"... I just don't think this is the kinda work women should get into, is all."
Dean steadfastly endured the 'oh, really?' look Bobby cast over his shoulder. The old hunter withdrew from the fridge a second later, beer in hand. "Boy, have you seen an experienced female hunter at work before?" Bobby asked, settling himself at the kitchen table once more and popping the drink open. "There ain't nothing else like it. Hell hath no fury, y'know."
Conscious of Sam's eyes on him, Dean took another bite of casserole and clarified. "I never said 'can't'," he replied as he chewed. "I said 'shouldn't'. There's a difference."
Bobby raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Kindly elaborate."
Dean sighed; god, discussions like this made his head hurt. It made sense in his brain, but spelling it out... "It's just... your life's gotta kinda suck to get into hunting, right? It's dirty work that no one else will do, and a woman should have better n' that. Better opportunities. Y'know?"
Bobby nodded slowly, and it was plain to see that he wasn't swayed by this argument. "No one should have this life, Dean. You tryin' to play the gentleman?"
"I'm not tryin' anything," Dean retorted. "Jus' my two cents, 'kay?"
The whole discussion had started because he and Sam had been unceremoniously dumped at Bobby's by their dad. It was a job he didn't want them involved in - some bullshit about it being 'too dangerous', as if all the other hunts they'd done were walks in the park - but he wasn't working it alone. A female hunter was with him, one who'd been there before they'd entered the hunting picture, and okay, maybe Dean was just a little bit miffed that Dad would work with her but not let his own sons in on it.
But Dean still stood by what he said.
"Dean does have a point," Sam piped up, a bit hesitantly. He sat with his arms folded on the table, food all but forgotten, looking undecidedly at Bobby but giving Dean a sideways glance. "Sort of. They should have better."
"You two have a weird sense of chivalry," Bobby commented, taking another swig of beer.
"C'mon, Bobby. What we do is kill, and it ain't even for a living. It's not bad, but what kinda life is that?" Dean shook his head.
Bobby set his beer down with a decisive thump. "Kid, the hunters as we know 'em today were organized by a woman."
Sam perked up at once, looking intrigued. He fixed Bobby with a visibly eager gaze as Dean frowned - this was the first the older Winchester had heard of anything like that. "What d'you mean?" he asked.
The old hunter settled more comfortably into his chair, and his gaze became distant for a moment, obviously recalling whatever he knew on the subject. "People have been hunters for centuries," he began. "At least since the Dark Ages, maybe earlier. But until the nineteenth century, it was always jus' lone wolves. Individuals who learned a bit here and there, enough to fight off whatever nasties they came across." Bobby seemed to be slipping into storyteller-mode, warming up to telling the tale. "But that all changed towards the end of the nineteenth century. She was an English noblewoman by the name of Elizabeth Midford. Did some sort of underground work for the Queen of England at the time. And she put together the largest collection of supernatural lore ever known. In fact, most of my collection comes from copies of hers."
Dean's eyes had widened as Bobby spoke; of all the things he might have expected to hear, this certainly wasn't one of them. As Bobby paused in his tale to sip at his beer, Sam frowned at him. "But... what about the hunters?"
"She trained people... found others like her. Put together a sizable group of 'em in England and used her connections to spread that to other countries, too. She made sure her knowledge got spread, and she made sure people knew how to fight the dark. The World Wars did a lot to strengthen the ties between hunters, and even though that's been pretty fractured lately, the structure she created is still around." Bobby nodded when he finished, eyeing the Winchesters expectantly.
Sam was still frowning. He was always the one to analyze stories, pick out discrepancies. "You said 'others like her'," he told Bobby. "Why did she do all that?"
Bobby looked grim; he shoved the beer away for a moment. "... They say her fiancé was murdered by a demon."
Dean was really staring now. Murdered by a demon? That was just like...
"Did she ever kill the demon?" Sam asked eagerly.
"No one knows," Bobby answered with a shrug. "There are rumors, 'course, but no plain fact."
Dean looked down at the remains of his casserole, but he didn't see it. The story had struck something with him, that both made him somewhat uncomfortable and left him with something almost like awe. The idea of a woman in this kind of violent job still seemed wrong to him; he didn't think they couldn't, but he'd always seen them as special, almost - something that shouldn't be stained by the bloodily ungrateful profession that was hunting. The notion may have had roots with his mother, a veritable angel in his memory, but thinking of Elizabeth Midford left him with a different feeling.
He understood her motivations perfectly, sympathized with them - damned sad that they were, but that was a hunter's life. In truth, she'd had every right for revenge, something that was wholly undeniable. That she'd gone as far as she had, created such a system... it was downright remarkable.
Dean looked up to meet Bobby's gaze. "I guess... you gotta do what you gotta do," he said, rather hesitantly.
Bobby nodded. "Damn straight. Gender don't factor into it; someone's gotta do the deed, and there's only one motivation strong enough for it." Another sip, and he scowled at the boys, neither of whom were moving. "Finish your food, ya little idjits; I worked hard on that."
Sam, true to his nature, set to this at once and continued peppering the older man with questions in between mouthfuls. Dean, for once, did not eat with gusto; he'd been set to thinking, now, and his mind didn't settle, even after evening had slipped into night.
It was the twenty-sixth anniversary of his death, and she spoke not a word of it.
Her husband was a good man. She would not hurt him by bringing to mind what was long past, because he thought her over it, and she preferred it that way. He knew that the work she did was for the Crown. He knew that she'd taken up a mantle left fluttering in fate's uncertain breeze, and that was all he knew of the matter. He respected her enough to refrain from argument when she insisted on retaining her own surname - much as she really did love him, she was a Midford, not a Campbell - and for that, she would not cause him any doubt.
On the twenty-sixth anniversary of her childhood love's death, she did not visit the grave. She did not cry, she did not frown. She graced her son with a smile and her husband with a kiss, and she carried out a daily routine. Business as usual.
Family, to be taken care of. Household, to be run. England's underworld, to be monitored. It was no easy task; war put everyone on edge, and she was engaged in two. Both were for the world - one through her obligation to country and one she had chosen.
The twenty-sixth anniversary of his death came quietly, unobtrusively, to all places save her innermost heart.
And twenty-six years after the death of Ciel Phantomhive, Elizabeth Midford found herself carrying out the duties that her dead fiancé had once been burdened with... and found herself taking it that much further. Driven, as she suspected he had once been, by the fervent desire for revenge.