A/N: This story starts off at a dark place, but things gradually look up from there - and gets almost comedic at some points. The narrative is inspired by one of my favorite period comedies from Hong Kong, and rewriting it in a Regency context is one of the strangest, most unexpected writing experiences I've ever had. Please keep your mind open for the weirdness of it all. I hope you'll enjoy this!
"You must understand, Fitzwilliam, that refusing to remarry is tantamount to bringing disgrace upon your family - to both families. You owe it to Anne, both your mother, and my child, to provide a rightful heir."
Lady Catherine waved her arm above the contents of the table, as if a priest bestowing blessing, before reaching for her cup. The subsequent sip was, as with everything she did, resplendent in deliberation and flair.
God knew how she stayed so - august, despite the bare nibbles she consumed each meal.
Darcy cleared his throat, under his breath, anxious to respect the wary peace he had with his late wife's mother this morning. His tasks had kept him awake late into the night the previous evening, and it had taken great effort to wake himself in a timely manner today.
"If Georgiana still lived, your preferences may still be forgiven," the large woman droned on. The grandiose spreads she demanded at breakfast each morning seemed to exist solely for her viewing pleasure. She always did talk to the food instead of ingesting them. "In light of her untimely demise, however, it is your sworn duty to provide Pemberley the heir it so deserves."
Darcy bit quietly into his bread.
"Since my arrival, we have done plenty to improve the quality of the grounds." Lady Catherine gestured generously towards the garish decor and the nearly unrecognizable view out the window. His mother surely turned in her grave. "It would be a pity to have it all go to your ghastly French cousin."
Darcy grimaced. The conversation seldom varied in his humbled, haunted home these days. Every day, Lady Catherine would lament that her sister, her niece, and her daughter had all been taken from them all too soon. Every day, the lady bemoaned how much better it would have been if Anne's child had lived. At times, Darcy found it in himself to remind his aunt that the child had been sickly - born two full months too soon. It had been unlikely, even then, that she would have grown into adulthood and in good enough health to bear her own heir one day.
Today was not one of those days.
Those days happened only when he felt too trapped, too restless - so spiritless than an argumentative aunt was better than having no company at all.
"Anne has been gone but two months, Fitzwilliam." It was a wonder how she managed to make every statement reverberate like a command. "Take any girl now - a comely servant would do - and claim her child as Anne's. It would not be too difficult."
Darcy tossed his fork aside and stood, the room having grown suffocating sooner than it was wont to be.
"Fitzwilliam - "
"I choose my life, Aunt Catherine." He looked solemnly at her plate, avoiding her piercing stare. "I have lost one wife and one child. I do not need to loose another pair more."
"And what of Pemberley? Shall it truly descend into the hands of a hungry Frenchman?"
Darcy sighed. It never bothered him who was set to inherit Pemberley after him. Life itself meant very little after he buried his sister, wife, and child within a year.
He had married Anne when he did because she had simply been there. He needed an heir, and a wife, and Anne had been so willing and unobtrusive a candidate. He let himself be swayed by duty then - with disastrous results.
The most disastrous of those disasters - save the loss of actual life - was how the marriage had brought with it the permanent presence of Lady Catherine in Pemberley.
The latter fact alone made the entire situation a horrid choice.
Knowing the family tomb now held three more bodies than it should at so young a chapter of this master's life grieved his soul.
It shocked him, every day, that Lady Catherine remained so unaffected and spoke so nonchalantly of his finding another woman to warm his bed.
Anne herself, sickly and frail, barely ever warmed anything. It was both divinely appointed and laughably ironic that she had managed to become with child over the course of their half dozen haphazard unions through those first six months of marriage. He had stopped visiting her after then - realizing, with little regret, that their communal presence brought little joy to each other.
"It does not matter to me who inherits Pemberley when I am gone," he said, in perfect honesty.
Lady Catherine, of course, fumed.
"My daughter gave her life to the cause of our families! Shall she be so disrespected for her ultimate sacrifice?"
"Aunt Catherine - "
"Mr. Crane!" She bellowed, summoning the weaselly, withering rat of a steward to full attention. "I feel faint."
She did not look faint, by any measure. Perhaps Darcy would have felt happier if she did.
"Rest well, aunt," he said, accustomed to their farce.
She stalked out of the room on Mr. Crane's oily arm, parading away with head held as high as a peacock's feather towards the sprawling chambers she had claimed as her own the very day her trunks had arrived at Pemberley.
Darcy, newly deserted, sat down for a meal in truth.
"Is it horrid of me, Beryl?"
He stroke his terrier by its soft, silky coat. She nuzzled closer, as it had always been in her nature to.
Since Georgiana's death - and Wickham's subsequent hanging - since Anne and Ellie and every other person dear to his heart had been taken by death or by war - he had come to realize that there was only one sort of confidante he could ever manage to maintain.
As long as Lady Catherine remained ostentatiously installed in Pemberley - he could only ever be truly friends with creatures who could not talk.
"Would Ellie have wanted her father to continue thus?" Darcy mused upon the daughter he'd known only for three full days. He had never stayed involved in Anne's pregnancy. He'd been in want of an heir; she'd striven to provide it to him. She'd brought to the marriage a willing, if weak, womb - and he, painfully, had been required to allow her and her mother and her mother's minions into his hearth and home.
They had been married but two months when he'd found the cost too dear - and dove further into his alternate vocation.
Beryl barked gently, a true compatriot.
At least with his wordless friend, he found a constant source of love and support.
The sun was nearly fully beneath the horizon, and Darcy stretched his body in preparation for what was to come.
As a child, he'd only been given a hint of his grandfather's nightly activities when a game of sardines had him stumbling upon the strange, black trappings hidden in a trunk beneath the bed. Father, when his health permitted, had taken up Grandfather's mantle upon the latter's death.
It had been a natural choice for Darcy himself to continue their mission.
He'd strayed at times, he was loathe to admit. Cambridge and its colors had laid temporal rest to his interest in Father's training. The grief of Father's passing had arrested him for multiple moons before it spurred him towards, and not away, from George Darcy's legacy. It had taken great effort, even sacrifice, to regain the tricks and steps and balance this unlikely role required.
Grandfather had mentioned, long ago, that he had learnt his unique talents from a traveling Chinese wizard.
What had sounded wondrous as a child, turned fantastical in adulthood, and then turned inexplicably plausible in the present.
How else could Grandfather have learned to be so light-footed so as to fly from tree to tree? How else could he have gained the skills he had with a plain walking stick - or the strange maneuvers he would use upon a sword? Grandfather, then Father, then Fitzwilliam himself - would never have thought to toss their forks as weapons - pinning the smallest and thinnest pieces of fabric against a tree as needed.
Only the wizards of the East would have thought of functions as strange as that.
The farm noises lulled eventually, heralding the beginning of the summer eve.
Darcy stepped away from his pose by the window, Beryl on his heels, and began with careful precision the task of trading his gentlemanly garb for his active one - dark coat, long sleeves, fitted trousers, and a thick, tight waistband with which to attach them all. He pulled his hair back, as tradition dictated, and wrapped a strip of fabric around the collection of strands to keep his locks in place. He pulled on his boots - newly polished - atop the edges of his black pantaloons. He reached for his last article - his long, hooded cloak - to complete his ensemble.
He was a lucky man to have found a tailoring and valeting staff as quietly trustworthy as his furry friend.
Beryl barked softly by his feet, aware of what was to come.
"Shall you entertain yourself while I toil way?" He rubbed his spirited friend once more by its pretty coat, glimmering despite the fast-growing darkness.
She barked back, a kindly little lass.
Darcy smiled, and pulled his grandfather's mask down against his eyes. The weighted legacy of the small, metal visor never truly faded - however many times Darcy underwent his own grooming routine.
"Let us see which young widow and her sons need help tonight, shall we?" He spoke to Beryl one last time before launching himself off the floor and onto the small platform his father had built against the windows. He made quick work of the familiar contraption and flung the panel open. "Sleep, friend. I shall see you in the morning."
And the Derbyshire Avenger was off into the night.
It had been the quieter sort of night, and Darcy found himself back in the stillness of his chambers mere hours after he'd left them. The candles had been easy to deliver, with the two needy homes leaving their entrances wholly unguarded. One careless step had him nearly alerting a neighbor's watchdog - but a stray strip of meat, well-aimed, had freed him of discovery quickly enough.
He fell asleep, Beryl on the floor beside him, content with his small acts of kindness.
Whatever Lady Catherine refused to yield from Pemberley's coffers - at least, not without three weeks of incessant nagging - Darcy found rather easy to deliver in the dead of night. Time had trained his soles to be as stealthy and precise as those of a nimble cat - and Lambton grew safer under the Avenger's care than it ever would have under Pemberley's grandiose shadow.
Father would have been proud.
Darcy woke five hours later, at the crack of dawn, and duly stripped himself of his nighttime garb. Beryl still snored softly, a dainty ball of love on the vast ornate rug. It did not take long for Miles to come serve his master - and to prepare him for the breakfast he inevitably shared with Lady Catherine on any day but the Lord's Day.
Semblance of normality must be maintained at all costs.
Darcy shuddered to think how Lady Catherine would interfere if she ever learned of how he was choosing to spent his evenings.
Birthed into rank and married into wealth - the woman would never understand any true causes in favor of the poor.
"Mr. Darcy, shall you take your walk?" Miles inquired, when he had fully dressed his master.
Darcy paused in a moment of thought. While morning meals and nighttime vigilance remained the ever staples of his day - his morning walks tended to be of the more irregular amongst his activities.
On the nights he stumbled back mere minutes before daybreak - injured, or at times, bleeding - the morning walks were the first activities to be neglected. The night he'd saved Miles and his young brother from their murderous attacker had been one for the books.
On still mornings like today, however, the thought of an amble around Pemberley's grounds did sound rather appealing. It helped, of course, that Lady Catherine never deigned to venture outdoors.
"Perhaps for an hour or so," Darcy replied. Miles, ever dutiful, nodded his crown of red hair before reaching for Darcy's walking stick.
Soon, the fresh air filled his lungs with every stride he took. Beryl, awake and active, ran alongside her master - engaged by every flower, butterfly, or bug. At every turn, Darcy attempted a new maneuver - tuning his body to the many variations a simple bend along the path may require. Dedicated practice was tantamount towards maintaining or growing the skills his calling required.
To be called the Derbyshire Avenger had sounded silly at first.
True, he did live in Derbyshire. True, he sought to avenge and protect the poor.
What spurred the villagers to ascribe so pretentious and funny of a name to Grandfather had always been a mystery.
It was a name, however, that bonded Darcy with the generations lost before him - and he now upheld the name as a point of pride, though he still smirked at its utterance each time.
Beryl's sharp, urgent barking prevented him from taking his next turn.
"What is it?" He turned - just in time to behold his pet running towards the lake. The barking was relentless - timed even faster than the speed at which her coat tossed up and down in the morning light.
Darcy followed, surprised at the interruption.
"What is it, Beryl? What have you - "
A fast approach offered him a distant view of what exactly excited his four-legged friend. A young man flailed helplessly in the nearby lake, his head bobbing above and beneath the surface in dangerous intervals.
Darcy shed his coat and dove into the water in immediate rescue.
A/N: I know this story is unconventional, but I hope it will be fun to read in the long run!
In other news, an updated version of "Armed Robbery" is now available for pre-order on the Kindle Store. You all are amazing, and this latest book has been dedicated to you! Thank you so much for making what started as a hobby into such a fulfilling experience.