Elizabeth's Shield
A TPDoEQ extra piece, by Lady Norbert
(Corresponds with many things, but particularly chapter seven of vol. III, "The Wintering")

A/N: This was the first story I ever wrote for TPDoEQ that was not written from Elizabeth's point of view, and when I first posted 'Skinner's Story,' I promised the readers that I would share such outtakes. Some of these were written by request; this person or that wanted to know what a specific character was thinking at a particular point in the story. (If you have a request like that, leave a comment! I aim to please.) This one was in response to a few people who wondered about Skinner's point of view throughout the series; it was written between the conclusion of volume III and the start of volume IV. It's basically just his thoughts on Elizabeth, their relationship, and his role as her protector.

She'd been chipping away at the stone for some time.

I couldn't tell you when it started, although I can tell you when I first started noticing it. That wasn't until I saw her awake in the infirmary, a few days after her ordeal with those bastards in Paris. She looked at me as though she thought she were dreaming, and when she realized I was really there and not dead, I thought she was going to cry with relief. That was when I first noticed it, but I know it started before then.

After that it just sort of happened, periodically. I could put a name to some specific times -- seeing her cry over Allan's things, watching her blush when I'd tease her about running off with Sawyer -- things like that I can identify. But it happened other times, too, times that didn't really have any significance to mention. Just ordinary stuff, the day-to-day business of living on the same ship and spending time together. Every so often, she'd hack off another little piece. She'd accumulated enough of them by the time we got to Egypt that, when Kiya decided to threaten something I'd die to protect, it wasn't hard for her to guess what that might be.

It started to happen a lot more as Christmas approached. Like that gloomy Sunday after church, when she gave ten pounds to a beggar girl in exchange for some half-dead flowers for her mother's grave. I mean, who does that? I went back with the carriage to get her, thought I might stop and visit my own parents; but all I could do was watch her. The sky overhead was greyer than her eyes, and London was its usual miserable self -- but there was one bit of sunshine in all of England, and it was on its knees in an overgrown cemetery. And then she put half her flowers on my parents' graves, for no other reason than that they were my parents. I think she got a bigger piece than usual that day.

Christmas itself...yeah, that was another big piece. I could see how much I confused her with the locket. And I could see how much she liked it, but she was smart enough not to make a big deal out of it. Then there was the matter of her gift to me; everyone got something of Allan's, but I'm the only one who got something specially from Bess. She doesn't know it, but I don't go anywhere without one of those handkerchiefs in my pocket. (Well, I am a gentleman thief, after all.) All the other stuff -- dancing like a pair of nutters, landing under the kissing bough, watching her catch the bouquet -- that was just gravy.

So it was going on for awhile. But then we went to the Amazon, and it all just kind of blew up on me.

I happened to be in the underwater lab when the dolphins appeared. I wasn't sure what they were, at first, but when I realized it, I knew I had to go get her; she'd been talking about wanting to see them. Took me a few minutes to find her, sleeping in the big chair in the library. I hated to wake her, but she'd have been upset if she missed it. The look on her face when she finally saw them was priceless; she rushed right over to the glass and just gaped. Truth be told, I found watching her reaction more satisfying than watching the dolphins themselves. "I think they're the loveliest things I've ever seen," she said.

"Rather a fetching view," I agreed. I wasn't really talking about the dolphins.

We stood and watched them until they swam away, and I asked if she was cross with me for waking her up. She smiled and said no, and then she took my hand and pressed it by way of a thank-you. We kind of stared at each other for a minute when she did that. And just like that, I was done.

For the past few months, she'd been slowly chipping away pieces of my heart and stealing them. That day, I handed her what was left of it on a silver platter. It's entirely hers now.

I started out as her invisible shield because, God knows, somebody's got to protect her. She's too innocent, she doesn't know how dangerous this world really is. Frankly, I would shield her from anything, even if it killed me -- better me than her. That didn't change after the dolphins, it just became more true.

So when we camped on the beach and she said she was going for a walk, well, she wasn't going far. I didn't follow her exactly, and Nemo's men were keeping an eye on her, but you can believe I was as close to where she went as I could be without actually leaving the camp. And when I heard her scream, I didn't think -- I just ran.

I've seen Bess in a lot of dangers, but not too many that scared me as much as seeing her drowning under the weight of a dead puma. Not that I'd tell anyone I was scared, of course, but it was pretty bad. The Indian soldiers were wrestling it off of her, and I made straight for the water and hauled her up. She was in shock, I think, because she was actually fighting me.

"Easy, Bess, easy! We've got you!" I didn't know if she'd understand, but I guess she did, because she went limp all at once. She was drenched, choking up water, and looked completely bewildered. We'd sort out the details of what happened later; meanwhile, Mina told her, she needed to get into dry clothes and calm herself down.

She kind of nodded, and tried to walk, but she cried out in pain. I looked down; she pulled aside her skirts and I could see a huge gash in her leg. It didn't look deep, but there was no way she was going to walk on it, so I scooped her up to carry her back to camp. I half thought she'd be embarrassed, and maybe she was, but she put her arms around me like she was holding on for dear life. I guess she knows, by now, that she can do that.

Later, after things calmed down and everything was explained to everyone's satisfaction, we were left alone. She thanked me for fishing her out of the river, and when I made a reference to being her 'invisible shield,' she said, "Why do you do that, anyway?"

Because you're the most important thing in the world to me and I'd rather die than live without you.

No, I was not about to say that. Instead, I teased her about trouble finding her irresistible. (It wasn't untrue, either -- especially if you consider me trouble, as so many people have done.) Then I told her she ought to go to sleep, and she agreed.

And then she kissed me goodnight.

Understand, nobody has kissed me goodnight since my mother died. I've been kissed, sure; I got around a bit, in my younger days. But this was a completely pure, unguarded gesture of affection, like nothing I've gotten from anyone in more than twenty years.

This is why she got in so easily. She trusts me. Nobody trusts me. Okay, maybe the League does -- now -- but it took some doing to make them see I'm really all right. Bess is different. It's like she knew all along. I've never known anybody like this, and so against her, my defences just crumbled. I put up a stone barrier to keep people out of my heart; she knocked it down without even trying. One chip at a time.