By Gaslight

Twenty-two years ago, Mary Winchester — the beloved Wife of John Winchester and adored Mother of Samuel and Deane Winchester — was cruelly lost within a fire that claimed the Winchester family's home. Since that day, a bereaved John Winchester has traveled throughout Europe, tracking the foul creature that perpetrated such a cruel trick upon his family; raising his sons to follow in his footsteps.

Armed with Samuel's inventions and Deane's uncanny ability to bring down any prey, the brothers Winchester travel through Great Britain and Europe, following clues they receive in the form of mysterious letters — and Samuel's disturbing visions.


Disclaimer: The Winchester boys, even within this incarnation, are regrettably not my creation. Likewise, the idea of the weapons they use owes more to Jules Verne than to my own devising. And while Mr. Winchester's peculiar mode of transport has not yet made an appearance, its particular execution also does not belong to me. However, I will take full and knowledgeable blame for impinging upon your senses with this entirely silly romp through a very different Victorian England.

Characters: Deane Winchester, Samuel Winchester, OFC (Penelope Harcourt), OFC (Mary)

Pairings (Overall): Deane/OFC (multiple), Samuel/OFC

Rating (Overall): M

Rating: T (Mild language.)

Summary: Penelope Harcourt returns to Highchurch, her family's beloved country home, within the company of two strange brothers. Ten hours trapped in a carriage with Deane Winchester has left her decidedly out of sorts.

Feedback: I would consider you most kind if you would do so.

Miscellaneous: This lovely little homage to Romance and Adventure owes its sparkle to the ever-radiant wenchpixie. Between the two of us, we have pushed what was meant simply as a one-shot corset-ripper into a world that is spawning sequel ideas. Multi-part sequel ideas.


Chapter One: Wherein Brave Heroes go Hunting, and a Good Friend is Lost

My Dearest Cousin,

It is my hope that this missive finds you well and in good spirits.

I have, as you no doubt assumed, arrived at Highchurch relatively unscathed and with my humour intact. Given the day that I have had, this is an amazing consequence and one which I shall relay in further detail.

The journey from London to Dorsey was relatively uneventful. I traveled in the company of a newlywed couple, Mr. and Mrs. Freddie Wetherby. The Wetherbys were traveling to Dorsey on their way to the Wetherby family estate, being met in the morning by a private carriage. I recommended they take their repast in the Bull and Bush, as Peter and I always found the food delightful and the accommodations - while rustic - charming in their simplicity.

You know, of course, what happened next.

Mrs. Wetherby pounced upon me the moment her husband was inquiring about additional vacancy - asking all sorts of questions about the marriage bed. Why does every young bride decide to ask me the particulars of a wife's duty? I know this amuses you to no end, Verd, but it is simply preposterous to assume that I am an expert on the details simply because I was married. As easy to say that your Templeton is an expert in horses simply because he can ride.

In any case, a very happy couple bid me good day as they set upon their carriage this morning - Mrs. Wetherby and I shall be exchanging letters - and I prepared for the journey to Westshire.

Much to my chagrin, the coachman informed me that I would be joined by two new companions - a pair of brothers by name of Winchester. Deane Winchester, the eldest, was slightly rumpled in appearance - from the short brown hair to his poorly-starched collar and waistcoat - and was uncomfortable, I suspect, to be so attired; to my eternal vexation, he was not unhandsome. In point of fact, Deane Winchester was as clean-shaven as his younger brother, Samuel. Samuel Winchester looked exactly like the boys who attended father's classes at Oxford, complete with the longer hair parted exactly down the center of his head and a set of spectacles added to his scholarly appearance.

One wonders if their valet - who must have been traveling on the board - is required to carry a ruler simply to engender the proper symmetry for Mr. Samuel's hair.

To be fair, both Winchesters were not unhandsome. Yet Mr. Winchester seemed to know this, whereas Samuel did not. There is nothing more incommodious than a handsome man who knows it - as if he was owed something simply because Nature had the grace to make him so.

I was shocked to learn that they were the same Winchesters who owned the manor house near Highchurch - the unfortunate one that burned down twenty years ago. Young Mr. Samuel informed me that their father still holds the baronage, although John Winchester's travels abroad have interfered with his ability to maintain the estate day-to-day, and there is a steward who acts on the family's behalf. The lands are attached to a sizable annuity, if Father is to be believed.

They were kind enough to sit across from me, although the eldest - a veritable Rogue, if ever one graced my path - asked to set a rather large leather carrying case next to me. Despite the lack of space this now afforded me, the trip would have been tolerable save for the damnable flirting - yes, I know I am supposed to be ladylike, but you've not yet had the displeasure of ten hours in a carriage with Mr. Deane Winchester. It is my sincerest hope that you never endure such agony.

One would think a woman wearing mourning clothes - even half mourning - would be safe from such conduct. I do much wonder if Mr. Winchester takes a perverse pleasure in tormenting widows, as though our station in life makes us particularly susceptible to his obvious - and I use the term politely, for in truth I could not see them - charms.

Mr. Winchester did not even register my somewhat pointed - though terribly courteous - message: When a woman pulls out a book and starts reading it in front of you, one should generally assume that she is uninterested in your attentions. Mr. Winchester only desisted when the carriage wheel broke, and he determined it was more interesting to watch the coachman repair it than to annoy me.

Happily, I arrived home none the worse for wear: albeit much later than I had intended. Wharrow was waiting in Westshire with Father's carriage and we did not reach Highchurch until well after dinner had started - the fish course, if memory serves. Having spent nearly ten hours languishing in a carriage with nary a companion save Silas Marner and the Winchester brothers, I was in no state to meet Father's guests over salmon.

Father did come to meet with me later, once dinner was finished. He does not wholly approve that I am following in Peter's footsteps, and even went so far as to inform me that I am simply posing as a naturalist by using Peter's work as my guide. I will happily endure the ridicule if it ensures his life's work will continue, although I confess I would far prefer to be at his side as we were, instead of completing the experiments and papers alone.

But you know Father can deny me nothing, and so he acquiesced when I sent him Peter's newest paper. Yes, dearest, I know you find the entire subject distasteful - as, in point of fact, do I - but it is a valid hypothesis regarding the propagation of plant life by native birds and, in any case, did not require much unpleasant interference on our parts given that many of the birds were already being convalesced.

Science is a dirty business, Verd, but we persevered. You should reconsider your decision regarding the paper, after so many hours in the rookery, you certainly earned the citation.

Did I tell you that it is good to be home? I miss the way the old house creaks at night, and the sounds outside near the stream. It's been so long since I went on an old-fashioned ramble, and I think I remember where we planted our treasure box. Perhaps I shall dig it up and send you what I find. Would that be ten or twelve sonnets to James Whitaker? I don't remember. How many sonnets can one twelve-year-old girl write?

At any rate, I shall bid you good night. Do not wear yourself out too entirely with dances and parties, now that you are no longer acting as companion to your widowed old cousin.

With much love,

Penelope

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Penelope Harcourt signed her name with a flourish, gently blotting her signature while the ink dried. She reached into the desk and pulled out an envelope, methodically addressing it to Vertiline. She waved the envelope gently, and then meticulously folded the letter. Wax heated, she set her husband's seal - the big "H" she had given him on their wedding night - on the edge of the flap.

She tapped her lip thoughtfully with the envelope, glancing towards the window. Propriety required that she ring the bell and wait for Wharrow to collect the letter, but Penelope rarely followed those rules - and it was not as though Wharrow expected her to act otherwise. Pulling on her shawl, she made her way out of her room in the South Wing and downstairs to the kitchen. She heard voices coming from the Billiards Room. Father's guests, no doubt. Penelope felt it best to avoid that part of the house entirely, dressed as she was in an informal writing dress, her old shawl, and a pair of extremely old shoes.

Penelope Harcourt was serious about her old-fashioned rambles.

Mary was still in the kitchen when Penelope entered, putting left-over food from dinner into the panty. Blue eyes widened as Mary jumped. "Miss Penelope!" The cook frowned. "Not even home for three hours, and you're up to your old tricks. Sneaking around the house at all hours."

"I am on a mission, Mary." Penelope set the letter in the basket Wharrow kept on the sideboard.

"That's what worries me, Miss - " Mary shook her head. Try as she might, Mary had never been able to address Penelope as "Mrs. Harcourt," except for that one time during the wedding reception. "There are strange men in the house."

"I heard them. It sounded like Father pulled out the best brandy."

Mary frowned. "Not those men. Two others. They arrived after you did - gave them a spot of dinner before Wharrow showed them to their rooms."

"I suspect we might continue to receive guests as late as tomorrow afternoon. Isn't that when Father scheduled the introductory dinner?"

Mary's eyes dropped. It was Penelope's turn to frown - damn her stubborn father to hell! It is not as though you're presenting your own work, Pen old girl. This is your husband's paper. He had done it last year as well, completely ignoring the fact that he had raised a daughter well-suited to academia. She was his daughter, after all. Only an idiot would not have realized that the latest paper included references to scientific works unavailable during his son-in-law's lifetime. Winston Hillsworth was not an idiotic man, for all his faults - which meant that he was being deliberately obtuse.

"In that case, Mary, there is only one thing to do." Last year, Penelope had burst into the room - every man was speechless when the woman in a mourning gown took one look at Winston Hillsworth, and deliberately turned her back on him. The sheer outrage against their beloved mentor was quite astonishing. She smiled at the memory. "I wonder if he is even planning on allowing me to present the paper," Penelope added. "Or if I will simply be making it available for the gentlemen to read at their leisure."

Mary actually put a restraining hand on her arm. Penelope whipped her head to stare at the cook. "Please, Miss," Mary asked, her voice soft. "You weren't supposed to find out."

Her father was normally a mild-mannered man - until one of his orders was disobeyed. Penelope had inherited the temper, even though it was wholly unladylike of her to display it. It had not stopped her the previous year, but the look in Mary's eyes gave her pause. She smiled suddenly. "Does Bootsie still keep spare lanterns in the gardening shed?"

"Yes," the cook replied dubiously. "Lantern not working in your room, Miss?"

"Perfectly!" Penelope replied, smile slowly widening into a grin. "But I need a lantern and a shovel. I'm assuming the shovels are still in the gardening shed."

"But without a lantern, won't you get lost?" Mary looked at her with concern in her eyes, which shocked Penelope to no end - she had trudged about the estate for years, regardless of weather conditions, and never once fell prey to misdirection.

"I thank you for your kind concern, Mary, but I believe you worry too much." Penelope laughed gently, opening the back door of the kitchen. The grounds spilled before her, and the old path wound down the hill behind the house. Moonlight spilled out over the path, illuminating the estate so brightly it seemed more like early morning. "There is enough light to see by."

Mary peered up into the sky. "A full moon is bad luck."

"No one knows the grounds better than I do." She smiled. "Good night, Mary."

"Good night, Miss Penelope."

Penelope turned on her heel, and strode out the back door down the old familiar path - old cobblestones with thyme winding its way through the cracks. The familiar scents rushing to meet her as her skirts brushed the aromatic flowers her mother had planted before she passed. To Penelope's left, the stones she and Verd had pulled from the woods one afternoon in their misguided attempt to rebuild Stonehenge were still standing; Father had never ordered the structure dismantled, and Bootsie had planted an herb garden around it every spring - as regular as clockwork.

It was good to be home.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

"Are you still upset about the girl in the carriage?" Samuel's voice broke into his thoughts.

Deane looked up from cleaning his rifle, pushing the cleaning rod and cloth through the barrel. Samuel pushed his glasses back on top of his nose - they always slipped down when Samuel was making adjustments to the pellet guns. The girl in question was a pretty brunette wearing a lavender mourning dress, one Mrs. Harcourt by name. Deane had hoped she would while away the hours between Dorsey and Westshire, but she showed little promise after several hours spent reading some damnable book. He chuckled.

"Deane? I understand rifles are quite fascinating to you - perhaps as an extension of your over-active manliness - but we are in the midst of a conversation."

He sighed. "She was but a diversion for the journey, Sammy." His brother was entirely too persistent. "A very pretty diversion," Deane added.

"Aren't they all?" His younger brother frowned. "And I must protest in one regard. You are aware that Sammy is a podgy twelve-year-old? The name is Samuel."

Deane grinned. "As you say, little brother." He set the cleaning rod down, peered into the barrel. "Done." He reached into the leather bag next to him. "How many silver bullets do we have?"

"Not enough. We will need to use the pellet guns, and hope the firebombs will slow down the werewolf long enough for you to get in a good shot."

"I am the master of good shots." He began loading the rifle with silver bullets, left over from their father's last altercation with a werewolf. The trail to John Winchester's whereabouts had led them back to Highchurch - a stone's throw from home, burned down so long ago by the Demon that haunted their days and turned their nights into nightmares. "Writing a letter to old Hillsworth was perfect, Samuel," Deane added, emphasizing the syllables in his brother's name. "We would never have gotten an invitation otherwise. Did you see the way that the butler stared at us when we entered the foyer?"

"Philistine." Samuel snorted. "He was staring at you."

"Then it is incredibly lucky for me that you graduated from Oxford, isn't it?" Deane continued, adjusting his belt holster - the one with the ivory-handled Colt .45 that was his first and favorite gun. It was loaded with silver bullets, in addition to his trusty rifle. "You get us into all the best parties." He frowned. "Although this one is dull."

"It's a private gathering," Samuel returned. "Winston Hillsworth holds it every year, inviting what he considers the finest minds to attend. I did not write him a letter, Deane. He invited me."

"I may be unhinged, Samuel, but does not your scientific practice eschew polite society." Deane smiled. "As do I, truth be told."

"Hillsworth is a Practitioner. This gathering is simply a smokescreen. The real work is done in the evenings, in the Billiards Room, after the staff retires for the night."

"Fascinating," Deane said. The whole notion of spending one's nights locked in a Billiards Room with other men, experimenting with inventions "modern science" was unprepared to explain seemed boring, on the whole. "I wonder where the servant girls retire."

Samuel chuckled. "You are incorrigible."

"Quite the contrary, my Oxford-educated little brother. I am quite corrigible. It is why I get into so much trouble." Deane rose to his feet, adjusting his braces and putting on his waistcoat - he twisted experimentally, and then frowned. "The new fiber you've been developing, Samuel, is too restricting and one sweats in it like a stuck pig." He took the waistcoat off, and slipped into his old pea coat. "Much better."

"You look slovenly." Samuel was slipping into his own waistcoat before taking off his glasses. "You really should be wearing a waistcoat," his little brother added with a grimace. He reached into his traveling case and pulled out the night goggles - the oddest monstrosity Samuel had yet created. The lenses alone stood a full two inches away from his eyes, but Deane could attest to their usefulness; Samuel would be able to see as clearly outside as he did during the day. Samuel Winchester was a genius, although his older brother was often hard pressed to tell him so. He pulled out another set for Deane.

He shook his head. Deane Winchester preferred to rely on his own senses while on the hunt. There was nothing like the feel of the ground underneath your fingers as you were trailing a beast, except perhaps the curve of a woman's shoulder as you kissed the sensitive hollows of her neck. There has to be a woman somewhere on the grounds under the age of sixty. A memory came forth, unbidden, from when he was a child. A little girl, younger than himself, playing on the path outside while their fathers spoke in the garden.

"Hillsworth has a daughter, does he not?" Deane looked at Samuel inquiringly.

Samuel nodded. "But she married some time ago, as I recall. We were invited to the wedding."

"Why didn't we attend?"

"You were in Budapest. Fighting gargoyles." Samuel flicked the switch on his night goggles, and began toggling the knobs on the side. "I was at Oxford."

Deane smiled at the memory - John Winchester, fighting gargoyles with a pistol in one hand and a cricket bat in the other. He could only stand and watch, awestruck, at his father's grace and determination on the hunt. "Our father is a legend."

"We need to find him, Deane." Samuel's voice dropped, and he sounded like a little boy - the same little boy whom Deane would entertain on carriage rides. "Every day he slips from us is another day we lose." Deane heard the names Samuel did not say. Jessica Moore. Maxwell Leighton. And perhaps others who shared Samuel's special gifts. "Do you believe that he's the one who has been sending us the letters?" his little brother asked.

Deane nodded. "I do. This is our destiny, Samuel."

Samuel stared at him, a frown underneath his night goggles. "I thought my destiny involved nightmares, and arriving too late to help those who need us."

"We save who we can." It was the Winchesters' blessing - and their curse.

"I know," Samuel returned. "I wish that we could save them all."

"As do I, Sammy." His little brother did not balk at the pet name, used when they were traveling through Europe looking for clues after their mother's death. Deane picked up his rifle. "I can make no promises for tomorrow, but tonight we are going to save someone's soul."

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Penelope struck out from the gardening shed, lantern in one hand and a shovel in the other. The air was cool against her skin - a slight tang that marked a change in the weather. London always smelled dirty. Never like the grounds at Highchurch, where the air was as fresh as the sky after a storm. Peter had always enjoyed walking the grounds with her during the rain, on those rare occasions they returned home from the city.

She sighed. It was strange how being home brought back memories of Peter, while walking every night through the house they shared for a year - the house where he died - only seemed to make the memories disappear. The mind worked in mysterious ways; Penelope was not a woman given to frivolous urges, yet tonight she had no other goal in mind than dig up the treasure box she and Vertiline had buried ten years ago.

Penelope set the shovel over her left shoulder, bracing it with her hand as she walked. If memory served, the treasure box was buried in the midst of the old Faerie Grove - a circle of oak trees someone had planted a long time ago near the stream. They had marked the tree where they buried it with ribbons, along with a carving of their initials.

With any luck, she'd still be able to find it.

There was a howl in the distance, a lonely sound. Penelope cocked her head. Wild dogs? They were not unheard of in the country, although Westshire was growing increasingly cosmopolitan - at least by the standards of Penelope's childhood. She held the lantern more firmly in her right hand, trudging resolutely across the field towards the stream.

Moonlight shone down into the Faerie Grove, through a slight mist - a storm was coming. Nights such as this reminded her of the girl who would name a circle of trees, and Penelope smiled a bit wistfully at the memory. Vertiline had never lost that innocent sense of wonder. On the other hand, Verd was a horrid flirt and something of a featherhead. Fortunately, Penelope was exceedingly practical in matters of the heart, guiding her young cousin through a successful London season with nary an emotional scratch.

Francis Templeton was an excellent match for Vertiline.

There was a rustle behind her in the bushes near the stream. Penelope whirled and watched a small rabbit rush from underneath the brush, looking for a new hiding place. "I am jumping at rabbits," she said softly, her voice sounding harsh in the stillness that surrounded her. Mary can still work me into a frenzy with her superstitious stories. A full moon is not bad luck. Penelope shook her head, and then checked on the lantern. It was secure from the rain.

"Rabbits be damned," she added, traipsing into the circle of trees. If memory served, the tree was on the highest quarter. Penelope raised the lantern and smiled as she walked in that direction - there was one old ribbon still hanging off the limb of the tallest tree, wavering in the breeze. Its height was most likely why they had chosen it in the first place; Verd believed that the taller the tree, the more powerful its faery - at least, perhaps, when Vertiline was twelve. She stepped forward, touching the "VL" her cousin had scratched into the tree's trunk, right next to Penelope's more forceful initials.

The treasure box was buried five steps away from their initials. Penelope set her back to the tree, and took five steps forward - she had not gained any height in the last ten years, doomed to a short stature; her calculations - though approximate - would still apply. She wrinkled her nose; there was something to be said for being closer to the ground, all protestations regarding lack of stature aside.

Penelope stamped one foot on the ground, feeling for the slight bump. She doubted it would still be in place - it had been ten years, after all. The soil had most likely settled due to the vagaries of wind and rain. But there it was - the slight lump the metal box made underneath the grass. She smiled again, setting the lantern beside her. She set the shovel against the grass and kicked downward, feeling the tap of the shovel's end against the box.

We certainly did not bury it deeply.

She dug swiftly as the chilling mist swirled around her; it would start raining soon. Setting the shovel on the ground beside her, Penelope knelt - using her hands to dig the remainder of the soil away, and pulling out the old metal box she and Vertiline had used to store their greatest of treasures: several thimbles, tokens of Verd's many assignations - even at the tender age of twelve - with young gentlemen in the area, and feverish poems written to the objects of her cousin's affections.

The box came out from the ground easily, with a sucking sound that Penelope did not expect.

Curious.

She filed the idea away, an experiment for a later time - the transfer of volume and mass from one state to another.

She was just about to open the box when a howl ripped through the air, much closer than it had been just moments before. Penelope jumped, grabbing the shovel quickly and turning towards the noise. A twig snapped on the ground behind her, and she whirled to face the noise. A lanky figure wearing a great overcoat - and the strangest contraption on its head - stumbled into her lantern's light.

Penelope braced herself, shovel outstretched in her hands. "That is close enough, sir!" She was giving the man the benefit of the doubt simply by assuming that he was a gentleman. What type of man wanders throughout the countryside at night wearing that - thing - on his head? An escapee from an asylum? She frowned, as the figure inched forward, and pulled the shovel behind her shoulder as she would a cricket bat. Penelope raised her voice, crying, "I am armed, sir, and rest assured, I will not refrain from the use of force. Desist in your approach this instant!"

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Mrs. Harcourt was a plucky young widow - Deane would grant that as a positive assessment of her character. However, that still did not explain why the woman had ventured out late at night, in the midst of a brewing rainstorm, simply to dig up something on the night of the full moon. There were some answers man was simply not meant to know, and this was one of them. Yet the way she swung the shovel as though she was playing cricket bordered on endearing - if Deane Winchester was the type of man who found plucky young widows to be such.

Which he was not.

"Mrs. Harcourt!" Samuel's voice came out as a whisper, his hands held before him in a universal gesture of peace. "I am not going to hurt you."

The shovel dropped slightly, and Deane heard the incredulity in the young woman's voice. "Samuel?" If possible, her voice actually increased in volume. Mrs. Harcourt must have driven her husband to distraction - bellowing about the house in that sharp tone as he tried to go peacefully about his business. "Samuel Winchester?" she added.

"Lower your voice, Mrs. Harcourt. You're in danger!"

"That is obvious, sir!" The frown in her voice was palpable. Perhaps she would have been more kindly disposed to his younger brother if she could see the large wolf - big and black in the moonlight - that was tracking her not ten feet behind, slipping between the mist. Samuel was plainly trying to help her. "But you are a lunatic if you believe I'm lowering my voice simply to stop calling attention to you," the widow added.

Insufferable woman.

Deane shook his head. She was pretty, however - even in the moonlight, there were softer glints in her dark brown hair. He suspected her eyes were flashing as she confronted Samuel, green flecked with gold sparks. It was her eyes that had attracted him in the first place - her eyes that made Deane Winchester wonder what they looked like when she was laughing.

Or what happens when Mrs. Harcourt is lying breathless underneath you.

"My brother and I want to help you." Samuel's voice was calm. He was trying to be reasonable. Normally, his voice alone was enough to calm even the most frightened of those the Winchesters saved.

But Samuel Winchester's particular gifts of persuasion apparently held little sway over angry widows. "That scoundrel is not even here!" she cried. Mrs. Harcourt swung her shovel around, almost clipping his younger brother across the chest. "I said stand back, Samuel Winchester!" Her body twisted with the force of her swing, and the shovel went flying from her hands - landing past Samuel with a dull thud.

Deane leaned into her spin, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her out of harm's way as the wolf behind her charged the spot where she had been. "I have her!" Deane cried. "Shoot the wolf!"

"I cannot see the wolf!" Samuel returned. "Her lantern is interfering with my night goggles."

"Damn you, woman!" Deane snapped, arm still about her waist as he began scanning the perimeter of the lantern's glow for any sign of the wolf's movement. It was a particularly tricky bastard - apparently, the creature it was when not in wolf form was clever in the extreme. "What possessed you to ramble through the countryside in the middle of the night?"

"That is none of your business, Mr. Winchester," the widow hissed. She turned in his arm to look at him, green eyes flashing just as he thought they would. "And I must insist that you remove your arm from my waist, or else I will be forced to assume drastic measures." Mrs. Harcourt frowned. "You are not even wearing a waistcoat, sir." One finger touched the buckle on his braces.

"A scolding I would take with more vigor if the woman in question was wearing a corset." Deane grinned, mustering some of his rakish charm - a feat, under the circumstances.

Mrs. Harcourt's mouth opened, slightly, and she looked as though she was going to expound upon his nature. Vociferously. Deane Winchester, however, knew how to handle a woman, and the damnable Mrs. Harcourt was a woman - despite her exasperating inclination to outline her companions' impropriety. He leaned down quickly, mouth against hers as he tightened his grip around her waist. She opened to him with a sigh, returning his kiss with as much spirit as she possessed.

In point of fact, Mrs. Harcourt - proper though she seemed - had the mouth of a wanton; she performed acts within seconds that an untried girl - his usual quarry - would never think to try. Deane's shortsightedness astonished him; why had he never thought to explore an assignation with a young and pretty widow? Particularly if the widow was as young and pretty as Mrs. Harcourt, kissing him with a fervor so much more pleasurable than sweetness.

Mrs. Harcourt moaned softly, shifting in the crook of his arm. She brought down a rather large - and, as he would later learn, muddy - boot upon his instep. "Bugger me!" Deane cried. The force of her blow against him was enough to loosen his hold around her trim waist, and she stepped back with a triumphant gleam in her green eyes. Deane saw another flash - a wolf's eyes - in the shadows of the lantern's light behind her.

"Be careful, Deane!" Samuel must have spotted the wolf as well. It sat on its haunches, teeth gleaming as it watched Mrs. Harcourt with hungry eyes. He could appreciate the sentiment.

Deane Winchester never backed down from a challenge.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Penelope had never been so insulted in her entire life. Even her father's casual disregard of her scholastic pursuits paled in comparison to the callous disdain Deane Winchester laid upon her feet. The cad had kissed her! The unscrupulous bounder sent his madcap younger sibling to distract her, and then snatched her into his arms simply so that Deane Winchester could have his way with her. Her! A widow still in a mourning dress. Had the scoundrel no shame?

Oh God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place.

Or, at the very least, Penelope Harcourt would be throwing Deane Winchester a gauntlet - right across his smug and self-satisfied countenance.

Penelope settled for smashing his foot with her walking boot. She glared at him, watching the confused expression which crossed his otherwise - damnably - handsome face as Deane Winchester released her from his arms, his true colors revealed as he screamed his loathsome epitaph.

She brought one hand to her lips as his little brother cried, "Be careful, Deane!" Penelope felt the pressure of Deane Winchester's cursed lips upon her own, coupled with an excitement she had not felt in years - even Peter had never kissed her with such forceful abandon.

For that, Deane Winchester would pay dearly.

"You take too many liberties, Mr. Winchester," she snarled.

Hazel eyes flickered in her direction, but Deane Winchester's expression was grim. "Do not move, Mrs. Harcourt. You are in danger." The damn man was watching something behind her - his mad younger brother, no doubt. "And please, for the love of God, lower your voice!" he added. "You are giving me a headache!"

"I will do no such thing until you explain to me what you are doing on my father's grounds," Penelope returned forcefully. Did the Winchesters show such coldhearted indifference to everyone they met, luring unsuspecting young women into their arms as they capered frantically across the countryside carrying firearms? Green eyes narrowed.

Firearms?

Deane Winchester's blasted mouth spread into a smile. "Hunting."

A large popping sound erupted behind her.

"Damn and blast!" Samuel Winchester cried. Penelope twirled in place to face him. The youngest Winchester was pointing the strangest-looking gun - something which could have been more adequately described by Jules Verne - at the largest wolf that Penelope had ever seen. This was no mere understatement; in body mass alone, the wolf easily weighed as much as a normal human male and it was glaring at her with a preternatural intelligence in its eyes. "The pellet gun is jammed!" Samuel added.

"Deane Winchester is a master of improvisation!" the eldest Winchester cried, flashing another grin in Penelope's direction. He danced around her, grabbing the lantern next to her right foot – throwing it at the wolf with a mighty heave. "Bullseye," he added, as the glass cracked and oil mixed with fire on the wolf's coat.

"Are you mad, sir?" Penelope screamed. It was a precious specimen, and belonged in a museum.

"Confound it, woman!" Deane Winchester spared a glance in her direction. "We are trying to save your life." He pulled a rifle from a holster off his back - Penelope had never seen a man wearing such a contraption - and took aim at her.

The man was insane. She had read stories about killers such as this, mentally unhinged men who preyed upon unsuspecting women, but Penelope would never have believed either Winchester fell into that category - even with Samuel sporting that infernal apparatus on his head. Penelope's breath caught as Deane Winchester forcibly grabbed her by the arm and moved her aside.

Another howl ripped through her head, and Penelope realized that the earlier lamentation had come from the wolf. Out of the corner of her eye, Penelope glimpsed its burning body upon the grass and she turned to look full upon it. A piteous whimper erupted from the poor creature as its body began to shiver. Her eyes widened - it must have been a trick of the moonlight and the fire, for its skin appeared to be rippling madly from the inside. The wolf was dying.

And the Winchesters were hunting it for sport.

"Please," she said, trying to catch Samuel's eye. Those strange goggles were looking right at her. Deane Winchester was cocking his gun at the creature, a grim look on his face, and he stalked forward. "Let it die in peace."

"I can assure you, Mrs. Harcourt, that the creature will do so," Samuel returned, in a voice as calm as the one he had employed upon her before.

The wolf howled again and jumped to its feet, yellow eyes looking straight into hers. Penelope screamed - the beast was bipedal, loping towards her with an unnatural gait. By the look in its preternatural eyes, she knew that she was doomed. The beast was going to take her in front of Deane and Samuel Winchester. There was nothing she could do - the creature was moving too quickly for her to react - and she closed her eyes, prepared to meet her cruel fate. Peter…

"Now, Samuel," Deane Winchester roared. As soon as the words erupted from his mouth, Penelope found herself lying on wet grass. She opened her eyes, only to find herself staring Samuel's apparatus full in its mechanical face.

The crack of Deane Winchester's rifle brought Penelope to her senses. She pushed Samuel with as much strength as she could muster, and rolled out from underneath him - just in time to see the wolf-man pull back its head and wail its dying lament. Blood poured from its chest in the moonlight, and the thing slumped to the ground.

Penelope's breathing seemed rushed, even to her own ears - acting in counterpoint to the echo of the gunfire. She rose shakily to her feet. Samuel Winchester's arm was on her shoulder, while his older brother kicked the wolf-man's hand with the toe of his shoe. "Is it dead, Mr. Winchester?" she asked. It was the only question she could muster amongst the scramble within her head.

Please, let it be dead.

His swaggering smirk answered her question. "Most assuredly so, Mrs. Harcourt." He looked at his brother. "Perhaps you should escort her to the house before…" Deane Winchester's voice slowed to a stop.

The creature's hand started to shimmer - as though the fur upon it was dispersing completely into the air - and a human hand appeared in its place. Penelope shrugged Samuel's hand off her shoulder, and walked forward slowly to stand next to his older brother. She felt the blood draining from her face as an arm followed the hand, and then the chest attached to the arm. Whatever the thing had become, it was human once.

And it was reverting to its original form right before their eyes.

Penelope's stomach turned, and she looked away - right into Deane Winchester's eyes. The man seemed tired, and the smile on his face was the first genuine look he had given her since alighting into the carriage earlier that morning. If he had smiled at her in that fashion, perhaps Penelope would not have read George Eliot - Penelope did not even like George Eliot, but she was returning the novel to Father at Verd's request. She shook her head, once - hoping to clear her thoughts. But she caught a glimpse of the dead man's hair out of the corner of her eye.

Oh, my poor Mary!

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Mrs. Harcourt made a strangled noise, falling to her knees beside the naked body. "Bootsie!" she cried.

"Bugger," Deane muttered. She's recognized the poor bastard. If only Samuel had managed to make off with her sooner, before the body began reverting to its human form.

Samuel's voice was soft. "Was he a friend of yours, Mrs. Harcourt?"

"He was Mary's son." The sorrow in Mrs. Harcourt's voice was palpable. "He watched over Verd and I while we were growing up. I never thought to see him…" Her voice trailed off, and she tried to touch the dead man's arm. Mrs. Harcourt managed one quick tap, pulling her hand back quickly as the lifeless body rocked against the grass.

"Mary?" Samuel asked.

"The cook," Deane replied calmly. The one who had met them upon their arrival; the old woman knew they were not simply at Highchurch for the scientific conference - Samuel's questions had been too pointed, and she asked for their help. To save him, she said. Her voice quivering. Please save my son. "The one who…"

"Ah."

Deane placed his rifle back into its back holster, and leaned down to encircle Mrs. Harcourt's waist with his hands. It was odd what the mind registered after a life and death situation. Mrs. Harcourt was well-proportioned - curves where they should be, no aesthete tendencies - and her hips dared to be caressed underneath her mourning gown; a thought which might have brought a smile to his face were it not for her gentle weeping. "We should leave, Mrs. Harcourt." He did not remove his hands, hoping to steady her. "Samuel will take care of your friend."

"But Mary -" The widow's voice caught in her throat. "You do not understand. She tried to warn me!" Mrs. Harcourt lowered her eyes. "How do I tell her that between the three of us, we killed her son?"

"We are sorrier than you know, Mrs. Harcourt," Samuel said. "But you had nothing to do with this." He took off the night goggles as he spoke to her. His little brother smiled wanly. "Please, allow Deane to escort you into the house."

Deane removed his hands from her waist, and offered the widow his arm. Mrs. Harcourt's knees buckled underneath her weight after three steps, and she pitched backwards. Deane grabbed her swiftly, her pale, tear-stained face gazing up into his. Green eyes, flecked with gold, glittered in the moonlight. Mrs. Harcourt's hair had fallen during the struggle, and a thick coil of dark brown curls brushed gently against his hand.

"You have my thanks, Mr. Winchester," her voice came softly. "But if you think this mitigates your earlier beha - " Mrs. Harcourt's eyes suddenly fluttered, and her head fell backwards. The damnable woman had fainted in his arms.

I'll be buggered!


A/N:

This story brought to you in part by a love of Victoriana, a picture of Jensen Ackles in suspenders, and much active egging on by the lovely wenchpixie.

The world is a stylized version of the Victorian era – more "the world as the Victorians wished it to be" versus actual history. In that respect, Jules Verne is as much to blame as I am.

The decision to use more period versions of the boys' names was deliberate – particularly with Dean. (For the curious, I was able to date the use of "Deane" as a first name to 1623 AD.)

Penelope's experiment is based on one performed by Charles Darwin and his son.

Mourning during the Victorian era was structured – books on etiquette had entire sections on the mourning rituals you were required to observe based on your relationship to the deceased. Women who survived their husbands had the most rigid rules imposed upon them, based on three different levels of mourning. Penelope is in the latter part of the third and final stage, known as "half mourning." She is allowed to wear some color (mostly variant shades of light purple) so long as it is still trimmed in black, and has been reintroduced into society for most social activities. Because she was young when her husband died, Penelope would have been required to observe the longest time frames for each mourning period or else be considered a "loose woman." By my reckoning, she has been in mourning for almost four years.

And some terminology, thanks to wenchpixie:

Bracers are suspenders