unparalleled. Once sufficiently away to begin his work, he turned his left side to the city, and ran a straight line eastward. He checked each building he came to, and scent-marked it to remind himself that he'd already been there. It was a danger that Wickham would run across his scent, but one way or another, the hunt would be done soon.
Once the bulk of London's towers were behind him, Darcy turned southward for a few minutes, then placed the city on his right and began again. In that way he was sure to cover every bit of land, every hidden dell or creek that might hide a fugitive werewolf and his victim. It was slow, but meticulous. In the distance, he could see Wolfkillers riding the countryside. He snarled silently at them, even as he knew they doubled his chances of finding Wickham. He ran as fast as he could, while still making sure to take in every scent.
By evening, he'd no sign of his adversary. He was tired and hungry. His head hurt from straining so hard at the search. He wanted to press on, but knew he was getting careless. He slipped into a damp overhang alongside a summer-shrunk creek. The cool, moist earth felt good to his belly, and he panted with the heat of his exertions. He would rest here for a while, until the temperature went down.
Posted on: 2013-07-07
Without meaning to Darcy fell asleep. He woke suddenly as the sun went down. The magic of the full moon shuddered over him, locking him into wolf form until dawn. He sat up, his eyes already attuned to the darkness. Time was running out. The Wolfkillers would be searching most diligently during the full moon, likely shooting anything that ran on four legs just to be sure. If Wickham realized they were on his trail, now was the time he would run. It was just a matter of finding him before he decided to kill Lydia.
Darcy reached out toward Alain. The distance made it much harder to sense him, but his ward appeared happy and surprisingly rested. The recovery of youth was truly remarkable. It occurred to Darcy that Alain was the one thing that he had, and Wickham did not. Darcy had a pack, though a very small one. Wickham was now running on his own, and would feel that much more vulnerable. Furthermore, Wickham had never been the alpha of his pack, while Darcy had never been anything but.
He was leery of growing too dependent on his ward, but nor could he afford to let any advantage go to waste. He asked Alain to spare him energy again. He left it up to the boy to decide how much to send. This far away, he was worried about taking too much. He didn't know what kind of situation Alain was in, and didn't want to leave him vulnerable. He was unprepared for the boost of power that flooded into the pack bond. It was nearly as much as Darcy had taken when he first set out for London. Alain must have felt very safe in his position to give so much.
It curled his toes and made his fur stand on end. Suddenly everything was much sharper. He felt as though he could run for days. He sent his thanks, and then closed down the pack bonds to allow his ward to rest. He resumed the hunt, suddenly refreshed. The Wolfkillers were much in evidence, carrying torches and lanterns. There were no more than a dozen of them, yet they seemed to be very much in his way. He avoided them with contemptuous ease.
He couldn't hear the bells of London from so far away, but he imagined them tolling the hours as they passed. He had been filled with fresh vigor, but as time wore on, his confidence waned. Dammit, where was Wickham? Was he sleeping away somewhere? He had never been able to sleep during the full moon, but Wickham was older than him, in a matter of speaking. Had Mrs. Younge been lying to him? No, she had been too frightened to lie.
It was possible for Wickham to have misled her. Darcy snarled silently as the thought occurred to him. What if Wickham wasn't even in the area? What if he'd caught a glimpse of Darcy, and run several days ago? He stopped and closed his eyes for a moment. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. No, Wickham was here. He could feel it in his bones. He kept moving. Whether it was instinct, or the nascent bond of having been changed by the other werewolf, he somehow knew Wickham was in the area. If he had been more versed in wolf-magic, it was possible he could have used his power as an alpha to seek out Wickham directly. Darcy regretted his isolation as a werewolf now.
If only he'd sought instruction before. He had wasted his early life as a werewolf, had squandered his abilities as an alpha. Perhaps, when this was over, he would seek another alpha to teach him. Not Jack. He could not respect someone who was both a thief and so weak compared to him. No, it would have to be an alpha that was his near equal in strength, and one that ruled his pack by wisdom instead of terror. He wasn't sure how he would approach such an alpha. He understood now that venturing into another pack's territory without permission was a challenge.
The new wolf would either be conscripted into the pack or driven away with extreme prejudice. Or, as in the case of the London pack, the new wolf could challenge the current alpha, and if he won, take over the pack. If he lost, he would either be killed or forced into the pack. No alpha would allow a rival that had nearly bested him to live. He thought about another wolf entering Pemberley and challenging him to be the leader. An irrational fury rose in him, and he growled quietly. No, Pemberley was his! Alain and Georgiana and all the people within Pemberley were his to protect and defend. He knew instantly that he would attack any foreign wolf that entered his home and refused to submit to him.
His mind wandered, considering his position as alpha of his tiny pack. In the end, it was not scent which gave Wickham away. It was sight. He almost missed the faint motion in the darkness. He froze and dropped into a crouch. His black fur blended into the night, hiding him in plain sight. The other wolf was not so lucky. Darcy watched as a pale creature detached from one shadow and crossed to the other. Wickham's coat, as sandy-blond as his human hair, stood out easily.
Darcy's breath came faster, his heart pounding in time to the rage in his head. A wicked growl bubbled up in his throat, but he suppressed it. Must not give away the game yet. Wickham glanced around, but failed to notice him. The other wolf moved with great caution. Either he had already gotten wind of the Wolfkillers, or the loss of the pack had unnerved him. It didn't matter why. Wickham was moving slow, and that allowed Darcy to rise and follow him silently. When Wickham looked back, he sank to the ground. The full moon cast a silvery light around them, but he was just one more dark lump among others if he did not draw attention to himself.
He thought briefly of howling and drawing the Wolfkillers down on them. It would be worth it, just to make sure Wickham didn't get away. The wolf in him quickly destroyed the thought. No, Wickham was his. If it looked as though Wickham might get away, then he could call down all the fury of hell on his head. Until then, he wanted the satisfaction of tasting Wickham's blood himself.
Wickham darted to another piece of cover, and suddenly stiffened. Darcy just had time to realize Wickham had crossed his own scent trail before the lighter wolf was off. He tore after Wickham, clenching his jaws around the bellow that wanted to break forth. Damn, but Wickham was fast! He had a head start on Darcy, and even with Alain's energy coursing through him, Darcy could barely keep him in sight.
Wickham knew he was pursued now. Darcy would bring him down first, and then follow his trail back to where Miss Lydia hopefully waited. He lost Wickham for a moment over a rise of the land. He threw himself up the incline, determined not to be left behind. He crested the hill, not seeing Wickham. His instincts screamed too late, and Wickham fell on his back. The older wolf was only half his size, but having seven or more stone of wolf land on him still drove him to the ground. He ducked his head and rolled. Wickham's teeth clicked together in his fur instead of his neck.
He shoved his feet under him, forgetting to be quiet as he lunged after Wickham. He roared at the smaller wolf, and dimly heard alarmed shouts from the Wolfkillers. Wickham wasn't there. He was devilishly quick, avoiding his lunge with ease and doubling back. Darcy didn't have time to recoil before Wickham was on him. The small wolf struck mercilessly, claws and fangs both aimed at his face. Pain and bright lights exploded in his head. He was blinded as his flesh ripped open, and hot blood flooded his nose. He shoved Wickham back and frantically shook his head.
Searing liquid splattered down his face and chest. Wickham had impaired him for a crucial minute. He spun wildly, snapping at the air as he feared the wolf coming at him from every angle. By the time he was able to clear his eyes to see, Wickham was long gone. He growled after the coward. If Wickham had stayed to attack, he might have been bleeding out already. He snarled savagely, the blood that kept dripping into his eyes making him look even more fierce.
He could see Wickham's form shrinking in the distance, and he flew after him. There was no way he could catch up, not with blood flowing from him and weakening him every moment. He threw back his head in a howl, and with satisfaction heard more shouts from the Wolfkillers. Suddenly horses were converging on them on all sides.
Wickham's escape was blocked, and he cut to the side, changing direction. An explosion ripped the air, a muzzle blast briefly lighting the night. A cloud of earth rose near Wickham, but he wasn't hit. It had just barely occurred to Darcy that he was a much bigger target when there was a second blast. Instinctively he jerked to the left, but if the shot hadn't gone wide he would have been too slow. He hunkered down, taking a zigzag path like Wickham. The Wolfkillers were as likely to catch him as Wickham, but he didn't regret their presence. Just let him see the end of Wickham, and then he'd try to escape them.
Wickham appeared to be aiming for a derelict barn. A horseman got in his way, and Wickham lunged with a snap. The horse screamed as it went down, eviscerated. Darcy heaved himself over the flailing hooves of the dying animal, seconds behind Wickham. Wickham made it to the barn, but a Wolfkiller came between Darcy and the building. Rather than take Wickham's method, he turned aside, dodging the rider. It saved his life, as a gun went off in point blank range. It temporarily deafened him, so close it was. Had he leapt, it would have caught him full in the head.
He shoved away from the rider, circling desperately. He had to get to the barn! Wickham could be hiding inside, or he could be fleeing out the other side! He whirled without warning, charging toward the horse that was bearing down on him. He was too big to truly fit between the horse's legs. The horse reared in fright as he ducked underneath. It tried to jump, but its hind hooves caught him squarely in the ribs. His breath huffed out his lungs as he tumbled several yards. He didn't have time to get it back. Looking up blearily, he realized he was past the circle of Wolfkillers.
He jumped to his feet before they could reform around him. The barn was in front of him, a partly broken window the only opening. It would be a tight fit for him, but he didn't hesitate. He misjudged his leap; the top of the window caught him across his shoulders, and broken glass tore into his belly. He flopped inside, not sure for a moment if he were dead or alive. He could hear the Wolfkillers outside, making plans to storm the barn. A gun intruded through the window.
A girl screamed.
Darcy reacted without thinking, reaching up and clamping his jaws around the arm that held the barrel to drag it down. A man screamed this time, and the gun went off with an agonizing sound in his head. More arms pulled at the man he held, and he let go and dodged away. Panting frantically, he looked around the dark barn. His hearing was gone again, for the moment. There was movement in the corner of his eye, and he whipped his head toward it. Lydia Bennet cowered in one of the stalls. She was filthy and terrified, but very much alive. He stepped toward her in relief. Her mouth opened in a scream he didn't hear, and she covered her head with her arms.
He stopped, realizing too late that he had forgotten about Wickham. Instinct made him look up. Wickham was in the hay loft, staring down at him. The Wolfkillers pounded at the door Wickham had barred. Smoke was already rising from one side of the barn as they set their torches to it. They were trapped here. Wickham was a cornered animal. Darcy would catch him within the barn, and the Wolfkillers would get him outside it.
Darcy met Wickham's desperate eyes for an eternal instant. Darcy saw the moment when Wickham made his choice. If he was going to go down, he was going to cause as much pain as he could. His attention shifted to Lydia. His muscles bunched, and he launched himself downward. Darcy lunged, far too slow. He roared in frustration, terrified he was about to see a girl killed in front of him.
He missed Wickham, but by some miracle he caught the other wolf's hind leg in his jaws. He crunched down as hard as he could, wrenching his head and neck down. Bone shattered. Wickham screamed and came after him with a flurry of snapping teeth that drove him back. He managed to take the brunt of the attack on the thick muscle of his shoulder. He tried to get his fangs into Wickham's neck, but even on three legs Wickham was ridiculously fast.
They circled. Darcy placed himself between Wickham and Lydia and stopped. He lowered his head and growled viciously. All his hatred, all his pain and fear and loss welled up in him, and he threw it at Wickham. The other wolf wasn't expecting the attack, and stiffened in shock. The door behind Darcy broke open, and a shot rang out. Darcy was staring straight at Wickham. He clearly saw the silver bullet enter Wickham's eye. Wickham slumped gracefully to the ground, taking his final sleep.
Darcy never heard the second shot. Richard had told him once you never hear the one that hits you, and his cousin was right. There was just an explosion of pain in his back. Suddenly his body blazed with fire. He arched with a scream. He could feel individual silver buckshot searing his flesh like acid. Helplessly he turned toward Lydia. She screamed with terror. Over the dull roaring in his ears he heard someone shout, "The girl's in here! Don't shoot!"
At last he was able to surrender his sanity. He never knew how he got out of the barn. Later he would hope he hadn't killed anyone, and be relieved when Mr. Gardiner reported that all the Wolfkillers had survived that night. At that moment, all he knew was that he was running, and horses galloped behind him.
He wasn't as fast as Wickham had been, but in the normal course of things he could still outrun a horse. But he was exhausted, and very hurt. One of his eyes was sealed shut, from blood or swelling he couldn't tell. He heaved for breath, but there was an agonizing band around his ribs, and his lungs felt bruised. Every step pulled at the gashes in his belly. For all he knew there was still broken glass embedded in his stomach. His shoulder was torn from Wickham's attack, and that leg began to falter. Worst of all was the silver in his back. It sapped his strength and caused fresh agony with every frantic heartbeat. He was weakening rapidly. He couldn't think past the pain of the silver. He couldn't remember the land had had traveled over for the last day, to find a place he could hide. Even if he could, he was leaving a blood trail a blind infant could follow.
This was it, he thought dully. He was dying. Even if he managed to somehow avoid the Wolfkillers on his heels, his injuries might be enough to kill him anyway. They certainly would be if he didn't get the silver out of his back. That shouldn't matter, though. He had accomplished what he set out to do. Lydia was rescued. Wickham was dead. Hadn't he said from the beginning he didn't mind if he died, so long as he achieved those two things?
Now, facing the end, he found that he was wrong. He was not ready to go yet. Perversely, his mind seemed to drift free of his suffering. Everything he would never see floated past hazily. He thought about Charles. The man had gone back to Netherfield as he'd suggested, and seen Miss Bennet again. Had they been able to reconcile? And what about Richard? His cousin had been a bachelor too long. Would he ever have a chance to find love of his own, or would his need for money prevent him from making a meaningful life?
And poor Alain. The boy had so much to learn, both about being a wolf and being a man. He was brave and smart, but Darcy hoped his ward would be able to find another pack to take him in. One that would teach him to value life, not take it away. Georgiana. His sister had been orphaned when she was just seven. She had no memories of their mother, and very few of their father. Now she was about to lose her brother as well. The running of Pemberley would fall to her. Mrs. Reynolds and Richard would help her. He regretted that he would not see her entrance to society, or be able to threaten the young man who sought to take her away.
Finally, Elizabeth. Dearest, loveliest Lizzy. It hurt to think about her. He would never get to see her face again. He would never get to tell her how much he loved her. He would beg on his knees for her to forgive him. If there was a chance, any at all, that she might be able to see past his transgressions, he had to be there for her. He knew he didn't deserve for her to look at him again, but hope was a stubborn creature in his heart. It refused to die, even though his life-force was spilling out of him in bloody drips.
Suddenly, it was untenable that he should die. He wouldn't stand for it! There was too much for him to see and do. He didn't want to die. He had a purpose to live for. His mind was made up, but unfortunately that didn't change the state he was in, or the position he found himself. The pain was getting worse, not better, and he was at the end of his tether. A trickle of warmth slid down his ribs.
He thought for a moment that it was just more blood, but then he realized it was easier for him to breathe. His ragged gasps for air smoothed into something more manageable. What was happening to him? He reached for the sensation, and felt that his pack bonds to Alain were open. Poor Alain. His ward no doubt could feel the silver burning in his back, and was trying to help by sending a trickle of strength toward him.
It couldn't help; Alain was already exhausted from his earlier donation. Then Darcy's eyes widened as he realized just how much power was flowing into him. How was it possible? He searched the bonds to his ward, and finally grasped that the boy was not alone. Elizabeth was with him. Beautiful, unselfish Elizabeth, who now fed her magic into Alain, so that Alain might send it on to him. She gave without reservation or hesitation. Unquestionably she was saving his life again.
He couldn't help his reaction to her. His head tipped back, and he howled his love to the sky. It wasn't like he could call more Wolfkillers down on him. He felt as though his love flowed back toward Elizabeth, surrounding her, as her strength coursed through his limbs. His footsteps steadied, and his heart pounded with greater vigor. He began to draw away from the horses at last. His mind cleared. Suddenly he remembered the land around him. He knew where to go, and how to lose the Wolfkillers.
He ran with renewed hope in his breast. He felt as though Elizabeth was behind him, urging him on, urging him to live. He could survive far worse with her calling to him. It wasn't that the pain grew less; it was more that he was able to bear it better. He turned his mind to losing the pursuit behind him. Even with Elizabeth's magic supporting him, it was a difficult and painful task. He could feel his helpers fading. They were giving too much of themselves. He feared they would injure themselves, but he needed their strength for a time. At last he got a moment to stop and hide himself.
He closed the pack bonds with a silent thanks, preventing them from sending more. Instantly the pain and exhaustion crashed down on him. His body was incredibly heavy, and sluggish. His remaining good eye closed of its own accord. His injuries were still very grievous, and the silver in his back was preventing him from healing. He would be here for a while. It was possible that even with the aid he'd received, he would still pass away. He knew one thing, though: he would not die before reaching Hertfordshire. No matter what, he was going to see Elizabeth's face one last time. He was unconscious nearly at once.
Lizzy woke with the worst headache ever. Her mouth felt like cotton balls, and all her senses were muzzy. Worse, her magic was gone. She felt stupid and dull without it, like there was a thick fuzzy barrier between her and the rest of the world. There wasn't even the pressure of keeping her magic at bay: it was just gone. She moved fitfully. Everything hurt, but she was panicked most about her magic. How could she live without it? It was like finding out both her arms were gone, or her legs!
"She's waking up," a voice said muzzily. It sounded so different, flat and foreign, that it took Lizzy a moment to recognize Jane. A hand brushed Lizzy's hair back from her face. She jerked in surprise, and groaned at the pain that lanced through her skull.
"Shh, don't worry, Lizzy, you're just tired."
Tired. That was like calling a full grown tiger a kitten. Like calling Fitz in full rage a sleeping lap dog. Fitz. Her back cramped just thinking about the agony of silver in his flesh. How was he? Where was Alain?
"Alain?" she croaked, not recognizing her own voice.
"He left a few hours ago," Jane assured her. "Lizzy, drink this tea, it will make you feel better."
A lukewarm mug was pressed to her lips. Her nose twinged sharply, and she recoiled when the vile liquid swirled over her tongue. Without her magic it smelled and tasted like stale cat urine. She choked and spluttered, trying to wipe at her mouth. Jane was relentless, holding her hands down and pouring more into her mouth so she had to swallow or inhale it. She swallowed, gagging at the taste.
Jane released her, and she sagged wearily. After a moment, her head didn't hurt so much. Running her tongue over her teeth, she finally recognized the tea Mr. Darcy had given Jane at Netherfield. She smiled, knowing she couldn't have identified it without her magic. It was not gone, just exhausted. What a good thing Mr. Bingley still had some of that tea laying around.
"Ah, no actually," said a new cheerful voice. "I didn't have any. But I just searched through Darcy's trunks. He usually has useful stuff like that."
Lizzy pried her eyes open and saw Mr. Bingley. He sat in a chair against the wall. She was in the same guestroom at Netherfield Jane has stayed in before. Her sister sat on the bed with her. She blushed as she realized Mr. Bingley must have carried her up here. She had accidently spoken her thought about the tea out loud. She made sure her lips stayed closed on her next thought. She rather liked the idea that the tea had been taken from Mr. Darcy's stash. It was as though he still cared for her, that he had packed the tea for her use. She knew it wasn't like that, but it made her feel better to think it for a little time.
Then she wondered what Mr. Darcy's trucks were doing at Netherfield. Her heart rose a little. Was he coming here? She remembered his pain, his injuries from last night. Was he alright? How long had she been out? Where was Mr. Darcy now? All her hope turned into worry, and dread. Even if he did come to recover, he would still want nothing to do with her. She didn't even know how or why he had come into contact with silver.
She gasped suddenly and sat straight up. "Lydia!" What had happened to her sister on the full moon? What time was it anyway?
"Easy, Lizzy!" Jane pushed her back down. Lizzy tried to resist, but found she became too dizzy to sit up on her own. "We don't know anything," Jane soothed.
"The full moon," Lizzy sobbed. "Wickham... Lydia..."
"Try to rest," Jane pleaded, stroking her hair. "You won't be any good if you're too sick to stand."
Lizzy settled back, but stubbornly remained awake. She felt ashamed for having fainted. She hated feeling so weak, both in body and magic. She did not regret giving all she had to Fitz, but she wished she would have withstood the strain better. There had to be something more she could do. Seeing that Lizzy wasn't going to sleep, Jane pressed more tea on her. Lizzy grimaced, but as traces of her magic seeped back, the flavor improved.
"If this is how you feel when you exhaust yourself," Lizzy said grumpily, "I shall be more gentle with you in the future." Then she brooded that her time with Jane was very nearly gone. Soon her sister would be Mrs. Bingley, and it would no longer fall to her to nurse her sister.
"You have always been gentle with me," Jane said in exasperation, "But I am sure I never gave you quite so much trouble when I was sick."
That was true. Jane was a mild patient, not prone to fretting. Lizzy, on the other hand, was so rarely ill that she couldn't stand being confined to the sickbed. Jane was finally forced to concede that they might as well return to Longbourn, as Lizzy needed some sort of activity to make her feel useful. Lizzy had a hard time managing the stairs. She was forced to lean heavily on Jane's arm, while Mr. Bingley saw to their horses.
When they reached the stable, she almost wept when she saw the height of old Bart's back. In the end, it was decided that both Jane and Lizzy would ride Reba home. The slim black mare couldn't have borne two grown men, but the sisters were slight enough to manage it, if they didn't press her for speed. Jane looped old Bart's reins over her arm, and he followed placidly. Lizzy tried to remain aware on the short journey home, but it wasn't long until her head fell forward onto Jane's shoulder. She didn't exactly fall asleep, but she might have dozed a bit.
Whenever Jane was sick, she always ended up in bed for days, or even weeks. Lizzy knew she wasn't giving herself a chance to recover. Her actions might even delay her return to full strength. But she couldn't remain away from home, not knowing what was happening to Lydia. Her sister, her dear, brainless flirt of a youngest sister might be dead already. She couldn't imagine that Wickham would have held back his appetite on the full moon. They might never recover Lydia's body.
Longbourn came into sight. Jane sucked in a breath and stiffened. "Lizzy, wake up!" she hissed under her breath. Old Bart remained steady, but Reba shifted nervously with Jane's sudden tension. Blearily Lizzy raised her head. Approaching Longbourn, from the opposite road, was a redcoat troop on horseback. No, not exactly redcoats. They wore the red uniform, but over their chests, each of the dozen men wore a sash of fur. Lizzy's heart froze in her chest. Wolfkillers. Had Fitz run into them last night? Was that where his silver injury came from? Had he been shot? Her eyes darted from one sash of wolf fur to the other. She couldn't stop herself from searching for long, dark wavy fur. If Mr. Darcy's pelt was now hanging from some murderer's chest, she would scream. She would die.
The Wolfkillers drew nearer, clearly making their way toward Longbourn. Some of them had bandages. If they had been hunting Fitz last night, she savagely hoped he had torn into them. Then she thought about Mr. Darcy. The gentle, implacable man wouldn't have wanted to hurt anyone, or change another into a werewolf like him. She wouldn't want him to live with that pain either.
The two groups drew closer, but neither hailed the other. By chance, the loose formation of the Wolfkillers parted, just enough to show a single rider they were escorting. Jane and Lizzy both stopped breathing. Lydia, pale and battered, but alive. She saw her sisters, and her eyes widened. She screamed and tumbled off her horse, running toward them. Jane and Lizzy tried to dismount. Lizzy was so weak her knees gave out, and she sat abruptly in the road. Jane reached Lydia first, both of them hugging and crying frantically.
Lydia tore herself away from her oldest sister, only to fling herself at Lizzy. Lydia shook and sobbed like a small child. She reached back for Jane, and the three of them held to each other in desperate relief. Lizzy thought that having her sisters in her arms had never felt so good in her life. The Wolfkillers looked on impassively.
"You belong to the house?" one of them asked, inclining his head toward Longbourn.
"Help me up," Lizzy whispered to Jane. She couldn't face them while sitting in the road. Lydia was more hindrance than help, still clinging and trembling, but Jane managed to pull them both to their feet. Lydia kept her back to the Wolfkillers, hiding her face in Jane's shoulder. Had they hurt her? If they had, Lizzy was going to make their horses trample them into the dust, even if it killed her to use her magic so soon after being exhausted.
Despite her weakness, Lizzy faced the soldiers bravely.
"We do," she answered firmly. "This is our sister."
"Guessed that," the Wolfkiller nodded. "We were hired by Mr. Gardiner to find and recover the girl. This is Longbourn of Hertfordshire?"
Jane gasped softly. Wolfkillers were famously expensive to hire. Mr. Gardiner was a shrewd and lucrative businessman, but even he could not have easily afforded the unit. They would owe their uncle for years for what he had done for them.
Lizzy answered steadily, "This is Longbourn. Is there a debt to be settled?"
"Nah, we'll take it up with the gentleman. Ride on, boys. Back to London." The Wolfkillers turned their horses and rode away. Lizzy exchanged a worried glance with Jane over Lydia's head. The man's words sounded ominous. She hoped Uncle Edward hadn't done something drastic to fund the Wolfkillers. Lizzy resolved to write to the Gardiners as soon as possible, and try to make repayment to them.
They turned back to Longbourn. Lizzy's knees started to buckle, and she clung to old Bart's mane to keep upright. Her head spun, but after a moment she started to feel better. She realized that she could feel the old gelding's warmth under her palms. Not just his physical self; she could feel him, with her magic. Some of his steady power leaked into her. She was recovering. Lydia was exhausted and could barely walk, same as Lizzy. Old Bart remained at Lizzy's side, letting her lean on him. Lydia put her arms around both her sisters, and wouldn't let go. She kept weeping softly.
They entered the house, and no sooner had Lydia appeared than there was a round of screaming. Lydia flinched at the noise, but she craved the contact with her family. There was much hugging and babbling. Jane told of meeting the Wolfkillers. Mrs. Bennet was quite beside herself, to think that her youngest had been put into the company of such rugged and handsome redcoats. "Mama, I do not think I ever wish to see another officer in my life!" Lydia declared, with such frightened intensity that even Mrs. Bennet took notice. She did not understand it, but she allowed that her daughter had been through quite an ordeal, and let it be.
Lydia was cleaned up and given fresh clothes. She could not stand to be on her own, and needed at least two sisters to be with her through her toilette. Lizzy saw that her sister was very thin, and bruised, however she did not appear to have been molested. Lydia took some broth, but appeared to wish for sleep most of all.
She stayed in Jane's room, and could not rest unless her sisters were all about her. Far from being put out by their sister's neediness, each of the Bennet girls were more than willing to keep Lydia company. At times Lizzy thought Jane's bed resembled a litter of puppies all collapsed into a pile together. Lydia needed the contact and reassurance, and the sisters were willing to provide it. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet also spent a good deal of time in the room, simply staring with wonder at their returned daughter.
Lizzy thought to send a note to Netherfield, asking if Alain had returned yet. Mr. Bingley was quick to send a reply, stating that Alain was still gone, and there had been no word of Mr. Darcy. Lizzy hadn't asked for the last intelligence, but it was deeply welcome. She just wished there was a more positive note to it. Was Fitz still out there somewhere, suffering under silver? She was grateful she would not have to worry about Alain needing her help for the full moon.
As Lydia slept most of the day, it was not surprising that she woke late in the evening, and remained restless for several hours. The full moon shone into the room, causing Lydia to whimper in fear. Lizzy woke, and shut the drapes. It was difficult to worm her way back into the tangle of limbs on the bed, but she managed it to hold Lydia. "Lizzy, you are so good to me," Lydia whispered, trembling still. "I have been so very bad. I do not think I can ever recover."
"You'll be well in time," Lizzy whispered back, stroking her sister's hair. She could well imagine the horrors visited on the poor girl.
"You do not know," Lydia began crying softly. "Mr. Wickham--he was a werewolf! It was so terrible, Lizzy." Haltingly, she began to tell her story. In Brighton, Lydia had continued to flirt as she ever had. Wickham appeared to pay particular attention to her, and at last persuaded her to run with him to Gretna Green. They had snuck away, but instead of running to Scotland, they stopped outside of London. Wickham had not even kept her in an inn, but took shelter in an old barn no longer in use. There his attentions to Lydia changed sharply. He harshly reprimanded her complaints, and even struck her when she insisted in her demands for better accommodations.
"There was no food, only a little mildewed rainwater. It made me sick," Lydia whispered in agony. "He'd be gone all night, and come back in the morning." She began weeping uncontrollably. "Lizzy, he was bare! He had no clothes on... I am compromised."
Posted on: 2013-07-12
Fury blazed in Lizzy, even as she struggled to keep it off her face. She could well picture Wickham running as a wolf, and then not bothering to dress himself before subjecting his presence on her sister. "Did he ever touch you, Lydia? Did he...?"
Lydia shook her head mutely. "He just slept, but I saw him! No one will ever take me now! I am unworthy."
"No, dear girl, no," Lizzy insisted. "No one ever saw you with him, did they?"
"Listen to me," Lizzy said firmly, squeezing Lydia's frail shoulders. "Wickham is not human. He is a monster! I am so sorry you ever went through what you did, but you cannot let that beast ruin you. If he did not touch you, you are not compromised, do you hear me?"
Lydia only wept, unbelieving. Lizzy felt bad for her sister, but at the same time, she prayed this would make her realize that she couldn't go on as she had been. "How did you get away, darling girl? Is... is Wickham still at loose?" She prayed not. With the Wolfkillers on the loose, surely they had done some good? So long as they had not killed Fitz as well...
"He is dead, Lizzy," Lydia whimpered. "I... tried to run once. He tracked me down so fast, I don't know how. He hit me, so I didn't dare move! Last night, just before sunset he woke up, and then he looked to be in pain! He changed! It was the worst thing I have ever seen; I think I shall have nightmares forever. But in the end he was a wolf, and he growled at me. I thought he would eat me!"
"Did he bite you?" Lizzy asked urgently. "Scratch you?"
"N-no," Lydia shook her head. "He left. I didn't dare sleep, in case he came back. In the middle of the night, something happened. I heard horses, and gunshots, and then he came back! I--I think the Wolfkillers were chasing him! It was so terrifying! I thought I was going to get shot, and then the barn started to burn! Did you know the Wolfkillers use dogs?"
Lizzy froze. "Dogs?" Surely it couldn't be...?
"Wickham--the wolf, he came back to the barn, and he was going to attack me! But this big black dog came through the window, and it fought off the wolf! It was very fierce. I do not think I want to ever want to have another dog again. Lizzy, you won't get another dog, will you?"
"What?" she asked a little too loudly. Her mind was reeling. Big black dog... Fitz was so close to dog in his appearance that Lydia wouldn't know the difference. "What happened to the dog?" she asked frantically. "The big black dog, where did he go?"
"I don't know," Lydia shook her head. Lizzy had to resist the urge to scream. "It was a dog, wasn't it? It looked like a dog, but I never saw one so big! It couldn't have been another werewolf, do you think? Why would a werewolf fight another? It got between me and Wickham, and it wouldn't move! Then the Wolfkillers broke in, and they were shooting. I saw Wickham go down. I think they killed him. I hope they did!"
"The dog, Lydia," Lizzy urged. Her heart pounded in terror for Fitz and Mr. Darcy. "What happened to the dog?"
"I think they shot it by accident. It was between the men and the werewolf. It arched back, and made this horrible noise! Then it just ran away, I don't know where to. The men, the Wolfkillers, they took me out of the barn. I think some of them followed it. They took me to their camp. They gave me some bread, and there was a tent where I could sleep. They looked so frightening, I didn't ever rest. They made me hold this silver cross, and put some weird plant in my mouth. It was bitter, and made my tongue go numb. They waited until some others got there, and then they brought me home." Lydia stopped talking, but kept crying.
Lizzy tried to comfort her, but her heart was in desperate turmoil. She didn't doubt now that Fitz had saved Lydia. Fitz had been hunting Wickham, even when there were Wolfkillers also after him. That was how he had gotten shot. Where was Alain? Had he gone to Fitz? Was Fitz even alright? He had been shot, with silver! It was all Lizzy could do not to jump out of bed and run to find him. She found herself crying, as much for fear for Mr. Darcy as for her sister's pain. She prayed for him, more fervently than she ever had in her life. She held Lydia until the young girl fell asleep. Lizzy's eyes remained fixed open with heartache and terror all the night.
In the morning, Lizzy found a moment to confide in Jane. Lydia's story was shared with the family, but only general details, that Wickham had kidnapped her, and the Wolfkillers had rescued her. It was assumed that Wickham was dead. To Jane, Lizzy admitted her fears about Mr. Darcy and Fitz. Jane hugged her tightly, but could offer no words of comfort.
She penned a note to Mr. Bingley, and wrote a letter to Uncle Edward to determine Mr. Darcy's involvement. There was no answer from either for several days. The last night of the full moon passed. Lydia remained subdued, but gradually lost the frightened look in her eyes. Her fright had given her a new perspective, and she was more cautious than she ever was before.
Mr. Bingley uncharacteristically stayed away from Longbourn for four days. He finally visited, to assure Jane that his interest had not waned. "A dear friend had an accident recently," he told Jane in a low voice, his eyes flicking to Lizzy to make sure she was listening. "He is staying with me until he recovers."
A dreadful tightness around Lizzy's heart eased slightly. Fitz, Mr. Darcy, was alive. He was not dead. The Wolfkillers had not gotten him. He was injured, and she wept for him, but he was alive. That was the best news she had all month. The day after Mr. Bingley's visit, Uncle Edward's letter arrived. In Derbyshire and during the frantic trip to Hertfordshire, Uncle Edward had openly expressed his skepticism and dislike of Mr. Darcy. Lizzy had tried to explain the Mr. Darcy she had come to know, but the fact that he was a werewolf had weighed heavily on her uncle's mind.
His letter, though, expressed a reversal of his opinion. He was still reserved, but gave a cautious approval of Mr. Darcy's character. The full story, that Mr. Darcy had paid for the Wolfkillers, that he had personally driven himself to extreme measures to find Lydia, was revealed. Uncle Edward also confirmed that Wickham was indeed dead, and likely another sash on a Wolfkiller's chest. Lizzy felt only savage satisfaction at Wickham's fate, but was at once guilty and ashamed for Mr. Darcy's involvement.
He had taken it upon himself to restore her sister, even though he wanted nothing to do with her. Or was that true? She no longer knew. He had been so cold in Lambton. But he hadn't been unaffected. She had felt, briefly, Fitz's great anger. Was it only because of Wickham's involvement? Had it been because Lydia had been so stupid to fall under Wickham's influence? Her head spun with questions for which she had no answers. She desperately wished to see Mr. Darcy again. She didn't tell her family, not even Jane, what Mr. Darcy had done for them.
Uncle Edward's letter had said how Mr. Darcy insisted no one knew of his involvement. It was only because Lizzy had already known of it, that he had told her everything. Lizzy felt deeply confused. She hated how Mr. Darcy had risked himself. She was ashamed and terrified of the injuries he had sustained in his venture. At the same time, she was so grateful for his actions. He had brought Lydia back, before she had been killed or permanently harmed by Wickham. That alone was a gift she would forever owe him for.
As always when she needed to think, she went for a walk. She wandered for hours on her old, familiar paths. She was haunted by Mr. Darcy's intervention, and by the nagging feeling that she no longer belonged in Hertfordshire. She felt like a butterfly in a chrysalis. Her childhood had been formed in Hertfordshire, by these trees, these creatures all around her. But the cocoon had grown tight, and she longed to break free. She didn't know where she belonged now, what she might be when she crawled out of her protected state, but she knew she was ready to try. She just didn't know how to start.
She could not ever expect Mr. Darcy to give her another chance. She mourned that she would never get to explore the exquisite paths of Pemberley in full. But as fond as she was of Hertfordshire, Meryton, Longbourn and her family, the time for branching out had come. Jane would soon be married. Lizzy longed for the independence that would give her sister. Perhaps she was destined to become an old maid. She certainly felt that if she remained at Longbourn much longer, she would begin to stagnate, and become set in her solitude.
Inevitably, her feet led her to a spot where she could look out from the trees and see Netherfield. Her eyes remained glued to the vista, unable to look away. How was Mr. Darcy doing? Once learning that he was at Netherfield, she had not dared to approach or ask after him. She was not worthy of his company, and she would not subject him to her presence. But how she longed to see him! Her heart yearned for him, even knowing she could never have him.
She remained standing for a long time, her chest constricting painfully with each beat of her heart. "Mr. Darcy," she breathed, "I wish I could see you again." She sighed, with longing and grief.
There was an almost violent rustling in the brush next to her. She started in surprise, and Fitz emerged from cover. Like a curtain had been drawn back, she could suddenly feel him with her magic as he stopped hiding from her. She gasped, her hands covering her mouth. Instant tears sprang to her eyes. He was here. Maybe he had been following her, somehow hiding his presence. She had imagined Mr. Darcy languishing at Netherfield, suffering injury on her behalf. She never imagined that he could look so... well.
He was still injured. She could see scabbed over cuts on nearly every part of him. She felt the distant ache of them. His poor face... had some of those lacerations been deeper or a fraction of an inch shifted, there was every possibility he could have lost one or both his eyes. Instead he stared at her, his midnight blue eyes flecked with spring green. She felt almost as though those light flecks formed constellations in his gaze. If she could only find the north star, she could find her way home. She tore her eyes away with a physical sensation of loss. She had no right to look on Fitz as such.
He felt cautiously guarded, so that she didn't know if he welcomed her presence or not. But he had emerged when she spoke, so that was a good sign, wasn't it? She gave him a sidelong look, afraid to turn to him fully. She remembered the last time she had seen him, striding away from her full of rejection. She couldn't live through that again.
Fitz's tail moved when she glanced at him, a slow wave to encourage her. She started toward him automatically, then checked herself, and extended a hand toward him. "Hello, Fitz," she said cautiously. He extended his head, sniffed her fingers and licked her palm. Her breath left in a rush. He didn't hate her. She could feel that clearly. He was as uncertain of her own reaction as she was of his.
Her resolve broke. She dropped to her knees beside him and flung her arms around his neck, careful of his injuries. "Fitz!" she sobbed into his fur. "I've missed you so much! Thank you, thank you for what you did for Lydia. You didn't have to, but you saved her. Thank you, thank you, thank you." She babbled on, repeating her thanks stupidly. He grumbled a complaint, but leaned into her. She got the impression that he was disgruntled that she knew of his involvement. She no longer thanked him for Lydia's return, but for his own. Had Lydia been saved but not him, she would have been just as devastated had Lydia never come home.
She sniffed hard, then pulled herself together. She combed her fingers through his thick fur, thankful it had probably protected him from even worse injury. He made a low sound, and his head rested heavily on her shoulder. She felt held by him, and revealed in the feeling. She called her magic, and it sank deep into his muscle and bone. There were several things she couldn't heal. The scratches on his face and shoulder remained in place, as did the silver gunshot wounds on his back.
But there were several deep gouges on his stomach that closed up on her touch. She shuddered as she felt them. That almost disemboweled him. And he had two broken ribs and several cracked ones that mended in place, as well as deep bruising to his lungs and chest. He could not have been more hurt than if he had been trampled by a horse. By the feel of his injury, she would not have been surprised if that was the truth. Tears flooded her eyes as she thought about how close she had been to losing him. His ribs could have punctured his lungs or heart. The silver could have severed his spine or ripped off great chunks of flesh. He had suffered so much, and without a word of complaint!
Fitz took a deep breath of relief, probably the first since whatever had tried to crush his chest. She took one last shaking breath against him, inhaling his canine scent. She held her breath, trying to savor it one last time. Her lungs burned, and eventually she had to let it out. She sat back from Fitz, drying her eyes. He didn't like the separation, and tucked his head under her chin in clear supplication. She chuckled and scratched his ears in just the way he liked it.
She felt her heart was breaking, but she had to do it. She pushed him away gently. "Fitz," she began, I love you, she thought in agony, but said, "Thank you for bringing Lydia back. It is very good to see you again, but I fear Mr. Darcy would not appreciate you being with me. You should go back to Netherfield now, and try to rest."
He gave her a mutely astonished look. Part of her prayed he would refuse to leave her side. That part of her was ripped out as he turned and disappeared into the deep forest. She clamped her hands to her mouth to keep from screaming her pain and agony. It hurt, how easily he abandoned her again! When she first saw him, she had hope for a painful instant that maybe Mr. Darcy didn't hate her. That hope was dashed, no: slaughtered, when he walked away without hesitation.
She leapt to her feet and began running blindly. She needed to go home, to cry her soul out on her pillow. At least Murray was still with her! Her cat was pale comfort compared to the warmth of Fitz, but that was all she would ever have! A deep, mournful howl went up from behind her. Even though she had never heard it before, she knew it was Fitz. She ran faster, trying to block the sound from her ears and heart. It was a good thing she knew all the paths well, because she ran without direction or sight, trusting her feet to take her home.
That voice was even more painful than the howl. It was a voice she had thought never to hear again. She pushed herself harder, but she was no match for the man that chased her. She could feel Fitz inside him. Normally the chase would excite him, lead him to relish the hunt and eventual capture. Now, though, she only felt that he was as sore and grieving as she was. Mr. Darcy's pursuit was noisy and short-lived. He passed her in a blur of flying limbs, then stopped directly in front of her.
She tried to halt her flight, but her momentum was too great. She crashed into his hard body. She had cause to be grateful that she had healed his ribs already, because if not she surely would have hurt him greatly. She rebounded off him, stumbling helplessly. He caught her arms and steadied her. She had a brief, ecstatic moment when she felt him holding her, then he released her with a deliberate step backward. There was no end to the pain his action brought her. It spoke volumes, that he would not touch her if he could possibly help it. She was as disgusting to him as she had feared.
Her tears flowed unabated as she panted for breath. Mr. Darcy wasn't even winded. His face twisted as he saw her. "Miss Elizabeth, please don't cry," he pleaded. He patted his chest as if for a handkerchief, but he wore only shirt and breeches. He was even barefoot, and had still caught up to her effortlessly!
"Please, Miss Elizabeth, you wound me," he said. He shook his sleeve past the end of his arm, and then used the material to dab at her face. He smelled like old growth forest and wild wolf. She wanted to sink into his scent and hold it around her. Instead he stepped back once her cheeks were dry. Her face flamed that he couldn't bear to be near her. Her heart was still ripping into little pieces, but she forced herself to face him bravely. If her chin trembled, at least she held back her tears this time.
Mr. Darcy took a deep breath. He paused, then put his hand to his ribs and smiled as he took another deliberate breath. He reveled in the absence of pain, and his expression took her own breath away. "Miss Elizabeth," he began, and something unreadable flashed in his eyes. It was something almost like anger, and he stepped toward her. He stood within her space, forcing her to tilt back her head to see his face. He was mesmerizing, and she couldn't look away. She basked in the warmth pouring off him, even if it wasn't hers to enjoy.
"Miss Elizabeth," he repeated, and his voice had gone low and husky. It was the third time he'd said her name, as if he couldn't get enough of speaking it. "There is something you should know. I have been in perfect control of myself in wolf form ever since leaving Netherfield last fall."
"Oh," was the only thing she could think to say. She was so befuddled by his presence that she was having a hard time understanding him. His face darkened, and Fitz raged with emotion. Mr. Darcy moved away from her again, but this time it was to pace back and forth, running his hands through his hair. He craved motion when he was agitated.
"Oh? Is that all you can say? I do not think you understand! Last autumn, when I encountered you, you changed me. You let me encounter my wolf for the first time, without pain or fear and rage between us. I met him, and I realized what he was. He was me. I had thought it then, but I am sure of it now. It is almost as though the creature you knew as Fitz does not exist anymore, for I have become him. Now there is just me, and I am man, but I am wolf too."
"Oh," she said again, this time with comprehension. He spun to face her with inhuman speed. She barely blinked and he was once more before her, invading her area as if to force her back. She held her ground, not out of bravery, but because she was too stunned to move. Her face heated more as she took in his meaning. All those times Fitz had visited her at Hunsford, that was just Mr. Darcy? The things he had done, what she had told him, all was done with deliberate understanding? And just now, when she had thanked Fitz--Mr. Darcy--he had understood that too.
She kept her eyes on his chest, because she couldn't lift them to his face. She was ashamed to have mistaken him so thoroughly. It had been before her the entire time. The way Fitz had asked her to read out loud that day in the garden, the bursts of emotion from the wolf that had taken her off guard so often. That was all Mr. Darcy! No wonder she had so misled him at Hunsford, that he had not hesitated to declare himself. If only she had known then! She would have understood him better, would have seen the signs clearly that he was courting her. She still did not know what she would have said to his proposal, but she thought she would have acted differently. Maybe she would have even accepted him, knowing that his feelings, though awkwardly expressed and insulting, were genuine.
That was long passed though. She had hurt him, had spurned him as cruelly as she could, and no man would accept that with equanimity. She didn't realize that he was studying her so closely until he said, "Yes, I didn't think you knew." She jumped in surprise, feeling his closeness but not moving away. She still couldn't look him in the face. She berated her blindness, her stupidity. Fitz--no, Mr. Darcy, was calmer now, her magic informed her. It was strange to know that she felt the wolf's emotions, and yet knew they belonged to the man as well. Was this how Uncle Edward felt, as an empath?
"I cannot call you Fitz any longer," she said absently, her thoughts leaking out. Mr. Darcy raised his hand and brushed his fingertips down the side of her face. Her breath caught in her throat. His fingers took an errant lock of hair and sampled its texture as if in wonder. Her heart stuttered in her chest. She had always known that Fitz was not indifferent to her. She had refused to give his feelings credence because she had thought him only a wolf. Now that she knew he was Mr. Darcy, she could painfully acknowledge that she had known he loved her for a long time.
It was worse to realize that her feelings were reciprocated, but that he could not possibly still love her now. Or was that true? She could feel him, her magic always channeling his emotion straight to her heart. He was peaceful, yet nervous as well. Doubting, but with the keen edge of hope beating in her chest. Was it possible...? Her heart began pounding harder than when she had run from him. She was not running now. She would never run from him again.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, sounding not the least bit contrite. "I have wanted to do this for such a long time." His fingers continued to feel her skin, soft and warm. He looked and felt absorbed in his actions, in his perusal of her. "By what name would you call me now?" he asked, proving that he had been listening. Startled, her gaze flew to his face. His eyes weren't looking at hers, but instead stared intensely at the path his fingers took. She didn't feel awkward under his scrutiny, as she might have done once.
Instead she felt, for the first time in her life, as if she might just be beautiful. As if someone could call her features fascinating, and was entranced with her. All her life, she had never felt beautiful before. Jane was the pretty sister. Lizzy was the one that was always found lacking, too smart, too impertinent for her own good. She had heard it all her life, and believed it until now.
"Mr. Darcy," she breathed, pleading with him. She stood at the cusp of something immense, and didn't understand it. She teetered uncertainly, poised to fall. She needed something to hold onto. She wanted him, but she wasn't sure what he was offering.
He met her eyes at last. She felt a physical shock at his contact. It was as though his gaze was more intimate and powerful than his fingers on her skin. "No," he chided gently. Instant hurt flashed through her. If she could feel him, he proved that he could feel her as well, for he reacted to her pain. He cupped her face with both hands, holding her steady when she would have turned away from him.
"I would not have you call me that," he explained. "You shall have to think of something else to call me."
Fitzwilliam. His name burst over her like a wave of the ocean, or the first ray of sunshine on the first day of spring. Fitzwilliam. He was no longer Fitz, but more. Mr. Darcy was too formal for a setting such as this, when he held her face in his hands and looked at her with such obvious admiration. Fitzwilliam. She repeated his name as he had hers before. She bit her tongue to keep from speaking it. She could not call him that. She did not have permission. But it fit him, and it lodged in her heart stubbornly.
He searched her eyes for a long moment, and then his hands slid down to her shoulders. He leaned into her with a sigh. He rested his forehead on hers. The gesture was so tender, she nearly wept with the peace he brought her. She wondered if he could feel her trembling.
"Elizabeth," he breathed, and she jumped to hear her name fall from his lips like that. Did that mean he thought of her as she thought of him? Hope was a cruel, cruel fiend clawing at her. She wanted to beg him to put an end to her agony.
"You are too kind to trifle with me," he lifted his head to be able to see her expression. His hands tightened minutely on her shoulders. He craved contact with her as thoroughly as she did with him. "One word from you will silence me forever, but if your feelings are in anyway different from what they were in the spring, please tell me. Mine have not changed."
A frisson ran from head to foot and lifted every hair on her body. Had she heard him correctly? Could he have possibly said what she thought he had? "My feelings..." she began in a daze. She collected herself, and sighed sadly. How could he possibly still care for her after all she had put him through? Her hesitation caused doubt to lash through him. His pain was her own. Unthinkingly she reached up and touched his face as he had done to her. Her small fingers rested on his jaw as his warmth seared her. "I cannot recall my feelings from that time without great feelings of shame," she whispered.
He froze for an eternal moment. His hope burned hotter, and threatened to consume her. She would gladly throw herself on the fire to be with him. He smiled tremulously. Even with the horrific scratches on his face, he was still devastatingly handsome, and never more than when he looked at her like that.
"Truly?" he asked, as though he could not believe it. She nodded. Her mouth was dry. His smile broadened. She wanted to fall into him, knowing he would catch her. She was uncertain where she would go next, but if he was next to her at all, she would face it without fear.
Without warning he released her and fell to one knee. "Mr. Darcy!" she cried in panic, thinking he was hurt. Her hands clutched his shoulders, trying to hold him steady. His eyes sparkled in humor. He took her hands in his, then kissed the back of each one tenderly. She shivered at the delicate feel of his lips on her skin.
"Elizabeth, I love you," he said in a low, fervent voice. She felt dizzy with the outpouring of love from both his voice and his heart. "I have loved you from the first moment I saw you, and my love has only grown with time. I cannot live without you. I am unworthy of you, but I would strive every day to serve you as you deserve. Please say you would marry this wretched beast before you?"
"Ye--" she began automatically, stopping herself just in time. She shook her head sharply, knowing this would be one of the most important moments of her life. It was vital to get this right. His eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open in a soundless cry of agony. She didn't hear it, but she could feel it inside her. She knelt in front of him, freeing one hand to place her palm to his cheek. He stared down, but she directed him to look at her.
"Fitzwilliam," she breathed urgently. "I love you. I love you, and I have put you through so much. You have suffered, and most of it by my hand. But I love you. I love every part of you. I love every side of you. I love you when you are upset, and I love you even more when you are happy. I love you when you are furry, and when you defend me most ardently," she touched one of his scratches gingerly. His face softened in wonder. His eyes seemed to shine when he looked at her.
"But most of all, I love this man before me," she emphasized. She had once called him a dog, and he needed to know he was not a beast. He shook; she could see and feel it. "He is the very best man I know, and it would make me very happy to be his wife."
Stunned silence fell, save for the thundering of their hearts. They stared at each other, kneeling as if in reverence. Lizzy could barely breathe. Had she said the right thing? Did he understand what she meant? Why didn't he speak? And then he threw his back in a great laugh. He lunged to his feet, lifting her into the air effortlessly. She gasped and clung to him, fearful that he would do himself an injury. He spun them around with joy. Each of their euphorias promised to overwhelm the other.
She found herself laughing with him. She never believed she could be this happy. Indeed, she would have said that it was impossible to be any happier, except for what happened next. He stopped and let her down gently, sliding along his body. His arms came around her tenderly. She crushed him to her fiercely, and his ribs quaked with laughter. Then his lips met hers, and all rational thought ended.
He was sweet, and gentle. Fire rushed under her skin, exquisite and like nothing she had ever felt before. They moved in tandem, tasting, experiencing, learning. It was perfect, and both of them heaved for breath when they parted.
"I'm never letting you go," she swore. Her fingers tangled the back of his shirt. If possible she would have been clutching his skin.
"Yes," he agreed. His face was buried between her neck and shoulder, his hot breath tickling her sensitive skin. He breathed in her scent, and his wolf opened to her. Without words, he told her just what it meant to him. Deliberately she ducked her head to his shoulder and inhaled deeply. Then she rubbed her nose against his skin, where his shirt fell open. He growled, and then nipped her shoulder with his teeth. She jerked, but he had been gentle, and he kissed the spot to sooth her.
With great reluctance, he straightened to look at her. "Lizzy," he breathed, speaking her nickname for the first time. "Would you do me the very great honor of letting me court you?"
She blinked in surprise. "Fitzwilliam?" she asked uncertainly. "I have already agreed to marry you. Now you wish to court me?"
He sighed. "I feel as though too much has been lost to misunderstanding. I wish to court you as you should be, this time with both of us knowing what we want."
"I want you," she held to his arms, loving the flex of muscles under her palms. Her fingers couldn't get all the way around his arms. He was thinner than she liked, his ribs standing out too sharp, but she admired his lean figure eagerly.
"Then we are agreed," he said, and kissed her again.
My dearest, loveliest Lizzy. I love you. I would worship you forever.
She jerked away from him. "What?" she asked loudly, staring with wide eyes. His mouth curved into a smile. His eyes glowed with love.
You heard me? Good, I wasn't sure.
It was her Fitzwilliam's voice, but his lips didn't move. She stepped up to him and placed her fingers on his mouth as if to be sure.
I love you, he said, not moving a muscle but to breathe. I love you so much. I have wondered if this would work for you, and I am glad it does. I shall never be unable to tell you how much I love you.
"I don't understand," she said in confusion. Had Fitzwilliam suddenly become a telepath? His shoulders shook with silent laughter, which she heard in her head.
Figure it out, Lizzy. I know you can. This is just an extension of your magic.
Her magic? Her magic? She didn't read minds. She wasn't a telepath. But... Your wolf! She got it. You speak with your wolf, and I hear it! she said excitedly.
He showed his teeth, a triumphant grin. And I hear you, he pointed out. She blinked, and realized she had spoken only in her mind, as she would speak to an animal.
"Amazing," she breathed, then, Amazing. She leaned up and kissed Fitzwilliam.
Oh yes, he agreed readily. Very amazing.
You better talk to my father before this goes on too long.
Fitzwilliam broke off with a grimace. Right.
"Right," he repeated, and she felt him making the effort to pull back his wolf. The immediate sense of him faded, but he was always there in her heart. She understood now how he could hide his feelings from her when he wanted. He simply shifted them to his human side, and she couldn't feel him. They could speak when he used his wolf nature to communicate, but it was difficult when he needed to have human thoughts. Such as when he was going to have a difficult interview with Mr. Bennet.
"What happened to your shoes? And the rest of your clothes?" Lizzy asked idly.
Fitzwilliam laughed quietly. "They're where I changed. I was in a hurry to catch up to you, and I only grabbed the basics. That was why I left so quickly when you sent me away. I wanted words to speak with you. I didn't try speaking with my wolf, because I wasn't sure you'd believe what you were hearing. I didn't know if it would work. I never meant to hurt you."
Lizzy realized something. "You can feel what I do?"
He grimaced. "Sort of. My wolf... is slightly empathic. Not as much as Georgiana or your uncle. But those I care about, those in my... pack." He hesitated, looking anxiously at her. She tilted her head to the side, oddly pleased by his words.
"I'm part of your pack?" she asked. Her hand found his, and instinctively their fingers twined. It felt right.
He nodded. "I'm sorry, if it bothers you. But to my wolf, you're part of my pack. You will be, and it feels like it's starting already."
"Fitzwilliam," she stopped him, then leaned up and kissed his cheek. She soothed him with her magic. It felt like one heart reaching out to touch the other. "I like being part of your pack. Don't ever try to hide what you are from me. One, it won't work," she said archly, and he smiled crookedly. Then her tone softened, and she added. "Two, I don't mind it. I love you. I love everything to do with you. I will be part of your pack. I will be everything I can be to you."
He sighed, and his relief was palpable. "I--there's something else, Lizzy. I don't know how to tell you."
"Just say it," she encouraged, leaning into him.
"My wolf... also considers you my mate," he took a deep breath and held it, bracing himself.
Lizzy blinked and consider his words. The first thing that came to mind was the physical act implied. Her face turned a deep brick red in mortification. It was worse when she glanced at Fitzwilliam, for she was taken by a sudden curiosity... She forced her thoughts away from that direction. The other thing that occurred to her when she considered the word mate, was that animals were considered mates. Farmers were said to have mated the ram to their ewe. While that was a crude image of itself, it made sense to her. She would be wife to her Fitzwilliam as a man, and mate to her Fitzwilliam as a wolf. She would be his match in every way possible.
It was unconventional, but then neither of them had followed the traditional path here. She leaned against him, and said deliberately, Then you will be my mate. He jerked in surprise, then took her in his arms.
"I love you," he whispered with feeling.
"I never get tired of hearing that. I love you."
They were content for a while. His warmth soaked into her, and she felt as though she had come home at last. Wherever he was, that was where she would be happy to live. After a moment Fitzwilliam pulled back, and offered his arm to her with a flourish. "Would you care to escort me, beautiful Lizzy?"
A warm flush colored her cheeks. His manner turned from playful to serious in an instant. He gripped her arms, firm yet tender. "You are very beautiful," he insisted. "It has been many months since I have considered you the handsomest woman of my acquaintance."
Coming from Fitzwilliam, who was by no means unattractive himself, the scratches on his face notwithstanding, it meant something. Years of being found lacking compared to Jane had left her convinced that her looks would never amount to anything. To hear Fitzwilliam protest that most vigorously... it made her stomach flutter nervously. She couldn't meet his eyes.
He growled, and his hands tightened to bring her attention back to him. "You are, and I will tell you every day, until you believe me. Now, you never answered me. Would you care to join me on a short journey?"
"Where to?" she asked, still shaken by his conviction.
"Well, for one thing, to retrieve the rest of my clothes," he said with a chuckle.
She laughed as well. "I suppose that would be best. How can you walk around without shoes? Doesn't it hurt?"
He glanced at his bare feet, then shrugged. He offered his arm to her, and they began walking. "I have been barefoot more in the last months than I have been all my life. I have gotten used to it. Now it is only a little uncomfortable. And when I am on the most important chase of my life, I don't notice at all," he smiled at her.
She smiled back. "I think you uncommonly fond of chasing things," she teased. She slipped her arm from his and took off through the woods. She might have thought that her familiarity would have given her some small advantage, but she underestimated his drive. He caught up in just a dozen steps. His hard arms came around her and trapped her against his body. "No, don't run from me," he murmured, his lips against the back of her neck. His chest heaved with more force than such a short chase warranted. Being this close to him sent shivers down her spine. She could feel his great excitement as well.
He would always be a hunter, a predator. Running away from him with always trigger his need to chase and capture. He kissed her neck, slow and sensuous. Her run had tested his restraint, and he was almost trembling with the effort of holding back. She resolved that running away from him was not the most practical thing... but it could make for some very interesting times when he no longer needed to be restrained!
She was breathing hard herself under his administrations. Her head tilted back against his shoulder. Her knees were weak, so that he was holding her up. She loved that he didn't seem to notice her weight. His breath stole warmly over her collarbones. Only then did she realize that she had offered her throat to him. It was the ultimate submission to a superior force, but she felt no need to fight him. She trusted him, and she felt his wonder that she could be so pliant against him. A long moment passed, and then he straightened, returning to the appearance of decorum.
He cleared his throat; when she looked at him, his eyes stared hotly into hers. "Don't run unless you're ready for the consequences."
She tried for a tart reply, but her breathless voice failed her. His eyebrows rose, and then he laughed. He kissed her forehead chastely, then resuming walking with an arm over her shoulders. She put her arm around his waist, and marveled at the comfort of touching him. Should anyone see them, it was enough to compromise her. Frankly, she didn't care. This was her Fitzwilliam. She had it on good authority that he was quite in love with her, and wouldn't mind so long as he was the compromiser.
Unbidden, she remembered the last encounter she had in these woods with a werewolf in human form. Wickham's interactions had been enough to compromise her as well. She shuddered, and Fitzwilliam's grip tightened. "What is it?" he asked, coming alert. His voice had deepened, this time not with passion but with warning.
"It is nothing," she assured him quickly.
He growled, and pressed her to his side. His great protectiveness rose, and until she could assuage him, he looked ready to do murder.
"It is only that--Wickham is truly dead, isn't he?" She hated the uncertainty in her voice. Uncle Edward's letter had said that Wickham was gone, but she needed reassurance. Even had she seen that pale pelt on a Wolfkiller's chest, she still would have needed to be comforted. Fitzwilliam stilled, then he took a careful breath in. She felt his anger churning, and the way he fought to control it.
"I was there," he said steadily. "I saw Wickham get shot. He is gone, and he will never harm you again. He will never touch anything of mine." His voice degraded in a savage growl, warning and staking his claim to all.
"I am yours," she said softly, trying to calm him.
"Yes, that is what I meant," he agreed, but he remained tense, his emotions hard-edged.
"Then you are mine," she declared. She rose on her toes and kissed the base of his throat, the highest point on him she could reach. She breathed his scent deeply, loving the way his attentions abruptly shifted to her. He pressed his face to her hair, inhaling her own fragrance. She realized that a life with Fitzwilliam wasn't going to be anything like what Jane would experience with her Mr. Bingley. They were both human.
With Fitzwilliam, he was always going to need more. Touch, scent, instinct; all his senses were heightened, and he needed to fill them all with her presence. She could live with that. She was feeling rather needy herself.
"Tell me how it happened," she asked him. He stiffened, but she wouldn't let him pull away. "Please? Uncle Edward told me what you did for Lydia and my family, but I want to know your part of it."
He paused for a moment, then sighed. "I did not think Mr. Gardiner could be trusted so little," he said with arch ire.
"Do not blame him, it was Lydia who gave you away. She said only that a dog had rescued her. Did you think I wouldn't recognize your description? I wrote to Uncle Edward for the details, and as I already knew, he could not hold back from me. Will you not tell me, Fitzwilliam? Please?"
After a moment he acquiesced. Even to her he downplayed his role. Thanks to Uncle Edward's letter, and her own knowledge of Fitzwilliam's character, she was able to fill in some of the details he left out. But there were moments that Uncle Edward had not known of. He glossed over his struggle with Wickham. She had to remind him of the injuries to his person that she had already healed.
"My ribs?" he shrugged. "A horse ran me over. My stomach? Some broken glass in a window." His reaction was very nonchalant, but she shuddered.
"If I did not say it before, thank you for saving Lydia and my family. On everyone's behalf, thank you," she said fervently. Fitzwilliam stopped suddenly, and she turned to face him.
"No one else knows, do they?" he asked anxiously. "Not your father? Not the rest of your family?"
"Papa knows you are a werewolf, and you said yourself that he was there for the first part of your negotiation. But I do not believe Uncle Edward has told him more. I have told no one else, even Jane. What is wrong? Why are you being so secretive?" She touched his face, seeking to draw him back to her. He relaxed slightly, though his expression remained troubled. He put his arms around her.
"If you must thank me, then let it be for yourself alone. I believe I thought only of you when I acted as I did. As for why I wish no one to know, my reasons are twofold. The first, is that I allowed Wickham to exist. More than once, I had it in my power to stop him. I was lenient when I shouldn't have been, and as a result he was free to inflict harm upon yourself and others. I cannot accept thanks for only trying to fix my mistake." His jaw clenched, his self-recrimination burning inside him. She shook her head, and grasped his strong shoulders.
"You cannot take the blame of what that monster has done," she snarled, willing him to believe her. "In any case, he is dead now, and that is as much your doing as letting him go free."
He gave her a sad smile, and it was clear he continued to blame himself. She resolved to keep telling him, until he accepted that he was free of that fiend's crimes. "The second reason," he said softly, and touched her face with a single finger, "is much more selfish. I would not wish anyone to think I am trying to buy favor with your family. I fear that if my part were widely known, people would think that you allied yourself to me from obligation only."
Her jaw fell open. She had not thought of that. But that was exactly the vicious sort of gossip the inhabitants of Hertfordshire would latch onto. It wasn't true, but if it were known how much time and personal effort Fitzwilliam had applied to finding Lydia, there would be knowing smirks as soon as their banns were read. Perhaps Fitzwilliam was being wise to keep his involvement quiet.
Lizzy accepted his explanation, and then asked another question. "When do you think to apply to my father for my hand?"
He chuckled, and pressed her to keep moving. "That is the second time you have asked me that. I begin to think that you are impatient."
His words were lightly teasing, but she looked away. She flushed uncomfortably. It wasn't that she meant to doubt him, but the worries came unbidden.
"Lizzy? What is wrong? Elizabeth, don't close up on me now," he pleaded. He stopped, and took her arms to make him face her. When she wouldn't look up, he cupped her face gently, giving her no choice but to see his face. He hovered over her, within kissing distance. She was helpless against his concern. He surrounded her like a fire-warmed blanket, like a hug on a winter morning. How could she not respond to that?
"It is nothing," she began, pleading silently for him to be patient when he looked about to protest. "It is only that... after all we have been through, I do not know if I believe this is real."
He drew back slightly, a mask falling over his face.
"No!" she read his reaction, and grabbed his face to hold him steady. "It is not that I doubt you, or that you love me! It is that there have been many obstacles already. I was very stupid toward you, and then there was Wickham... I am afraid something else shall rip you away from me, or I shall wake up and see that nothing has ever happened between us. I do not think I can rest easy until nothing is between us any longer."
"Nothing can rip me away from you," he promised quietly. "Even should your family and mine turn against us, I would still steal you away, if you'd yet have me."
"Always," she swore. "I may hold you to that. Promise you will always come for me, no matter what happens between us."
"I promise," he said readily. "The only ripping that will happen is what I do to the thing that stands between us."
"I would marry you tomorrow, if possible," she said, meaning every word. She felt his surprise, and wondered if she had said too much. Lydia was the one to foolishly run off with a man. Was she following in her sister's footsteps? But then, Fitzwilliam was not Wickham. She was assured of every happiness with him, and in her mind it could not happen too soon.
He considered the idea for a moment, and then his next words thrilled her. "I could, perhaps, arrange for a special license..."
"There is always Gretna Green," she replied, only half in jest. He laughed, and ran a hand down her back. Her breath caught at his casual contact. How novel it was, being with this Fitzwilliam who was not hesitant to touch her. How beautiful their simple connection was.
"As much as it pains me to deny you anything, Elizabeth," he savored her name slowly, until she could feel it like a caress on her skin, "I would not give anyone a reason to say our union is less than pure."
His steady, soul-deep conviction was a balm to her fears that he could still be torn away. He still had not answered her question, though. She said nothing, only looked at him with her head tilted to the side. He sighed.
"I will admit, I am delaying the moment I speak with your father," he confessed, then quickly added, "Do not think it anything to do with you! No, it is only that I wish to have a little time for the marks on my face to fade." He touched the edge of one of the deep scratches and grimaced. They were still freshly scabbed over, and would need time to heal. That, she could understand.
"Why, I began to think you are vain," she teased him lightly.
He smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. "Yes, I am very vain indeed," he said in a flat, mocking tone. "I must not be seen in public while my face is so hideous." He paused, then shook his head. "No, I cannot lie to you. The real reason I force myself to wait, is that I will shortly implore a father to give up his most precious daughter to me. I do not want to appear wholly like the savage monster I am."
Comprehension lit her soul, and she nodded. "No," she disagreed strongly. "Not a monster. Not you, Fitzwilliam."
"Then you do think I am savage?" he quipped lightly.
"When it suits you," she snickered. "But I find that I quite enjoy when you are savage with me."
He gave a mock-growl that was not nearly as intimidating as his real one. They both laughed. Fitzwilliam ventured, "Perhaps I will seek the apothecary, and see if he has a salve to hasten along the healing. I would not wish my lady-love to lose interest in me if I take too long."
She snorted. "The apothecary would do best to send you to me, you already know that. And while your lady-love would appreciate as little delay as possible, she is not about to lose interest in you."
He took her hand and squeezed it. "Then I shall hurry, so my lady-love does not think I will lose interest in her. All teasing aside, though, you are not the only one that fears others might still try to keep us apart. If I appear before your father as I am now, he would be well within his right to refuse me. And that I would not tolerate."
She thought about Mr. Bennet's reaction when she had gone to Alain at the full moon. To say that he was not kindly disposed to werewolves was an understatement. Perhaps it was best to downplay Fitzwilliam's lupine side. "Then you really would have to take me to Gretna Green," she murmured, not joking this time.
"If that is what you truly wish, my love, I would do it," he replied steadily. "I should like to win the approbation of your family first, if at all possible. But rest assured, nothing is capable of keeping me from your side. If you father is wholly turned against me, with no chance of reconcile, then I will do as I must to please you."
Tears sprang to her eyes. It was a relief to hear that he was as determined to see their match made as she was. She leaned her head on his shoulder happily. "Papa will not do that, though," she mused out loud. "He might not like you at first, but he will soon see the kind of man you are. He loves us too much to refuse something we truly want. When he realizes my love for you, he will say yes."
"I certainly hope so," Fitzwilliam murmured. The rest of the short trip was accomplished in silence. Fitzwilliam's clothes were concealed in a dense thicket, or at least they had been. They were now scattered about, evidence of his hasty dressing in order to find her. Fitzwilliam colored when he saw his clothes, and began to work them free. Several had caught on thorns, and in the end Lizzy had to call on her magic to make the bushes release their quarry.
Afterward, Fitzwilliam faced her expectantly. They faced each other for a long moment, and then he said, "Turn around, Lizzy."
"What?" Then she got it, and laughed. "You can't be serious! I've seen you in just your shirtsleeves all this time. If you count the times you are a wolf, you can say you wear even less than that. But now you want me to turn around?"
He gritted his teeth. "Not the same thing," he said tightly, and his cheeks showed more than a hint of red. Now that she had drawn attention to it, he was mortified to have been caught in such a state of undress before a lady. She was still amused about his proprieties, but she turned obediently. She heard cloth rustling, and finally he announced, "I am done."
She faced him again, then sighed in disbelief. She could regret the clothes that hid his form from her, but she had to admit that fully attired he cut a very dashing figure. "Such a fine gentleman you are," she breathed, hardly daring to think that he could be hers. He smiled crookedly, but did not move. She realized that he was as much in need of reassurance as her.
She went to him, arms twining around his waist naturally, her cheek to his chest. It wasn't as nice when there were less layers between them, but she could still hear his steady heartbeat. She closed her eyes, and thought about how lucky she was. Her stomach grumbled with hunger, breaking the moment. She was embarrassed at first, but Fitzwilliam's followed suit a second later. How long had they been out, together?
They laughed quietly, then Fitzwilliam drew away. "I think I shall escort you home, my love, so you may enjoy the meal you are missing," he said teasingly.
"Only if you then go back to Netherfield and eat something yourself," she returned. He smiled his agreement, and it was so. As they stood taking their leave of each other, just hidden from Longbourn, Lizzy said, "I wish you would enter with me. I don't like to be part from you."
"Nor I," he said. "If I wasn't in such a shambles, I would call on you at once. As it is, I am afraid of being seen in public. I am grateful Georgiana does not have to see me this way."
"It is not easy for me either," she shuddered, not just seeing his wounds, but able to feel them as well.
"I never meant to say that," he insisted. He caught her hands and kissed her fingers one by one. She shivered, her breath coming fast.
"You could call on me tonight," she suggested huskily.
He paused. "You would not mind?"
"I prefer it. I shall have something for your injuries as well."
"Until tonight then, my love." They seemed to be in danger of never parting, but Fitzwilliam backed away from her slowly. They kept in contact for as long as their arms could reach, but finally he was too far. He disappeared into the trees. She was rooted to the spot long after he was lost to sight. Only the insistent pang of hunger eventually sent her to Longbourn. Jane met her in the garden, and immediately saw her state of excitement.
"Are you alright, Lizzy?" Jane asked after a hug. "Lydia has been worried for you, gone for so many hours."
"I shall apologize to her," Lizzy murmured, but couldn't hide the grin on her face. She was so happy! Jane noticed at once.
"I won't let you go in until you tell me what has you smiling like that!" Jane declared, clinging to her arms. Lizzy tried to smooth her expression, but it was a lost cause.
"Jane, promise you won't say anything?" Lizzy whispered. Jane nodded quickly, eyes wide.
"I met Mr. Darcy in the woods just now!"
Jane got a knowing look in her eyes. "Did you? And what could that gentleman possibly have to say to my dear sister?"
Lizzy laughed, realizing Jane had had the right of it. Fitzwilliam had never abandoned her! "He has asked me to marry him!" she revealed, too excited to keep it in. Jane squealed and hugged her hard.
"Lizzy, I'm so glad for you! I knew no man that loved you could ever stay away for long! When is he to call on Papa?"
Lizzy faltered. "Not yet, maybe not for some weeks," she confessed sadly, thinking of his face. What if he were scarred for life? She would not love him any less, nor think him less handsome, but she worried how the world would view her treasured Fitzwilliam. Jane pulled back, clearly startled.
"He is not going to call on Papa? And he wishes it to be kept a secret?" Jane wasn't exactly doubting--her nature was too kind for that--but she was openly confused.
"It's not like that," Lizzy assured her quickly. "Remember the note Mr. Bingley sent about his friend who had an accident? It was Fitzwilliam. He has some cuts on his face, and he wishes them to heal so he does not look a fright when he comes."
"Poor Lizzy," Jane said, hugging her again. "It must be very hard to love a man such as he."
Lizzy pulled back from her sister. "Not at all," she said meaningfully. "I believe loving him is one of the easiest things I've ever done." She was completely sincere, willing Jane to believe her. Fitzwilliam and Lizzy were going to face enough opposition from Mr. Bennet when the time came. She wanted her sister to understand that she didn't regret any part of what Fitzwilliam was. Jane gave her a searching look, then nodded.
"Then it must be very hard to wait," Jane modified her statement.
To that, Lizzy could agree. Then she remembered her plans to meet Fitzwilliam tonight, and found herself blushing. Just because they weren't together in the eyes of the world, didn't mean that they didn't find ways of being in company with one another. If Jane noticed her blush, she didn't comment on it. The sisters went into the house.
Lydia was beside herself with worry for Lizzy, showing nerves almost equal to their mother's. However, there was more genuine concern in Lydia's antics, and Lizzy bore it well. She went to the stillroom to prepare a poultice for Fitzwilliam's face. Lydia was so anxious for her that she followed, earnestly wishing to help. Lizzy set Lydia to making the pots simmer while she prepared the various herbs. Lydia flushed when Lizzy complimented her.
With Lizzy's magic, the salves were soon done, and they left the room to let the concoctions to steep. The rest of the day passed too slowly. Lizzy was restless and distracted. She was so happy she wanted to tell everyone her news, but knew she had to wait until Fitzwilliam had asked permission of Mr. Bennet. Jane gave her a knowing look, but couldn't help her.
Lizzy pled tiredness, and retired to bed early that night. She did not sleep, but pretended to as both Lydia and Jane checked on her later. She laid tense on her bed, waiting for some sign. She kept reaching out for Fitzwilliam. She wasn't even sure if it was magic she was using, or some undefinable sense that told her when he was near.
When she felt him enter her garden at last, she sat up eagerly. She gathered her concoctions and snuck out of the house. There was her Fitzwilliam, in his wolf form. His tail waved happily. He was never as demonstrative as Alain, yet she could feel his joy in seeing her. She knelt down and hugged him, avoiding his injured shoulder.
"Time passes too slow when you are not with me," she whispered to him. She felt his wordless agreement. After a moment she sat back and took his head in her hands. She looked at his scratches critically, and lightly fingered them. He jerked his head back. "I'm sorry," she gasped, "Did I hurt you?"
No, he said, surprising her. But I don't want you to stick anything in my fur. Do you know how awful it is trying to get clean when you have fur?
Lizzy was quiet for a moment, then laughed. "I forgot you could do that," she whispered. "That you could speak." She touched the center of her forehead for emphasis.
Fitzwilliam's jaws gaped in a fearsome grin. How fast the memory fades! You do remember that I love you, right? And that I want to marry you? he teased gently.
She snorted. "I'm not likely to forget that, thank you very much," she retorted. She hesitated, then added, "I told Jane that you asked me to marry you. I know she will keep it quiet."
He sighed gustily. She felt his frustration. "You don't mind that I told her, do you?" she asked, surprised by his reaction.
What? No, not at all. It is only that Charles has definite plans to visit your father tomorrow, and I wish it were me about to call on him. Charles knows about us as well. I don't mind, I only wish we did not have to wait.
She chuckled. "If you're that impatient, you could have Mr. Bingley ask for you," she said slyly, though she knew he would never agree to it.
He growled loudly, his hackles rising. He stood and paced in front of her, still growling. His sudden anger was palpable.
"Fitzwilliam?" she asked uncertainly. He whirled toward her, snapping at the air once. His teeth clacked together in a much louder and deeper sound than Alain had made the night of the full moon.
He would not dare! he raged silently. Lizzy was taken aback, but only for a second. Then she went to her werewolf and put her arms around him, heedless of his fury. She knew there was no danger to herself.
No, he would not dare, she agreed with him. Because I am yours, and all will know it.
He subsided slightly, but she could still feel his claws flexing in the warm earth of her garden. She was suddenly glad she had no other suitors. She rather had the idea that Fitzwilliam would physically confront any other man who vied for her attention. There was no doubt who would win such a challenge. He would tear them to little shreds. While she was not a bone to be scrapped over, she found the idea of Fitzwilliam willing to go so far to declare himself strangely appealing. She knew that should another woman try to make a claim on Fitzwilliam, she would fight for him tooth and nail. Maybe not literally; that was one of the things she would have to accept by choosing a werewolf as her husband and mate.
She rather thought the irrational jealously--she was certain Mr. Bingley had never once looked at her with interest, and Fitzwilliam had to know this--would die down once their bond was fully materialized. No doubt he would always be violently protective, but he would not be so quick to leap to false conclusions. In the meanwhile, she soothed him with her presence, assuring him by touch that nothing could ever come between them.
He calmed, and realized he'd made a fool of himself. He withdrew awkwardly, and she felt his mortification. He would not meet her eyes as he said stiffly, I apologize for my reaction. It was out of line.
Not at all, she said quickly, then paused. Well, maybe a little, but it is forgivable.
He winced, then pulled himself free from her arms. I will return, he promised, and trotted away. She frowned after him. His reaction had taken both of them by surprise, but it had struck him harder. He seemed to have frightened himself, and was struggling to deal with his wolf-side. Fitzwilliam was out of sight a few minutes, then returned in his human form. He was dressed informally again, just shirt and breeches. Her heart leapt at the sight of him, then fell as she caught sight of his face.
His expression was very forbidding. His lips were set in a grim line. He was purposely holding himself back. He moved like a wolf, lithe and feral, but his emotions were in turmoil as he fought to control that side of him. He avoided her as well. He barely glanced at her, and did not come within a dozen paces of her. It was like he was deliberately trying not to frighten her, but she wasn't the one that was frightened.
"Fitzwilliam," she breathed, and repeated silently, Fitzwilliam. I wish you would hold me.
He moved with exaggerated care. He approached slowly, and his arms were stiff as they came around her. She leaned into his broad chest. She placed her arms around his waist, and pressed her face to his shirt. His scent and warmth washed over her. She relaxed instinctively against him. After a moment his body softened, and his grip became more natural. She sighed happily.
You cannot frighten me off so easily, she teased. If you are trying, you shall have to do better.
He stiffened, but she would not let him pull away.
"I am sorry, Elizabeth," he whispered again. "I did not mean to frighten you, if I did."
You didn't, she said pointedly. Talk to me.
I... don't know what to say, he said awkwardly.
Then tell me you love me, as I love you. That is never the wrong thing to say.
You are too good for me, he said in awe. His hand slowly stroked down her back, savoring her touch.
Don't say that! Come on, repeat after me. I... love... you...
He chuckled. I love you, Lizzy. I love you more than breathing. You always know the right thing to say.
Not always, she corrected with a shudder, thinking of some of the horrible things she'd said to him before.
No, don't think of that, he commanded. He took her face in his hands, and planted a teasing kiss on her nose. She shifted in his grasp, trying to draw his lips downward.
Not yet, he sniggered. Think of instead... how you're going to save your husband's ugly face.
What husband would that be? she asked coyly.
Fiancˇ, he corrected quickly.
Not yet, she shot back. He growled, making both of them jump. He tried to draw back guiltily, but she only laughed.
"I think I have located a sore spot in the mighty Fitzwilliam Darcy's armor," she whispered breathlessly.
"Elizabeth," he warned. His hands gripped her arms, but his grip was gentle. "Don't push me on this. I find I am not entirely rational where you are concerned."
"I will push you," she retorted hotly, then softened her tone, "Because I like your reaction. It tells me you feel as strongly as you do."
"Surely you cannot doubt that?" he asked in astonishment.
"All the same, it is nice to have evidence."
"I love you," he said promptly. I love you. And he preceded to repeat himself with heart, mind, lips and hands. A breathless time later, Fitzwilliam pulled back with a smug smile on his face.
Any doubts now? he asked with lazy satisfaction.
I might need a reminder, she panted, unable to draw air to speak out loud. He gave a dark chuckle, but restrained himself.
Another time, he promised. I was serious, before. If you do not apply the poultice I can smell on you, you are in danger of having an ugly husband.
You could never be ugly, she said absently, but studied his wounds with a clinical eye. She tugged him into position so she could reach him better. For the ease of all, they ended up on the ground, his head in her lap as she spread her herb mixture on his face. He sneezed once at the sharp herbs--his senses were much keener than hers--but made no other complaint.
They passed half the night in that fashion, absently talking. She ran her fingers through his hair. Occasionally he caught her hand and brought it down to his lips. They built and reaffirmed their connection to each other. More than romance and marriage, they also formed a true friendship that would last all their lives. It was the first of many such nights that would pass that way.
All told, it was nearly three weeks before Fitzwilliam allowed himself to be seen in public. The injuries caused by silver and Wickham healed human-slow, which made Lizzy fret as normally his recovery was much faster. Fitzwilliam was the surprisingly patient one; he was as the hunter, slowly stalking his fiancˇ the prey, and making her fall more in love with him than ever. The wounds closed, but the scars remained livid for some time.
Lizzy fussed so much, constantly trying new potions to soften his scars, that he teased her about becoming vain, that she was trying so hard because she could not bear looking on his scars for the rest of their lives. In his worst moments, he even said she would not wish to marry him if he was to remain so marked. She could withstand his teasing, except for that. She scolded him soundly for even entertaining the notion in jest. In truth, on occasion he still doubted his good fortune in finding her, just as she sometimes could not believe such a generous man had come to love and admire her. They reassured each other as best they could, but both knew that until their relationship was formalized, their bond remained tenuous. Lizzy worked so hard over his appearance not because she judged him by his face, but because she didn't want him to bear the marks left by a true monster for the rest of his life.
When Mr. Bingley came to call on Mr. Bennet, there was much rejoicing at Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet was in raptures at having her eldest daughter to be married, and made much of her. Lizzy was truly happy for her sister, but she couldn't help the pain in her heart that she still had to hide her own attachment. Jane attempted to control Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, but the other woman was too exuberant.
Lizzy's sorrow was such that it called Fitzwilliam from Netherfield. She wasn't aware of it until Mrs. Hill came to her and said, "There's one for you at the kitchen door, miss Lizzy." She didn't think much of it as she rose. Animals were always finding their way to Longbourn, and Lizzy helped them however she could. She didn't realize that this particular one had come to help her until she cast her magic out, and recognized her love's steady presence.
He throat tightened as she opened the kitchen door, and saw her big wolf standing there. He offered no words, just stepped inside and leaned on her heavily. She hugged him for a long moment, drawing comfort from his warmth. Reluctantly, she knew she could not leave her family at this time, and attempted to shoo him out the door. He growled softly, and planted his feet.
I will not leave you, he said stubbornly. You need me and I will not go. Besides, he added with a glint of humor, I want to see what we are in for.
I don't think I want you to see it, she replied doubtfully. You might decide I'm not worth the fuss. She was keenly aware of her mother's shrill voice, and her crude comments over Charles' wealth.
If it is too bad, we will be off to Scotland tonight, he promised solemnly, finally winning a laugh from her. She put a hand on his back, and nervously led him back to the parlor with the rest of her family. Charles--she now thought of him as a brother--choked when he saw her companion. He couldn't hide his shock or apprehension, but he made an effort to appear normal. If his voice had gone rather high-pitched, hopefully people would think it was only his excitement of announcing his engagement.
Jane's eye widened when she saw Fitzwilliam. She understood who he was at once. She looked apprehensive at having him near, but attempted to look at ease for her sister's sake. Alain had been a much easier wolf to be around. Not only was he smaller, but he also had an air of puppy innocence that seemed to preclude any thought of violence. With Fitzwilliam, his size alone made others wary of him, and his serious, watchful gaze made them uneasy. Lizzy felt that he was attempting to look harmless, staying by her side and offering no threat, but there was only so much a wolf of his size could do.
Mrs. Bennet scolded her least favorite daughter for bringing a great dirty dog into the house. Jane spoke up in defense of her sister, knowing how much the wolf meant to her. Charles took his fiancˇ's side, and Mrs. Bennet subsided at the risk of upsetting her soon-to-be son-in-law. Mary and Kitty did not notice anything strange at Lizzy bringing yet another stray animal in, though this one was bigger than most, and they avoided him just to be sure.
Lydia kept staring at Fitzwilliam. She did not appear to recognize him, but something seemed familiar, and drew her gaze often. Mr. Bennet was easily the most displeased over the newcomer. He stared hard at the wolf, and Fitzwilliam's pointed closeness to Lizzy. It was enough to make Lizzy very nervous. Her hand gripped Fitzwilliam's scruff for reassurance, and he leaned against her for support. Mr. Bennet had never seen any of the werewolves in the fur before, but he was not a stupid man. He saw how quick Jane and Charles were to defend the "dog," and he was soon scowling at Fitzwilliam.
I hope this doesn't make your suit harder to put forward, Lizzy said nervously, petting his head and scratching his ears. Her hands were too restless to remain still.
Just relax and think of Scotland, he teased, and she gave an anxious titter.
Lizzy sat down, and Fitzwilliam laid on her feet, heavy and solid.
For Mr. Bennet's sake, Fitzwilliam did not visit Longbourn again. Or at least, he did not enter the house. Nothing could keep him from Lizzy's domain in the garden.
At very long last, there came a day when Lizzy and Jane were on the road to Meryton. It was a rare time that they were able to be by themselves. Between the wedding plans and Charles coming the call on Jane, they were able to find very little time to be alone. They were enjoying the moment of solitude, one of the last that they would have as sisters.
They were laughing together, when something intruded on Lizzy's senses. She gasped, grabbing Jane's arm. It couldn't be...
"What is it, Lizzy?" Jane asked in concern.
"Come on!" Still clutching her sister's arm, Lizzy broke into a run. Jane came with her, but couldn't keep up. Lizzy left her behind, rounding a curve in the road. Two riders moved slowly along the path. The horse of one was nervous, and kept sidling away from the other. The second horse, a big black and white stallion, ignored him. Lizzy's breath caught in her throat. Charles got Scepter under control, and edged closer to Fitzwilliam and Thor once again. Poor Scepter was confused, upset over the nearness of the wolf, and yet seeing that the stallion was completely unfazed.
"Hello, Lizzy!" Charles said enthusiastically, waving his hand and causing Scepter to start. "We were just coming to visit you ladies!"
She couldn't speak. Her eyes were only on Fitzwilliam. His face was shadowed by his hat. She hadn't seen him in broad daylight since becoming secretly engaged. Did this mean he was recovered? Then he could...?
Fitzwilliam tipped his head back, and the sun fell on his face at last. There were still pink lines, if you know where to look, but even those were fading with time. His blue and green eyes smiled at her. "Hello, Elizabeth," he greeted, his rich voice soft and warm. "Do you think your father is amenable to callers today?"
The gentlemen consented to dismount and escort the ladies through Meryton. Though they were not officially engaged yet, Lizzy held to Fitzwilliam's arm as ardently as Jane did to Charles. Several of the people of Meryton stared, including their aunt Mrs. Phillips. It was a good thing that Fitzwilliam was going to ask permission for her hand today, because she was sure rumors were flying wildly. She'd never hear the end of it if Mrs. Bennet received the rumors before the real thing.
She caught Fitzwilliam staring at her with adoration, and her face flushed. Frankly, how could anyone doubt the love expressed by this great man? She held his stare and returned it measure for measure. She looked forward to many such days spent on his arm.
The full moon shown down bright, turning the Derbyshire mist into glowing silver. The horse appeared to be some creature of legend as he steadily climbed the hill. The white and black pattern of his hide alternately hid and revealed his form, so that he seemed almost as a phantom that faded in and out of sight. Only by squinting could one determine the straight lines of girth and reins, and then the slight figure on his back. The breaths of horse and rider added clouds of white to the night.
An old, old wolf walked at the horse's heels, brown and grizzled grey. Climbing the hill had been an effort for the wolf, and when the horse stopped at the peak, the wolf gratefully sank to the ground. Lizzy checked on the state of the old wolf and used the pack bonds to send him some of her energy. He grumbled, but his tail tapped the earth once in gratitude.
Out of the mist came the sounds of two other wolves tussling. There was a snap and a yelp, and then the wolves appeared. One was tall and rangy, russet-brown and not yet grown. The other was a silvery she-wolf with cool grey eyes. It was she who had put the taller wolf in his place; Alain could still be too excitable during the full moon, and the she-wolf was not overly fond of other wolves still.
Lizzy Darcy surveyed her pack with pride and admiration, even as they looked to her for leadership. Mated to the alpha, she shared his rank, and was able to call on the pack bonds as much as he did. They had old Petre to thank for that. The old werewolf had seen nearly forty years of full moons, and had been an alpha in his prime. His pack had turned on him as age weakened him, and he was cast out.
In a suicide attempt, Petre had attacked a young, strong alpha, knowing it was a struggle he could not win. Luckily for him, the alpha had been returning home from his honeymoon, and tolerant of someone who was no threat to him. The young alpha had needed someone to teach him the wolf-magic of the pack, and Petre was grateful to have the protection of a pack again. He had been the first of the new members.
Next had been Celine, the French she-wolf Richard had rescued from the Continent. Her pack had used her poorly, and Richard had not hesitated to help her. It was fortunate that he already knew of an alpha in England that was willing to take on a new wolf, and was strong enough to claim her from her current pack. Celine still was standoffish where other wolves were concerned. But when Richard came to visit, her eyes followed him wherever he moved. Richard was getting ready to retire from the army, and had been a more frequent visitor to Pemberley of late.
And now the alpha was bringing another new member home. He had received intelligence from an unusual source: Uncle Edward had written from one of his business trips of a painfully shy young wolf kept in exceedingly bad conditions. It was unknown how the wolf had lost his pack, but he was kept chained in a barn and used as a pit-fighter against other beasts. When Uncle Edward had felt the wolf's despair, he knew he had to act.
Lizzy's heart rose as she felt the approach of her husband and mate. Her face turned toward him long before his deep, resonate howl lifted in the air. As one, Petre, Celine and Alain howled back to welcome him home. Thor sighed and cocked a hind leg, long used to the chorus of wolves around him. Lizzy let her own voice sing in the pack bonds, urging her love onward.
He approached, huge and black. At his back ran a dark grey shadow that cringed as eyes fell on him. Lizzy felt Fitzwilliam's great anger, but also his gentleness as he introduced his new ward to what would become his family. She inquired silently into her mate's health.
I am well, he assured her, speaking through the mate bond that the other pack members couldn't hear. But it was very bad for Michael. He had a hard time controlling his change, so his alpha bound him into wolf form and cast him out. Michael is not a fighter. He was barely alive when I got to him. Petre will need to show me how to undo what the other alpha did.
Lizzy reached into the pack bonds, and welcomed the newest member of the pack. Be at ease, Michael, she greeted him. There are no threats to you here. Her magic fluttered over him, already noting the many injuries that would need treatment.
Th-thank you, m-ma'am, a timid voice stuttered. The grey shadow peeked out from behind Fitzwilliam, but was not brave enough to go further. Fitzwilliam moved, coming to Thor and rising on his hind legs to plant his paws on either side of Lizzy. Thor braced himself against the heavy wolf. Lizzy laughed and rubbed Fitzwilliam's head. He breathed her scent deeply and rested his chin on her thigh.
You are well? he asked through their mate bond. And the little one?
We are all well, she said slyly. Even the newest one.
Newest...? he thrust his nose against her belly as if he could touch the new life starting there already. Again? His pride and love swelled over her. He through his head back and howled in exultation. Petre, Celine and Alain joined his joy, and even Michael let out a soft sound. Afterwards, Fitzwilliam took their pack for a run to cement their new brother in his place. Thor could not keep up, nor did Lizzy try. Petre too chose to settle in the stable outbuilding set aside for the pack. Lizzy returned to the house, and her bedchamber.
She knew the moment dawn came, because she heard noise in the next room as Fitzwilliam checked on their infant son. Satisfied, he entered the master room. He had not bothered to dress after his change, and was already bare when he slipped under the covers. He paused for a moment when he found her in an equal state, but wasted no time in pressing his body to hers. She stretched against him, and met his kiss with ferocity of her own.
"Again?" he whispered in delight, splaying his hand on her belly. She giggled and nodded, and the next length of time was spent in loving each other fully.
I love you, Fitzwilliam.
I love you, Elizabeth.
I love you... It didn't matter who said it first, or last, or even if it was said at the same time. It only mattered that they had a pack, a home, a family. They were loved, their children were loved, their packmates were loved. What more could they aspire to?
This was not the first, nor the last, of many, many full moons yet to come.