Section I, Next Section
Posted on Sunday, 06-Sep-98
(Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Cassie M and her oh-so-inspiring warrior princess! Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon. All references- ie the next paragraph- from that show are the property of Mr. Whedon and Warner Brothers.)
As long as there have been demons, there has been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, a Chosen one, born with the strength and skill to hunt vampires and other deadly creatures, to find them where they gather and to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers. When one Slayer dies, the next is called and trained by the Watcher.
(Spooky, rock-and-roll music goes here)
During the early eighteenth century, Jean Philippe D'Arcy had served as Watcher for three very deadly Slayers and had led them to kill many of the Master's most fondly regarded minions. Dominique the Vampire Slayer had even succeeded in killing the Vessel, therefore preventing the Master from destroying the earth for one more century. Though Dominique had been severely wounded, it had been a great success for the enemies of the undead. Jean Philippe paid for this success with his own life that night when the Master caught him alone gathering supplies at the local apothecary's home.
George Darcy first suffered personal loss as a Watcher when his own steward was killed by the Master's minions as a warning to the latest Darcy to assume the role of Watcher. George's guilt over this death led him to give great leeway to the steward's young son, George Wickham. Unlike the strict standards George held his son Fitzwilliam to, George Wickham was allowed all the fun and mischief that any young boy could ever desire. Young Wickham took full advantage of the situation.
The anguish of his steward's murder was nothing compared to George's agony the night a pack of vampires caught his wife and baby daughter out alone. Their carriage had suffered a broken wheel. Lady Anne fled the pack as quickly as she could and almost made it to the safety of Pemberley. When she saw Victoria Bingley, the vampire Slayer, coming to her rescue Anne nearly fainted from relief. Victoria threw the first two vampires she reached into the pond and impaled the third immediately. The others moved away from the Slayer toward Lady Anne and her baby. The Slayer moved into the thick of this group, struggling to protect the Watcher's family.
From the house entryway, George Darcy flew down the hill to his wife, child, Slayer and the fiends who were upon them. George's twelve-year-old son Fitzwilliam gave chase. His friend, young Wickham, ran squealing into the house and barred himself in an upstairs room, far from the fray.
The Darcy men met with the group of fiends just as one caught Lady Anne by the throat. George Darcy staked the vampire who was killing his wife. As the vampire burst to dust, George swore that he heard it laugh triumphantly. Following his father's example, Fitzwilliam plunged a stake into the heart of a vampire who held his sister up before itself. As this vampire burst into a howling dust cloud, Fitzwilliam reached out and caught his falling baby sister. He held her close to his chest as he absorbed the impact of having killed for the first time. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
George Darcy knelt on the ground, cradling his dying wife. Next to them lay the dead Slayer.
A Watcher serves by finding the next Slayer, leading her on her path. It is the destiny of the Watcher to guide the Slayer. On the day of the death of George Darcy his son, Fitzwilliam, began his service as Watcher. His duty was to find the next Slayer. It would be five years before he did so, but Fitzwilliam Darcy was destined to find Lizzy, the Vampire Slayer.
Part One- The Watcher finds His Destiny
Posted on Monday, 07-Sep-98
Fitzwilliam Darcy had grown to a fine young man of eight and twenty. He had the wealth and reputation of Pemberley and the names of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families behind him. He also had a serious demeanor that put off the few people who were not impressed by all his wealth and grandeur. He took his role as Watcher very seriously. The greatest frustration of his life so far had been his inability to find the next Slayer. Since the death of Victoria Bingley, the Vampire Slayer, there had not been another Slayer known to either his father or him. He could only assume that there was a Slayer in some other part of the world that needed cleansing more than England did at this time.
However, Fitzwilliam Darcy had been raised to be a Watcher. He had done his best to prepare for the time when he would find the Slayer. He studied records, manuscripts, and diaries of Watchers past. He cringed whenever he saw records kept by Watchers who had never found a Slayer. He could not bear the thought of such a fate for himself. He traveled extensively in search of the Slayer.
He often traveled in the company of his friend Charles Bingley. The Bingley and Darcy families had been very close since before the birth of either of these boys and they had grown to be very good friends. Darcy was not as fond of Bingley's sisters, but Charles was one of his dearest friends. None of the Bingley children knew of their mother's activities as Slayer or the true story of her death. They thought that Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy had perished in a carriage accident together.
The loss of their mothers gave the Bingley and Darcy children a particular kinship with one another. Charles Bingley looked to Fitzwilliam Darcy as an older brother. Bingley admired Darcy's studious nature though he did not understand it. He also enjoyed Darcy's penchant for traveling, though he did not understand why the older man was so serious and unwilling to enjoy the society they came across in their travels. Bingley did his best to encourage his friend to partake of society with enjoyment. For the most part these efforts only served to annoy Darcy. One night in particular, Charles' insistence that Darcy attend an assembly in the little town of Meryton placed Darcy in a foul temper.
His temper was nearly swept away entirely when, on entering the assembly room, he was overwhelmed by an extraordinary, completely unfamiliar sensation. His gaze swept across the assembled company. Though the people present thought his gaze contemptuous of them it was in truth a different kind of assessment altogether. Darcy felt that there was someone among this company that was not what he or she appeared to be. He had often sensed the presence of vampires in public gatherings (especially in London and Paris), but this sensation was not the same as that. The hairs on his neck stood on end.
Completely preoccupied with his attempts to ascertain the identity of the strange presence, he followed Bingley without any attention to where they were headed. Before he knew what was happening, Bingley had engaged a lovely young woman to become his dance partner for the next two and an expectant and vulgar woman was attempting to lead him into dancing with another of her daughters. All Darcy could think of was the presence and what it meant. He declined in a distracted fashion that he belatedly realized would be taken as rudeness. Glancing back at the young lady he'd unintentionally slighted, he regretfully noticed the intelligence and energy in her gaze. He was overwhelmed as he realized that the presence he had noticed emanated from her.
He stood apart from the crowd, ignoring the dancing and assessing her effect on him. That she was lovely was secondary to his suspicion that she was more than she seemed. He watched her carefully throughout the evening. She danced a few dances and moved with an easy, athletic grace. He noticed how alert she seemed. She caught his gaze a few times and met it with a look of challenge that coursed through him. His heart pounded quickly.
He was mortified by the deep attraction that she held for him. If his suspicions were correct, he'd finally found the next Vampire Slayer. To be distracted by personal attraction for her was unseemly. His duty as Watcher was to train her, to guide her, and to lead her through difficult battles— not to desire her. He attempted to convince himself that he was attracted to the qualities that made her the Slayer. Indeed her awareness and grace lit a fire within him that was undeniable.
Darcy was in the midst of arguing with himself over his response to the girl when Bingley came over and encouraged him to seek a dance partner of his own. When Bingley pointed out the one girl in the room whom Darcy truly wanted to dance with, yet felt that he never should, he responded in an ungracious manner. He flinched when he realized that Miss Bennet had overheard his comment. If she were who he suspected then she would possess heightened senses and easily overhear the conversations of others… To all appearances, she seemed to find the entire incident highly amusing. She crossed past him to tell a friend of it and laugh at his foolishness. His admiration of her increased.
He continued to watch her. Incontrovertible proof that she was indeed the Slayer he had sought for so long eventually walked into the room. He felt the vampire even before he saw him. He also saw the Slayer stiffen as her penetrating eyes flew to the being whom Sir William Lucas had just invited in. She held one hand to her abdomen as though to stifle pain there.
The vampire was pale with dark eyes and brown hair. To Darcy's estimation, the creature had been in his early twenties when he'd been made into a vampire and that transformation had only occurred recently. Darcy watched as Miss Bennet tracked the creature's progress through the room with deadly seriousness in her gaze.
The friend with whom she'd been conversing also noticed her preoccupation with the young male. That young lady, Miss Lucas he believed, smiled at her friend's interest. Darcy realized that she probably thought Miss Bennet attracted to the creature. He quickly dismissed an irrational stab of jealousy and watched as the creature approached a young, dark-haired girl. The girl smiled and laughed at whatever the vampire said to her and then the two danced together.
Darcy's eyes moved back and forth between watching the vampire drawing the young girl into his thrall and the gaze of the observant Slayer. He realized that the young girl had been introduced earlier as Miss Catherine Bennet. She was younger sister to the Slayer. What a fool that daring young vampire was!
He saw Miss Bennet's eyes dart about the room, apparently searching for something. He realized that she probably sought a wooden stake of some kind. She did not find it. She turned back to the couple on the dance floor as the music stopped. The young vampire seemed to convince Catherine Bennet to take a turn with him. Elizabeth Bennet walked quickly after them as the vampire led his prey from the room. Darcy moved to follow as well.
In the hallway he heard Miss Elizabeth call out, "Kitty, where are you going?" When the pair turned around to face her, the vampire lunged at Elizabeth. She grabbed his collar and tossed him aside as her sister ran past the man who now stood just behind Elizabeth. The vampire's visage had turned to that of his demonic, feeding self.
Whirling around, Elizabeth nearly laid Darcy flat with a blow. He was expecting it and ducked in the nick of time. Her eyes widened in surprise and confusion as she asked "Who and what are you?" He pulled a sharp wooden stake from inside his jacket and handed it to her. She accepted it and whirled around as the young vampire flew at her, impaling himself on the stake.
As the vampire exploded from the impact, noise could be heard from inside the assembly room. Darcy darted forward quickly and pulled the Slayer to him, whispering, "Return the stake to me. I'll not reveal your secret." She slipped the stake inside his coat quickly. He forced himself to release his hold of her.
When Kitty Bennet and Mr. Bingley came out they found Darcy apparently steadying Elizabeth Bennet on her feet. To their perception she looked rather shaken. Darcy spoke up, "A man accosted the young ladies when they came out to take some air. He ran off. I do not think that he will return."
Elizabeth said, "We were only frightened. Thank goodness that Mr. Darcy arrived and chased him away." Darcy gave the Slayer an amused sideways glance.
Bingley looked upset, "Thank goodness, indeed! We should call the Constable at once."
Darcy said, "I will have one of your men report the incident to the Constable and make certain that the ruffian is caught and punished. Will you excuse me? The ladies are safe and well. Let us not allow this incident to ruin such a fine evening."
Kitty started to whimper, but Elizabeth cut her off by saying, "I'm sure that Mama would insist we leave immediately if she were to know of this, Kitty. Her nerves would demand it. You would not like to leave and miss out on the rest of the dancing, would you?"
Kitty looked more distressed at the thought of leaving than she had at being accosted. She replied, "Oh, Lizzy, no! Do not tell, Mama. I want to stay and dance some more."
Bingley took this cue and asked, "Miss Catherine, would you do me the honor of being my partner for the next?" She responded with a giggle as she took his proffered arm and allowed him to lead her back to the assembly room. She seemed to have forgotten her distress.
Darcy walked out to the carriage and spoke with one of the footmen. Darcy told the man that the party would depart for Netherfield sooner than originally expected. The man bowed to Mr. Darcy and walked off to retrieve one of the other footmen so they could prepare for departure. To other eyes it might appear that Darcy had sent the man to find the Constable.
On his return, Elizabeth said, "It is fortunate that you have such a dislike for the dance, Mr. Darcy. I do not imagine that anyone else at the assembly would have had a wooden stake hidden in their coat. Had you been otherwise occupied he might have given me much more trouble." Darcy noticed that her flippant tone was at odds with the tears in her eyes. He offered her his handkerchief. She laughed and asked, "What else do you have in that jacket?"
He smiled wryly and asked, "How many times have you slain a vampire?"
She looked at him seriously and offered him back his handkerchief. He declined it. She replied, "He was the fourth. I met one for the first time when I was but seventeen. I did not see another until this month, but have met two others since. Do you know why they are appearing? Do you kill them too? Is that why you had a stake with you?"
Darcy took a deep breath and replied, "I am not a vampire Slayer like you. I am a Watcher. It is my destiny to guide you and train you to rid the world of vampires whenever their numbers swell. It sounds as though that is happening, from what you say. I have been searching for you. You are the Chosen one."
She looked stunned by what he said. He had prepared himself for this reaction. He reached into his pocket and pulled forth a scroll. It explained the history of the Slayers and their charge. She chuckled, "Again, something from inside the jacket."
He handed her the scroll and said, "Read it please, Miss Elizabeth."
She took the scroll from him and glanced over its contents before returning it to him. He was taken aback that she did not keep it to study. She explained, "If I had a place to keep that don't you think I'd have a place for a stake?" He nodded as he distractedly allowed his gaze to sweep over her gown. She spoke again, "So, does this make me Lizzy, the Vampire Slayer?" He nodded soberly.
She continued, "You are going to teach me all about being a Slayer? And I have no real choice in the matter as destiny and fate have decided it for me?"
He stated, "It is a great honor. You have the skills and gifts. It is merely my duty to help you use them."
She looked pensive. She said, "It is certainly an idea that I'll have to ponder. For now, we should return before we are missed. After the way you behaved towards me earlier no one would believe you wanted to be alone with me for a romantic reason." She turned and walked away from him, leaving him stunned.
When he returned to the hall he saw that Elizabeth had gone back to talking with Miss Lucas. Standing there by the candelabra she looked incredibly lovely to him. He stood by the window and looked out at the night. He had finally found his destiny. Over the past five years he'd dreamt of it. He had thought that his suspense would be at an end when he found the Slayer. Now that he'd found her he realized he'd previously known nothing of suspense… or frustration. He had expected her to be strong and skilled. He had not given any real thought to the kind of person she would be or the affect she might have on him, though. Now that he'd found her he was quite amazed at how unprepared he felt.
A servant gave him a glass of wine. Darcy raised his glass in the moonlight and drank a silent toast to Lizzy, the Vampire Slayer.
Part II, A Working Relationship
A few days after the assembly in Meryton, Sir William Lucas welcomed several neighborhood families to Lucas Lodge. Lizzy was very aware of being watched by Darcy. Her greeting to him was strained and tense. He could not ascertain whether her tension was due to the discovery that she was the Slayer or due to his rude behavior to her when they first met. Had he asked her for an explanation she would have been unable to articulate the complexity of her reaction to him.
He thought to make amends for previously refusing to stand up with her by asking her to dance with him this night. When Sir William encouraged him by noting how her loveliness ought to be ample inducement to cause him to dance, Darcy silently agreed wholeheartedly, though to outward appearances he remained stoic and unresponsive. Her refusal to dance with him simultaneously disappointed and pleased him. He chided himself, determined to gain control of his attraction for her.
For her part, Elizabeth not only remembered the way he'd spoken of her previously, but disdained his unwilling invitation. It was obvious to her that he only asked her at Sir William's urging and not because being with her would give him any pleasure. That he had to be coerced to stand up with her did nothing to increase her opinion of him.
Caroline Bingley accosted Mr. Darcy at this point, saying, "I believe I can guess what you are thinking, Mr. Darcy."
Enraptured by the assured manner in which Miss Bennet put him off, Darcy replied briefly, "I should imagine not."
She continued, "You are thinking how tedious it would be to spend many an evening in this fashion."
Darcy laughed to himself and replied, "My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow." He could feel Miss Bingley's eyes upon him.
She asked, "And whose are the eyes that have inspired such an observation from you?"
He replied honestly, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet." He knew that Miss Bingley would not dream of repeating such a confidence as it benefited her in no way whatsoever.
She echoed his reply in a rather shocked tone of voice. Darcy did not mind Miss Bingley's discomposure. He was aware of her admiration for his fortune and place in society. Such insincere admiration did not inspire him to charity where her feelings were concerned. So, while Miss Bingley prattled on and on about nothing he ignored her and attempted to order his thoughts.
Miss Bingley's new dislike of Elizabeth Bennet did not extend to her sister Jane. It was obvious that Charles was quite taken with the angelic eldest Bennet. His sisters would not encourage such a fancy to become more serious, but they did not fear that at this point and they did need some way of passing the time. Had they been in London they would have been occupied with shopping and gossip. Meryton's supply of both of those commodities was slight. Inviting Jane Bennet to visit and being able to show her how superior their home, wardrobes, and knowledge of gossip were to hers would have to suffice as a pastime.
Unfortunately, Jane was caught in the rain on horseback on her way to Netherfield. Her resulting illness caused her confinement to the house and concerned Charles Bingley to no end. The next day, Darcy grew tired of listening to Charles' sincere concerns and his sisters' pretend concerns and left the house to walk about the property and get some fresh air.
He was stunned when he came upon Elizabeth Bennet on the lawn. She looked remarkably well, all rosy from exercise. He had not seen her in the light of the sun before. It illuminated her eyes and complexion in a way that left him dazzled. He stuttered, "Miss Bennet!" on catching sight of her. She replied that she had come to see after her sister. He inquired, "On foot?"
She frowned at the way he said this and replied stiffly, "As you see. Would you be so kind as to take me to her?" He complied.
That evening after dinner Miss Elizabeth Bennet joined the others in the drawing room. The Bingleys and the Hursts were engaged at card play. Mr. Darcy chose to write to his sister, Georgiana. He was pleased to see Elizabeth Bennet pick up a book and begin to read. Thus far the only areas of concern he saw for her as a Slayer were in taking things seriously and studying.
Miss Bingley also noted that Miss Bennet had chosen to pass her time in reading. Caroline invited Elizabeth to join in cards and commented censoriously when Elizabeth declined the offer. "Miss Bennet is a lover of books. She takes no pleasure in cards, and prefers to spend all of her time reading."
As Elizabeth good naturedly defended herself, Darcy wondered at Miss Bingley's attack. If she were attempting to convince the others that Miss Bennet was a bluestocking she would be sorely disappointed. He was amused when Caroline abruptly shifted to an admiring tone of books. She said, "You certainly have an extensive library at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy. It is quite astonishing."
Darcy saw Elizabeth nod at this as though his having a large collection of books made sense to her. He replied to Miss Bingley, "It ought to be. It is the work of many generations." Though he spoke to Miss Bingley he looked at Miss Bennet. He wanted for her to understand his meaning that both the family library and its accompanying job of Watcher were the work of many generations.
Caroline's comment did lead to a discussion that interested him. She and Charles began to talk of the definition of an accomplished woman. When Darcy joined in the conversation Miss Bennet turned to him with cool and assessing eyes. She noted "I am surprised at your knowing any woman who meets such a standard." As the Bingley sisters protested her comment he considered her cool attitude. He did not know what to make of it.
Miss Bingley asked Elizabeth to join her in taking a turn about the room to draw Darcy's attention. Though he was aware of her intent, he enjoyed her ploy for the opportunity it gave him to watch Elizabeth. A saucy comment from him regarding the situation led to a discussion of faults. Miss Bingley asserted that Darcy was a man without fault. He squirmed uncomfortably at this assertion as Elizabeth rightfully laughed at it.
She asked him then about his faults. Darcy's first thought was of his current inability to concentrate on his duty due to the attraction he felt for her. He stuttered and then thought of a different reply. He said that he could not vouch for his temper and that his good opinion once lost was lost forever. His thoughts were disagreeably drawn to events of the past summer. He looked away from her, drowning in remembrance.
She started in surprise at his comment, wondering if he were warning her in some fashion about the nature of their relationship. She did not fully understand her role as Slayer or his as Watcher yet. She had thought much about the contents of the scroll he'd shared with her. It sounded as though her role were a lifetime commitment. Was his? If they were destined to work with each other for the rest of their lives she intended to learn as much as she could about him.
Other than his opposition to dancing and his air of hauteur with Meryton society, she knew little of him. She knew that he was handsome—a fact she admitted grudgingly and then only to herself. That first night when he'd pulled her close against him to reclaim his stake and protect her identity as Slayer she'd been left breathless. She'd never been pulled close to a man in that fashion before. Moreover, she'd never been so attracted to a man before. His embrace had been repeated in her dreams.
Over the past several years her dreams had turned increasingly dark and vivid. She rarely had dreams she cared to remember anymore. Since the night of the assembly she'd dreamed of Mr. Darcy every night. In those dreams he'd been kind and sweet and romantic with her. Remembering his dream kisses gave her complexion a heightened color.
That he apparently did not return her interest was embarrassing. He was so terribly aloof with her! All he had spoken of to her so far was her role as Slayer. He had not spoken to her on any other subject, except in the most stilted and formal of ways. It had become clear to her some nights before at Lucas Lodge that he was observing her carefully. She felt disapproval and distress in his gaze as often as not. It seemed to her that he was not well pleased with Fate's selection of her as the "Chosen One."
She endeavored to hide her own distress and anger. However, as conversation of faults continued she could not resist saying, "What of pride and vanity, Mr. Darcy? Do you not find them to be defects worthy of censure and ridicule?"
He defended himself, noting that where real superiority existed, pride was in good regulation. He added, "It has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding.''
She spoke strongly, "Your defect is a propensity to hate everybody." She did feel that he carried himself with a great deal of pride, but she also said this from curiosity for his response to such a charge.
Darcy answered, "And yours is willfully to misunderstand them." He found himself drawn to her as never a woman before. He began to feel the danger of paying her too much attention. As Miss Bingley moved to the pianoforte to end the discussion by performing, he strengthened his resolve to ignore the powerful affect Elizabeth Bennet had on him.
Some moments later, Elizabeth returned to above stairs to check on her sister. As she left the room, Darcy watched her longingly and reprimanded himself firmly, "You are her Watcher, not her lover. You are to guide her and teach her. Control yourself." He repeated this as a litany.
Upstairs, Elizabeth talked with her ailing sister. "Oh, Jane. How I long for us to be home! No one wants me here except for your Mr. Bingley. The superior sisters wish me miles away and Mr. Darcy can not find enough fault with me."
Jane looked up at Elizabeth with weak and puzzled eyes. "I am sure that you are wrong, Lizzy. I do not think that Mr. Darcy is as severe as he seems."
Elizabeth laughed, "I notice you do not disagree with me about the ladies." She leapt up from her seat on the bed and paced before the window.
Jane smiled wanly, "I am sure that you are mistaken there as well. They are charming ladies. They have been very kind to me. Please stop pacing, Lizzy. You are making me dizzy." Elizabeth stopped, smiled and said she would walk elsewhere.
Darcy decided to take a turn outside. He again encountered Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She stood before him, that ever-present look of challenge apparent in her gaze. He asked, "Are we going to talk about it or not?"
At first Elizabeth wondered if he meant for them to talk about the dislike that existed between them. She looked at his neutral expression and decided that this could not be the case. He only seemed able to talk of their relationship as Slayer and Watcher. She decided that her answer would tend to that subject. Elizabeth replied, "I do not see that we have any choice. I have met with—and slain—three more vampires this week."
Darcy was taken aback. "That is more than I expected. Who knows that you are the Slayer?"
She replied quietly, "Only you know, Mr. Darcy." Then, thinking that he was accusing her of bringing attention to herself and drawing vampires to Hertfordshire, she accused him in return, "Who knows that you are the Watcher?"
He led her to a bench and directed her to be seated. He said, "It is for the best that you keep your activities secret. You would not wish to bring danger to anyone, I think. As to my being the Watcher, I cannot be certain who knows. I have not told anyone, but I am not the first Darcy to be a Watcher. It is not impossible that some fiend exists who is aware of my identity." He then asked, "Where did you meet these vampires?"
She said, "They seem to lurk outside of homes and gathering places in Meryton. I followed one into the graveyard and was met by another there. I managed to slay both."
Darcy was seized by anxiety for her. He grabbed her arm. "This will not do, Lizzy. We must begin training at once. Your being here at Netherfield will be very useful."
She looked pointedly at his hand. He blushed and removed it. As he cursed himself, his expression darkened. She said, "So it is to be Lizzy, is it?" Her teasing tone was at odds with her discomfort at his expression.
Darcy colored even more deeply and said, "With your permission, Miss Bennet." He was in agony. Being so near to her, alone with her, was a torment like none he'd felt before. He repeated the litany of thought he'd begun moments before, 'You are her Watcher, not her lover. You are to guide her and teach her. Control yourself.'
She grimaced and said, "Lizzy will be fine when you are speaking to me as the Slayer. What shall I call you?"
Darcy raised his eyebrows and said, "You may address me as you wish. My first name is Fitzwilliam."
She thought about it, shook her head, and said, "I'll address you as Darcy in your official capacity."
Darcy stood and said, "Then shall we begin, Lizzy?" He hoped desperately that activity would distract him.
She stood and moved opposite him. "Where do we begin, Darcy?"
He looked her over and asked, "Where can you keep stakes? You will have need of them—need to access them easily."
She smiled coolly, kneeled, and lifted the hem of her gown several inches to reveal the stake pouch she'd sewn and tied to her calf. There were four wooden stakes secured there. She said, "My reticule only holds one stake, too small for more as you see."
His breath caught as she lifted her dress. He mentally slapped himself and redoubled his control of his countenance. With great effort, he frowned as in curiosity and pulled at the cloth securing the pouch to her leg. "Is that my handkerchief?" he asked. She smiled and nodded. He pulled back his hand and fought all sensation he felt at the sight of her bared leg. He continued in his most businesslike tone, "Well sewn. Can you throw from a kneeling position?" He did not notice her look of vexation. She was as piqued with herself for wishing for admiration from him as she was with him for his apparent lack of awareness of her as a woman.
He borrowed a stake and demonstrated. She mimicked his motion and had it down pat by the third attempt. He retrieved the stakes and handed them to her with a respectful bow. He was glad to see that she learned quickly. He was also glad for the relief of physical activity. It did distract him. He said, "We shall have to work quickly. I should like to have you proficient with bow and arrow, crossbow, various stake throws, and the sword as quickly as you are able to learn the skills."
She said saucily, "So, Darcy, you actually have studied combat technique and intend to train me? I thought you would simply tell me about things you'd read in books."
He frowned, "That is a very unflattering thing to say. I did not realize that my appearance so lacked physical strength."
Now she blushed, "No! I mean, oh I don't know what I meant to say. We have not gotten off to very good start." She was about to ask him about his rudeness to her when they first met, but he spoke first.
Darcy spoke in his most businesslike way, "I think that we are doing fine. You have accepted your destiny as Slayer. You seem agile, skilled, and ready to learn. I am relieved to finally have found you. I have sought you for the past five years. The last Slayer I knew died… years ago."
She asked, "How did she die? Who was she?"
Darcy felt much safer in activity than in conversation. He answered, "I will tell you of Slayer history some other time. Let us continue your training. Do you know anything of hand fighting?" She answered that she'd learned more about it with each vampire she encountered. The next hour was spent working on the basics of punches, blocks and throws. Darcy was impressed by Lizzy's strength and speed. He had never met anyone who overwhelmed him so, and on so many levels. He only told her "You are capable. I believe that in time you will do fine as Slayer."
Such slight praise did not sit well with Lizzy. Her next throw sent him flying at least five feet through the air. He lay stunned, looking up at the stars. How Watchers, both past and future, would laugh at him if they could see him now! He began to wonder just how much was left out of the Watcher diaries out of personal embarrassment.
He became aware of Lizzy kneeling by him, a look of regretful concern on her face. After a moment she tentatively reached out and stroked his cheek. He closed his eyes and relaxed as she gently brushed his face with her fingers. It felt wonderful. Again he thought how Watchers past and future would laugh at him could they but see him now. Suddenly Lizzy gasped and leapt up. He heard the vampire approach and watched as Lizzy fought and slayed it.
She ran back to him, out of breath. He crawled to his feet and gingerly rubbed the back of his head. She cried, "Darcy, are you all right?" He laughed ruefully. He looked at Lizzy carefully. Her hand was pressed to her abdomen.
He asked, "Do you press your hand there because you are out of breath or because you feel discomfort-- as though there were an unnatural presence nearby?"
She blushed, then paled and replied, "Both." They both looked around, wondering where the next vampire was. It did not make itself known. They returned to the house in silence, certain that there was now a creature out there who knew of both their identities.
Part Three, Demons and Discord
From a hill near to Netherfield, two fiends watched the Watcher and the Slayer return to the house. The female wore her hair in an elaborate hairstyle with jewels stolen from a noblewoman she'd recently killed intertwined through her hair. Other jewels, amassed from nearly three hundred years of killing, adorned her body. Her gown was of the most formal style. She looked unnatural standing on the hill. The only places in which she would look appropriate were at a court or society gathering or in the midst of a demon coven.
The male lounged at her feet. He wore the red coat uniform of a member of the militia that had just taken up residence in Meryton. The uniform's original owner had met untimely death at this fellow's hands two nights before. The male was handsome in a smooth, useless manner. His eyes emanated power though he was but a vampire of five years. He growled contentedly as the female ran her fingers through his thick hair in a possessive manner. Any onlooker would immediately be able to tell who was mistress and who was pet, but as both were deadly killers, any onlooker would die shortly after making this observation.
She observed, "That Slayer took our new vampire with one stroke, my pet. She is strong. So long as she continues to focus on what she is destined for she is a danger."
He looked up laughingly into her eyes and asked, "And what else would you propose she focus on, my lady?" His laughter bubbled up and sounded loudly through the darkness.
Darla's caress turned suddenly violent. She grabbed the younger fiend viciously by his hair, saying, "Do not take this lightly, pet. She is a Slayer. If she focuses on that and continues to grow in knowledge and skill, she threatens more than just our existence. She threatens the Master. I will not have the Master threatened. Do you understand me?" She tightened her grip on his hair and lifted him from the ground to glare into his face, as her own changed to a demonic visage.
The male vampire scrambled to gain some footing and lessen the pain. He grabbed at Darla's hands, pulled one to his lips and kissed it in his most penitent manner. He bowed his head before his mistress' anger.
She continued speaking, her voice calmer. "I sense discord and friction between this Watcher and Slayer. There is attraction as well. At this point the attraction feeds the discord and the friction. Were it to turn to love they would be a formidable pair." The vampiress walked away from the kneeling male. She pondered the situation and then whirled back to look at him. Her demonic visage changed back to one of loveliness and a sweet smile lit up her features.
The young male sensed the change and looked up at her adoringly. She said, "The Slayer must be made to focus on her anger at this Watcher. Were he to see her showing interest in a particularly vile and useless figure from his past it would disrupt his focus as well. I chose to make you the creature you are today because of your natural talent for muddling the minds of the fairer sex. Take all that I have taught you since your death and use it well."
He stood and carefully bowed to her. He said, "The young ladies of the neighborhood seem to favor the men of the militia. I will keep this outfit as a disguise and a way into her society. The Slayer will experience my thrall. Their relationship will turn to one of discord and hatred."
Darla closed on him and said, "See that it does, Wickham. As gentle and forgiving as you might think me, I do not take failure lightly in my creations." She smiled with cold radiance. "Do evil. Make me proud, my vampire child."
Part Four, All Work and No Play
Between times of nursing her sister, Elizabeth joined Darcy for training in weaponry of various types over the next several days. They were very careful to avoid detection by the members of the Bingley family. This proved difficult at times. One afternoon the Bingley sisters each took one of Darcy's arms and insisted he take a turn with them as he was on his way to meet with Elizabeth. He was most vexed. He had secreted different weapons in odd locations about the property- handy for training and any emergencies that presented themselves on the grounds of Netherfield. Seeing Darcy's restrained impatience, Elizabeth was amused. He continued to maintain such a serious air around her that she enjoyed his discomfort now. Elizabeth laughingly pointed out that they made a charming party before excusing herself. The idle time was refreshing to her.
One night, after the others were all abed, she came out of the house wearing a pair of pants she had borrowed from a pile of clean clothing in the servants' quarters. Darcy looked at her with such apparent disapproval that she laughed aloud. She said, "It is far more practical than practicing throws in a dress!" He nodded and walked up to her. He unbuttoned and re-buttoned the top of the trousers where she had misaligned them. She released her breath as he said, "There. Much better. I don't suppose you've had to worry with trouser buttons much before." She was amazed at his cool touch.
She sputtered and blushed in a manner that surprised and then embarrassed Darcy. He continued, "My apologies, Miss Bennet. I did not mean to imply…"
She spoke sharply, "I understand that I am not at my most ladylike, Mr. Darcy." She reached for the sword next to him. "En garde!"
He assumed the proper pose and faced her. His critique of her handling of the sword was long and frustrating to her. After a long time she threw down the sword on the ground beside her and shouted, "Enough! You have made your displeasure quite apparent. It is time to rest." She knelt down, folding her legs in a ladylike fashion. He hair had come somewhat loose in their battle. She unpinned her long braid and flipped it forward over one shoulder in a gesture of disgust.
He too was tired. He replied, "I only want for you to be prepared properly." He paced back and forth before her, gradually allowing his heartbeat to slow. As he knew her better his respect and admiration for her increased painfully. He felt his responsibility to make her as prepared to face danger as possible. His nightmares all ended in the same way, with him mourning her death. "Perhaps we should move to the crossbow now," he suggested.
She reflected angrily to herself that he was very adept with all of the weapons himself. This caused her to ask, "What makes me different, Darcy? You handle these items well. Why do you need me?"
He sat down beside her. "You know why. Your strength is necessary in fighting the undead. They are stronger than any mortal. God only knows why. You are as strong as they are. You were made to slay. It is your destiny."
She looked soberly at him as she secured her hair as properly as possible without a mirror. "Yes. My destiny. What of my life? Am I destined to always be alone? Can a Slayer ever have a family?"
One hair pin stuck out awkwardly. Darcy leaned over and gently pushed it into place. Elizabeth turned her head at his touch and looked into his eyes seriously. The moment suspended the beat of both their hearts. He pulled his hand away and moved away from her.
Darcy looked down. "Your life is your own, Miss Bennet. Your duties as Slayer will consume much of your time, but I do know of Slayers who married and had families. It is difficult, but possible."
Elizabeth hesitated and asked, "And what of you? Do you get to live? Or just Watch?"
He looked at her sharply, "I believe that you have rested enough." He stood up and offered his hand to help her up. They began work on the crossbow, a weapon with which Lizzy became quickly proficient. She was a quick learner. They managed a good beginning with all of the training he had proposed. He was well satisfied with her progress.
Much as he would miss the uncomplicated opportunities for training that her presence at Netherfield had afforded them, Darcy was in many ways relieved on the day that Elizabeth Bennet and her sister left Netherfield Park. Her nearness had been a constant torment to him. What he would now begin to learn was that her absence was far worse.
Elizabeth began to submerge her feelings of attraction for her Watcher. His apparent lack of attraction to her and his apparent disapproval of her left her wounded. It was not in her nature to dwell on those things which distressed her, so she successfully put him from her mind when awake. She was unable to banish him from her dreams though. Each night her dreaming soul relived the few times he had touched her and imagined those touches leading them both into a helpless passion. She awoke angry with herself for having such traitorous dreams.
During daylight hours she submerged herself in the many books that Darcy had given her to read. They instructed her in the long ago history of the Slayers and the Watchers, theories of the beginnings of the demons, and accounts of appearances of some of the most powerful fiends--including the Master and his minions. Lizzy shivered as she read of some of the greatest battles Slayers had faced. She studied the tomes thoroughly, absorbing the knowledge, becoming more the Slayer each day. Each evening, she left Longbourn and he left Netherfield so that they could train together and she could patrol the area for signs of the undead. The cemetery just outside Meryton seemed to be home to more and more vampires each night. Together, the Slayer and the Watcher worked to halt this growth in their population.
One day her father announced that they would receive a visitor he'd never seen before, their cousin Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins' letter had pedantically laid out his anticipated travel route, but he was later than he'd expected. Mr. Collins arrived in a dark, closed-in carriage. Watching it pull into the drive just after sunset Elizabeth felt the familiar pang in her middle. She looked about the area, seeking the fiend who caused this sensation. She did not find it. The sweaty and silly man who stepped from the carriage did not excite her suspicion. She assumed that she again noticed the mysterious presence that had made itself known that first night of training at Netherfield.
Mr. Collins apologized profusely for being so late in his arrival. He talked with great animation of how his patroness emphasized timeliness to him. Mr. Bennet was excessively diverted. Mr. Collins looked hungrily at each of the Bennet girls in turn, giving pleasure to Miss Mary alone. Mrs. Bennet was mollified by Mr. Collins' apparent interest in her daughters and welcomed him effusively, issuing a grand invitation for him to enter the house. Mr. Collins smiled smarmily at this and entered Longbourn.
Elizabeth could not help but notice that Mr. Collins did not seem to actually eat any of the food on his plate. For the most part, though, she was simply amazed by his idiocy. He seemed to have a sycophantic admiration for his patroness, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr. Bennet was quite satisfied. Mr. Collins seemed to be all that he had expected. Elizabeth went to bed feeling very unsettled that evening.
The next evening left her unsettled in a different way.
As the Bennet family went to visit the Phillips for an evening of cards among others of the neighborhood they caught sight of three young men standing talking in the street. Elizabeth's sisters, Lydia and Kitty let forth great squeals of delight at the sight of the young officers. The men were all dressed in splendid regimentals. Since the arrival of the regiment in Meryton the youngest Bennet girls had been able to talk of nothing else. And this evening provided an additional source of excitement in the person of one George Wickham.
George Wickham had a wild beauty about him. His eyes were dark. His pale skin was perfectly set off by the red of his coat. He had a smile that first struck Elizabeth as wicked, but she soon changed her opinion to one of admiration. He smoothly kissed her hand by way of introduction. His admiring glance sent shivers through her. All of the Bennet girls (with the exception of Jane) were wild for Mr. Wickham. There was just something about him that transfixed them all.
Lydia urged him to join their party at the Phillips. He replied, "Oh, no. I could not. I have not been invited by Mr. and Mrs. Phillips." Though Lydia cared not for such formality, Elizabeth approved of his gentlemanly manner. His behavior seemed entirely as it ought.
Lydia immediately ran into the Phillips' house. A moment later her Aunt Phillips threw up the window and called out to the young men to enter the house and join their party, singling out Mr. Wickham in particular. To the delight of all the ladies, Mr. Wickham gallantly accepted. As he was about to enter the house, Kitty called out, "Look, Jane. It is Mr. Bingley. Here he comes with his friend, Mr. Darcy."
Jane blushed. Elizabeth politely nodded at Darcy. She was surprised at his lack of notice of her. Both the gentlemen's horses seemed to struggle against them. Darcy looked very cold and angry. She followed his gaze to the face of Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham nodded slightly to Darcy, stared deeply into Elizabeth's eyes, and then moved with catlike grace to her side, offering her his arm. She took it gladly. She was puzzled by Mr. Darcy's reaction to the newcomer, but enjoyed that he should see her with a man who apparently found her attractive. She did not see Darcy's dumbfounded reaction.
Mr. Collins, who had been a surprise addition to their party after spending the day abed, was very well satisfied by Mrs. Phillips' attentions to him. She soon had him settled at a table for whist. He played very badly, but enjoyed the opportunity to tell his table companions of the glories of Rosings park and its mistress.
Elizabeth chose not to join in the games and was well pleased with her decision when Mr. Wickham sat by her side and engaged her in conversation. She was the envy of all of the young ladies present. Mr. Wickham's powers of conversation seemed considerable to Elizabeth. Even the most mundane of subjects could excite her when presented by such a speaker. There was something in the way he looked at her and in the melodic tone of his voice that thrilled her beyond measure. She'd never felt so hypnotized by anyone before.
She did not have long to wait before he gratified her keen curiosity regarding his manner of greeting to Mr. Darcy. He asked, "Are you very much acquainted with... have you known Mr. Darcy long?"
Looking into Mr. Wickham's mesmerizing eyes, Elizabeth suddenly felt anger at the mention of Darcy. She clearly recalled every slight, every criticism she'd felt from him. Wickham smiled as he felt the anger flow through her. Her eyes sparked dangerously as she replied, "I have known him long enough to know how much I dislike him. Everyone is disgusted by his pride." She was a little surprised by her own vehemence, but decided that she really had meant to express such feelings. With this realization came a sense of relief. Lassitude flooded through her. She did not notice that her hands shook as though struggling against an unseen power.
She smiled happily at Mr. Wickham. He grinned in return. "I might have known a woman such as yourself would see through his facade of respectability. I am sorry to speak ill of a Darcy, though. His father was my patron and a wonderful man. Old Mr. Darcy loved me as his own, perhaps raising his son's ire. It was the father's wish that I be provided for with a living. When the time came, Fitzwilliam Darcy refused to honor his father's wish."
Elizabeth was surprised at this information. She had thought Darcy proud, but not as bad as this! She was so mesmerized by Mr. Wickham's charming manner that it did not occur to her that his revelation had been rather sudden. It seemed to her that they had been talking together for a very long time and that she knew this man as she'd known no other.
The more they talked the more she disliked Mr. Darcy. Her anger grew proportionately with Wickham's satisfaction. He smoothly worked his spells on her, delighting in his affect.
That night she confided to Jane how very much she liked Mr. Wickham. After Jane left her Elizabeth realized that it was time to go meet Darcy for training and patrol, but her fatigue so overwhelmed her that she was unable to do so.
Laying back on her bed, she felt exhaustion overwhelm her. Anger and frustration flowed throughout her being. As she attempted to calm her emotions, her entire body began to shake violently. Her eyes and head seemed to throb in agony. She rolled back and forth on the bed, moaning in pain. Long into the night Elizabeth rocked herself back and forth as spasms wracked her body.
When she awoke the next day she was as weak as a kitten.
She listened with apathy as her mother shrieked over the invitation that came from Netherfield. A ball was to be given in a few days time. Lydia and Kitty squealed and danced about the room in anticipation. Jane blushed and squirmed in delight as Mrs. Bennet talked of how the ball was a compliment to her. Seeing Jane's happiness, Elizabeth tried to rouse herself and smiled supportively at her sister. It seemed to her that everything was occurring at a great distance. She struggled to focus.
That night she felt somewhat more herself. Near midnight she changed into her 'Slayer clothes' and left the house. As she crossed the lawn she spied Darcy standing at its edge. He whispered urgently, "Are you well? Last night…" he trailed off as he looked at her expression.
She looked at him severely, strangely anxious to hide her confusion from him. She replied stiffly, "I did not feel well. I am fine now."
He was taken aback at her coldness. His demeanor turned businesslike. "I am glad that you are well. I think that it is time for a change of pace. Do you ride?"
Elizabeth's trepidation was evident as she looked at his horse. "No. I have never learnt how. What a very large horse!" Since being thrown as a little girl she'd been deeply afraid of horses. She'd never mounted one since.
Darcy was puzzled by her nervousness. She'd never seemed so uneasy before. He spoke soothingly, "Leicester would never harm you. He is a fine beast. You will see." He pointed her to the saddle.
Elizabeth moved to take her seat, waves of fear washing over her. Her body began to tremble again as she settled herself aboard the animal. Leicester whinnied lightly. Darcy shortened the stirrups substantially to accommodate the difference in their respective heights. As his hand touched her leg, he noted her trembling. He looked at her in concern and asked, "Are you certain that you are well?"
She replied in a clipped tone, "No." The tears she'd restrained since the previous night finally flowed. Without even thinking about it, Darcy leapt up behind her on Leicester's back and wrapped his arms around her. She half-turned and leaned against his chest and sobbed pitifully. Her sobs subsided after several minutes.
She looked up into Darcy's eyes. She was confused by the softness of his gaze. Warmth flooded through her. Embarrassed and suddenly angry again, she pulled away from him and slid down from the horse. He jumped down to stand beside her. She was unable to meet his gaze. Mortified by her weakness, she mumbled, "I am not well. I should return to the house." She walked off as Darcy stared after her in dismay, his arms burning with emptiness at the way she'd pulled from his embrace.
As Darcy rode back to Netherfield, Wickham turned fearfully to his enraged mistress. Darla slapped him so that he flew into the tree at the edge of the lane that led to Longbourn. She warned, "Don't overdo it again, Wickham. You frightened her into his arms! You still exist because she pulled from his embrace. Do not push your luck, youngling. Proceed with care." She stalked away from him and leapt into the awaiting carriage. At her command, the driver drove off at a terrific pace. Wickham picked himself up from the ground and began the walk back to Meryton.
Part V, Separate Lives
The next day Elizabeth stayed abed late into the morning. Jane knocked gently on her door and crept in quietly on hearing Elizabeth's weary response. Jane said, "Lizzy, I worry for you. You were not at all yourself yesterday. I had so hoped that you would have recovered this morning." Concern clouded Jane's lovely face.
Elizabeth smiled fondly at her sister's concern. She sat up and held her arms open for an embrace. Jane pulled her close and hugged her tightly. Elizabeth closed her eyes. She felt the warmth of Jane's affection wash over her heart, mending wounds she did not begin to understand. She put her head down on Jane's shoulder and let the tears flow. She tried not to think about the way it had felt when she'd cried in Mr. Darcy's arms the night before, tried not to remember the feel of his embrace. Jane stroked Elizabeth's hair gently and let her cry. Eventually, Elizabeth's tears stopped. As she laughed wryly at herself Jane smiled. Elizabeth laughing was Elizabeth well. Jane asked, "Would you care to talk about it?"
Elizabeth smiled and dried her eyes. She shook her head and said, "I would not know where to begin or what to say. The only thing in my mind that makes sense is my appreciation of your comfort. I need my Jane to comfort me!"
Jane smiled gently, "I shall always be there for you." Though her curiosity was overwhelming it was not in Jane's nature to pry.
Elizabeth grinned, "How shall Mr. Bingley like having me as a member of your household? Do you think he realizes that in marrying you he shall not only gain the delights of Mama's excited attentions, but also the constant presence of your troublesome younger sister?"
Jane blushed slightly, "Lizzy, do not tease me so."
Elizabeth shrugged off her malaise of spirit and leapt up from the bed, "You wanted me well, did you not? When I am well I must tease and give trouble." She giggled as she opened the door and called for the maid, Sarah. Jane smiled to see her sister's apparently improved spirits.
Jane spoke to Sarah as she entered the room, "Miss Lizzy seems well recovered, Sarah. I shall leave you to attend her." Jane smiled beatifically at the mischief in her sister's expression. She did not notice the strain around Elizabeth's eyes. Elizabeth kept up the facade of good spirits for the rest of the day.
That evening Lizzy, dressed as Slayer, spied Darcy waiting where he had been the previous evening. It took several minutes to get past her family. She was dreadfully conscious that Darcy was within hearing of the house as her mother yelled each and every silly thing she said. To her amusement his horse Leicester was tied to a tree further away, nearly out of sight, as though Darcy thought she might fly to pieces at the sight of the animal. She strode past Darcy with determination.
He said, "If you are not ready to work on your riding we can postpone it and work on something else."
She smiled and patted the horse's neck. "Poor fellow! I have been hard on you, haven't I?" The horse snorted. She nearly laughed aloud at the expression on Darcy's face. "Please, Mr. Darcy, let us forget the events of yesterday. I was far more unwell than I had realized. I apologize for my behavior. I am well now and wish to resume my training." She jerked up her chin as she struggled to reclaim her pride.
Meeting his gaze with steely determination, she was angry at the thought of the disgust she was sure Darcy had felt at her emotional outburst the previous evening. Darcy looked at her in surprised confusion. The anger he saw when she looked at him left him further unbalanced. That she wanted to forget their closeness of the previous evening hurt him, regardless of his own resolutions to do the same.
Darcy mounted his horse and offered a hand to help Lizzy up behind him. He asked in a tight voice, "Are you certain you wish to ride? We could work with the sword or with the staff…"
As she settled in behind him, she replied, "No. You are right. I must learn. I do not see how I shall learn like this, however."
Darcy replied, "I have made provisions, Slayer." His tone was cold and remote. His chest was tight with the sting of rejection. He grew angry with himself for allowing his emotions to carry him away.
As they trotted across the field Lizzy found herself afraid of losing her seat. She did not think that she could stand the embarrassment of falling, but she felt hesitant to hold on to Darcy. His coldness hurt her bruised, vampire-enthralled senses. When she nearly slipped from the horse, Darcy threw one arm back to pull her up towards him.
Quietly, he said, "It is only a short ride to Netherfield. You would be safest if you held to my waist. Most importantly you must grip the animal with your legs."
With some hesitation she did as instructed. He took her hesitancy as a reluctance to be near to him—especially considering the way she'd pulled from his embrace the previous night. He was embarrassed that he had discomfited her so. That he had pulled her into his arms was nothing short of amazing to him. He had never behaved in such a familiar manner with any woman before! He was shocked by his own impropriety. Though their situation was extraordinary he did not feel that it excused his lack of manners.
She felt the tension of the muscles in his arms and back. His warm strength soothed her. Leaning lightly against his long gray wool coat she breathed in his scent. Her anger began to melt away. Contrary to all the anger and confusion Wickham had sewn in her, she enjoyed the sight, scent, and feel of the man before her. Her muddled and enthralled mind reeled in confusion.
They reached the lower pasture at Netherfield. Darcy pulled on the reins to stop Leicester. He jumped down from the saddle and reached up to help Lizzy down. Her unconscious mind took hold of the moment and she fell against the Watcher. She was puzzled by the sadness of his gaze as he looked at her.
Then he walked away from her toward the pasture. Lizzy gasped in delight at the sight before her. A beautiful and delicate horse, light chestnut with white markings on its head, stood in the field. A little old man held the horse by the bridle. Darcy introduced the man as Mr. Giles, an old acquaintance.
Mr. Giles removed his hat and smiled a nearly-toothless grin at Lizzy. He said, "Good evening, Miss. I am honored to be in your service." She liked him immediately. He continued quietly, "Mr. Darcy says you need a trusty steed. This little lady is just what you need. She is gentle, brave, and as fast as the wind. She'll outrun any demon. Furthermore, she is not as intimidating as the beasts he favors."
Lizzy was astonished. She turned to Mr. Darcy. He said, "Giles is a retired Watcher. He has been in the service of the Darcy family for many years. He served my father and his Slayer well. I was able to convince Mr. Bingley to let him work here as a groom. He will tend to your horse and when I am away any weapons you need repaired or replaced can be brought to his attention. Bingley thinks that the horse is one of mine."
Lizzy wondered when Darcy would be away. She slowly turned to the groom. Giles held out the reins to her. He said, "She's tired out a bit tonight, but that'll be fine seeing as you're just learning to ride. Mr. Darcy insisted I have her here for you tonight. I'd meant to spend a few more nights in London visiting my grandson Rupert and his family, but Mr. Darcy came riding up in so determined a fashion that I came here with him immediately."
She looked at Darcy in surprise. "You rode to London and back today so that I might have a suitable mount?" This kindness was so at odds with all she'd heard of him that she did not know what to say. Though it seemed insufficient, she settled for saying, "Thank you."
Darcy nodded in reply. He motioned at Mr. Giles. "Giles can advise you on handling the horse. Most importantly, he can be trusted to keep your secrets. He will also act as a messenger between us."
The old man gave Lizzy some apple pieces and motioned her toward the mare. "Make friends now," he urged.
Lizzy smiled at him and reached out tentatively to give the horse the apples. She laughed as the horse's lips tickled her hand. She turned to Giles and asked, "What do I call her?"
He chuckled and said, "You can name her if you like, Miss. My granddaughter took a shine to this one when we were raising her at Pemberley. She called her Buttercup. You might wish to give her a different name."
Lizzy laughed and said, "No, indeed. I think that Buttercup suits her well! It makes her seem even more friendly. I confess I've a fear of horseback riding. Perhaps Buttercup can cure me of it." She gave Buttercup more apple and petted the horse's nose. The horse's hair was sleek and well-groomed, almost soft to the touch.
Giles looked at Darcy as he stood behind the Slayer and her new steed. He was both amazed and dismayed to see how besotted his master looked. He'd been hesitant to get involved when Darcy had asked for his help for the new Slayer. Now, seeing Darcy's obvious affection for the girl, he was even more worried. Giles gave Darcy a long, serious look. Darcy saw it and looked away.
The next several hours passed quickly for Lizzy. Darcy rode alongside while Giles watched from a perch atop the pasture fence. To say that Lizzy was an expert horsewoman by the end of the night would be incorrect. To say that she'd made a good beginning towards becoming one would be accurate.
Both she and Darcy reacted with surprise when Giles suddenly pitched a rock directly at Lizzy. She caught it deftly with her left hand, guiding Buttercup's reins with her right. She stopped the horse and tossed the rock back to Giles. He smiled and then said wistfully, "Oh, it's good to see those reflexes! You are the Slayer, all right."
Darcy looked at the wry expression on Giles' face. He dismounted and joined the man at the fence. They watched as Lizzy and Buttercup went through their paces together. Darcy turned to Giles, "I see what you are telling me, old man. Do not think that I have spared her in her training. I have been most stringent. I will not fail her. Furthermore, I understand that it would be impossible for there to ever be a relationship of a more personal nature between us. I will Watch. She will Slay. Other than that our lives will be separate." Giles chewed on a piece of straw and looked at Darcy skeptically.
Lizzy grabbed a long branch from a tree and turned Buttercup back to where the men stood talking. She pulled up before them and pointed the stick to Darcy, crying "En Garde!" Caught by surprise, Darcy grinned and grabbed another stick from the ground nearby and remounted Leicester, doffing his coat. The two began a mock duel with their "swords."
Giles watched as they had at each other with the sticks. He was pleased to see how careful they both were of their horses. At the same time, he was amazed at the ferocity of their match. That there was more to their bout than simple training was easily apparent. He pitied any vampire that got in their path when they had this focus and strength. This Watcher and Slayer made a formidable team. Separate lives, indeed! He shook his head ruefully.
Darcy was an experienced swordsman. He had practiced and worked at the sport since he'd been old enough to wield a sword. But the strength and skills of the Slayer could not be denied. She was indeed a good match for her Watcher. Both combatants laughed with the joy of a game well played. Lizzy's strength finally got the best of Darcy. He grinned ruefully and raised his arms in surrender when she knocked the stick from his grasp.
Giles wearily rubbed his eyes. He had always hated the long and odd hours that went along with aiding the Slayer. He yawned loud and long to interrupt the battle in progress. He asked, "If it is not too much trouble Miss, Master… may I see to Buttercup so that I might get some rest this night? The day's journey has worn on me."
Darcy and Lizzy's eyes locked. Darcy nodded assent to Giles' request. Lizzy tossed aside her stick and dismounted. She petted her new steed's mane affectionately. Giles bowed to her and gave her a hand up behind Darcy. She held her seat with her knees, but laid her hands lightly at his waist. Darcy avoided Giles' chastening look and turned to ride back to Longbourn.
Darcy let Leicester run free across the fields. The wind rushed over them. Riding so quickly, having overcome a childhood fear, fresh from a battle well fought, Lizzy felt clear-headed for the first time in days. Leaning against Darcy's back, she realized he'd forgotten his long coat. She said, "You forgot your coat. I hope you are not cold."
He shook his head and said breathlessly, "Nothing of the sort. I am still warmed from the exercise." In truth he was warmed by more than the exercise. Her nearness intoxicated him. That she did not shrink from him as she had earlier pleased him. The feel of her against him caused a shiver of pleasure to run through his body. When she spoke again he felt her breath against the skin of his neck. Warmth flooded his being. He held the reins tightly in his fingers.
She said, "You are taking the worst of the wind. You are shivering." She pressed herself against his back and rubbed his arms.
He saw Longbourn coming into sight far too soon. He desperately wanted to pull her from the horse into his arms, hold her close and kiss her with all the passion inside him. As she dismounted he savored the feel of her hand in his. For the moment there was a peace between them.
Darcy rode back to Netherfield quickly. As he approached the house he saw a vision. There was a beautiful woman standing on the terrace. She was finely dressed. Her face had a look of girlish innocence to it. She smiled at him. Suddenly, she was gone.
It took Darcy a long time to get to sleep that night.