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Eavesdropping

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PART I

 

Darcy hurried towards the grove of trees that lined the Rosings grounds, silently cursing Lady Catherine. After breakfast she had engaged him in a long and unnecessary lecture about Pemberly and how he should be managing it. As if he hadn't already been managing it for so many years now... As if she was more well versed with how his estate should be run than him. He tried to push his frustration out of his mind, but it was hard to not think about the fact that Lady Catherine had delayed him. By now Elizabeth may have finished her walk and returned to the Parsonage already... And then he'd have to wait till tomorrow to see her.  But perhaps... she may have delayed her return in hopes of seeing him. The thought made him smile and he quickened his step.

When he reached the grove, Elizabeth wasn't there. His disappointment was greater than it should have been. He started walking around aimlessly, not wishing to be back in the house where surely his Aunt would accost him with another preposterous lecture. He'd been unthinkingly walking towards the Parsonage when he heard the faint sound of her laughter. He could recognise that sound anywhere.

He moved towards the sound until he spied her sitting with Mrs. Collins on some rocks by a small stream. He had been considering how to walk forward and join them and act as if he'd stumbled upon them purely by accident, when he heard what Mrs. Collins was saying.

"Surely Mr. Darcy finds you tolerable enough now. And I dare say, even handsome enough to tempt."

They were talking of him! Those words brought back the evening when he'd first met Elizabeth... He'd never acted more of an arrogant fool than that evening. And this conversation proved what he had always feared. Elizabeth had heard him. But surely she must know that he never truly held that opinion in the first place. Surely she must have noticed how he admired her now.

But in response to Mrs. Collins words, Elizabeth was shaking her head, as if in disbelief.

"Come Charlotte... Stop being ridiculous. Poor Mr. Darcy would be so affronted if he were to hear his intentions had been so misconstrued." 

The sarcasm in her voice when she called him poor was unmistakable. She ended the sentence with laughter. He was ashamed of doing it, but he couldn't do anything else. He silently stepped forward and hid behind a tree from where he could still hear them without being seen. There was no possibility of him joining them now... He should turn back, leave, but he couldn't. So he continued to listen to the woman he loved laugh at him.

Mrs. Collins wasn't laughing. She sounded a bit exasperated.

"Oh Lizzie, but you must have seen how he couldn't take his eyes off you that day when you were playing."

"Surely to find fault with my poor playing. His thoughts must have been in agreement with what his Aunt very loudly informed everyone in the room."

"Who's being ridiculous now?"

Elizabeth finally seemed to grow serious.

"I don't understand why you insist on this. But regardless of his opinion of me, my opinion of him stays the same. He is arrogant, unfeeling and a snob. You know that too."

His heart sank. Was this really what she percieved him to be? This had to be some sort of a twisted joke.

Mrs. Collins continued, "I thought his manners were greatly improved here, in comparison to Hertfordshire."

"It's not just manners that count. Manners can't signify what a person is actually like. What of his treatment of Mr. Wickham?"

Wickham! That snake! He has poisoned her against him! A flare of anger went up inside him. Why couldn't his life be free of that odious man! In his anger he stopped listening to the two women. When he next focused on their voices, Mrs. Collins was speaking.

"... strange of him to insist that he would never insult the Darcy name for the sake of his godfather but then going around and telling everyone about all the ways he had been treated ill by Mr. Darcy and his sister."

Georgiana had ill treated Wickham! He fisted his hands in anger. The two women grew silent. He realised there was no point in staying here. He had to leave. He'd tell Richard that something had come up. He would leave for London on the morrow. It had been a mistake. All of it had been a mistake. 

He willed himself to start walking back to the house... To start preparing for his journey back. But his feet refused to move. They were speaking again. Her voice... This was to be the last time he ever heard her...

Mrs. Collins had broken the silence. "Let's talk of something else, Lizzie... Have you recieved a letter from Jane lately? How is she?" 

"She sounded much the same. She tries to sound cheerful, as if nothing at all is the matter. But I can tell that she is still unhappy."

Mrs. Collins let out a sigh. "I would never have believed Charles Bingley to be so cruel."

This caught Darcy's attention. He pushed down his own emotions and listened more carefully. What did she mean? Charles? Cruel?

"I don't think it's Mr. Bingley being cruel. I'm certain his sisters have somehow convinced him to leave Jane. And they wouldn't have informed him of Jane being in London. They would not want their brother to renew a friendship with her. They are the ones who have condemned Jane to her current suffering." 

Elizabeth's voice sounded bitter and tinged by repressed anger. With a pang of guilt, he thought back to the day Caroline Bingley had told him of how desperate the Bennets were, to send a daughter to London to chase after a man. She had confidently declared that Miss Bennett should never be mentioned to Charles and he had just agreed with her without thinking. But hadn't he himself come to Rosings chasing after a woman? Why had he judged Jane Bennet's actions so?

"You can't put all the blame on his sisters, Lizzie. Is he not a grown man in command of his own life? To show such a marked preference for her in front of all her family and friends for months and then to leave without even a word of farewell. Has he not used poor Jane the most ill?"

Elizabeth spoke after a pause, "I just want to see Jane in her usual cheer."

Darcy had never even considered that Miss Bennett would face any great disappointment from Charles leaving. That how his conduct would be viewed by all who had witnessed his regard for Miss Bennet. He thought back to his last meeting with Charles. His changed countenance, his forced smiles. Yes... He would like to see his friend in his usual cheer as well.

Mistakes. So many mistakes.

He heard the two women declare that it was time they got back. They stood up and started walking to the Parsonage, away from him. He found himself trying to distinguish the sound of Elizabeth's footsteps until there was nothing but the sound of the chirping birds and the murmur of the flowing stream around him.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was evening. He had told his valet to pack all of his things and prepare for his departure early the next morning. But then he had changed his mind. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that he could not leave without warning Elizabeth about the true nature of George Wickham. That man could be dangerous and should not be trusted around women. Darcy bitterly regretting not making his true character generally better known. He should have talked to the commander of his regiment or something! Instead he had chosen to simply do nothing, just for the sake of his own selfish interests.

Elizabeth was an intelligent woman, but she had still been taken in by Wickham's words. She had younger sisters... not much older than Georgiana. He thought back to all the other young women of Elizabeth's acquaintance in Hertfordshire whom he had never really known, but who all were somebody that Wickham could take advantage of.

He paced around his room trying to figure out how he could approach this subject in front of her. Time and again the idea of writing a letter came to him. But he rejected it. He could offer no valid explanation of why he was broaching this subject of his own accord. And there was the danger that she may misconstrue his actions to be those motivated by self interest or worse. Thinking over it again and agin, only one course of action seemed possible.

--

"So you want me to inform Miss Bennet everything about George Wickham?", Richard asked over his glass of brandy.

"Not everything. Regarding Georgiana, we have to be discreet", Darcy replied calmly.

"Of course."

The was a pause. Darcy could see Richard thinking over his request.

"I don't understand why we need to. Can't we just forget about Wickham completely, just never mention him again."

"That's what I thought too, back when I first saw him again in Hertfordshire. But... My sister is safe from hin now. But what of Miss  Bennet's sister? Or Mrs. Collins'? If we can do something to avoid an unfortunate incident from occurring, we should do it."

Richard let out a sigh. "I understand what you mean. I should let the Colonel of his regiment know as well. I am acquainted with Colonel Forster. He is a sensible man. But..." Here he paused to look at Darcy. "I still don't understand why I must talk to Miss Bennet? You've known her much longer, she may trust your word more."

Darcy shook his head. "No."

Richard raised his brows, "No?" 

He let out a sigh, "Wickham may have given a false account of his dealings with my family to the people in Meryton. My word against his may not be easily trusted."

The Colonel seemed taken aback by this piece of information. "That bastard", he said simply and took a giant swig from his glass. He continued, "Don't worry. Tomorrow is Sunday. We'll see Miss Bennet at Church, I can talk to her then. Bring up the subject as naturally as possible."

Darcy nodded. Richard was good with words, this was something he could manage easily. Some of the weight lifted off his shoulders.

"I could of course defend your character in front of Miss Bennet while I am at it", Richard added after a moment, with a smirk on his face.

Darcy was struck dumb at this turn in the conversation. Richard let out a loud laugh, "You haven't been as discreet as you imagine, my dear cousin. I have never known you in all these years to be so lost in the company of a woman." 

Richard had noticed. So had Mrs. Collins. Why hadn't Elizabeth? Darcy brought back his mind to the present. He wasn't going to waste time lying to Richard.

"Don't mention me beyond what's needed in regard to Wickham. I have amends to make before I can be in her good graces."

"What kind of amends?"

"You remember I told you about Bingley, how he nearly tied himself to a lady in Hertfordshire?"

"Yes."

"The lady in question was Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth's older sister."

"But you said the family was objectionable."

Darcy did not have a response for that. Richard continued unheeded.

"The family couldn't be that bad, could it? If you're paying attentions to a daughter."

Darcy didn't have a response for that either, so he stayed silent.

"Well... Then again, you're Darcy of Pemberly. You can do whatever you want."

Darcy smiled without humor at that, "Thanks for making me sound like an arrogant snob." There had been truth in her words, after all. He was an arrogant snob. He had been so certain, that if he, Darcy of Pemberly, deigned to pay attentions to lowly gentleman's daughter, she was sure to reciprocate. He had been so focused on the sacrifice he would be making by associating with a family with links to trade. He had never given even a single thought to the possibility that she may reject him. Maybe she would have felt pressured enough due to her family's circumstances to accept his proposal despite holding him in such low esteem. The thought was painful. He refilled his glass. 

"I am going to write to Charles."

"And what will you say?"

"They I was wrong to meddle in his affairs, and if he so desires he should plan a visit to Netherfield."

"Cheers to that." Richard raised his glass. 

Darcy raised his glass too and proceeded to drink more than he had since his youthful days at Cambridge.

 

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday. It had been two whole days since he had last seen Elizabeth, at the church, sitting a few benches away with Richard. He had been too far away to listen to their conversation and had made a hasty exit through the crowd to avoid seeing her afterwards. He hadn't been ready... to face her, knowing what he knew, knowing what she actually thought of him. The splitting headache from all the drink he had devoured the previous night hadn't helped either. He had spent all the rest of the day pacing through the hallways of Rosings Park. He wanted to walk outside, but he just couldn't risk running into her or accidentally coming across her and Mrs. Collins having another honest conversation.

Richard had said that she had seemed to trust his account of Wickham. All day he told himself that he had done what he had stayed back to do. He had warned her of Wickham. Now it was done, he had to leave. Go back to London, and then back to Pemberly. As far away from here and her.

But two days had passed and he was still here. He had tried running away from her before... And what good had that done him! Her eyes, her laugh, her witty remarks... The memories followed him no matter if he was in London or Pemberly, living a normal life had been implausible. And this time when he left her... With dread he imagined the coming weeks and months. This time it was going to be worse... So much worse. 

But what could he do... He couldn't ask for her hand and make a fool of himself if she were to refuse. And he didn't want her to accept just to please her mother. 

He stopped pacing. He took out his pocket watch and looked at the time. She was probably in the grove right now... This was the usual time of her solitary walk. He'd see her a last time and then tomorrow morning he would leave. 

And then suddenly he was anxious that he may not see her. He started half running out of the house. If she wasn't in the grove, he'd call at Parsonage. If she wasn't there, he would ask his aunt to invite them all to tea. Mr. Collins would never say no to an invitation from his aunt. And then if she would play again like last time, he would offer to turn the pages for her. That may allow them some time to talk.

As he reached the grove, he realised all his planning had been unnecessary. Because there she was... Walking distractedly, a faint frown crowding her brows. He wondered what had happened to put her in such a sombre mood, maybe it had something to do with the book she was holding. He took a few deep breaths and then stepped forward.

"Miss Bennet." He greeted her with a bow.

"Oh! Mr. Darcy!" She had been lost in her thoughts, his sudden appearance had taken her by surprise. Regaining her countenance she curtsied. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you approaching, I got startled."

"I offer my apologies for disturbing you."

She looked so... vulnerable today. There were faint circles beneath her eyes, as if she hadn't slept properly. But she still looked lovely... She always did. Suddenly he realised he had just been standing there staring at her. He cleared his throat, "Could I join you on your walk?"

"Of course."

Her voice and expression were impossible to read. All his previous readings of her previous manners towards him had turned out to grossly incorrect anyway... What was the point in trying. The two fell into step wordlessly. She was more silent than usual, again getting lost in whatever thoughts had been occupying her before he had interrupted her. Maybe that was a good thing... It allowed Darcy to stare at her quiet unashamedly. She didn't seem to notice. 

After walking in this fashion for a while, Elizabeth broke the silence.

"You must have visited Rosings many times."

It was a harmless conversation topic, yet it filled him with melancholy. This was to be their last conversation.

"Yes. We visited here very frequently when I was a boy. My father was great friends with my uncle. Now, the Colonel and I try to visit our aunt whenever he can spare the time."

"These grounds are extensive, it must have been fun to roam around them as a boy."

He smiled at the memory of his young self running around these very woods with Juniper, his mother's fox terrier.

"Yes, but I always preferred being home in Pemberly. The grounds there were more extensive and I knew all the tenants. And I was allowed to ride there. I never wanted to walk, if I could ride."

There was a small smile on her lips now. "Is it very beautiful there?"

"It is! Although it's true that one always finds his own home to be the most beautiful of all. My opinion is biased."

"If the grounds are more extensive than here, than I am sure I would have loved it too."

"Yes, you would. If you're ever-" Suddenly his voice broke. For a moment he had forgotten. That he would never see her again. She was waiting for him to complete his sentence. He cleared his throat and extended the invitation anyway. "If you're ever traveling through that part of the country, please do visit Pemberly. It would be a pleasure to show you around."

Her smile widened, "That's a very generous offer, Mr. Darcy. I might hold you to it."

"It would be a pleasure," he repeated. They continued to walk silently again. He lost track of time, stealing glances at her, trying to memorize each detail of her appearance... Suddenly, he realised that they were almost at the Parsonage. He had been so preoccupied by his own thoughts that he hadn't noticed when she had started walking this way, he had followed along unthinkingly. This was too soon... he wasn't prepared to say farewell already.

"Would you like some tea, Mr. Darcy?"

Her words filled him with relief. Here she was, unknowingly giving him an excuse to be in her company longer. She mistook his silence as hesitation. 

"Mr. Collins isn't home right now. Charlotte and I would appreciate some company."

He gave her half a smile, "Of course." He gestured at her to lead the way and the two started walking again. It was funny that she thought that having Mr. Collins there would have been a deterrent to his accepting her invitation. He would brave ten Mr. Collins to spend an hour in her company.

The tea was a friendly affair. Elizabeth and Mrs. Collins were good conversationalists and that allowed him to relax and not grow too strained by the task of keeping a conversation up. The tea had almost ended, and Darcy's melancholy was returning, when a servant entered and announced, "An urgent missive for Miss Elizabeth Bennet."

She stood up and took the letter with a frown. "It's Jane's handwriting," she informed Mrs. Collins. She opened the letter and started reading when suddenly she seemed to fall down. 

Darcy dropped and broke his tea cup in his hurry to get to her. When he reached her, he realised she hadn't fainted. She was sitting on the floor, her hands trembling still reading the short letter.

Mrs. Collins was on her other side, speaking urgently. "Lizzie, whatever is the matter?"

A sob escaped her and she dropped the letter. A single word escaped her mouth.

"Papa..."

Mrs. Collins already had her arms around Elizabeth and she was now beginning to cry on her shoulder. Feeling at a loss, Darcy picked up the fallen letter. It only had two sentences, clearly written in a hurry.

Dear sister,
Papa fell when he was riding and has passed. Please come as quickly as you can.
Jane.

For a moment he just sat there. He thought back to the day he had gotten a similar letter. In his Uncle Matlock's hand. 

Then, he slowly folded the letter and put it on the table. When he looked back towards the two women, Mrs. Collins had a silent question in her eyes. Darcy slowly shook his head and understanding dawned on her. She held Elizabeth tighter as she continued to cry.

Darcy stood up and filled a glass with water from the side table and placed it on the floor next to them. Mrs. Collins thanked him silently. He wanted to do more, to console Elizabeth somehow. He wanted to tell her that it was going to be difficult but she would survive it. But it was too soon for that.

He was standing in the middle of the room, when Mr. Collins arrived behind him.

"What! What is the matter!" His loud exclamation  causing Darcy to visibly flinch.

He quickly moved and guided Mr. Collins out of the parlor, away from where Elizabeth would be able to hear his loud enquiries.

"Miss Elizabeth has received a letter. Her father has tragically passed away in a riding accident."

For a moment Darcy couldn't understand the man's reaction. What seemed like glee filled his eyes before he schooled his features into a more sombre expression and said, "That is a most unfortunate news."

Then Darcy remembered the entailment. This man was to inherit Elizabeth's home. It took all his patience to not strike the man for taking such selfish joy out of a family's misery.

"Arrangements will be need to be made for Miss Elizabeth's travel back to Hertfordshire", he spoke curtly.

"Well, she could take the post chaise tomorrow morning."

Preposterous man! Darcy forced himself to stay calm.

"I am traveling to London on the morrow and can accompany Miss Elizabeth till London. I beleive she has an uncle there with whom she would be able to travel further?"

"Mr. Darcy, I can't allow my cousin to travel unaccompanied-"

Darcy didn't wait for him to finish that ridiculous sentence. As if this man had any right to making decisions on Elizabeth's behalf. He turned back the way they had come and returned to the parlor.

Mrs. Collins and Elizabeth were still sitting on the floor where he had left them, but Elizabeth wasn't sobbing anymore. Silent tears were streaming down her face as she stared at the floor, her knuckles white around the glass of water he had brought earlier.

He kneeled down next to her. 

"Miss Elizabeth."

She looked up at him dazedly, as if having forgotten he was in the house.

"I am to leave for London tomorrow. I can accompany you till there. If we make haste, we could be there well before noon. Would that be acceptable to you?"

She nodded once. So, he continued.

"You have in uncle in London, if I am correct? Do you think he would be able to accompany you home."

She gulped and spoke slowly, "Yes, my aunt knows I'm visiting Charlotte. They may wait for me before they leave for Longbourn."

"Alright. I will see you tomorrow morning then. Expect the carriage soon after first light."

He stood up slowly, not wanting to impose on her any further. "I will take your leave, Mrs. Collins." He bowed to her, and left the house without once acknowledging Mr. Collins. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Richard had agreed to join them on their journey back to London at once, and they had borrowed one of the Rosings maids to accompany them, for the sake of propereity. Darcy was grateful that Richard had volunteered breaking the news to Lady Catherine and had taken the brunt of her ire.

At first light the next morning, they left Rosings. Richard was still groggy with sleep and was half asleep even before they had arrived at the parsonage. Darcy was anxious to see Elizabeth again. She was standing at the gate with Mrs. Collins when they turned the corner. Her eyes were dry but they had a painful hollow look to them. He shook Richard awake and the two got off the carriage to help her in.

Their departure was a sombre affair. Mrs. Collins gave gave Elizabeth a long hug and spoke something in whispers that he couldn't hear. Mr. Collins tried to engage him in conversation but he busied himself in seeing to Elizabeth's luggage. Moments later, all of them had alighted the carriage and they were off.

Darcy was sitting opposite her and he tried his best to not stare lest she grow uncomfortable. He focused his eyes out of the window just as she had. Next to him, Richard, it seemed, had already gone back to sleep. The middle aged maid, Mrs. Wallace was staring out of the window as well.

Their journey continued in silence for a long while. He wished he could say something or do something to comfort her. But they weren't friends and he wasn't good with words anyway. Her words were the first to break the silence.

"Mr. Darcy, could I use one of these?" She asked in a soft, unfamiliar voice, pointing at the small stack of blankets placed next to her seat.

"Of course." 

She whispered a thank you and slowly wrapped herself in a blanket and went back to staring out of the window. He silently cursed himself for forgetting about the blankets. He had been thinking of her when he had taken them out of their compartment under the seat and placed them next to where she would be sitting. He should have offered her one at the start of the journey. He let out a sigh... It was a small thing. It didn't matter.

The journey continued on. The road flew beneath the wheels and daylight grew outside. 

When Richard was finally awake, the first words he spoke were, "Miss Bennet, would you like something to eat?" The cook at Rosings had packed them a small basket.

She turned to him with a small smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Thank you, Colonel, but I am not hungry right now."

Richard turned the basket towards him, "Darcy?"

He shook his head and met Elizabeth's eyes. "We'll be stopping to get a change of horses soon. We can take some tea at the inn there."

She gave him the same half smile and nodded once, before returning to the view outside the window.

The rest of the journey until they stopped in front of the inn went without anything of note happening. The tea was another silent affair. Richard had hid himself behind a newspaper. Elizabeth was only picking at her toast. He was about to tell her to try to eat, when they were interrupted by one of his footmen. There was something wrong with one of the wheels. It needed repairs. It would take half an hour at most. The footman left after relaying the message.

"We should just wait here then", Richard declared.

"I will go see what it is about," Darcy replied and left the table.

--

The repair shop wasn't far from the inn. The wheel in question had been removed from the carriage and was being worked on by two workmen. He knew his standing over them in such a manner wasn't helping the situation, but the delay was making him restless. When he next turned around to look back at the inn, he saw Elizabeth walking this way. He quickly walked over to meet her halfway.

"It will require some more time. I am sorry about this delay", he spoke as he reached her.

Elizabeth's voice was still quiet. "Please, Mr. Darcy, don't apologise. I am grateful for all your help."

"Don't mention it, Miss Elizabeth. Won't you rather wait in the inn with the Colonel?"

"No, I thought the outdoors might suit me better."

"Of course. Would you like to walk while we wait?"

She took his arm and the two started walking down the main street of the small establishment. As they walked, Darcy decided he must do it. There was no reason at all to not.

Clearing his throat, he began, "Miss Elizabeth, if you would not mind my impertinence..." Her brows furrowed in confusion at such a beginning. "And its completely understandable if you do not wish to discuss this, but I wanted to ask about the entailment."

She turned her head back towards the road and spoke slowly, "Yes, Mr. Collins is going to inherit my father's estate."

"Do you know when...?" He left his question unfinished, but she understood.

"I am not certain. Charlotte has assured me that we need not worry of it at all at present. My friend is kind, but Mr. Collins..."

She left her sentence unfinished too, but he understood. Mr. Collins would not be as kind as his wife. He decided to continue this impolite line of questioning.

"And afterwards... Where would your family...?"

After a pause, she answered. "I don't know. I imagine my uncles..."

She fell silent, lost in her own thoughts. Darcy thought about what he knew of her uncles. Supporting a family of six women would not be an easily undertaken responsibility for them. He remembered clearly the numerous time he had heard Mrs. Bennet complain about the entailment at some social gathering or the other, always insisting she must have a daughter married well. She'd been only trying to avoid the fate that was currently facing them, to have their lives at the mercy of a man such as Mr. Collins.

He looked at Elizabeth. He'd never seen her so... low. Yes, he must do it.

"Miss Elizabeth..."

She turned towards him, "Yes."

"There is something I must talk to you about. I realise that this is not an appropriate time for such a conversation, but I... I don't see the point in waiting."

He took a deep breath and stopped walking, turning to face her. She was looking at him uncertainty. "For some time now, I have held you in great regard. I came to Rosings... to see you. I had to see you." 

Her eyes had widened in her surprise. He continued on. "All through the visit, I had been plucking up my courage to ask you... to be my wife." He took another deep breath. "It would be an honor if you were to accept me. But as I said, I know this is not the right time to talk to you of this matter and I hope you can forgive me for it. I don't expect you to give me an answer right now. I just... I just wanted to let you know, that if you are willing, I can provide a comfortable life to you and your family. That of course should not be your only consideration when making a decision as important as this. Your opinion of me may not be the most favorable, but I will strive to be a good life partner to you regardless..."

He realised that he was rambling on and on, so he forced himself to stop and breath. He wasn't even sure if she had heard everything that he had said. She had been staring unblinkingly at his cravat for some time now. For a minute, he stayed silent. Then he spoke more softly. 

"Miss Elizabeth?"

She gave a start, seeming to come back to her surroundings. She looked up at him and said, "Yes?"

"I don't want you to feel pressured. Please take your time in thinking it over."

She nodded.

"I am planning to visit Netherfield with Mr. Bingley soon. We may talk of this then. Or if you rather we never discuss this again and act as if this conversation never happened, I would respect your wishes. A sign from you would be enough."

She nodded again. For a moment he thought she was going to say something, but then she seemed to change her mind, choosing to stare down at the ground instead.

"Shall we head back to the inn now?"

She agreed silently and the two made their way back. The carriage was soon fixed and they were back on their way to London. All through the journey, Elizabeth stayed silent and thoughtful. From time to time, Darcy noticed that she would glace at him. He pretended to be engrossed in reading the newspaper he had taken from Richard.

When they got off from the carriage in front of her uncle's house in Gracechurch Street, Elizabeth at once rushed into the arms of woman whom he assumed to be her aunt. The woman was stroking Elizabeth's back in a motherly gesture as tears again began flowing down her face. He was glad to see that she finally had someone who could properly comfort her. 

They did not linger. They offered their condolences to the Gardiners quickly and with one last bow to Elizabeth, he was in his carriage, driving away before he had even had the chance to take a last look at her.

Chapter Text

PART II

 

It had been two months since her father had passed away, and in these two months, her life had become unrecognisable. They were still living in Longbourn, but every morning Elizabeth dreaded the post, fearing that there may be a letter from Mr. Collins informing them of the date of his arrival. This morning was no different. She forced herself out of bed. It was still very early in the morning. On the other side of their bed, Jane was still sleeping. Elizabeth quietly dressed and made her way out of the room. In attempts of being economical, she had decided to let go of a majority of their servants. Most of the kitchen work was shared by the sisters now. Today it was Elizabeth and Kitty's turn to rise early and start on the breakfast. 

Elizabeth slowly knocked on Kitty and Lydia's door. Thankfully, Kitty didn't keep her waiting and opened the door at once. 

"Sorry, I'm still getting dressed. I'll see you in the kitchen in a few minutes, Lizzie."

She nodded and then quietly made her way to her mother's room. She peeked inside, satisfied to see her mother still deep in sleep. For a moment, she just stared at her mother's face. The last two months had been the hardest on her. She seemed to have lost her spirit in a way... Like many times before, Elizabeth wondered how much longer would it take for her mother to become her normal self again... For many years she had found her mother's silliness and loudness embarassing, she would never have imagined that she would miss that over-dramatic, boisterous woman. 

She closed her mother's door as quietly as possible and then made her way to the kitchen. What was surely going to be another exhausting day had begun.

--

When Lydia handed her the post over the breakfast table, Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief on seeing no letter from the Collins'. She put the letters to the side and went back to eating.

"I will take this up to Mama", Lydia said, filling a tray with food.

"Thanks, Lydia." Elizabeth looked at her youngest sister thoughtfully. Two months had changed her so much too.

Lydia had thrown a huge tantrum the day Elizabeth had let the servants go. Elizabeth had lost her temper, calling her selfish and unkind. Jane had intervened in her quiet manner. One look from Jane had been enough for Elizabeth to feel ashamed and apologize to Lydia. Jane had then taken a crying Lydia out for a long walk. But what had most affected Lydia was the continued ill-health of their mother. She had always been the closest to their mother. She and Kitty still walked frequently to Meryton, to visit their aunt, but they no longer asked for money to spend on new ribbons and didn't offer complaints when helping around the house.

Elizabeth finished eating and quickly went through the letters. The last one was a short message from her Aunt Philip, as usual asking if her mother was doing well enough for a visit. But the last few lines of the letter nearly made her drop her tea cup.

"I've heard that Netherfield has been ordered readied to recieve Mr. Bingley. He is said to be coming without his sister this time, only with Mr. Darcy. How long they will stay is not known."

Elizabeth looked up towards Jane, who was still eating. She'd never told Jane or anyone of the conversation she'd had with Mr. Darcy, nor had she mentioned the possibility of Mr. Bingley returning to Netherfield. She had not wanted to keep this a secret from Jane, but at first she had wanted to let things settle down a bit before she brought it up and then as the days passed and no news of him or Mr. Bingley came she became less and less sure that they would come at all. Many nights she had spent regretting that she hadn't given him an answer right then that day. He had given her a chance at saving her family, she shouldn't have hesitated even for a moment.

But he was coming now... Surely, he hadn't changed his mind if he was coming to Netherfield as he had said he would. Surely, he still meant to keep his word. 

Jane had noticed her staring, she looked up at her with questioning eyes. Elizabeth looked back down at the letter in her hands, wanting to hide the tears that were brimming her eyes. She cleared her throat, "Aunt Philip is asking if mama is feeling up to a visit. I will go and ask her."

She left the table, making her way to her mother's room. On the stairs, she paused with her back to the wall, willing herself to calm down. She decided she would tell Jane of Mr. Bingley's return, when she went back down. Of Mr. Darcy, she would say nothing. She'd wait till she saw him again. She needed to be sure that his offer still stood.

 

Chapter Text

A week later, found all the Bennet women in the parlor, welcoming Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, who had arrived at Netherfield the previous day. Elizabeth wasn't proud of it, but after curtsying to the two gentleman, she escaped to the kitchen with the announced excuse of seeing to the tea. Once alone, she clutched at her heart, willing it to slow down. She had been waiting for him to come for weeks, and now that he was here, she was dreading what was to come. What if he didn't acknowledge that conversation at all? He had said he could do that... But only if she wanted that.

Lydia walked in behind her and Elizabeth busied herself with the tea tray.

"Mr. Bingley can't keep his eyes off Jane, did you notice?", Lydia spoke with a glint in her eye.

"Don't say anything about it. Let them be." 

"Of course, I won't say anything. I hope Mama noticed... it will make her happy." The wistfulness in her voice at the end of that sentence was unmistakable, but she quickly reverted back to her usual tone. "Wonder why that Mr. Darcy came along... He looked as sour as ever."

"He didn't look sour!" Elizabeth protested.

Lydia just shrugged and carried the tray Elizabeth had readied back to the parlor. Elizabeth followed. The two sisters poured the tea and handed the cups to everyone. Elizabeth made sure that she was the one to hand the cup to Mr. Darcy. When he reached out to take the cup from her, she held onto it for a moment too long. His eyes met hers and she wanted to say something... anything but there were so many others around them and his face was so unreadable... And then Mr. Bingley was asking her something and she had to turn away.

When she settled back down, with her own tea, the conversations in the room were happening intermittently. The tension in the room felt palatable to her, but perhaps it was only her who felt that way. Mr. Darcy's eyes found hers again and again, but she didn't know what it meant. Her mother was having one of her better days and she made some of her usual small talk with Mr. Bingley. But soon she seemed to tire of it and fell silent again. Elizabeth stared out of the window, at the clear blue sky. 

"The weather is really nice today, would you like to sit out in the garden, Mama?" She asked as she turned back to look at her mother.

"Oh, yes! Let's all of us go outside", was Lydia's loud response. "Come, Mama... I will help you."

There was a flurry of activity in the room and when Mrs. Bennet was finally settled comfortably in the garden, she said "Don't let me keep you all, you must all walk. One enjoys walks a great deal in their youth. My Lizzie too much perhaps."

She smiled at her mother, it always felt good when her mother spoke of things as she had before. Mary sat down next to their mother, wishing to finish her book rather than walking. Mr. Bingley tentatively offered Jane his arm, who took it. The two started down one of the paths out of the garden, followed by Lydia and Kitty who were whispering and stifling their giggles, pointing at Mr. Bingley. And the end, it was just her and Mr. Darcy. When he offered his arm, she took it and they joined the others. They walked slowly, probably purposefully until they lagged much behind the rest of the party. When there was no possibility of them being overheard, Mr. Darcy spoke.

"Miss Elizabeth... How are you?"

She gave him half a smile. "As well as I can be expected to be, I suppose."

He didn't return the smile. Instead he asked, "And your mother?"

The change in her mother's behaviour must have seemed stark. "She... She struggles." For a moment, she wondered how honest she should be. And then she realised, she really wanted to talk about this with someone and he was offering to listen. So she continued.

"It always seemed from the outside that my parents did not share a very cordial relationship. But in her own way, my mother loved my father very much. And now that he is gone, it is as if she feels lost."

She looked back at him and he was slowly nodding.

"After my mother passed away, I believe my father went through something similar."

"And did he ever regain his former humor afterwards?"

"To some extent, yes. He became very dedicated to me and Georgiana, and that made him happy."

After a while she said, "Mr. Collins hasn't written yet."

"Yes, I heard of it from my aunt. She wrote of Mrs. Collins' dedication to her, wishing to stay in Kent until satisfactory arrangements had been made to find a replacement for Mr. Collins. All their plans are yet uncertain."

She was relieved to hear it. It meant they still had some time. She wished Charlotte had written to her about this, but she also knew that given what the circumstances were... The friendship she had once shared with Charlotte couldn't stay the same. But her friend's kindness still touched her.

He was the one who spoke next, after they had walked in silence for a minute or so.

"Miss Elizabeth...?"

"Yes..."

"Did you... Have you thought about our last conversation?"

"I have."

She continued looking ahead at a tree in the distance, waiting for his next words.

"My feelings are unchanged. And if you have come to any decision, or if you need more time to consider–"

"I don't need more time, sir." She interrupted him. "I wish to accept."

She shifted her gaze from the tree to the ground beneath her own feet... She was feeling flushed and too self-conscious to meet his gaze, which she knew was fixed upon her face.

He cleared his throat, "Shall I speak with your mother when we return?"

"I think I should talk to her first... It may come as too much of a surprise to her, otherwise."

"Alright." He paused. "Would you mind if I wrote of this to my sister? She would be very happy to hear of it."

"She would be?" Elizabeth looked up at him, feeling uncertain. She had imagined that none of his family would be much too happy to hear of his choice of wife. She could quiet easily imagine Lady Catherine's ire at the very idea of her becoming Mrs. Darcy, mistress of Pemberly.

"Oh, yes. She wanted to accompany me on this trip. She wanted to meet you."

"To meet me?" Elizabeth was surprised. "Does she know me?"

"Um... Yes. I wrote of you to her often, when I was last in Hertfordshire." He seemed to almost blush as he said that. Her astonishment was great, regarding both the fact that even all those months ago he had written of her to his sister, and that he spoke of it even now with such tenderness. She really had made some terrible mistakes when it came to judging his character in the past.

"I wouldn't mind if you wrote her of this", she answered his earlier question. "And I look forward to meeting her as well."

This seemed to please him. 

The two walked on, in their own thoughts. He spoke first, "Afterwards, do you think your mother would prefer to stay in this same neighborhood?"

A lump seemed to form in her throat... He really was going to help them. She swallowed and spoke "Yes, I think she would like staying close to her friends."

He nodded. "I will make the necessary enquiries then."

"Lizzie!"

She had been so absorbed in their bubble that the sudden call startled her. She turned around to see Lydia and Kitty coming along a side path, followed by Jane and Mr. Bingley.

Lydia spoke when they were closer, "We completely lost you. Now, we think we should head back to the house."

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had no option but to agree and start walking back. They couldn't speak, now that the others were nearby.

Elizabeth thought about the fact that she had just gotten engaged. Usually this would involve passionate declarations of love. She looked over to her betrothed. He looked as serious as ever. But... when you looked closely, you could see the light in his eyes. She didn't love him... Not yet. But she felt something...

When the others ahead of them rounded the hedge that marked the entrance to the Longbourn garden, she tugged at his arm. He turned to her and she spoke in a quick whisper. "Mr. Darcy, I am really glad you came to see me in Kent."

A smile spread across his face...  a real smile, a rare sight. He took her hand in his and brought it up to his lips. There was fire in his blue eyes and the gentle touch of his lips on her knuckles left her whole self burning.

 

Chapter Text

That night, Elizabeth went to her mother's room after she had settled in bed to tell her the news. Her mother didn't, at first, seem to comprehend it.

"What do you mean Mr. Darcy has proposed to you?"

"He has asked me to be his wife." Elizabeth was sitting on a chair next to the bed, and she looked down as she spoke.

Her mother still sounded disbelieving. "I... I don't understand... I thought he didn't like you... Or any of us, or anyone in the whole neighborhood."

"That's not true, Mama..."

But Mrs. Bennet seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts, speaking them aloud as they came to her mind.

"I don't beleive I ever even saw him talk to you properly. But he did dance with you at the Netherfield ball though... He didn't ever dance with anyone except Mr. Bingley's sisters... I should have noticed it then—"

It was nice to see her mother being so animated but she had to interrupt. 

"Mama..."

Mrs. Bennet's train of thought finally ceased. She focused on her daughter's face and spoke with wide eyes, "He is a proud, unpleasant sort of a man, but I suppose if—"

"He isn't." She interrupted her mother again. "Mama... I... We misjudged him. When I was in Kent, and I got the news, he was very kind to me."

Tears sprang up in Mrs. Bennet's eyes. "Yes... It was very kind of him to bring you to your uncle so quickly... I should have thanked him for that today..." Elizabeth took her mother's hands in hers and they sat in silence for a while. 

"Are you going to accept?" Mrs. Bennet eventually asked.

"I already did."

"You did?"

Elizabeth looked up at her mother's surprised face, and spoke calmly, "Yes, I did."

And then her surprise turned into delight and an actual giggle escaped her! "Oh! My daughter! Engaged to be married!"

Before Elizabeth could respond, her mother had pulled her into a hug and was speaking without pause. "Oh Lizzie, when you rejected Mr. Collins I thought you'd never make any sensible decisions in your life! Oh but... Have you told your sisters?"

"Not yet, Mama. I wanted to talk to you first. And Mr. Darcy would like to talk to you tomorrow."

"Of course, of course! If your father—"

And just like that, the energy that had suddenly appeared in her mother, seemed to leave her. Elizabeth hugged her mother for a while longer.

"You should sleep now, Mama."

The rest of this conversation could wait till tomorrow. Her mother just nodded in response. Elizabeth tucker her in and wished her good night. As she was leaving, her mother said, "I hope he makes a good husband... And I hope you make a good wife."

"I hope so too..." With that, Elizabeth left her mother and walked to her own room. She undressed and got into bed, next to Jane.

"Jane, are you asleep?" She whispered.

"Not yet..."

"Do you want to talk about today?"

Jane let out a sigh and turned to face her sister. "I am just glad that this first meeting is over... Now I hope in the future it won't be as... trying."

"Was it very trying?" Elizabeth asked, teasingly.

"Lizzie! It was trying... in the beginning, at least. But he... He is still so kind and good humored. And he apologized..."

"For?"

"For the past... It had not been his intention to quit Netherfield so suddenly. The others followed him to London without his knowledge and he was... unable to come back."

"Unable to come back? Is that all the explanation he gave?"

Jane let out a long breath and said, "No... That wasn't all he said. But... I am so confused, Lizzie. I don't know what to think."

Jane fell silent, and though Elizabeth really wanted to know what more Mr. Bingley had said to explain his past behaviour, she did not want to push her sister.

Jane herself broke the silence. "He had no idea that I was in London... His sisters never told him. He only found out recently."

"How?"

"I believe it was Mr. Darcy..." 

Jane fell silent again. After a pause, Elizabeth spoke.

"Jane, I have news."

"What news?"

"I got engaged to Mr. Darcy."

Jane's surprise at this was no less than Mrs. Bennet's. After Elizabeth had told her everything about how this had come to be, Jane spoke with concerned eyes. 

"But Lizzie, are you sure you want to marry him? Or is it only because he has promised to help our family?"

"Is it wrong of me to think of my family?"

Jane took a while to respond. "It is not. But you used to be so set against him..."

"He... He has turned out to be nothing at all like what I thought him to be. He has been so understanding and kind, and I have come to respect him, even admire him..."

"Are you happy, Lizzie?"

Elizabeth thought about it. Thought about him. And for the first time in weeks, she realised that she was, indeed, happy.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning brought with it more blue skies. By the time, the gentlemen from Netherfield called at Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet had already settled in the garden with her eldest two daughters. Mary could be heard in an inner room, practicing on the pianoforte and Lydia nd Kitty had gone out on an errand. 

Mrs. Bennet was in much better humor than the day before and greeted both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley warmly, as they took their seats. Jane left to bring the tea, insisting that Elizabeth need not accompany her. Having taken her own seat directly across from Mr. Darcy, their eyes met. Elizabeth gave him a small smile, which he returned. Before Elizabeth could come up with anything to say to him, Mrs. Bennet engaged him in a conversation about nothing in particular, and she was able to observe him silently. His manners were very polite, but he kept the answers to her mother's enquiries short. That, she guessed, was nothing more than a force of habit. He was a man of few words. But unlike before, he didn't seem rude or disinterested in the conversation. 

Jane's arrival with the tea distracted her from her observations. Once tea had been served, Mr. Bingley asked Mrs. Bennet something about the garden, Jane joined in, answering along with her mother, leaving Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth free to converse with each other. But both of them, instead, chose to stare at each other and their tea cups or the sky in turns. It was silly, she realised. It had never been hard for her to make conversations. But with him... especially with others around them... it was hard to find a topic that could be safely discussed without it sounding completely frivolous. If, instead, it had been just the two of them...

"Elizabeth!"

Her contemplations were interrupted by her mother's call. She turned to her blankly, having paid no attention to the conversation they had been having.

"Yes, Mama?"

"I said, you and Jane should show Mr. Bingley the rose bushes we had planted at the east end of the garden. I believe they would make an excellent addition to the Netherfield gardens."

"It sounds like an excellent idea!" Mr Bingley responded as he stood up, followed by Jane. Elizabeth left her seat too, realising that her mother wanted to talk to Mr. Darcy. She looked over at him, and noticed that he suddenly looked nervous... He met her eyes briefly, she tried to look reassuring, but wasn't sure if it worked. Jane and Mr. Bingley were already moving away and there was no point in lingering. He was hesitating over his tea cup, looking unsure. She almost wanted to go over to him and whisper that there was no need to worry... But this once, she couldn't really help him. Besides, she thought, he was the formidable Mr. Darcy of Pemberly, he should be able to handle one conversation with Mrs. Bennet. With a last glance at her mother, she walked away from them.

Ahead, she noticed Jane and Mr. Bingley talking in quiet voices. She couldn't hear what they were saying and she kept her pace slow, not wishing to intrude upon them. Instead she walked over to a bench placed next to the hedges and sat down, waiting for she didn't know what.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting there, when she saw Mr. Darcy walking with a quick step, following the path Jane and Mr. Bingley had taken. He hadn't noticed her sitting there and was going to walk right past, when she called out to him.

"Mr. Darcy!"

He turned around at the sound of her voice and upon seeing her, began walking her way and joined her on the bench. He decidedly looked less perturbed now, she saw with relief. A moment after sitting down, he spoke.

"Your mother has granted her permission."

Elizabeth just nodded. 

"She wanted to know when we would be married."

"What did you say?"

"That I'd need to discuss it with you first."

"Um... yes... When do you think...?" She didn't finish her sentence, not knowing how to.

"Yes, I am trying on that front. I'm hoping that we'll know for certain in a few days." She didn't know what he was referring to, until he spoke his next words. "I thought... you'd like to help your family settle into the new place before you have to move away from here." 

He'd assumed that she was asking by when her family could move out of Longbourn. He had clearly thought of the details of how things were to be done more than she had... Yes, moving to a new place would be a lot of work for her family. They'd need all the help they could get. Just thinking about it exhausted her.

"Mr. Darcy... There's one problem in that plan." He looked up, perplexed. "You see... It would not appear completely appropriate... for my family to move into a home arranged at your expense before we are married."

He looked thoughtful, staring at the ground at her words. "We could be married before then. I'm sure Charles wouldn't mind hosting you any more than he minds hosting me."

She stayed silent for a moment. "Can I be honest, sir?"

"Always."

She smiled at that. "I wouldn't mind leaving here at the earliest." 

She turned to him... He was looking at her carefully. She felt like she should explain.

"It doesn't feel the same here anymore... since Papa..." She turned her eyes to the ground. She usually tried to avoid talking about her father, since she found it hard to stop her tears if she thought of him for too long. She closed her eyes, pushing back at the despair that was suddenly threatening to engulf her. She felt his hand cover hers on the bench. It was comforting, the warmth of his touch. He didn't say anything and she stayed unmoving with her eyes closed for a long while. 

When she finally had her emotions in check, she opened her eyes and turned to face him with a small smile on her face. 

He spoke as soon as their eyes met. "I could ride out to London tomorrow and acquire a special license and we could be married in two days, if you wish."

She couldn't help but laugh at that... "That would cause nearly a scandal for you."

He just smiled in response and shrugged.

She looked down to where his hand was still covering hers. It was a tempting fantasy... to be married in two days and just run away... from her old life, from everything that she knew... She let out a long sigh.

"But you are right, I'll need to be here when my family moves. They will need someone to manage it."

"You needn't take that responsibility on your own. I can send for the Darcy house caretaker in London, a Mr. Harris. He is a very efficient man and would be of great help in overseeing to the move."

That was another worry he had just taken away. He had answers for everything. She nodded, "That would be... That is, if it won't be any trouble for you..."

He had already begun shaking his head before she'd even finished her sentence. "It won't be any trouble at all."

She nodded again in acceptance and looked down at their hands once more, his over hers. She turned her hand around, so that it was her palm against his, and then she intertwined her fingers with his. She didn't look up or say anything. A very different emotion, one she didn't understand that well, was threatening to overwhelm her now and she needed time to get her emotions back in check. Thankfully, he didn't say anything anything either, he just continued to gently hold her hand.

She looked up when she caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. Jane and Mr. Bingley were walking back on the same path towards their mother, they hadn't noticed them on the bench.

"Shall we join them?" Mr. Darcy asked quietly.

"Yes..."

He rose up, pulling her with him. She shifted her hand from his hand to his arm as the two walked onward. Jane and Mr. Bingley had finally noticed them and as soon as they were close enough, Mr. Bingley stepped forward and spoke with a wide smile, "Should I wish you both joy?"

Elizabeth blushed, she hadn't expected him to know. Mr. Darcy smiled at his friend and said, "You may."

Jane stepped forward and embraced her and then she turned to Mr. Darcy. "I look forward to knowing you as a brother, Mr. Darcy."

"It would be my honor, Miss Bennet." 

"I offer you my congratulations, Miss Elizabeth." Mr. Bingley added. 

"Thank you."

She looked up at Mr. Darcy, who turned to her with a warm smile. It would be strange to say that she was looking forward to knowing him as a husband, as a companion, but she was... 

She looked away, back towards Mr. Bingley who had begun speaking again. He seemed to be turning away from a shared look with Jane. "If I may share some good news of our own..."

Elizabeth immediately looked over to Jane who was blushing and looking at the ground. Now, Elizabeth stepped up to her and hugged her.

Mr. Darcy was shaking Mr. Bingley's hand as he spoke, "We are to be brothers."

Mr. Bingley was smiling as widely as ever. "I need to talk to Mrs. Bennet first." 

"Go on then, sir. Pray, don't make my sister wait any longer." Elizabeth added teasingly. He bowed to her in response, and then made his way back towards where they had left Mrs. Bennet.

Elizabeth turned to look at Jane again, who was still staring at the ground. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her once more and held onto her tightly. Her sister deserved all the happiness in the world and she desperately hoped that this would bring her that happiness.

 

--

 

The next few days flew by for the occupants of Longbourn. With two weddings happening in a month's time and moving to a new house, there was hardly any time for them to do much else but plan and pack and plan some more.

White Cottage, situated at a comfortable distance of six miles from Longbourn was to be the Bennet's new home. It had previously been occupied by the aged Mrs. Green, whom Elizabeth remembered vaguely from her childhood. She had always seemed like a cranky, old lady who hated children back then. Her ill-health and ill-disposition meant that she rarely welcomed anyone to her house. None of the girls had ever been to White Cottage before they rode there together with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to see their new home.

Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, who had been to White Cottage a few times in the early years of her marriage, had immediately perked up at the idea of living there, when first mentioned by the two gentlemen.

"Oh, White Cottage is a wonderful place! Is it really available?"

"It is, Ma'am. I thought it to be a charming place. I would have signed the lease then and there." Mr. Bingley replied.

"Do you know the place well Mrs. Bennet?" asked Mr. Darcy, always the more practical of the two.

"I haven't seen all the rooms, but it seemed like a well proportioned, spacious house."

"I thought so too. The previous occupant had not been using all the rooms, so some of them have been locked up a long time. There's one room that appears to have been a nursery at some point, if we refurnish it, it can have a total of four bedrooms—"

"We could each have our own room?" Lydia interrupted.

Mr. Darcy turned to her, as he replied. "Yes, Miss Lydia, if you wish."

"Mama! Let's live there please!" 

"Yes, let's live there!" Kitty chimed in.

"Oh, girls... I don't know..." Mrs. Bennet suddenly seemed unsure and was looking over at Elizabeth. The girls turned to her too.

"We can live there, right Lizzie?" Lydia's voice was almost pleading. Elizabeth was taken aback by the weight of this decision being thurst upon her so suddenly. Before she could think of how to reply, Mr. Darcy spoke.

"I thought it would be better if you all visited the place before any decisions are made."

"Its not far, we could all ride out there tomorrow", Mr. Bingley added. This plan appealed to Lydia and Kitty greatly and they soon left Elizabeth out of their conversation as they began to plan for tomorrow's ride with Mr. Bingley, for which she was grateful.

But her thoughts were in a flurry... Four bedrooms. Longbourn had four too. If White Cottage was as large as Longbourn, then it seemed to be a rather large house, much more than she had been expecting. And she had to consider the expense associated with such a house too. She looked over at Mr. Darcy, wondering if she could persuade him to look for some place smaller. He could be stubborn at times. As if sensing her eyes upon him, he turned to her with questioning eyes. She shook her head at him with a small smile, and went back to the cushion she was supposed to be embroidering. Tomorrow, she hoped she would be able to talk to him alone.

 

--

 

The next day, Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and Kitty rode to White Cottage accompanied by Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. From first glance, Elizabeth understood why Mr. Bingley had wanted to sign the lease at once. The front façade was all white and covered by ivy on one side. And it made the house look deceptively small. Once they walked in, they realised that the house extended a great deal to the back. There was a small garden at the front and a much larger one at the back. Large trees flanked the house on either side, hiding its true size. The front of the house felt very open and light, due to the large windows, it could serve as a living room or parlor. The room Mrs. Green had occupied was situated at the back of the house, overlooking the back garden. The other three rooms were on the upper floor, all done up in light colors that made them rather inviting, despite the long years of disuse. Some repairs would be needed but overall the house was in excellent condition.

In a way, this house was rather perfect for her family, but still there was the question of the expense. After touring the house once, she walked over to Mr. Darcy in the front room. 

"What do you think of it?", he asked.

"It is a beautiful house."

"But...?" 

He had clearly noticed the discomfort in her eyes. She wanted to phrase her next words right, so she paused a moment before replying.

"The house is undoubtedly beautiful, but I feel its much bigger than what my family requires."

He smiled. "But your sisters like it."

Kitty and Lydia were still upstairs, already discussing which rooms were to be theirs. So, she couldn't outright deny that her sisters did like it. 

"They do, but they might like some other place as well. And that is not as important a consideration as..." She paused.

"As...?" He prompted, willing her to continue.

"I mean..." She spoke the next words in a rush. "It seems like a rather large expense..."

He also thought before he spoke. "You don't have to worry about the expenses."

She was about to protest at that but he continued. "And I think you don't know yet. Charles has insisted that he would be sharing half of all expenses."

"Oh..." This was a surprise. She looked over to Mr. Bingley, who was standing next to Jane in the garden outside, talking enthusiastically. "Jane didn't mention anything about that."

Mr. Darcy was looking out towards him too. "I think he may not have mentioned it to Miss Bennet either."

"If he hasn't, do you think I should?"

"Yes, I believe you should."

The two turned towards each other at the same time. Elizabeth smiled at him and he visibly relaxed.

"So you approve of this place?"

"I do."

"We can get started on the paperwork then."

She nodded. 

And then he took a small step towards her and slowly reached out to take one of her hands in his. Warmth rose up to her face at his closeness. He opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment they heard Lydia's voice coming down to the front room.

"Lizzie! Where are you?"

He hastily took a step back and dropped her hand as Lydia entered the room.

"We love this place. We can take it right?"

Elizabeth took a deep breath to steady herself before turning to her younger sisters with a smile, happy to give them the good news.

"Yes, we can."

Squeals of delight accosted her as both of her sisters rushed forward to embrace her. Over their shoulders, she met his eyes again. He was smiling at them fondly, but upon meeting her eyes, his expression faltered for a moment. As if he hadn't meant anyone to see him. But then he relaxed again and spoke gently, "I'll let Charles know." And left the three of them alone.

Once he had stepped out, Kitty spoke, "Should we somehow thank him?"

To which Lydia immediately responded, "Oh, Lizzie can thank him much better than we can."

Elizabeth swatted her on the arm with a loud protest. "Lydia!"

But her sisters had already dissolved into giggles and she couldn't help but join in.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jane and Elizabeth were to marry on the same day around four weeks after the day they got engaged.  Had they been getting married under other circumstances, their mother would probably have insisted on longer engagements and trips to London to buy new dresses and such. But now... They were still in mourning, and had the weddings not been immediately necessary to secure their places in life, they would have waited. But things being the way they were, the preparations for the wedding day were carried out quietly within the rooms of Longbourn and in the small marketplace in Meryton.

Repairs at White Cottage were also underway. There was some existing furniture in the house, but most of it had to be acquired. Mr. Bingley had generously opened up the Netherfield attic for this purpose, which contained the old furniture the previous owners had left behind. Though old fashioned, they were able to find ample pieces to furnish their new home. 

Mr. Darcy had asked Elizabeth if there was anything in Longbourn that she or her family would like to take along with them to White Cottage, but the idea of writing to Mr. Collins, asking permission to take something from her own home had not been a pleasant one, and he, as always, had sensed her discomfort even before she had put it into words. 

"Or there's no need. If there's anything lacking, it can always be acquired in Meryton or London later on". He had spoken with a sense of finality, as if ending the discussion right there.

But Elizabeth had thought of something. "There is one thing... My father's books..."

"Oh.. of course. I believe he was a great reader."

She smiled fondly at the remembrance. "He was... He would never leave his library if it weren't for Mama dragging him out."

"I've never seen the library here."

"Oh it's not very large. It was more of his study, really... But he tried to fit as many books in there as he possibly could."

"Would you mind showing it to me?"

Elizabeth hesitated, turning her head towards the door to her father's library, which she could half see from where she was sitting in the parlor. Once, it had been her favourite escape from the noise in the house, especially in the cold days of the winter months, when going outdoors was not possible. The comfortable fire and her father's silent presence had provided all the warmth she needed, as she persued some or the other of his books, sitting in the corner chair. 

She hadn't been in that room since— Neither had anyone else, she believed. 

Mr. Darcy cleared his throat, gaining back her attention. "Has something upset you?", he asked quietly.

She shook her head. "No, not upset... I just haven't been in there... for a while."

"Some other day then, perhaps?"

She thought about it and then shook her head again. "No... Today is as good as any."

She stood and walked over to the library, with Mr. Darcy following behind her. Slowly, she pushed the door open. It looked as it always had, cluttered and too full. No ghost of the past came to greet her as she stared at the chair her father had usually occupied at the desk. There was nothing to be afraid of. She took one step in and then another. Her eyes fell on the corner chair, and she spoke softly.

"That is where I always used to sit, ever since I was a little girl."

"Looks very comfortable."

"It was."

He stepped up ahead of her, moving towards the bookshelves lining the walls. 

"Did your father collect all of these?"

"No, not all. His father started the collection before him."

"You'd like to move all of them to White Cottage?"

"Oh no, not all... Just some that he prized most and some that I like."

Mr. Darcy nodded. "The cottage doesn't have a study, we could get some shelves installed in the front room. What do you think?"

Elizabeth hesitated. "I don't believe anybody other than myself would read them. Mary prefers religious texts and the rest don't read at all."

"If you wish to bring them along with you, I am sure they'd make excellent additions to the library at Pemberly."

"Would that be possible?" She asked, biting back her smile, not wanting to appear too eager.

"Why ever not? You can just sort through and decide which ones to bring."

Thoughtfully, he turned back to the shelf, running his fingers over some of the spines and pulling out an old volume from one of the higher shelves. He turned to her with half a smile, holding the book out. "I always wanted to read this! Have you read it?"

She shook her head, both the title and the author being unfamiliar to her.

"Could I borrow it? The library at Netherfield is severely understocked."

"Of course."

He smiled fully in return, murmured a thank you and returned to his perusal of the book shelves. She joined him, looking for some of her own favorites from amongst the shelves. She pulled out one of the newer volumes and turned to him with a small smile, "This was a gift on my sixteenth birthday."

Upon reading the title, he let out a low chuckle. "I gifted it to Georgiana last year."

She laughed too, "You have good taste, then. For books that sixteen year old ladies enjoy, at least."

His laugh was more full this time. She placed the book back on the shelf. "Is Georgiana doing well?"

"Yes, she looks forward to meeting you. I think she may accompany me back from my next trip to London."

"That would be wonderful. Do you know when you are to go?"

He and Mr. Bingley had already visited London once to settle the marriage contracts, but another trip to London would be needed before the weddings to settle some more relevant business.

"Early next week, I suppose. I should ask Mrs. Bennet if anything should be acquired in London for the weddings or the house, before we go."

Her mother would appreciate that, it was a thoughtful gesture.

"Well, you can write to Georgiana that I look forward to welcoming her to Hertfordshire."

"Thank you." 

She turned back to the shelf, looking for another childhood favourite when he spoke, "Miss Elizabeth?"

She turned to him, and was surprised to see that his easy manner and his smile were gone, replaced by a graveness.

"There's something... that I must tell you. Regarding Georgiana. May we sit down?"

Concerned at his sudden change in demeanor, she took a step closer to him, "Yes, of course."

He led her to the corner chair and pulled out one of the smaller stools for himself, and settled in front of her. For a while he stayed silent, staring at the carpet. When he finally looked up, Elizabeth was taken aback by the look in his eyes, it was something she hadn't seen before, and something she did not really understand it either. When he spoke, his words only added to her astonishment.

"I believe you would remember Mr. Wickham."

She just nodded in response.

"I know not what account of our relationship he has relayed to you, but I would like to provide some of our history. Mr. Wickham is the son of an excellent gentleman who managed Pemberly's estates for many years and was a cherished friend of my father, who also happens to be Mr. Wickham's god father."

All this aligned with what Mr. Wickham had told her, but she was curious as to what would come next.

"He and I grew up together and for many years I considered him to be my closest companion. But as the years passed, slowly I discovered sides of him that he was careful to keep hidden from his father and mine. His vicious propensities... His lack of principle. By the time, my father passed away, soon followed by his, we only shared a minimal acquaintanceship. 

"He had expressed to my father a wish to join the church and my father had left to him a family living close to Pemberly in his will. But Mr. Wickham informed me that he had no wish to join the clergy and wanted to study law instead. In lieu of the living, we settled on an amount of three thousand pounds to be transferred to him directly. For three years after that, I heard nothing of him, until he applied to me again, having run out of the money and wishing to have the living that had been promised him. I refused. 

"He was enraged, and I severed all connections with him. Until—"

His voice broke, and he dropped his eyes to the carpet again. Elizabeth was growing more and more concerned as she heard this story. A conversation she had had with Colonel Fitzwilliam in Kent was at the forefront of her mind.

She hesitatingly spoke, "Colonel Fitzwilliam told me of a girl of fifteen with a large fortune being taken in by Mr. Wickham's falsehoods."

Slowly, he nodded. "Yes, that was Georgiana." When he raised his eyes again, he looked pained. "She was in Ramsgate, with her companion, a Mrs. Young, who unbeknownst to me was previously acquainted with Mr. Wickham. Georgiana knew nothing of him, except for his kindness to her as a child.

"When I arrived in Ramsgate, unannounced... Nothing could have prepared me for when she broke down into sobs and told me of how she had agreed to elope with him, and they were to leave in two days...

"If... If I hadn't gone... If I had visited two days later..."

He was struggling to find his words and Elizabeth couldn't bear to hear him speak in that voice any longer. She leaned closer to him and took his hands in hers firmly. 

"Hush... Don't think of what could have been. The worst was avoided, and you can't fault yourself for any of it."

At these words, he met her eyes again, and spoke in a stronger voice. "How can I not fault myself? It was my duty as her brother, as her gaurdian, to protect her. And I failed."

She knew not, how to comfort him. She had seen him proud and rude and she had seen him gentle and kind, but she had never seen him like this. 
 
She squeezed his hands harder. "But it is in the past now. Georgiana is safe now."

He let out a long breath and his shoulders fell and he closed his eyes. "Yes, she is."

Elizabeth waited a moment before continuing gently. "It wouldn't help her if she finds out how this torments you. You and I believe... her too, will need to move past this." 

He opened his eyes. "I... I never thought of it that way. That I was holding onto it as much as she was."

"Have you talked to her about it?"

He shook his head. "It took her a long time to... recover. I didn't have the strength to bring it up... Even now... she isn't how she used to be." 

He looked at her now, eyes looking into hers earnestly. "This is why I wanted to tell you of this. Since Ramsgate, Georgiana has refused to travel anywhere, insisting on staying in Pemberly. I regrer that when she first thought of accompanying me here, I hesitated a moment in answering her, and then no amount of insistence could change her mind. This is the first time she will leave Pembey in nearly a year... I... I have seen the relationship you have with your sisters, and it is my great hope that you could... be a friend to her."

He was looking at her almost hesitatingly, as if she could refuse such a request. She tried to smile at him reassuringly. "Better than a friend, she is to be my sister, is she not?"

He finally smiled, some of the pain leaving his eyes. Her chest eased a bit as his expression lightened. She hadn't realised when his pain had made its way into her heart as well, but it had.

"Yes, a sister... No wonder she is so happy." He smiled fondly as he stared at their joined hands. Elizabeth looked down at their hands too, and noticed, with wonder, that they seemed to fit rather well together.

 

Chapter Text

Once Mr. Darcy, along with Mr. Bingley left for London on the following Monday, Elizabeth found herself missing his frequent company at Longbourn. That she had grown used to his comforting presence was a realisation that only came when she began looking forward to his return, not a day after he had left.

 

When three days later, Mr. Bingley returned without his friend, she had to fight hard to keep the disappointment from showing on her face. He'd suddenly been required to visit his aunt in Kent was all Mr. Bingley told her. But she could easily guess why such a visit would have been needed. He must have finally informed Lady Catherine of their engagement, maybe he had written to her before leaving or he had decided to give her the news in person. Either way, she knew Lady Catherine would oppose such a scheme vehemently, perhaps she may even try to dissuade him.

 

If indeed that happened, she trusted him enough to know that he would remain constant by her. She had never cared for Lady Catherine's opinion of her, and had taken no pains to appease the lady during her visit to Kent. She wondered how unpleasant her next meeting with her would be. As Mr. Darcy's wife, she could not hope to avoid Lady Catherine forever. She, being one of his nearest relations. It was some consolation that he did not seem very fond of his forebearing aunt, and only duty had appeared to solicit him and Colonel Fitzwilliam to visit Rosings. Or actually...

 

"I came to Rosings to see you... I had to see you."

 

She blushed as she remembered his words. And then she despondently wondered how long he'd need to stay away, and when he would be back. Seeing Jane and Mr. Bingley sitting in front of her happily engaged their own conversation, didn't help in easing her mind.

 

Such was her state of mind for the next two days until she received a letter from Charlotte. She ripped it open eagerly, hoping desperately that it had been penned after the arrival of Mr. Darcy in Kent.

 

Dearest Lizzie,

I hope you and all your family are in excellent health. I am sure you can guess what has prompted this letter.

 

Mr. Darcy called on me in the evening yesterday, the very first day of their arrival at Rosings, along with his sister. He introduced me most warmly to her as a dear friend of yours. Miss Darcy is a sweet, little thing, though quite shy. I believe you shall adore her.

 

As per your request, I had not breathed a word of your engagement or Jane's to either Mr. Collins or anyone else. From what I gather, the news has given Lady Catherine much of a shock. I believe, last evening when she was first informed of it, she went into such a state that it may have prompted Mr. Darcy to seek out my company instead. He was very gracious. I have to agree with you that he improves much on closer acquaintance. And his regard for you is apparent in every word he speaks of you. I am very happy for you, my dear Lizzie.

 

Mr. Collins, having been turned away from his daily evening call at Rosings, returned home much perturbed, when we were halfway through tea. He was greatly astonished to see the Darcys, but upon the pronouncement of the news of your engagement, he turned quite speechless for a full five minutes. I think Mr. Darcy took some perverse pleasure in my husband's discomfort, but I can scarcely blame him for it. Truthfully, I found the whole situation to be quite amusing myself.

 

Mr. Darcy then spoke at some length of your family's plan to move to a new establishment in the coming weeks. I have not seen White Cottage myself, but I was pleased to hear that your family won't be that far removed from our friends in Hertfordshire. I was surprised to hear how soon they plan to quit Longbourn and I tried to assure him that we were in no hurry to leave Hunsford, and to not hasten the move on our account. Though he thanked me, it seemed my words didn't have much an affect on him. And I suspect, they haven't had any affect on you either. I know not what to say of it anymore. I just hope your family is comfortable, and that you and I remain friends the way we have for so many years now, regardless of how other circumstances may change.

 

Mr. Darcy informed me that he does not plan to stay long in the neighborhood, given how close the wedding day approaches. It may be that he has already returned to you by the time you read this. I just want to express once more how happy I am for you, and for Jane too. Give my best to her and the rest. I assume days are very busy for you right now, write back whenever you have time. 

 

Yours,

Charlotte Collins

 

PS. Mr. Darcy also mentioned to Mr. Collins that you'd like to take some books from your father's library with you upon marriage. That library is more yours than it could be anyone else's, please think of it as such. 

 

Charlotte really was a friend a worth having, Elizabeth thought as she folded the letter. Though, sadly Mr. Darcy had not returned as speedily as Charlotte had expected, there was now hope that he may arrive back very soon. Regarding Georgiana Darcy, her sister to be, she was especially curious, more so since the conversation with Mr. Darcy regarding her past. It seemed encouraging that she had accompanied him to Kent. She sincerely hoped that her first trip away from Pemberly after so many months did her good.

 

She put the folded letter down and went back to staring out of the parlor window. A few more days, and then she wouldn't be staring out at this familiar view any more. She imagined what the views from the windows of her new home may be, but the only thing about Pemberly she knew for sure was that it's grounds were more extensive than Rosings Park, a promising prospect.

 

She had been sitting at the window, lost in her thoughts for a while, when she saw the approaching carriage. She recognized it at once and rose hurriedly.

 

"What's the matter, Lizzie?"

 

Her sudden movement had startled her mother. 

 

"Its Mr. Darcy's carriage."

 

"Oh, he is back. That is good news."

 

Elizabeth smiled, as she walked out to recieve him. It seemed her mother had grown used to his quiet presence in their home too.

 

Mr. Darcy stepped out of the carriage first, and the smile that spread across his face when he saw her waiting at the door spoke volumes. He had missed her too. He quickly turned back, to help his sister out of the carriage. 

 

Georgiana Darcy was very pretty with delicate features and golden curls that framed her face. Elizabeth couldn't detect any resemblance between the siblings except for how tall they both were. But despite her height, Miss Darcy somehow looked younger than her sixteen years. Mr. Bingley stepped out of the carriage behind her. Elizabeth stepped forward and curtsied. Mr. Darcy returned it with a bow and spoke first.

 

"Miss Elizabeth, may I introduce my sister, Georgiana."

 

Elizabeth smiled, "Miss Darcy, welcome to Longbourn."

 

She was rewarded by a timid smile in return. "Thank you, Miss Elizabeth. I've heard so much about you... But please, you must call me Georgiana."

 

"Then you must call me Lizzie as all my other sisters do."

 

Georgiana's smile widened at these word, some of the timidness leaving her. She glanced sideways at her brother briefly and then spoke with genuine fervour. "Thank you... Lizzie."

 

Elizabeth then led the three inside to the parlor, where the rest of her family were. Introductions were made and then everybody settled down. Elizabeth sat next to Georgiana and started a simple conversation about her journey and how she found Hertfordshire in comparison to Derbyshire on first impression. It had been clear that being introduced to so many new people at once had overwhelmed the young lady, and Elizabeth wanted to put her at ease.

 

Mr. Darcy was sitting not too far from them, and seemed to be paying close attention to their conversation, adding remarks to his sister's comments from time to time. His object seemed to be the same as hers. Under their combined efforts, Georgiana soon seemed to relax, and was not unwilling when Elizabeth's younger sisters approached her with questions about London, and she rose to join them. 

 

Left alone, as alone as they could be in a room full of people, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy turned to each other.

 

"I didn't say it earlier, but welcome back, sir. You were missed."

 

He smiled and looked down as he replied.

 

"I'm happy to be back. It seems I've grown quite attached to Hertfordshire."

 

She smiled in return too. Before they could continue further, his attention was called away by Mr. Bingley. The rest of their call gave no opportunity for Elizabeth to talk to him alone, but she was satisfied to admire him from a distance. On matters of business, he spoke most confidently with Mr. Bingley. He grew a bit careful with his words when speaking with her mother or sisters. Towards his own sister, his words were always spoken gently. Towards herself... well, it was hard to remain objective in her observations when his eyes were turned to her with such earnestness. 

 

The time for them to leave came way too soon. But after their recent journey, Mr. Darcy felt his sister must rest, a sentiment approved by all present. As the sisters stood outside, waving the carriage goodbye, Lydia came over to Elizabeth's side. 

 

"It's going to be so dull here when you both are gone."

 

Elizabeth smiled, "Jane won't be that far. And you'd all come to visit me in Derbyshire, won't you?"

 

"We would."

 

Chapter Text

The day of the weddings arrived. The eldest Bennet sisters became Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy in a small ceremony attended by only their closest family. The wedding breakfast, held at Longbourn itself, was a simple affair as well.

A few short hours after the ceremony, Elizabeth found herself being helped into the carriage by her now husband. Jane and Charles (who had proclaimed that his sisters no longer were allowed to call him Mr. Bingley), had just gotten into their carriage in front of theirs, and the rest of her family were standing outside Longbourn waving them goodbye. 

She leaned outside the window to wave back as the carriage started moving. There were tears streaming down her month's face but she was also smiling. Lydia had an arm around her in a comforting gesture. Her aunts Gardiner and Philips were next to them, along with the children, her uncles behind them. On their other side stood Mary and Kitty with Georgiana and her companion, Mrs. Annesley. It had taken her a few days, but Georgiana with her generous nature and sweet temperament had become friends with all three youngest Bennet sisters. She would talk of fashions and London life with Kitty and Lydia, and would sit with Mary on the pianoforte, playing duets and providing suggestions here and there to improve her technique. Owing to how busy Elizabeth had been, she hadn't been able to spend as much time with her new sister as she had wanted to, but Mr. Darcy— Fitzwilliam had assured her that Georgiana was in better spirits than she had been all year. And once Georgiana returned to Pemberly from a visit to their Aunt ans Uncle Matlock, they would have plenty of time to get to know each other better.

As the carriage moved further away, Elizabeth took a long look at the house that had been her home, but would no longer be so... When she returned next, it would belong to someone else. She focused back on her family, and with a pang in her chest, thought of the one person who was missing in the picture... She couldn't help her tears when she thought of her father, who hadn't been there... on this most important of days in her life... 

And then suddenly she realised that she was indeed leaving them all. Should she have stayed longer? When Mr. Darcy had suggested staying at Netherfield for a while, should she have agreed? How would her family manage everything? They were to leave Longbourn within two weeks and though a lot of preperations had already been made, there was plenty left to do still...

The accidental brush of his arm against hers put a sudden stop to her rising panic. She took a long breath. Everything would be fine. The Gardiners were going to stay a few more days and Aunt and Uncle Philips lived so close by, and so did Jane and Charles. If anything were to happen, there were people who would take care of it. Mr. Harris had already arrived from London and had assured them that the family need not worry about the move, he would manage it well on his own. Yes... everything would be fine.

She turned to him with a teary smile, "I am sorry if my current state has alarmed you, sir."

He gave her a small smile in return, and offered her a handkerchief, "No, not at all."

Elizabeth took the kerchief and wiped the tears away, they were quite useless in the scheme of things. She turned her eyes back out of the window, looking at the familiar landscape passing by. It was a long journey till Pemberly, three days. She hadn't travelled that far north before. Her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner had expressed a wish of visiting the Peak District next summer and Mr. Darcy— Fitzwilliam had at once invited them for a stay at Pemberly. Jane and Charles had been invited to visit them as soon as they felt settled enough in their life at Netherfield. So, she hoped it wouldn't be long until she saw familiar faces. And in the meantime...

She turned her eyes back to him and caught him staring at her. He held her gaze, but didn't say anything. 

"Now, what do you think we should speak of, sir? We have a lot of time on our hands."

"That question is certainly more difficult for me to answer than for you."

Elizabeth laughed, "Come... Fitzwilliam." She tried her best to pretend that speaking his name out loud hadn't made her stumble. "I know you don't have the talent to speak easily with strangers, but I am no longer a stranger."

At this he smiled and dropped his eyes, but still didn't say anything.

"Hmm... We'll have to work on that." 

She bit her lip and turned her eyes back out towards the view. Maybe she should tease him less... but her teasing usually brought out his smiles and those smiles... She found them exceedingly pleasing.

He cleared his throat, gaining her attention.

"What is your favourite color?"

At this she laughed, "Are you in ernest?"

He smiled too, and spoke confidently. "Yes. I think it's best to cover the basics first."

"Very well. It's hard to pick a favourite color. Purple or green perhaps."

"Green suits you."

"It does?"

"Yes, it does."

She smiled again. "Duely noted. What is your favourite color?"

He thought for a while. "Black."

"That's a sad colour."

"Not necessarily." He spoke with genuine fervor. "My horse is black. I decided he would be mine as soon as I saw his beautiful black coat, right after his birth."

"And you've had him ever since?" She asked warmly, clearly he felt very attached to the creature.

"Yes, ever since that day. But he is quite old now, I don't travel with him anymore. He stays in the Pemberly stables."

"And what's his name?"

A sheepish grin spread on his face. "Fitz."

"You mean to tell me Fitzwilliam that your horse is named Fitz?"

"I named him when I was five, so I naturally named him after myself."

She couldn't hold in her laughter anymore at that. "Naturally", she added.

"There's more."

She widened her eyes, "What could be more?"

"Georgiana's mare is named Gigi. My sister likes to follow in my footsteps."

She let out an even louder laugh at that and he joined her, clearly enjoying her amusement. Trying to regain her composure, she unconsciously put a hand on his shoulder as she wiped tears of mirth from her eyes with her other hand. 

"Will I be required to partake in the family tradition and acquire a mare named Eliza perhaps?"

His eyes darted briefly towards her hand on his shoulder before he answered genuinely. "If you wish. Are you fond of riding? You've never mentioned it."

Elizabeth, having noticed the direction his eyes had moved, became conscious of her unintended gesture and slowly remove her hand from his person, brought it back to her lap, and settled back in her seat as she replied. "I don't have much experience with it, I generally prefer to walk."

Their time in the carriage passed in this manner, easy conversations intertwined with mutually acceptable spells of silence. Slowly, Elizabeth grew quite comfortable in his presence. They stopped from time to time to rest the horses and themselves. And the only cause for concern arose when Fitzwilliam declared that they would soon arrive at the inn where they would be breaking the journey for the day. 

She accepted this news with as much air of indifference as she could manage and focused her eyes away from him. She had purposefully kept thoughts of her wedding night away from her mind, but the prospect was now imminent. Of course, she trusted him a great deal, but that did not fully dissipate her nerves. 

When they arrived at the inn, she tried her best to appear calm in his eyes. They were led upstairs to their rooms, and some of their luggage followed. The suit of rooms that were to be theirs included a small but richly furnished sitting room and two separate bedrooms. Fitzwilliam suggested that they rest a while in their respective rooms before they descended for dinner, and she was not averse to this suggestion. The wait until dinner dragged on her and once sitting in the dining parlor, she could scarcely eat anything. She knew that she wasn't being herself at all and knew not what he was making of it. As he led her upstairs, back to their rooms, Elizabeth waited for him to speak first. Once they had arrived in their sitting room, he did.

"It's been a long day. We should rest well before tomorrow's journey. It will be much longer."

"Yes." She looked up at him uncertainty.

He smiled at her reassuringly, in return. "If there's anything you need during the night, you can knock on my door or you can ring for the inn staff as well."

At this she nodded, understanding finally dawning on her.

Very slowly, as if unsure of her response, he stepped closer to her and bent down to place a chaste kiss upon her cheek.

"Good night, Elizabeth."

"Good night." She half whispered back and then he silently led her to her bedroom door. She stepped inside and with her eyes staring into his, she closed the door. She leaned her head against it and let out a long sigh. And then she smiled to herself as she slowly grazed her fingertips over her cheek, where his lips had touched her.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth slept fitfully, no matter how she twisted and turned, sleep was unwilling to claim her. Thoughts of her family, of Longbourn, of her father swirling around her mind. She huffed out a sigh. She needed Jane... and she needed Jane's arms around her...

When she was a young girl, whenever she had an argument with her younger sisters or mother, and she'd have angry tears flowing down her face, Jane would put her arms tightly around her and speak comfortingly of how things will get better. In the past months, she had tried to stay strong for the sake of her family. It hadn't been easy, but she had managed it. But late at night, in their bedroom, when she was exhausted and wearied, she often returned to being that little girl again in front of Jane... Sweet, compassionate Jane, who still held her tightly and spoke comfortingly of how things would get better. Elizabeth had gotten used to falling asleep that way and now alone, in this unfamiliar bed, she missed her sister sorely. But it was selfish of her to wish Jane was here... Afterall, Jane was now married too, and was probably having a much more... interesting night than her. The thought made her laugh at her own silliness, and she went back to her useless efforts to find sleep. 

Hours later, when morning light streamed in through the white curtains, she silently rose from the bed and got dressed. The inn had offered the services of a lady's maid if she required, but she could manage on her own. She'd only be sitting in the carriage all day afterall, comfort was more important than being dressed particularly well.

Once dressed, she peeked out into the sitting room. Fitzwilliam's door was still closed, likely he was still sleeping. She left her door open and settled down on the desk in her bedroom, pulling out the book she had packed for the journey. She had been reading for a while when she heard the sound of a door opening. She only had to lean her head a little to the side to look out into the sitting room. 

Fitzwilliam was standing there, in his nightshirt and breeches. Upon seeing her awake, he walked over to her door and stood casually leaning against the door jamb, with a smile on his face, hair still tousled from sleep. So... handsome.

"Good Morning."

His voice sounded... a little rough, so soon after waking up. His whole person seemed so relaxed... standing framed in the doorway that way. It was so unlike how he usually appeared in public, he always dressed so impeccably, always stood so straight. He was looking at her with a wide, open gaze, and she felt her face grow warm at the visible ease with which he was carrying himself despite his informal attire. She wondered if she could have been so comfortable had he found her in her night gown. A furious blush rose to her face and she stood up  with a hurried good morning and busied herself in putting the book away to hide her face from his eyes.

"You're up early. Did you sleep well?"

"I did." She saw no point in making him worry by telling him the truth about her night troubles. "How about you?"

"I did too. I shan't take long in dressing and then we can head down for breakfast."

She smiled amicably in return, and he slowly turned back and returned to his room. Once she heard his bedroom door close, she quickly moved forward and closed her own door as well, now blushing even more. She'd have to get used to this... Seeing him this way... perhaps dressed in even less... Oh, God!

--

Elizabeth had regained her composure by the time they met again in the sitting room. Their day of traveling began soon after and today, she turned the conversation in the direction of her new home,  Pemberly. The house, the grounds, the tenants, the neighborhood, she was curious about everything and Fitzwilliam was only too happy to indulge her.

In the afternoon, the lack of sleep from the previous night caught up with her. When she awoke, it was late in the evening and her head was resting on his shoulder. She didn't know when she had entwined her arm with his, but... it was rather comfortable. So she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep a while longer. It was only when they neared the inn for the night, and he tenderly called out her name to awaken her, that she opened her eyes. The smile he directed at her, as she rose, was warm, as comforting as sleeping on his shoulder.

Soon they were at the inn and the ritual from the previous night was repeated. Another sitting room, another pair of bedrooms, a dining parlor, and a less hesitant kiss upon her cheek...

Elizabeth lay in her bed staring at the ceiling, no sign of sleep approaching. Tomorrow they would reach Pemberly. Her thoughts had been so occupied with everything else in Hertfordshire, she hadn't thought of what marrying him truly entailed. She was going to be— already had become the mistress of a great estate... How was she going to manage such a thing? Longbourn had only had a handful of servants, but for a house as grand as Pemberly, there would be dozens. And what would they think of her? And their master's hasty marriage? 

She sighed and turned to her side. She'd just have to manage however she could. He'd... understand, if she had difficulties. She could always go to him for help... And then in a month's time, Georgiana would be back. Surely she would know about the running of the house...

She closed her eyes, pushing these thoughts away. And instead her mind turned to the only other subject that could claim it... him. It was strange to think that he was her husband now. Yes, she knew they had spoken their vows, and she had officially signed her name Elizabeth Bennet for the last time, but still it hadn't really sunk in. This long journey, the days in the carriage felt like she was on a vacation, and he was just her travel companion. A companion and an enigma. No, not really an enigma anymore... she knew him better now... And he knew her better? She wondered how well he thought he knew her. Given that he had seen her at the most turbulent times in her life, he probably understood her better than she did him. 

She remembered Charlotte's words, spoken long ago... That it was better for a husband and wife to not know each other too well when getting married. What a strange notion... She had disagreed with Charlotte then, and somewhat disagreed now too. She'd always said only the deepest love would induce her to marry. But that hadn't come to be. Instead she had married with only tender hesitant affection in her heart... But she felt it sometimes. In brief moments. In a look in his eyes. In thoughtful gestures meant for her care. In unsure kisses placed upon her cheek. The promise of something more.

--

The carriage ride the next day was a more silent affair. Elizabeth was too occupied by the varying landscape... It was decidedly distinct from the parts of the world that she had previously been familair with. There was a certain wildness, a certain unpredictability to the hills of Derbyshire that enraptured her. And when she did turn to him, to ask him something or the other about the surrounding country, it wasn't hard to notice how there was new light in his eyes, a new joy in his smiles. He was happy to be home.

The carriage was rolling down a gentle hill in the latter half of the day when Fitzwilliam instructed the coachman that they stop for a moment at the next turn. She turned to him curiously, "Why are we stopping?"

A wide smile greeted her. "You will see."

When the carriage stopped, he gestured for her to look out of the window oh his side. When she did, her breath caught for a moment.

"Pemberly", he spoke simply from her side, the pride in his voice was apparent.

She had expected a grand house of course, but the beauty of the sight before her was more than she could have imagined. Framed against an evening sky, beyond a lake shimmering in the golden sunlight, with its tall stone pillers and countless windows, there was a certain grace to the handsome building. It surely was the most impressive estate house she had yet seen. And it was hers now, in a way.

"It's beautiful", she whispered.

He didn't say anything but she was aware that his eyes were resting upon her face and not on the admirable view Pemberly provided. She kept her eyes on the house, even as the carriage started moving again, turning away only when the view was obstructed by a copse of trees. 

Only a few minutes later, the carriage stopped beyond the entrance to the house and Fitzwilliam quickly descended and offered her a hand. As she stepped out, her eyes turned upwards, towards the house, of their own accord. It felt even grander, now that she was so close.

Fitzwilliam placed her hand upon his arm and started moving forwards. A stout lady with a warm smile upon her face was there to welcome them. 

"Mrs. Reynolds, may I present to you Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy."

She blushed at the way he spoke these words, he almost sounded prideful, just as he had sounded when he had announced Pemberly to her on the road.

Mrs. Reynolds gave her a wide smile and curtsied, "It is an honour to meet you, Mrs. Darcy. Welcome to Pemberly."

Fitzwilliam introduced Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper of Pemberly, although she had already learnt about her the previous day. She had feared the judgement of Pemberly staff, but Mrs. Reynolds warm welcome eased her mind to a great extent. Owing to her position, she knew that Mrs. Reynolds' opinion would provide great sway on the opinion the rest of the staff formed of her.

Soon she was lead inside and Elizabeth was once more overwhelmed by the grandeur of her new home. So absorbed was she in observing the mural on the entrance hall ceiling that for a few moments she quite forgot to attend to the conversation between Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Reynolds. Belatedly, she gathered that he had been giving instructions for dinner. Following this, Mrs. Reynolds turned to her with a smile and spoke.

"May I show you to your rooms, Mrs. Darcy?"

Before she could respond, Fitzwilliam interrupted. 

"Oh, that's alright Mrs. Reynolds. I shall take her myself."

Elizabeth unconsciously tightened her grip upon his arm, grateful that he wasn't abandoning her in this huge house on her own yet. Silently, they walked up the stairs, and then through grand hallways to reach what Fitzwilliam announced as the family wing. There he led her through one of the doors, which led to a most impressive sitting room, furnished elegantly in whites and blues. 

"This is your sitting room."

"Just mine?" She asked in surprise.

"Yes, mine is through the next door in the corridor."

She simply nodded. This sitting room alone was larger than the bedroom she had shared with Jane. Next he led her to the door on the far side of the room. He opened it to reveal her bedchamber. She left his arm and slowly walked into the room. There were giant windows on one of the walls, with window seats placed against them, and she walked towards them first. Peeking out, she saw a view of the lake at the front of the house on one side and what appeared to be well tended gardens towards the front. She turned back towards him with a smile, he was still standing by the door.

"Do you like it?"

"I do. Very much."

"I'm glad."

She next walked towards the desk and then the bed. All the furnishings in the room, the curtains, the carpets were light and welcoming. She did indeed like it very much. When she turned towards him again, he was still standing at the door, eyes intent upon her, observing silently.

"Would you mind sharing what's on your mind, sir?", she asked softly.

He smiled a little. "Nothing of much import."

She raised her brows, walking back towards him, "I refuse to believe that you were idling your time with thoughts of little import."

He blushed at these words, not a reaction she had been expecting. A knock on the outer door saved him from any lingering awkwardness at the exchange, as he quickly turned around and walked back. He opened the door to reveal Mrs. Reynolds standing with a young maid at her side.

The girl curtsied to Fitzwilliam at once. "Good evening, Mr. Darcy."

"Good evening, Grace."

"Miss Darcy wrote, sir, saying that Grace here could serve as a lady's maid to Mrs. Darcy." Mrs. Reynolds spoke.

"Oh yes, of course."

He turned back towards Elizabeth and she detected some uncertainty in his eyes. But on receiving her reassuring smile, he turned back towards the two women and announced, "I shall leave you to it then, Mrs. Reynolds", and then disappeared down the corridor.

Elizabeth took a deep breath before she addressed Mrs. Reynolds and her new lady's maid. Mrs. Reynolds assured her that after her long journey she could take a few days to rest and get settled in before she needed to bother herself with the tasks of household management, for which Elizabeth was more grateful than she expressed. Grace turned out to be a quieter sort, but very polite. Mrs. Reynolds left after Elizabeth requested a bath, and Grace stayed and helped her undress.

By the time she was done with the bath, her trunks had been brought up. She dressed simply for dinner and then walked out into the corridor wondering if she should knock on Fitzwilliam's door when he himself stepped out.

They smiled at each other and he led her to the dining hall. It was an elegant room, with a long mahogany dining table at the centre. A chandelier with hundreds of shimmering crystals hung above it. The food was delicious, as she would have expected. Nothing at Pemberly could fail to impress. They shared a little conversation over dinner, mostly about the house and he promised to give her a tour on the morrow. Already, Elizabeth could feel how these things could become routines. Dressing in her room, walking downstairs with Fitzwilliam, comfortably sharing meals and conversations.

Once their plates had been cleared for the last time and they rose from the table, he informed her that there were some letters of business he needed to attend to, and that she could return to her rooms to rest. She was about to wish him a good night when he added, "I'll see you later."

She swallowed her good night wish and managed to smile. "Alright, until later then."

And as she walked back to her room alone, admiring the paintings that lined the walls, she wondered what later would entail.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth was sitting in the window seat in her bedroom, holding a book open in her lap, but her eyes were staring at the view outside. After dinner she had seen the sky slowly turned to black, as she waited for Fitzwilliam with some apprehension. Despite the long journey, she wasn't feeling tired at all, instead all her senses felt on alert.

 

A sudden knock startled her and she turned towards the sound. It had come through the door which she guessed connected to Fitzwilliam's bedroom. She took a deep breath and walked over to the innocuous door and opened it. 

 

It indeed connected to Fitzwilliam's room and she spied behind him a handsome room furnished in darker woods than hers. When she raised her eyes to his, she was met with a pleasant smile. Elizabeth kept her focus on his eyes, determined to not mull over the fact that both of them were dressed in their night clothes.

 

"I hope I didn't disturb your sleep."

 

"Oh, you didn't. I was just reading."

 

"Would you like a walk outside?"

 

Not what she had been expecting. She asked in surprise, "A walk?"

 

"Yes. I find sometimes the night air to be very refreshing. And we've not had a chance to walk much in the past three days."

 

Well, that was true and night air sounded like exactly what she needed right now. "I agree with that, but... We'll need to get dressed again", she added, pointing towards her nightgown.

 

"That won't be necessary."

 

"It won't?"

 

He gave her a small smile. "Nobody is going to see us. So I believe our overcoats may suffice."

 

She thought for but a moment and decided that she rather liked this idea. Her earlier nervousness quite forgotten, in face of this new prospect.

 

"Let us go then." She said with a smile. Both of them soon collected their overcoats from their respective dressing rooms and then he quietly led her downstairs and out of the house through a side door that opened directly into the gardens.

 

It was much too dark to admire the gardens, and he guided her out to the open ground. She could make out some trees in the distance and she could see a part of the lake. She glanced up at the house behind her, trying to determine which of those windows were to her room, but there were too many. He was leading her in a direction opposite to the lake, towards what seemed like a small rise in the ground. 

 

Elizabeth breathed in deeply. The air was chilly, but it was indeed refreshing. The ground beneath her feet seemed completely flat and relying on the support his arm provided, she raised her eyes towards the sky above. It was a dark night, no moon in sight, but the stars were aplenty.

 

She spoke slowly. "When I was fifteen, I developed a habit of sneaking out of the house after everybody was asleep, to just wander around under the stars." 

 

"That sounds beautiful."

 

"My mother disagreed. She caught me sneaking back in one night and caused an uproar."

 

"Well, from her perspective..."

 

"I know."

 

"So you stopped sneaking out after that?"

 

"I did... It was one of the rare times when my father sided with my mother whole-heartedly. And I didn't have it in me to defy both of them at once."

 

She could feel the smile in his voice when he replied. "Did it make you very upset?"

 

She laughed, remembering her hurt at her father's apparent betrayal. "It did, indeed."

 

"Well... If you wish to sneak out for night time walks here, I hope you would be kind enough to invite me to join in."

 

"I'm amenable to that."

 

"Good."

 

They walked on in silence meandering directionlessly for a while. Then he turned them towards the small hillock she had noticed earlier and the climbed to the very top. Here, Fitzwilliam turned them around to face the house. She could see the silhouette of the building against the lake beyond.

 

"In the daytime, this provides a beautiful prospect of the house."

 

"Yes, I can imagine."

 

"Would you like to sit here for a while?"

 

"We could, but-" She was about to say that grass would be damp when she noticed that he was already taking off his coat and spreading it on the ground for them to sit on. Once done, he helped her down and then settled next to her. 

 

"Do you walk out at night often?" she asked.

 

"Not often... once in a while. But, unlike you, I was careful enough to never get caught."

 

She laughed... He had gotten better at teasing her. It was a side of him, she liked. And she knew that this was a side that he would share with very few.

 

"I hardly think it would get you into any trouble, even if you were caught. Who will dare judge the master of the estate?"

 

It was his turn to laugh. "You never know. People may try to associate unsavory motivations to such behaviour on my part."

 

"That is a great danger indeed!" She responded with amusement. "Why would you take such a risk?"

 

"Well, I've been saved from all such future risks, now that I intend on walking at night always in the company of my wife."

 

Wife... She glanced up at him and there was a smile playing at his lips. He wasn't looking at her, he was staring ahead at the house still. And because just then it felt like the easiest thing, she scooted closer to him and placed her head on his shoulder. If he was surprised, he didn't betray it. But he slowly brought his arm around her back, to make her more comfortable and she took that opportunity to inch even closer. Neither of them said anything. They sat staring at the night sky, the dark grounds, the lake and their home.

 

Only when she shivered involuntarily, he spoke.

 

"You're cold. I should have thought of bringing a blanket."

 

"No, it's okay. It's not that cold."

 

"Its late, we should head back in."

 

She sighed. "Alright."

 

He removed his arm from around her and she sat straighter and as he was about to stand up, she looked at him and again, because it felt like the easiest thing, she placed a hand on his arm. And when he paused his movements and looked at her questioningly, she only had lean in a bit closer to him and he understood.

 

Their lips met softly. His breath was warm, and his touch was gentle. It wasn't a long kiss, but it didn't need to be. When it ended, they exchanged shy smiles. They stood and he gathered up his coat from the ground. As they began walking back to the house, he offered his hand and she took it.

 

They walked back in silence, but his hand stayed in hers and she was satisfied. When they reached the door to her rooms, he turned to hers.

 

"Could I stay with you tonight?"

 

His face was hard to read, but when Elizabeth smiled and nodded, he couldn't stop the smile from spreading across his face. They discarded their coats in the sitting room and then he followed behind her as she walked into the bedchamber. They stepped into the bed from opposite sides and then for a while they just laid there, on their own side of the bed, eyes up on the ceiling.

 

Then Elizabeth felt his fingers brushing against the back of her hand and she went ahead and intertwined her fingers with his. When she turned to look at him, there was still a smile upon his lips.

 

"Can I call you Lizzie sometimes?"

 

"I didn't think you'd like to."

 

"Only when we are alone... Lizzie suits you."

 

She smiled widely in response. "Very well, then. You may call me Lizzie, but what shall I call you when we are alone?"

 

"What would you like to call me?"

 

"Well, I could call you Fitz, but that would remind me of your horse."

 

He chuckled. "What about William then?"

 

"William..." she mused, and then smiled again. "I like it."

 

"I'm glad we've come to an agreement then."

 

"Indeed, so am I."

 

He turned to his side, so that he was facing her and brought their hands up, placing them close to his chest. When she turned to look at him, his eyes were closed.

 

"Good night, Lizzie", he whispered.

 

"Good night, William", she whispered back and then closed her eyes as well.

 

Chapter Text

When she woke up in the morning, she found herself alone in her bed. The sun was high in the sky... She realised with surprise, she had overslept. Back at Longbourn, she always rose early, before anyone else. The house was rarely as quiet as it was at that time of the day, and that had been incentive enough to leave sleep behind. And in the more recent months, she had awoken early more out of necessity.

 

She stretched and sat up. Maybe the journey really had tired her out more than she had realised. She didn't remember when she had last slept so long or so well. She looked over to the side of the bed her husband had slept on. The sheets were wrinkled and the impression of his head was visible on the pillow. She wondered if he had held her hand all through the night... If she had woken up before him, she could've known. 

 

Slowly, she got out of bed and walked to her dressing room, where she was greeted by Grace.

 

"Good morning, Mrs. Darcy."

 

She smiled at her. "Good morning, Grace. Do you know where Mr. Darcy is?"

 

"He is in his study, Ma'am, but he will be joining you for breakfast."

 

Elizabeth got dressed quickly with Grace's help and proceeded down to breakfast. Fitzwilliam was already waiting for her. He smiled warmly when he saw her and got up from his chair at the head of the table to welcome her in.

 

"Good morning, Elizabeth. I hope you slept well."

 

He looked very handsome this morning, dressed in dark blue. It complemented his blue eyes. And his smile only added to the whole affect. She smiled in return and replied. "I did, thank you. Hope you did as well."

 

"I did. Shall we?" he said, gesturing towards the side table where the breakfast spread had been laid out. Elizabeth followed him and filled up her plate from the ridiculously large amount of available options. The food was delicious though and she ended up eating a lot more than she had thought she would. 

 

Over their tea afterwards, Fitzwilliam spoke.

 

"I thought we could begin our tour of the house directly after breakfast."

 

"That sounds perfect."

 

He nodded with a smile and and took her arm as they left the table. He guided her to first to a pretty room towards the back of the house and announced it as the morning room.

 

"You may use it as your personal study of sorts. To take care of you correspondence or meetings with staff. The desk has been stocked with some writing supplies."

 

The room seemed to be the most beautifuly furnished she has seen in the house so far. The walls, the furnishings, the drapes all had delicate floral patterns that complemented each other perfectly. And it seemed all rooms in Pemberly benefitted from the numerous windows. The bright glow of the sunny day seemed to make the room light up from within.

 

"Oh, this is lovely, Fitzwilliam! This is the most beautiful room I've seen yet," she confessed truthfully.

 

"This room hasn't seen much use since my mother passed away. She decorated it expressly for her own use. But if you'd like to change anything—"

 

But Elizabeth interrupted him, "I wouldn't dream of changing anything in here... It is so delightful just as it is." And she was gratified to see the smile on his face on hearing these words. 

 

Next, he showed her to his study which was located right next to the morning room. So she imagined, that's how their mornings would be. Tending to their respective tasks in adjacent rooms. The study was a handsome room, with a large desk commanding the attention at once. 

 

"It is a bit cluttered at the moment," he spoke a little self-consciously, when he saw her staring at the desk. "Since I'm returning after a while, I need to look over all these records over the next week", he said pointing to all the documents spread across the desk.

 

"You go through all the records personally?" 

 

"In a matter of speaking, yes. But I can't attend to all of them with equal level of detail. I can do a bare overview of most."

 

That still sounded like a humongous undertaking to her. He must stay very busy, she surmised.

 

Their tour of the house continued, through the drawing rooms, the parlors, the galleries, the art room, the music room. In the portrait gallery on the first floor, they stood in front of a portrait of his parents for a long while, as he talked at some length with fondness in his voice of how his parents had built a successful marriage based on a childhood friendship. The Darcy's of Pemberly and the Earls of Matlock had had a long friendship, and the two had been companions almost since birth. The portraits had been made soon after their wedding and Elizabeth thought the painter had done a remarkable job at capturing the happiness of their expressions, you could almost sense the love in the way they held themselves, the way his hand was placed on her shoulder, and the way she was leaning towards him. Aloud, she spoke of how alike he looked to his father and Georgiana to her mother. 

 

"Georgiana loves to hear herself compared favorably to mother," was his reply.

 

"And what do you think of being compared to your father?"

 

"My father was a very handsome man, so your compliment has been felt greatly."

 

They smiled at each other and he lead her to a pair of portraits placed at some distance to the portrait of his parents. Upon seeing the faces in these paintings, she exclaimed, "Why Mr. Darcy! You've been saving the best for last!"

 

He almost blushed at her reaction, and cleared his throat before speaking. "This one Georgiana stood for when she turned fifteen," he said pointing to the panting on the left. "And this one she forced me to stand for after hers was completed."

 

"Forced you?"

 

"Don't underestimate the powers of my sister."

 

Elizabeth laughed at the dramatic way he spoke these words, and his expression eased into a smile as well.

 

"But why this empty space? Why not place these paintings next your parents'?"

 

"Oh, that was— Georgiana had this idea that the next Mr. and Mrs. Darcy should be placed here."

 

"Oh dear, are you going to make me stand for a portrait?"

 

"Only if you wish to. But, I believe once Georgiana is back, we both might not be given an option," he spoke with a mild frown upon his brow.

 

Elizabeth laughed again, and he couldn't help but join in. He took her arm and started leading her out of the portrait gallery, as their laughter faded. But a gleam in his eyes remained and he spoke.

 

"Come, I did save the best for last."

 

She raised her brows, "What is it?"

 

But he only smiled and did not reply. They walked on to the other side of the house from the gallery, on the same floor and he led her to a pair of very grand looking doors. He left her arm and pushed the doors open with a flourish. And when she got her first look at the room beyond, she actually gasped.

 

"The Pemberly library", he announced with a wide smile, as she slowly crossed the threshold. She had never seen so many books in one place, not even at the London bookstores she had visited with the Gardiners. The library stretched across two floors with shelves upon shelves of books. High up near the ceiling, there were windows that allowed light to enter into the room. And near the entrance where she was currently standing, was the reading area with cozy chairs and plush sofas and a grand fireplace. She spun round and round trying to take in all of her surroundings. When she stopped and looked at him, she knew she was smiling more widely than she had done in ages.

 

"I think I'm in heaven."

 

He laughed at her words and walked over to the corner where a desk stood, gesturing her to follow. As she came closer, she saw that next to the desk was the crate of books she had brought with her from Longbourn.

 

"These are your father's books. I wanted to ask you if you would like to keep all of them together in a separate case or should they be placed amongst all the other books?" He gestured vaguely towards all the shelves surrounding them. 

 

She looked around once more and spoke with a smile, "No, a separate case won't be needed. This library is their new home, and I dare say they would love it as much as I do."

 

He smiled. "Alright, then. I believe there are a few books in here whose duplicates are already here. We can send the Pemberly copies to the house in London, there's a smaller library there."

 

"Whatever you feel is best."

 

He nodded, and then spoke warmly. "We can head to luncheon now and then I have a meeting with Mr. Willis." Mr. Willis was the Pemberly steward. Fitzwilliam continued, "You can return here, while I'm engaged, if you'd like."

 

"I'd certainly like to."

 

He smiled good naturedly and they made their way out of the library. After the meal and an introduction with Mr. Willis, Elizabeth did return to the library, and quite lost the track of time as she wandered among the shelves. She began making a list of all the books she saw that she wanted to read, but the list grew too long and she headed to the desk wishing to write it all down. But even that list grew too long... She looked around herself, and couldn't quite believe that this whole library was at her disposal. It made her almost giddy. She selected one book, but before starting it, she first decided to write some letters. She sat at the corner desk and wrote to her mother, to Jane and Charlotte. Putting them aside, she made her way to one of the armchairs and settled down with the volume she had picked out.

 

And this is how Fitzwilliam found her when he entered the library a few hours later. She was sitting comfortably, with one foot tucked under her. On hearing the door she looked up and smiled when she saw him. For a moment, he seemed frozen at the door, staring at her with an unreadable expression. But presently, he gathered himself and started walking up to her.

 

She closed shut the book and was about to stand but he gestured her to stop with the words, "No, stay stay." 

 

So she settled back in her relaxed posture, still smiling at him. He sat in a chair nearby, looking a little disconcerted, and cleared his throat before he spoke carefully, "You make a beautiful picture, sitting this way."

 

She smiled even more widely at such a direct compliment. 

 

"Thank you, William."

 

He smiled finally. "Did you have a pleasant time?"

 

"Very much so. How was your meeting?"

 

"It took longer than expected, but we managed to get through a lot of work."

 

Elizabeth nodded. For a moment they stayed silent, and then he spoke.

 

"Don't let me distract you from your reading." He looked around at the shelves and said, "I will read something too."

 

Elizabeth returned to her book and he soon joined her with a book of his own. But she noticed from the corner of her eyes that his attentions were more focused on her than his book. Eventually she looked up at him with a smile, and spoke, "You know what this reminds me of?"

 

His response was immediate. "Netherfield?"

 

Indeed that was what she had been about to say, but the soft fervor with which he had delivered his reply, erased the funny quip that had been on the tip of her tongue, about how he had disapproved of her back then. Instead, she tried to match his tone and just said, "Yes."

 

"I always wanted to show you the library at Pemberly. I knew you would appreciate it greatly."

 

"Then, sir, let me appreciate it by returning to my book." She smiled, to let him know she was just teasing.

 

"I apologise", he replied with a small laugh and then focused his eyes back towards the page, and so did she. But instead of the words on the page, now she was pondering over a possibility that had never crossed her mind before. That even all those months ago, the stares he had frequently directed towards her, may have been of admiration, not disapproval.

 

 

Chapter Text

From the library they headed to dinner, the conversation flowed easily. And they made plans to walk the grounds tomorrow. Fitzwilliam also wanted them to visit the stables, for her to meet Fitz and also so that they could select a horse for her to ride on. If he wanted to show her all of Pemberly's land, he decalred, riding would be necessary.

Once the meal was finished, she wondered what they would do next. He provided the answer, "Would you like to go outside?"

It wasn't as dark right now as it had been last night. They would still be able to enjoy some of the views. So she agreed with pleasure.

She put on a light coat and a bonnet, when he came up behind her with a small basket in his hands.

"What's in there?"

He opened to reveal what looked like a blanket inside. "It got cold yesterday."

"Oh, it wasn't really cold."

"Still, to be safe."

She just smiled and took his arm. They walked out of the main door, and today the walked towards the lake first. The waters reflected the evening sky above. There were a few wisps of cloud, in an otherwise clear fading blue expanse. They walked along the edge of the lake as Fitzwilliam told her about the time he had been having a particularly bad day and had decided to jump into the lake for a swim directly after returning from London. And then as he made his way back to house in his soaked clothes, he had seen some visitors touring the grounds and in a hurry he had hid behind a clump of bushes for over half an hour to avoid them. Elizabeth laughed delightedly at the image he painted. Formal, proper Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt and breeches, hiding behind bushes in his own home! 

They sat for a while on a bench by the lake, and then continued their walk. When they walked back towards the house, Elizabeth asked him to point out the room to which the windows belonged. They walked around the whole house this way, pointing at windows and he doing his best to not make mistakes, but it made him rather hesitant about making guesses. She laughed at his confusion more than once. But at least he was able to point out their rooms with confidence.

Eventually they made their way towards the top of the same hillock as yesterday. Here they spread out one of the two blankets from the basket, and sat down. There was just enough light to enjoy the view for a while longer. Their conversations continued and soon the twilight faded around them, a gentle breeze picking up. Despite her protests, he unfolded the second blanket and draped it over her shoulders. And despite his protests, she of course forced him to wrap the other end of that blanket around his shoulders. And as a result, in the darkness the two found themselves huddled together under the same blanket. It was only a matter of time until their conversations ceased and she found herself tightly in his embrace and his lips upon hers. The kiss yesterday had been so short, but in a way it had opened a doorway. And now his lips found hers again and again, but it still did not feel like enough to her.

When her breath grew too heavy, she pulled away from his mouth, panting. His lips moved into the side of her jaw, then just below her ear, as he pulled at her coat, revealing more of the skin around her neck... His lips moved down the side of her neck towards the shoulder... She breathed in deeply, trying to keep her mind in her control... It felt so new, this feeling, pooling inside her body... She opened her eyes and stared up at the starry sky above. It almost felt like she was floating... beneath that wide  open expanse. She and him and the stars were the only things that existed... And then— his lips neared her throat and she at once jumped and pulled away from him. He was startled and then immediately concerned.

"Is something the matter?"

At once, Elizabeth was embarrassed at her silliness. "No, no, nothing's the matter. Its just—" she brought a hand up to cover her throat. "It just felt very ticklish for a moment."

For a second he just stared at her, but then realising that indeed none of his actions had given offence, he relaxed into a smile. "Is that all?"

She smiled, "Yes, that is all."

Slowly, he brought his lips back to hers. Kissing her softly at first, and she relaxed against him once more, almost sighing out in contentment, but then kiss deepened, and everything felt a lot more urgent. And then once more, his lips slowly moved to her neck... For a moment, she bit down on her lip, trying only to concentrate on the soft touch of his lips, nothing else but she couldn't help herself and a most unsuitable giggle escaped her. But instead of moving away, this only caused him to redouble his efforts! She protested loudly in between her laughs, "William!" He nuzzled at her sensitive skin a moment longer, but then he mercifully put some distance between them, with a laugh of his own and Elizabeth at once pulled her coat collar up, to protect her neck. This made him laugh even more. 

"Tell me, have you always been so ticklish?"

His amusement was enjoyable to see, even if it was at her expense, but they were treading on dangerous territories! She had suffered a great deal at her sisters' hands due to her extremely ticklish nature, and this was one thing where even Jane wasn't on her side.

"I refuse to answer this question."

He let out another laugh, and she smiled as well. He slowly moved his hands away from her waist and sat back straight, staring at the house. She almost wished he hadn't done that. She liked the way he had been holding her so close. 

"Do you want to head back in?" he asked.

"Yes." She agreed, the wind had really picked up now, and without other distractions, she could actually feel the chill in the air.

They slowly gathered the blankets and started walking back towards the house. As they walked, he gently wrapped an arm around her waist and she smiled up at him.

"So are you ticklish only around your neck or elsewhere too?"

And without even thinking about it, she at once jumped away from his arm fearing the worst! When she turned around to look at him, he had stopped walking and was standing frozen with his arm still stretched out to the side. Her reaction had been completely unwarranted of course, and before she could find words for an apology, she detected a gleam in his eyes.

"I think I have received my answer."

And then he strode forward and comfortably placed his arm around her once more, as the began walking again. "But do not fear, I am not attacking you."

She blushed but didn't say anything. She had no idea how she was going to live this down.

When they reached their corridor, he turned to her and asked carefully, "Could I stay with you again tonight?" 

She smiled and replied with all honesty. "You needn't ask. I do not sleep well alone, I'm not used to it. Your company would always be appreciated."

"That suits both of us then," he replied, with a small smile.

They walked into her sitting room, and Elizabeth was removing her bonnet and coat, when he spoke behind her.

"And we could help each other with the clothes perhaps?"

She turned around to see him standing awkwardly some distance from her, one arm stuck halfway out of his coat, as he struggled to get the tight garment off. She stifled her laugh and walked up behind him and pulled the coat off. She assumed he'd be able to handle the rest but she still helped pull the waistcoat off after he had unbuttoned it. And then she moved to his front, and carefully unpinned  his cravat. 

"Thank you", he spoke softly.

"You're welcome", she replied as she moved away from him, without meeting his eyes.

She walked into the bed room and then the dressing room, to find that Grace had already laid out a night gown on the chair. She smiled gratefuly and quickly changed. When she returned to the bedroom, Fitzwilliam was just walking in from his own room, in his night clothes.

"Oh, I was going to ask if you needed any help."

She blushed and hoped it wasn't obvious in the dark. "It's okay, I managed on my own."

They approached the bed from opposite sides and laid down staring at the ceiling, just like last night. And when he slowly reached out and touched her hand, she assumed he meant to hold it like last night as well. But instead his fingers moved on to her waist. She breathed in sharply as he scooted closer and his other arm came around her as well. Just as she was turning his way to return the embrace, he started tickling her. Immediately, she tried to jump out of his grasp, but of course he was much too strong for her. Within seconds she was laughing uncontrollably and trying to jerk herself away from him with no success. With struggles, she managed to pant out his name, telling him to stop. She could hear him laughing, but he didn't heed her words. Eventually, she managed to grab both of his wrists and hold them at a distance from her. Her stomach was hurting from the continued laughter and she was breathing heavily, and on her side he was still laughing as well. She met his eyes warily, knowing that if he tried to break her grip, he'd be able to do so easily. 

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He spoke in between laughs. "You can let go, I won't do it again, I promise."

"I don't trust you." 

He laughed again. "Really, I won't do that again, not tonight."

Her laughter had finally died down, she took a few deep breaths. And then keeping her eyes on him, she spoke in a complaining voice, "This is so unfair! You've discovered my weakness and you're taking advantage of it!"

He laughed some more at that, and then replied, "Its not unfair, it just means that you'll need to take  more pains to discover my weaknesses."

She looked at him sharply, "Are you challenging me, Mr. Darcy?"

She was satisfied to see the smirk drop off his face, and now it was his turn to be wary. "You misunderstand me."

Instead of pushing his hands away now, she pulled herself closer to him, and spoke archly, "Do I?"

And before he could realize what she was going to do, she launched her own attack. She dropped his wrists and her fingers shot out towards his abdomen. At once, he doubled over with laughter, trying to push her away. She tried to persist as long as possible, but all too soon he managed to capture her wrists and hold them above both of them.

"Truce, let's call a truce", he panted.

She laughed, "So soon?"

She tried to pull her hands away from him, but he tightened his grip. When she tried harder, he rolled over, half hovering above her, their hands pressed into the pillows.

"Let's call it a truce a first", he whispered.

Her breath caught at his sudden closeness, and she stopped struggling. Looking into his eyes, she slowly whispered, "Truce."

He was leaning in ever so closer.

"Good", he whispered as he released her hands, but captured her lips with his instead. Slowly, her arms came around his neck, and he placed one hand on her waist, the other in her hair. The kisses were gentle, but the length of her body was now pressed up against him. During all their struggles, her night gown had ridden up her legs and was gathered now somewhere behind her, leaving almost all of her legs uncovered. She should cover herself up.

But it felt so much better to not think of any of that and let herself be lost in the sensation of his touch. When he pulled her even closer, she reciprocated, and when he deepened the kiss, she reciprocated that too. She buried her fingers in his hair, and his hand slowly moved down from her waist... over the side of her hips... over the edge of her nightgown... and then so very gently he brushed his fingertips cross her thigh. She gasped, and he quickly whispered, "Is this okay?"

She nodded and brought her lips to his once more. Yes, it was better not to think at all... His fingers were everywhere now, and then it was his lips that were everywhere... When he gently pulled the night gown off her, she let him... When he pulled his own shirt off, she placed her hands on his chest lightly, and it was fine... But when she felt his hand move to the fall of his breeches, she suddenly stiffened. He froze too. 

"Is everything well?"

She could hear the concern in his voice, but she couldn't meet his eyes. She nodded, and spoke hurriedly that it was all well, wishing that he would just continue. But of course, he didn't. He placed two fingers below her chin and raised her face up till she finally looked at him.

"What's the matter?"

She gulped, there was such tenderness in his eyes. "It just— I was just—" 
 
She bit her lip. She could tell him... He always had answers for everything. "I'm nervous," she whispered.

Something shifted in his eyes, and for a moment he didn't say anything. And then he slowly he whispered, "If you want to wait..."

Elizabeth shook her head. "No... I don't want to wait."

This was... something that had to happen. And she was with him, it would be alright... With him, yes... she would be alright. He was still staring at her with a frown on his face. She pulled him into a kiss. She didn't want him to worry.

He returned her kisses, but his lips were so very gentle against her now. It almost made her smile, he was so sweet. She pulled him closer... Yes, it was going to be alright. His fingers started roaming across her skin again, and she sighed as his lips moved to her neck... Her worries were fading with every touch that he laid upon her, other sensations that he was elicited in her were stronger... He continued to kiss her, unhurriedly travelling down her body... She almost wanted to pull him back up again, to press her lips against his once more, an unknown need building up in her... But she didn't want to rush any of this... She waited for him to make his way back up, but his lips continued to move downward... She frowned. What was he—

Elizabeth gasped, "William!"

--

When he did eventually climb back up, she was utterly exhausted and utterly befuddled. He placed a kiss upon her cheek and wrapped his arms around her. Elizabeth was relieved to bury her face into his chest... She couldn't imagine meeting his eyes after— what had just happened.

But then he started to get up, and she did meet his eyes. "Where..."

"Shh..." he murmured, "I'll be right back."

He caressed her face briefly as he left the bed and walked to the dressing room. Once the door closed behind him, she covered her face with her hands. 

Nobody had ever told her... She had never known... That this was a possibility! That this was something people did! The day before the wedding, her mother and aunt Gardiner had sat her and Jane down to talk about the marriage bed, but her mother had hardly said anything and aunt Gardiner had just told them to be open minded and over time it may become something pleasant, but without any specifics. And Charlotte had only talked about trying to get through her wifely duties as quickly as possible. 

Her face burned red, thinking back. She had tried to stop him at first, more out of shock than anything else. But she knew, and of course he would too, that when she had called out his name later on, it hadn't been to stop him. At all. It was like for those moments, she had completely lost all control over her mind and her body. Was something like that to be expected? 

The door to the dressing room opened, and she uncovered her face, watching him walking towards her. She couldn't imagine what they might say or do now, but the bed was entirely too empty without him. When he got close, instead of climbing in, he held up something to her. Only when she reached out and took it, she realised it was a wet washcloth.

"Oh..." she spoke dazedly, "thank you."

He didn't say anything, but pointedly turned his face away from her. She quickly cleaned herself and then wordlessly, he took the washcloth from her and deposited it back in the dressing room.

This time when he returned, he climbed in and whispered, "Is all well?"

She forced her sudden timidity away and looked up at him and gave him a small reassuring smile. "All is well."

He smiled in return and the look in his eyes... She couldn't put it into words... He was so...

She pulled him into a kiss, and when they broke apart, his smile was wider. He wrapped his warm arms around her securely, and whispered "Go to sleep now."

She rested her head against his chest and closed her eyes.

"Good night, William."

"Good night, Lizzie."

Chapter Text

The next morning when she woke up, she was alone in bed again. She felt in equal parts a tinge of regret that she hadn't woken up before him and a tinge of relief, at least she had some time to gather her wits after the events of last night before she saw him. The sun seemed high in the sky, she had overslept again. It was strange, how peacefully she had been sleeping the previous two nights.

 

"Good morning."

 

The sudden voice made her jump. She looked around until her eyes found Fitzwilliam sitting at the desk, some letters in his hands and a faint smile on his face.

 

She felt a blush creep up her face. She dropped her eyes down to the floor and murmured "Good morning."

 

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him getting up from the desk and walking towards her, but she felt too embarrassed to look up at him. He sat down on the bed next to her and took one of her hands in both of his. She let out a long held breath and closed her eyes. His fingers were tracing invisible patterns on the back of her hand. His touch was so gentle... and yet... yet it elicited such a strong response within her. She was painfully aware that underneath the sheets, she wore nothing.

 

"Did you sleep well?" His voice felt like another caress. She just nodded in response.

 

He didn't say anything and a silence fell between them, she opened her eyes and stared at their intertwined hands, aware that his eyes hadn't moved away from her. Slowly, Elizabeth began to relax, despite his watchful eyes. He seemed so at ease, and it was such a beautiful morning outside... her unease didn't fit the picture. 

 

When they had stayed in this manner for a while, she finally gathered enough courage to ask the question that had been nagging at the back of her mind. He did, afterall, always say that she could tell him anything.

 

She managed to keep her voice steady as she said, "I had a question." 

 

"About what?" 

 

"About last night." 

 

She glanced up at him and saw that the smile had slipped from his face. He cleared his throat and replied softly, "You can of course ask anything."

 

She looked back down to their hands and forced herself to speak, "What we did, it wasn't... what I expected." 

 

Her voice gave way to her uncertainty towards the end of that sentence and she couldn't bring herself to look up to gauge his reaction at her words. His reply came in a slow unsure voice as well, "Um... yes."

 

She took a deep breath, turned to him and asked, "Then why... instead of...?"

 

For a moment, his eyes darted around as if looking for words and then he met her eyes again and said hesitatingly, "Did you... did you not like it?"

 

She blushed furiously in response. Thankfully, he understood her reply without her having to say it out loud and a low laugh escaped him. He held her hands more securely and scooted closer to her. He looked so amused! She was the one who had wanted to talk about this, so she couldn't back down now. She spoke, trying to make ger voice sound indignant, "Are you laughing at me, Mr. Darcy?"

 

"As someone who enjoys the activity so much, surely you wouldn't begrudge me a few laughs."

 

He was teasing her! During such a conversation! She couldn't help but actually groan and bury her face into the pillows. Now, he actually laughed. But he also leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her exposed shoulder.

 

"Are you angry, Mrs. Darcy?"

 

His voice was almost a whisper and it was oddly thrilling. She turned to face him. He was so close to her, there was still a smile on his lips but there was some trepidation in his eyes. She spoke honestly, "I'm not angry at all."

 

"Then what upsets you?"

 

"I'm not upset either."

 

"Then what am I to make of your behaviour?"

 

She didn't know if he'd come closer on purpose or not, but she could feel his warm breath against her face, so instead of answering, she kissed him. The sensation of their lips together was already comforting in a way, as if when their lips met, everything else could cease to be, for the moment. His arms came around her and she tried to pull him closer but the bed covers were in the way. She let out a sound of dissent without meaning to, but he seemed to understand. Without breaking the kiss, he slowly climbed into bed next to her. His embrace against her naked skin felt like releasing a long held breath and with his hands upon her, she was lost.

 

His touch, such a curious thing... It could be as light as a feather or as sure as the vows they had spoken only a few days ago. When they broke apart, in a rush of heavy breaths, she pressed her lips to his neck. He breathed in sharply and tightened his grip around her waist. She moved her lips down his throat, on to his chest, until she met the barrier of his shirt. She moved away to look into his eyes, which he slowly opened. Staring into the depths of his blue eyes, she slowly tugged at his shirt. He looked dazed, but he slid out of her arms to take the garment off. Just then, as he tossed the shirt off to the side, and the sunlight hit him... she was suddenly struck by his beauty. His dark hair looked almost golden in that light, and his skin glowed golden too. And then he was back in her arms. She placed a hand tentatively on his chest, and he covered it with his own, pressing her hand harder against his skin. She could feel his heart beating underneath her palm and she looked up at him, only to find his eyes closed and an expression of such restfulness upon his features.

 

"You have discovered my weakness, it seems", he murmured.

 

"What is it?" she asked, in a whisper.

 

"You."

 

Before she could respond, he had pulled her into a kiss. And this time when he came to her, she wasn't afraid. When she tried to unbutton his breeches, he looked at her carefully once and then removed them himself. It seemed so natural to be with him this way, to have every inch of her skin pressed against his. When he tried to whisper words of reassurance in her ear, she kissed them away. And soon there was so much overwhelming her mind, her senses, that she could scarce focus on anything at all... Then, she watched in wonder as he slowly came apart within her embrace, and she in his. It was such a singular feeling... something she couldn't have even comprehended before experiencing it, and maybe she couldn't comprehend it even afterwards, as they lay panting in each other's arms.

 

As their breathing slowed down, they held each other close. He tried to detangle himself from her once, probably to bring a wash cloth for her like last night, but she refused to loosen her arms from around his neck and whispered to him, "Later..."

 

So his arms stayed around her securely and she buried her face into his neck, breathing in the warm fragrance that was so uniquely him. It took her a long time to fully come back to her senses, and even then it was done reluctantly. She wanted to stay in that haze forever where she could be pressed up against him without feeling conscious about them being fully undressed. His fingers ran through her hair, down her back and from time to time he'd place gentle kisses upon her head, her cheeks, her brows, her lips... The sun was warm upon her back and yes, she wanted to stay in this haze forever... where there was no need to think, where everything was warm and cozy in between the soft sheets, where she could hold onto him as tightly as she wanted...

 

But then his stomach rumbled and she realised how late it must be. She looked up at him and spoke softly, "You're hungry."

 

He was smiling when he replied, "A little." 

 

"We should get dressed and head down."

 

"Or we could eat up here."

 

"We can?"

 

"Of course." He kissed her softly as he slowly got out of bed. "I'll have them bring up the food. Stay here."

 

Elizabeth closed her eyes and buried herself under the sheets as she heard him walk to his own room. She wrapped her arms around herself tightly and willed herself to believe that this was her life now. She could spend hours upon hours reading and walking, with no other demands upon her time, no list of endless house chores weighing her down, no need to worry about her mother and sisters, no fear of when Mr. Collins' generosity may run out... this grand house, this beautiful room, this comfortable bed, all hers... and him. His kindness, his regard, his passion... all for her. It all felt too good to be true.

 

She didn't hear him enter the room again, but she felt someone sit on the bed beside her, and she turned around to see him there, dressed again as he had been earlier, in his night clothes. He brought his hand up to the side of her face, stroked her face and asked gently, "Are you feeling alright?"

 

She nodded. 

 

"Are you certain?"

 

She nodded again. He finally smiled then, a small, almost bashful smile and handed her the night gown she had been wearing last night. "The food will be here shortly. I'll wait for you in my room."

 

She smiled up at him. "Alright."

 

He rose then and left her. Once he was out of the room, she threw back the covers, put on the night gown and climbed out of bed. She walked around a bit, there was some soreness, but she felt perfectly alright. She smiled. This wasn't so bad. Why had she been so worried last night! The thought made her blush and laugh at herself at the same time. She quickly walked over to her dressing room to make herself presentable, she didn't want to keep him waiting long.

Chapter Text

It was past noon by the time Elizabeth finally made her way towards Fitzwilliam's study. After breakfast in his room, she had taken a much needed bath and when she was getting ready, Mrs. Reynolds had come in to ask if she would like to be introduced to the staff this morning. She had agreed of course, she wanted to get to know everyone at Pemberly. Their plan to walk the grounds had consequently been postponed to the afternoon. 

 

Mrs. Reynolds had led the introductions, and Elizabeth had met more than one pair of very curious eyes peering at her as she had walked down the long line, making small talk. Everybody had been on their best behavior though, and she felt she handled herself well. It would take some time to memorize so many names, but she would try her best.

 

When she finally reached Fitzwilliam's study, the door stood ajar. She knocked once and opened the door wider.

 

"Fitzwilliam?"

 

He was standing behind his desk, staring out of the window. On hearing her voice, he half turned towards her, "Oh... Elizabeth. Come in."

 

She was a bit suprised at his manner. He seemed... stiff. He had returned to his contemplation of the view outside and as she walked into the room, she saw how rigidly he was holding himself.

 

"Your staff seems very devoted to you and Pemberly, I was very happy to meet them all."

 

At this, he finally seemed to relax a bit and turned to her with a small smile.

 

"Yes, they are good people."

 

She smiled as well, even as his disappeared again. She wondered if she should prompt him to share whatever was bothering him, or to wait for him to approach the subject on his own. For a moment, he just stared at her, and then he stepped up to his desk and picked up a letter that was lying there unfolded.

 

"I've had a letter from Georgiana."

 

Elizabeth frowned. A letter from Georgiana had troubled him so?

 

"Is she quite alright?"

 

"Yes... I mean, I don't know." 

 

He was staring at the letter. And then he held it up towards her, "Maybe you should read it for yourself."

 

Elizabeth walked over to his side of the desk and took the letter from him.

 

"Are you sure she wouldn't mind?"

 

"She won't", he replied, his face still overshadowed by lines of worry. She quickly turned her eyes to the letter in her hands.

 

Dear Fitzwilliam,

I hope you and Lizzie arrived at Pemberly safely. Let me congratulate you again brother, I am so extremely happy for you. And I'm rather happy for myself too, Lizzie is a wonderful sister.

 

My journey to Matlock has been really pleasant so far, we will be arriving there later today, and I am quite looking forward to seeing Aunt Violet. It's been so long since I saw her last and I regret that I rejected her previous invitation to spend the summer with her. But I will make the most of this visit now and not despair over the past.

 

Fitzwilliam, something happened in Hertfordshire of which I haven't told you. You were very busy and I think I would have found talking to you of this subject difficult then.

 

A few days ago, I was in the Longbourn garden with Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia, while you were gone to visit White Cottage. They had been telling me how thoughtful and kind you'd been and I felt rather proud of having a brother such as you. But then Miss Kitty said something along the lines of "Mr. Darcy is so kind, but how did the whole thing with Mr. Wickham come to be, I wonder."

 

Upon hearing that name, I am embarrassed to say, I was quite overcome by a multitude of emotions, and alarmed my companions greatly. Fearing for my health, they wanted to send for you or someone else from the house immediately, but I convinced them not to. And once I could speak, I told them everything, Fitzwilliam. I've been carrying this secret like a load, it had been weighing so heavy on me. I feared, beyond anything else, people finding out about what had happened and spurning me for it. But at that moment, I was so overcome with a need to warn the two of them against that man, that I didn't think of myself even once. And far from spurning me for it, the two were very outraged on my behalf. Miss Lydia called him some choice names that I know you wouldn't have approved of, brother, but I confess they made me feel much better. 

 

I won't apologize again for what happened in Ramsgate. It has already happened and no matter how much I may wish so, it can't be changed. Instead, I want to apologize once for my behavior since. I know it hurt you to see me unhappy, and my refusal to leave home and go anywhere else was also not reasonable. Just now I was thinking how I look forward to spending the next month in Matlock. I've loved visiting that house and Aunt Violet ever since I was little. Then why did I decide to deprive myself of this pleasure for so many months? What did I hope to achieve out of such behaviour? I've decided that it was rather silly of me and I plan on never being that silly again. So you can stop all your worrying about me and just be happy with Lizzie in Pemberly while I am away.

 

I look forward to seeing you both again. I'm excited that we will have Lizzie with us all the time now! If I'd known how happy having a sister would make me, I'd have forced you to marry years ago! 

 

I was also thinking, could we invite the Bennets to spend Christmas with us? None of them have ever been to Derbyshire and I'm sure Lizzie would like to see them as well.

 

Lovingly yours,

Georgiana Darcy.

 

Elizabeth looked up to see that he had been rereading the letter over her shoulder. He seemed so very upset, she did not fully understand this reaction to the letter. Slowly she stepped up to him and spoke, "Are you worried for her?"

 

"A little, yes." The look in his eyes, at once reminded her of the day in the Longbourn library, when they had first talked of this subject. She took another step closer to him and gently placed a hand on the side of his face.

 

"This is a good thing for her. She has decided to put the past behind her."

 

He nodded in response to her words, but his eyes stayed worried.

 

"Are you worried that she shared the details of what had happened with my sisters?"

 

He shook his head at once, "No, no. It seems to have done her good. And she is right. They should have been warned against him. And... It is her right, more than mine, who she decides to share this with."

 

Elizabeth slowly caressed his face, and waited. He took a deep breath and spoke in a clipped voice.

 

"I just can't let go of the anger sometimes." 

 

He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. She didn't need to ask who this anger was directed at, she guessed it was equal parts towards Wickham and himself. She knew her words couldn't do much to assuage his anger, so she just leaned her head against his chest and waited once more. Eventually she felt his shoulders relax, and he let out a long sigh. She looked up at him then and when she met his eyes, he spoke, "I know you said that is something I should try to let go of—"

 

"But it isn't always easy to do what we know we should do."

 

He simply looked at her, and she continued. "Georgiana needed her own time, and so do you. That is alright."

 

He nodded. Elizabeth was about to speak when a knock interrupted them. She stepped away from him at once, but he placed an arm around her waist and stood quite close to her as he called, "Come in."

 

Elizabeth turned to the door with a warm face, at this casual intimacy of their postures with which they were to greet the visitor. Mrs. Reynolds pushed the ajar door open and betrayed no surprise at her presence there, and spoke with a pleasant smile.

 

"Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy. I wanted to enquire where you would like the luncheon to be served today?"

 

Fitzwilliam turned to her expectantly and she replied to the housekeeper.

 

"The dining room would be alright, Mrs. Reynolds. In about half an hour."

 

"Very well, madam."

 

With a bow, she left them, closing the door carefully behind her.

 

Elizabeth turned to Fitzwilliam once more.

 

"You must write back to Georgiana."

 

"I will."

 

Elizabeth was satisfied to see his countenance had relaxed somewhat now.

 

"Do you feel proud of her, William?" She asked softly.

 

"Of course, I do. She has always been so remarkable, so kind and diligent. And in the face of... adversities, she was so very brave."

 

Elizabeth smiled at him, his adoration for his sister spilled forth so easily from him.

 

"Then you must tell her all that. Write to her and be honest."

 

"I will," he repeated, but with more warmth this time.

 

"I must write to her as well, and thank her for not making you marry years ago."

 

Finally, he smiled. And then bent down and placed a kiss upon her cheek.

 

"No, I don't think I could have married anyone else."

 

She smiled at him and replied, "Likewise."

 

And then she reached up and pressed her lips to his. He kissed her back softly and not so softly, and when they broke apart, they started at one another for a moment but then he dropped his eyes. Clearing his throat, he spoke, "Would you like to invite your family for Christmas? You think your mother would want to travel?"

 

"I can ask her. If she agrees, I'd love to have them."

 

He smiled once more, "Perfect."

 

Chapter Text

A sudden spell of rain prevented their venturing outside in the afternoon and they were forced to find distraction indoors. Elizabeth, of course, immediately suggested the library, so that is where they went. And though each of them held a book in their hands for most of the evening, a majority of their time was spent in conversation. Talking about books is afterall near as pleasurable as reading them. Fitzwilliam was more widely read than she was, and Elizabeth added a few of his recommendations to the long list she had written yesterday, which was now folded up and placed in one of the drawers of the library desk. Walking through the shelves, they did find themselves, on more than one occasion, stealing kisses and sideways glances. All in all, they spent a very delightful evening in the library, and Elizabeth was not at all regretful of the rain.

 

After dinner, their usual walk outdoors was not possible owing to the damp grounds.

 

"We could sit in the music room. Would you play something?" Fitzwilliam asked, as they lingered over dinner, trying to decide what to do with the remainder of their evening.

 

She agreed to his suggestion and soon found herself sitting at Georgiana's handsome instrument next to him.

 

"What would you like to hear?" she asked him.

 

He rifled through the music and then handed her a piece.

 

"Oh! This is one of my favourites! How did you know?"

 

"You played it once at Lucas Lodge, and sang it beautifully."

 

Elizabeth didn't remember the particular occasion but smiled at his compliment. Turning back to the piano, she began the familiar tune, and he took upon himself the responsibility of turning the pages for her. As she sang, she turned to him often, to find such distracting smiles upon his face, that she was sure her performance was affected. Nonetheless when she played the final note and turned to him, his smile was blinding. She wasn't able to admire it for long though, for she was at once enveloped in his arms and his lips were upon hers. And this was not one of those shy and delicate kisses they had shared in the library, his grip around her waist was tight, and his lips urgent. She was soon caught up in his passion, and ran her fingers through his hair, eliciting a quiet noise from him that emboldened her to press her body closer against him. He ran his hand up her back and upon reaching the exposed skin below her neck, he lightly ran a finger across the edge of her dress. She shivered at the touch and they at last broke apart. 

 

She tried to joke but her voice was much too breathless to have the same effect.

 

"None of my previous performances have ever met with such an ardourous response."

 

"You will get used to it."

 

"I hope not, soon we will probably have Georgiana sitting not a few feet away when I play."

 

At this, he blushed. Elizabeth laughed and placed a gentle kiss upon his cheek. Then she took a few moments fo calm her breathing before speaking.

 

"Come, tell me what shall we hear next?"

 

He picked out another song and thus their evening continued. She was even able to coax him into singing a duet, after which he declared that they'd had enough music for one evening.

 

As they walked towards their rooms, Fitzwilliam asked her, "Would you like to sleep in my room tonight?"

 

"If you wish so", she replied warmly.

 

He brought her hand up and placed a gentle kiss upon her knuckles. 

 

She excused herself at her door and made her way to her dressing room alone. She rang for Grace and having dressed in a night gown, she slowly made her way across her room and knocked. Fitzwilliam opened the door and she smiled up at him. He didn't return the smile, but instead pulled her into a long, lingering kiss as he slowly walked them deeper into the room. They didn't stop kissing until they reached his bed. There they climbed under the covers and Elizabeth found herself again stepping into that different world where none but the two of them existed. Just hands upon skin, lips upon lips, intermingled breaths, the building anticipation and then...

 

Elizabeth breathed in sharply as he entered her. There was something different about their lovemaking now, compared to the morning, but she couldn't put her finger on it. It seemed like there was almost a note of desperation in his voice as he whispered her name against her skin, over and over again.

 

Afterwards, he held her tight against his chest wordlessly, and she was happy to just stay tucked in against him this way. Time passed, and she knew she'd fall asleep soon. She looked up at him once and upon meeting his eyes, gave him a smile. He stared at her for moment and then spoke in a quite whisper. 

 

"Why are you so beautiful?"

 

Elizabeth blushed but tried to make light of it. "So that you may gaze upon me fondly."

 

Her teasing remark didn't have the desired effect. Instead of finding any amusement in it, he pulled her into another long kiss. Her breath caught at his urgency and she held onto him tighter. When the kiss ended, he gazed at her for a long while, running his fingers over the side of her face. And then he turned around and blew out the candles.

 

In the darkness, Elizabeth placed one last kiss upon his chest, over his heart and then within his arms, she quickly fell asleep.

 

--

 

When she woke up slowly, it was in the middle of the night. Her head still rested on Fitzwilliam's arm, but he wasn't holding her the way he had been when she had fallen asleep. It took her a moment to realize that he was slowly running his hand through her hair. She kept her eyes closed and let the last vestiges of the dream that had awoken her fade from her mind. It had been a dream she'd had many times before. The face of her father was still so vivid in her memory, as if she really had spent the past few minutes in his company in the Longbourn library as a girl of ten. It felt so real each time, never like a dream. And though try as she might, she couldn't help the sudden despair. She pushed the emotion back and when she opened her eyes, she found Fitzwilliam wide awake, staring at the ceiling. For a moment, she just looked at him, her eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness. Had something been troubing him since earlier? When she stirred, he turned to face her, lightly wrapping his arms around her once more.

 

"Elizabeth... Do you need anything?" He spoke in a whisper.

 

She shook her head and spoke in a whisper as well, "You didn't sleep?"

 

"I did. But then woke up a while ago."

 

"What were you thinking of?"

 

He didn't answer immediately. He brought one of his hands to the side of her face, and slowly caressed her cheek. "I was thinking... this is too good to be true."

 

His whispered words were so endearing, she felt a lump forming in her chest. She whispered back, "I was thinking that in the morning today too."

 

"You were?"

 

She nodded once. A slow smile spread across his face then, and she felt relieved. It seemed nothing had been bothering him afterall, maybe she just didn't know his moods well enough yet. 

 

His next words took her by surprise.

 

"I love you."

 

The lump in her throat seemed to grow until there were actual tears in her eyes, threatening to overflow. It took her a moment to be sure her voice would come out steady. 

 

"May I ask since when?"

 

He looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure... Maybe when you walked three miles to see your ailing sister... Or maybe when Sir Lucas offered you as a dance partner and you turned me down."

 

"That is a very long time ago."

 

"It is", he said simply.

 

Her voice wasn't as steady when she spoke next. "Can you hold me tighter?"

 

He obliged at once. He pulled her closer, one hand on the back of her head, the other around her waist. She tucked her head into his neck and breathed him in. 

 

"What's the matter?" He whispered carefully.

 

"I had a dream... about my father."

 

He ran his hand up and down her back, a gesture that reminded her of Jane. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed herself closer against him.

 

When she could speak again, she spoke softly, "I think I've been falling for you."

 

For a moment he seemed to be frozen, but then he spoke calmly, "It is fortunate then, that I'm already your husband."

 

She couldn't help but give a low laugh at that, but her laugh came out like half a sob. He continued to hold her tight.

 

"I thought you weren't going to come", she whispered.

 

"Where?"

 

"To Netherfield."

 

"But I did."

 

"Two months later."

 

"I... thought you'd need to mourn. I didn't want to impose."

 

She nodded once and then took her time to form her next words. "I thought... that you took pity on me... and then regretted making me an offer. I thought you'd never come to Netherfield."

 

His words came out hesitatingly, "You... You couldn't have thought me to be... to be so ungentlemanly."

 

At once, she was ashamed. Of course, he would never have done that. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking clearly."

 

"Shh... You don't have to be sorry about it. It's... It's my fault. I should have written, no matter the impropereity. I'm sorry I made you wait."

 

She let his soothing voice wash over her, but couldn't bring herself to respond. After a pause, she spoke, "I wish my father had gotten to know you better."

 

He squeezed her tighter as he replied, "I wish so too."

 

"Was it very hard when your parents...?"

 

He let out a sigh. "I was very young when my mother passed. And I had a new sister to love."

 

"And your father?"

 

He thought for a moment. "Yes... It was very hard."

 

She tried to tighten her grip around him, to comfort him as he had comforted her. He met her eyes and spoke calmly, "But it's better now. I'm better now."

 

Elizabeth couldn't hold back her tears any longer. "Will I get better?" she choked out.

 

"You will." His voice was comforting, so were his arms. So she cried herself to sleep on his shoulder and he held her tight all night.

 

Chapter Text

The dawn was breaking outside, when Darcy woke up. He opened his eyes and saw, like a dream, Elizabeth. Sleeping in his arms, her face relaxed, no traces of the tears from last night visible. So... beautiful.

 

'So that you may gaze upon me fondly', she had said last night. What a ridiculous idea! As if he could ever be deserving of so much beauty. He took a deep breath, and continued to look at her, patiently waiting for her to wake up.

 

When she did finally opened her eyes, squinting against the morning light, only a few minutes later, he couldn't help but smile.

 

"Good morning."

 

"How do you always wake up before me?" she complained sleepily.

 

He chuckled. "I am a responsible, disciplined man, Mrs. Darcy."

 

"Also very humble", she mumbled, slowly wrapping her arm around his neck. He smiled into her hair, happy at this simple display of her affection. A few moments later, she raised her eyes to his, no longer squinting.

 

"Good morning."

 

So... beautiful. He had to look away.

 

He ran his eyes across the room once and then slowly whispered.

 

"I used to think of you... here."

 

He looked back at her, but she was looking at him with confusion.

 

"I mean, back in the winter. After my return from Hertfordshire."

 

"But what would you think of?" Surprise apparent in her voice.

 

In response, he just stared into her eyes and then slowly ran his thumb across her hip. She gasped. 

 

And at once he regretted it. "I am sorry! I know it was wrong of me to think of you... that way, before..."

 

He dropped his eyes. Oh god! Why had he told her such a thing! She would think him a rake, a—

 

She giggled. He looked up at her in surprise. Her colour was raised, but she was most definitely laughing.

 

"You surprise me greatly, sir. And I used to think I was a lowly creature too beneath your notice."

 

Her words stirred up old, painful memories, but she was still smiling archly at him. She slowly ran a finger down his chest. "But you still haven't really told me, what would you think of?"

 

He closed his eyes and caught her hand, stopping the sweet torture of her teasing touch. He was getting distracted. If she was falling for him, he had tell her first.

 

"I have a confession to make."

 

He could hear her smile in her words as she spoke. "A worse one than the one you just made?"

 

He opened his eyes and one look into them, made the smile freeze on her face. "What is it?" she asked, with a concerned voice.

 

"When we were in Kent..."

 

"Yes..."

 

"I eavesdropped on a conversation."

 

Her eyebrows shot up. "You? Eavesdropping? Upon whom?"

 

He was too embarrassed to look at her, as he told her this. He dropped his eyes again and spoke, "I was walking in the trees, between the park and the parsonage, and I heard you and Mrs. Collins talking."

 

"About?"

 

"Me."

 

She did not reply to that, so he had to look up. She was staring at him wide eyed, looking absolutely aghast. Then at once, she started speaking hurriedly, "What did I say? No, no! Don't tell me! It must have been something horrid! Oh god!"

 

He was still holding her hand and he squeezed it. "No, you only spoke the truth."

 

But she was shaking her head, and to his great horror, it seemed like she had tears in her eyes. "You have to forget everything I said, William. Please, please."

 

He grabbed her hurriedly and pulled her closer. "No, no, Elizabeth! Listen to me. There was no lie in anything you spoke!"

 

She was still shaking her head, looking so terribly upset. He placed his hand on the side of her face and turned her face towards him.

 

"My behavior in front of you and your friends and family last year, was every bit as rude and arrogant as you claimed. I insulted you most abominably not a few minutes after we'd met. And even as I heard you speak all those words in Rosings, my first reaction wasn't to look back upon my own behaviour and to find fault with myself, but to push all blame towards Wickham, for painting me a villian in your eyes. Arrogant to the last."

 

She shook her head again, but thankfully she was more calm when she spoke. "I told myself that your opinion of me didn't matter, but still I let one careless comment from you take a hold in my mind. When Wickham told me his tale, I was only too eager to believe everything bad about you. And why? Just because you'd hurt my vanity. I was so foolish."

 

"But my behavior had given you no proof to the contrary, Lizzie. I did, as much as it hurts me to accept it now, believe myself above the company in Hertfordshire, even before I'd actually met anyone. And then... when I did find myself getting attached to you, what did I do? I ran away, hiding myself here in Pemberly."

 

She replied slowly, "I thought you left for London to keep..."

 

"Charles away from Jane? Yes, that's what Caroline wanted, but my reasons were more selfishly motivated. But I did... I did tell Charles that I believed Jane indifferent to him."

 

Upon hearing this, her demeanor changed at once. Her eyes flashed at him and she exclaimed, "You what?!"

 

He knew he deserved every bit of the ire she would now direct towards him. He steeled his nerves and replied.

 

"In London, while Caroline and Louisa droned on about the impropereity of the match, the difference in circumstances–" Elizabeth looked away from him, but he saw her clearly clench her jaw and take a deep breath. He faltered but pushed himself to continue. "When Charles applied to me, to ask if I agreed with his sisters, I told him what at that point I believed to be the truth. That I had observed no special regard for him in Jane's behaviour, but if he were to make her an offer, the difference in circumstances would induce her to accept. And this discouraged him enough."

 

Elizabeth wasn't looking at him still. He waited for a response but none came. In his trepidation, he began speaking again, without even thinking about his words.

 

"In regards to myself, I'd always been expected to marry somebody with connections and influence. And I thought you, your family... would not suit. So I sought to break all connection from you. Coming home to Pemberly, I believed would make me forget. But, it didn't. For months, I couldn't stop thinking of you, you dogged my every step. I saw you everywhere, in the halls, in the grounds, in the library, here in my bed... until I thought I was going insane. I went to Kent, and I thought if I saw you again, I'd know... I'd just know."

 

He took a deep shuddering breath, thinking back to those dark months. Elizabeth seemed to be frozen, eyes focused away from him, face unreadable.

 

"I knew I should have told you all this, when I asked for you hand—"

 

"No."

 

Her sudden reply took him aback. "No?"

 

"If you'd told me all this then, I may have rejected you."

 

She'd have rejected him? Of course, she would have! The possibility of her refusal had been easier to accept all those months ago when he had first made his offer. But now... now that she was here in Pemberly, now that she was his wife... the thought was unbearable. A wave of pain went through his chest, worse than any he had experienced during the long months of their separation. If his foolishness had prevailed, she wouldn't be here.

 

Would she be angry at him now? For hiding the truth? For allowing her to believe him a better man than he was, when she accepted him? Would she now turn away from him?

 

She let out a long sigh and then slowly leaned in and placed her forehead against his chest. "Yes, I would've been angry, and then I wouldn't be here now."

 

He didn't know what this meant. He stayed frozen, waiting for her to continue.

 

"What changed? Why did you offer for me? I have no connections and no influence."

 

Her voice was not angry, just unfathomable. He couldn't do anything but reply with as much honesty as he could.

 

"When I met you in Rosings, it quickly became apparent to me, that it couldn't be... It could never be anyone else. It had to be you. And whatever expectations I'd be defying just weren't as important anymore. But then I heard your conversation, and I decided to leave—"

 

Her head shot up. "Leave?"

 

He met her wide eyes, and spoke softly. "How could I stay after realising what you thought of me? I thought I'd go see you in the park, or at the parsonage one last time and then I'd never seek you out again. But then..." He paused.

 

"My father..."

 

"Yes..."

 

Elizabeth went silent, seeming lost in her own thoughts. He longed to reach out and embrace her, to hold her close like last night, to tell her how he loved her, that he'd do anything to earn her forgiveness, but he couldn't. She deserved to consider all this and make up her own mind without distraction. So he waited.

 

"Did you make Charles return to Netherfield?" she asked with a frown.

 

"I told him the truth that I'd been mistaken about Jane. That she had been in London and had called upon his sisters, and I had not informed him of it. And that I had learnt recently that she had, in fact, cared for him."

 

"How could you have learnt that?"

 

"You and Mrs. Collins talked about it."

 

"And what did he say?"

 

"He didn't say anything for a while. I'd never seen him so angry. I thought he was going to throw me out of the house, and his life probably."

 

She stayed silent for a while and then asked, "Is there anything else?"

 

He quickly thought back, if there was anything he hadn't already revealed. 

 

"Uh... I asked Richard to warn you against Wickham."

 

She looked exasperated now, and let out a deep breath. "Why didn't you do it yourself?"

 

"I was worried that you wouldn't believe me."

 

She stared at him with a frown between her eyes, for a while. And then quite suddenly, she again leaned in closer, rested her head upon his chest, placed his arm around her waist and her own around his neck. He waited for her to ask something, or say something, but she didn't. Instead, he could just feel her taking in long, deep breaths. Tentatively, he tightened his arms around her. She didn't object. When he pulled her closer, she only settled herself more comfortably against him.

 

"Aren't you angry at me?" he whispered, desperately, trying to understand what this meant, trying to understand her.

 

"What do I have to have to be angry about?" she replied, in an almost tired voice.

 

He could list quite a few things, actually. But she continued speaking before he could.

 

"So you made some mistakes, and then you tried your best to fix them." She took a deep breath and then continued in a kind voice that he hadn't been expecting. "You aren't perfect, William. And neither am I. I'm sure we will make plenty of mistakes in the future and we can be angry about them then. But what's the point of being angry now, about things that are already in the past." 

 

And then she looked up at him, and asked quite simply, "Do we have to think of all this? Can't we just go back to sleep?"

 

"We can, of course", he replied, overwhelmed that indeed she wasn't angry, that she wasn't turning away from him, that she had, quite willingly, already returned to his arms.

 

"And you will stay here with me?" 

 

"Always"

 

And then he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.