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The initial five months of her marriage were the happiest months of her entire life. In the evenings, she and her dearest Wickham laid together as man and wife, ate the finest foods, and drank the finest wines. Their lodgings were elegant, lavishly furnished. She felt so complete as a soldier’s wife, so complete that she wondered why all women did not marry at sixteen. Indeed, she knew not why her sisters and family had been so upset by her elopement! It had indeed turned out in the grandest of ways. If an elopement brought such happiness, surely it could not be wrong, or ruinous. She would never apologize for chasing her one true love. Lydia was so incandescently happy she thought she might die.

****

The first to run out was the money used to bribe her dearest Wickham into marrying her, although she did not realize it at the time. Blinded by love and her husband’s handsome face, she stayed willfully ignorant to everything outside of her immediate view.

They moved to more modest lodgings, with no servant for themselves but a maid for the entire building. It was an apartment, but it was more than enough, she insisted to herself whenever the roof leaked or the neighbors yelled frightfully as they fought. Lydia tried to avoid her husband’s watchful eyes as she wrote four letters, one for each sister, asking for ‘just a bit of pin money, please.’ It was normal, after all, to ask one’s family for help. Lydia did not understand why her hands shook a bit as she signed Love, Mrs. Wickham. She had loved being a bride, although perhaps she did not love being a wife.

She watched her husband read over the letters to approve of their contents, and with a bit of anxiety, she realized that she could no longer speak freely to her own family. But it was no matter, Lydia told herself, Wickham was simply interested in her thoughts. That was it.

****

Her world came crashing down in short order. If you asked her sisters, they all would have predicted it, although Jane and Kitty more kindly than Lizzie and Mary. Lydia felt foolish that she did not see it before.

Her dearest Wickham did not love her. It took her just over a year of marriage for that to come to light. Lydia - pregnant and exhausted - wept like a child when he bitterly whispered how much he resented her, how much he loathed her. They had been fighting over money once again, and as always it ended with him storming out of their modest lodgings to go find a drink or another woman; she clung to his coat, begging him to stay home, begging him to talk to her, to let her fix things. He shook her off, and she hit the floor with a thud.

She cradled her stomach and thought that perhaps a son would be enough of an apology for failing as a wife.

****

The shock of it all wore off by the time her child was born. A girl, a burden as her dearest Wickham would call her. Sarah Wickham. She gave birth in Longbourn, her mama and Kitty by her side, holding her hands as the midwife instructed her on pushing. Her husband was nowhere to be found, at one of the pubs in town, most likely. Lydia preferred it that way, almost, she did not want to see his face when he discovered it was not the son he had hoped for. Yet when her father gave her the disappointed look, her mama’s pitiful one to match, and when Kitty ran back to Mary, who she had grown awfully close with, Lydia felt desperately alone.

She privately spoke to her mama later that week, pleading with her to take Sarah so that Wickham wouldn’t hate their child, wouldn’t see her as a mouth to feed with his meager soldier salary. She knew that even that meager pittance would disappear one day, Lydia knew that he would be forced out, felt it in her bones like some old woman by the sea. Although he was able to maintain his charming demeanor in public, she watched him slip more and more at home. He drank too much to be sure. It would be the ruin of their barely blooming lives together.

She could tell that mama nearly agreed to her request, but her father denied her this wish, and six days later, she and her little family went back to their sad corner of the country to live on borrowed money and stolen happiness.

****

Another few months passed and every night she listened as Wickham arrived home from wherever it was he went, complaining again and again about Colonel Hunt. If he was to be believed (which he was not) then Colonel Hunt was perhaps the most unfair, strict, and stodgy colonel ever seen by Her Majesty’s Army. Lydia was bitterly glad that her husband was receiving some form of discipline, even if it angered him endlessly. This Colonel quickly became Lydia’s favorite character in her husband’s ramblings, his punishments, his stern eyes. It made her giggle into her hands whenever Wickham moaned about actually having to work.

But it was also not a good thing - she was certain that Colonel Hunt’s ire would be the very thread to unravel her tentatively stable life. With the surety of an eighteen year old girl with no proper education, Lydia Wickham decided she would take matters into her own hands, for she could not bear the thought of starving on the streets when her family finally decided to forsake her.

****

It was unorthodox. Improper. Scandalous to be sure. If Wickham found out... Lydia knew he would tear the house up a fright, she wondered if he would slap her again as he had once before when all four of her sisters denied them any funding a few months prior.

Still, even that fear could not stop her mission. Lydia approached Colonel Hunt at one of the assemblies and asked if she could speak with him in private. She was shining that night, her bright eyes and rouged cheeks making her look all the more fetching. The Colonel had been a fearsome thing, taller than Wickham, broad and barrel chested with a shock of bright red hair. His eyes were dark and his face was dotted with freckles and almost imperceptible scars. But she was not frightened of a red haired soldier in a handsome uniform. Even if he looked at her like she was some spector come to haunt him.

He had been alone, and they had only been introduced once eight months earlier, but Lydia Wickham was nothing if not bold. Colonel Hunt eyed her carefully as she approached, and he asked if her husband knew what she was up to.

“La!” she replied with a giggle, “What is a few words between a married woman and her husband’s commanding officer?” Lydia giggled once again for good measure. Then Colonel Hunt let out a barking chuckle, and he followed her into the next room, carefully watching to ensure no eyes were on the two of them.

****

She quickly and quietly told him of Sarah, and begged him for understanding of Wickham’s temperament. She begged him to not remove him from the regiment. He had looked at her peculiarly, and she almost thought she ruined everything, but then the burly man nodded in assent. Lydia briefly saw pity in his eyes, and she wanted to scream. She was not begging for pity, but understanding. (She did not yet understand how often those two came together in situations like her own). But she was most of all relieved.

He gave her a comforting smile, one that reminded her of Mr. Darcy. “Mrs. Wickham, I must say I appreciate your candor. Most of the officer’s wives won’t even look me in the eyes. You’re a brave little thing, foolish, but brave. I will keep this in mind, I give you my word.”

****

Wickham discovered her brave but foolish actions nonetheless. She had wanted to believe that the single passionate slap so many months earlier had been an accident, a crime of heightened senses and too much whiskey, but she was wrong. He had been drinking that night, as he always was, and he hit her hard enough for her to see stars. Lydia begged him to stop. Begged him to understand that she knew she overstepped, begged him to forgive her. But begging was not enough. She had humiliated him, emasculated him, made him look weak to his own superior officer. Lydia deserved any anger he felt for her.

The next morning, he was apologetic, sweet and tender with herself and Sarah. He kissed her bruises and played with the baby before going off to work. She nearly swooned in delight, thinking that he had come to his senses, saw that she had just been trying to help. Lydia saw the man she had risked everything for, saw his kind green eyes and curling smile. She kissed him and laughed with him, delighted by his honeyed words. Their marriage was salvageable, they could be happy together again, they had a beautiful future coming. Lydia was sure of it.

That night when he came home smelling of drink and swearing at her like nothing had happened, she nearly begged him to hit her again, if only to get back the man from that morning.

****

When Colonel Hunt saw her next, a fortnight later, with her split lip still healing and her hands shaking from the touch of her husband, she saw something dark cross his eyes before disappearing promptly. If she was two years younger, she would have swooned and imagined that he cared for her.

****

When Sarah turned three, Wickham simply forgot, but Colonel Hunt came to visit with a small gift. It was a little cake from the confectioner, he shyly gave it to her daughter, looking comical as he did. Lydia blushed at the handsome officer, thinking about how fine it would be to dance with him or flirt, but she knew that such things were no longer proper. She was a woman of twenty now, not a little girl.

“Colonel, won’t you please stay for dinner?” Lydia asked as she walked him to the door, wishing with all of her heart that he would say yes and stay just a little longer. Her voice was nearly begging. She wanted to tell Kitty all about her thoughts, but she knew Kitty would not approve.

“Perhaps next time, Mrs. Wickham.” He replied warmly, but that was what he said every time he left. She liked to pretend that next time would come.

****

They were transferred to Northumberland for two years, and Bath a year later. It seemed Colonel Hunt always took her Wickham along with him when the transfers went through. Lydia pretended that she didn’t know it had everything to do with her begging and tears. She pretended that it was because Colonel Hunt cared for her.

****

It came in the winter of the year of her twenty-fourth birthday (most bad news comes in the cold). Wickham had been forced out of his position in the army due to his many debts, his stagnation in his post, and too many other reasons to count. Lydia foresaw it months ahead of time, she had been warned by Colonel Hunt after all. He had tried to maintain Wickham as long as he could for his family’s sake, for Lydia’s sake, but the debts were widely known, and there was no way to avoid it.

Hunt had taken their family along during more than one transfer to a different regiment, but there was only so long that he could defend his choice to maintain someone as useless as her husband. So in the months leading up, Lydia squirrelled away little bits and pieces here and there from her sister’s letters. Letters that told of much better lives than her own.

In the spring Mary would be giving birth. Kitty’s husband was recently given a position as the clergyman of a larger rectory and their lodgings had grown in size, perfect for their growing family. Jane still struggled with her inability to carry a child to term, but Mr. Bingley was hopeful. Lizzie had just birthed her third. Their letters spoke of true love and romance novels. Lydia fed them to the fire if they did not come with money. She had no time for romantic drivel, she only had time to beg. Reading the letters made her sad, so sad that she thought she would die.

Wickham disappeared after he was given his letter of termination, for nearly two months. Lydia waited alone in their apartment with Sarah as debt collectors knocked on their door. Her daughter was old enough to begin understanding things like debt, hunger, her father’s anger and resentment. Lydia loathed watching her learn such things. It soured her to the world and made her bitter. Six was too young to know of such things.

But Colonel Hunt came by with parcels of food prepared by his housekeeper, toys for Sarah, and once, just once... a single blue ribbon for Lydia’s hair. She wore it every day, even as she and Sarah were evicted from their lodgings and put in a carriage to go back to Longbourn. Lydia wanted to beg him to come with her, but that was a fool’s wish.

****

Her husband found her at Longbourn that summer, as she knew he would. He had hid until the Darcys had paid off his debts, hid until the wronged shopkeepers and women forgot about him. Her father and mama would not have them stay in their house, or at least her father would not have it, so they chose to go to London instead. Really, Lydia hated her father for casting them out into the very hedgerows her mama had once fretted about.

Wickham watched her with resentment in his eyes, he told her often and loudly how he blamed her for their misfortune, how it was her fault that her sisters would not give them more money. She begged to differ, although she did not dare speak the words out loud.

****

Wickham was given a job at one of her Uncle Gardiner’s warehouses, loading and unloading. It was grueling labor with meager pay. He thought of it as beneath him, he sneered at the work, but he did it nonetheless. He had to fund his need to drink and gamble. Lydia started doing a bit of extra work as a seamstress’s assistant so they could have finer lodgings than his pay could afford. It was demeaning, humiliating, but Lydia pretended she was above it all. When her sisters discovered her work they seemed far more willing to send her charity after that, although she felt it was a bit too late for their pity.

****

Life in London was dull and grey. Lydia watched Sarah grow to be eleven years old. Either as a mercy or punishment from God, she was not sure, Lydia lost every child that quickened, and she did not bear Wickham a son. He grew disinterested in laying with her as she grew thinner and older. She giggled less and gave him compliments less and less with each passing year. The two faded into the familiar indifference she saw between her own parents. It filled her with relief to know that his straying eye and poor treatment did not hurt her as it once did. Sometimes, when Wickham was asleep and she was feeling dangerous, she longed for the familiar companionship of James Hunt and his shock of red hair.

****

She went to visit Kitty and Jane the most out of her sisters. Kitty with her pious clergyman of a husband in their tidy little rectory, her three daughters and baby son. Whenever she was there, she watched Sarah play with her cousins and pick flowers in the rectory garden. It was peaceful, the times that Lydia spent with her favorite sister. Kitty was different as a married woman, but Lydia found that she did not mind as much as she thought she would.

It did hurt to visit Derbyshire and not see Lizzie, even though Pemberley was so close to Kitty.

To dull the ache she would go thirty miles further North to visit Jane and Charles in their now bustling manor - they had their twins on their tenth year of marriage, after half a dozen lost pregnancies and one born too soon to survive. The perfectly gorgeous Bingley babies with their blonde hair and big blue eyes.

Lydia recalled screaming into her pillow when the letter bearing news of Jane’s birth reached her in London, she screamed because she was so angry that all of her sisters had ended up happy, far happier than her. Jane’s barren womb had almost been a comfort to Lydia, knowing she was not the most miserable. She screamed because she so utterly despised herself that she begged God to strike her down - dead for her wickedness.

Jane never resented her for her unkindness, never blamed her for her stupidity or foolishness with Wickham, so Lydia got over her childish anger quickly. The first time she held little William and Francine Bingley in her arms, she was so happy for her dearest Jane that she burst into tears. Jane had simply kissed her forehead and asked if she wanted tea.

****

There were moments of stolen happiness in the first thirteen years of her marriage, Lydia could see that. She could recall the joy of visiting Kitty twice a year and the laughter shared with Lizzie on Christmas. The way she felt holding Jane’s children. Lydia even felt happy when she and Mary shared a look of fond exasperation when Mary’s daughter begged Sarah for a piggyback ride one Michaelmas.

The feelings were always shattered when she felt Wickham’s hand on her shoulder or heard his demand for her to fetch him something. The feelings were shattered more when she would watch Jane’s face morph in concern for her wellbeing, to see Kitty blush in embarrassment when Wickham did something uncouth, to watch Mary sneer whenever his back was turned, to see Lizzie’s unbridled hatred. Her happiness was dashed to see how her choices hurt her family, to see how they resented her more than anything in their lives. They would never tell her that, not since her apologies all those years earlier when she begged for forgiveness.

She didn’t realize that the only person who had yet to forgive her after so long was herself.

****

In the springtime, shortly after Sarah entered her teen years, Lydia saw James Hunt for the first time in nearly six years. He was walking with a cane and a small child in a Cheapside park, and Lydia felt her heart break. Of course he had married since his retirement four years earlier. She was a fool to think that a man in his early forties would remain unmarried forever. Sarah had nearly broken away from Lydia to run to him, but her daughter was learning from Aunt Gardiner how to be a proper lady, so she refrained. Lydia almost wished her daughter was more wild, more willful, wished that Sarah had run to the man that Lydia used to picture late at night when she felt so alone. It was obvious that he loved the red haired little girl he walked with, that he was a good father.

That night when Wickham returned home long after dark, Lydia wished for the millionth time that she had not made the mistake of running away with him, wished she had not eloped for a foolish romance that barely constituted anything. She wished that she had been smarter, less of an idiot. There was nothing she could do anymore, so she slept stiffly next to her drunk husband, and begged the indifferent stars above for a better tomorrow.

****

Wickham ignored his wife and child like they did not exist at all. Sarah never seemed to care - after all, she spent most of her time with the Gardiner family while Lydia was off working, cleaning, or preparing their household meals. Sometimes, Lydia resented him for it, wished he would just disappear and leave them be forever. If he drank too much, he screamed at the two of them. If he had a bad day at work, or an awful night of gambling, he would back Lydia into a corner and try to frighten her. On his worst days, she received a slap or two. She would bruise at times or have a split lip, but he never went farther.

Sometimes she would eye the knives as she cooked their meager fare, and she would think dark thoughts. She imagined she would sink it into his neck if he ever touched Sarah. She imagined him dead and gone for good. She would put all of her anger and resentment into each stab, one for seducing her at sixteen. One for hitting her when her sisters refused her any money. One for calling Sarah a burden. One for spitting on her when she begged him to gamble less. One for calling her a whore. One for the time he told her he wished she would die so he could marry an heiress. Two for the time she awoke to see his bloodshot eyes hovering above her, his hands on her neck squeezing ever so slightly, like he was convincing himself to do something awful. She shuddered at that particular memory.

Lydia looked at her husband like a stranger. He was a stranger. She knew he wanted her Uncle Gardiner to let him into a management position at one of his warehouses, so he could stop toiling away with manual labor. She knew her Uncle Gardiner would die before giving Wickham any such position or raise. She worried he would hurt her family. She worried more and more that he would eventually hurt Sarah. Their daughter was the only leverage he had over her.

****

Lydia would sit in the park with Sarah to watch for Major Hunt (although she supposed it was likely that he had raised in rankings, supposed that he was Mr. Hunt now). Her daughter would try painting or drawing like Kitty did so often, or she would read her books like Lizzie and Mary, or she would muse about the beauty of the day like Jane. Sometimes she saw him, always walking with a little girl. Once, she saw him walking with a blonde woman. They were the perfect family, lovely and happy. She wondered if he would even recognize her if they saw each other face to face. She wondered if he would recognize the blue ribbon she still wore once a week.

****

George Wickham died two weeks after their fifteenth wedding anniversary. An accident in the warehouse. A large stack of wooden boxes carrying rolls of fabric had collapsed, and he had been caught beneath them. He was drunk, or so his fellow workers claimed. She could believe it. Lydia often saw him go into work, still drunk from the night before, bleary eyed and stinking of whiskey. Sarah did not cry, and neither did Lydia. The two simply sat in silence, staring at each other. Nearly half of her life had been spent with George Wickham. They had married just after she turned sixteen. Fifteen years of marriage. She was only one and thirty, but she felt ancient.

Her daughter, nearing the age of fourteen, was only two years younger than Lydia had been when George had lured her away. It made Lydia sick to imagine her bright, kind, sensible daughter married to a man more than thirteen years her senior. It made her sick to imagine why on earth her mama had been excited that her daughter of six and ten was married. Lydia wrote to Jane and Lizzie, wrote to Kitty and Mary. Wrote to her parents. The letters were short, and Lydia’s hand did not shake. She sent them and went to her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner that night with Sarah. They regarded her cautiously, waiting for signs of tears or upset. They asked if she needed help putting together a wardrobe for mourning. Lydia accepted their kindness, and asked if Sarah could stay with them for that night while she got George’s things in order. They were safe and kind, and Lydia loved them more than her own parents.

That night, Lydia drank Wickham’s whiskey and sang songs she had heard on the docks. She threw his things into bins to donate to the poorhouses. Their little lodgings felt huge. Their meager belongings felt like furnishings fit for a king. Lydia finally cried, but they were tears of joy. Not for the first time, she begged God to forgive her. She was happy he was dead.

Lydia was free.

****

Lizzie and Jane came to London to stay in their fine townhouses with their husbands and children shortly after. Jane and Mr. Bingley, the best of people, the kindest members of the Bennet family, offered to let herself and Sarah stay with them indefinitely. For as long as she liked. Lizzie, the mother of five children, just like their mama, was far too busy for such charity for her least favorite sister. Lydia understood that, and she did not want to impose on Mr. Darcy, who looked at her with disgust and Sarah with a sad longing for the person that George Wickham once was.

She briefly imagined never seeing Major Hunt again, and her heart broke a little, to be so far away in the north with her sister, but she had survived years without him, longer apart than together. He was married, happily, with a little girl. She likely never even crossed his mind. So she accepted Jane and Mr. Bingely’s offer, and imagined how grand it would be to live so close to Kitty too.

****

The Darcy family had two dinner parties while they were in town. Colonel Fitzwilliam, retired, had insisted upon the first. The gentleman in question was a favorite of Lydia’s due to his jovial nature, and she enjoyed his wife Beatrice just as much for the same reasons. She had asked the Colonel about Major Hunt a week earlier, to find out he had retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, and he was living on the edge of Cheapside, just barely in a more fashionable district. She tried to be happy for James Hunt, but her heart ached instead.

****

The second dinner party had Lydia in the finest dress she had worn in years. It was a mourning gown from Lizzie, beautifully made and black. Lydia was delighted to discover that it was growing tight on her. She had been so dreadfully thin for a decade and a half. Her hips and breasts were filling out again, her face was no longer gaunt. The rich foods her sisters fed her, along with her no longer wishing to remain thin to lower her chances of falling with child, allowed her to gain the weight she so desperately needed. She did not rouge her cheeks, and just like they did as children, Jane came early to the Darcy townhouse and styled her hair herself. Lydia felt like a queen.

Sarah had smiled at her, content with missing the ball to spend time with her other younger cousins, and told her she was beautiful. Lydia wondered what she did to deserve such a child. Her daughter was everything that she had not been as a girl. Even her sisters commended her for raising such a child, although she knew that her Aunt Gardiner deserved most of the praise. Lydia went downstairs in the elegant townhouse, marveling at how her life had changed so much for the better after her husband died. She hadn’t been to a single party in years, and now she was in the Darcy townhouse, having her second dinner party in a month.

This dinner party was larger than the last, and as the guests arrived, she wondered how many people would be arriving. Lydia flitted around, introducing herself and feeling like a teenager again. Just as her heart was set to burst, she heard Beatrice Fitzwilliam call her name to come meet some friends of hers. In her excitement, and barely paying attention until she reached them, Lydia found herself face to face with Lieutenant Colonel Hunt and his wife.

Her mouth was dry as she stared at the man of her dreams, another woman on his arm. He smiled so brightly at her she thought he was the sun. Lydia barely heard Beatrice Fitzwilliam proudly proclaim them to be, “Lieutenant Colonel Hunt, and his sister by law, the recently widowed Anne Hunt.”

****

She danced with James Hunt two times that night, even though there were only six reels after dinner, he was slow due to a battle injury leaving him to use a cane for most things, and they dined next to one another. He explained how his older brother had passed away, leaving the townhouse just outside of Cheapside and country estate in Dorset to himself. Although he had promised his brother’s widow and his niece that he would care for them for as long as they needed him. He now was worth three thousand a year, and although he was a landowner, he also dabbled in trade when in town, he didn’t care for fashion, he said.

Lydia was awestruck. He had never married. He was a wonderful man who cared for his family. A good, honorable man, and he had never married. His sister by law was kind, shy, and talked only of her little girl, Rebecca. Lydia found that she got along with the woman of seven and twenty famously. And whenever her eyes fell on Lieutenant Colonel Hunt, she found he was watching her too.

****

She moved to Whitetree Manor with Jane and Mr. Bingley. Every week Lydia found herself writing to Anne Hunt, with a letter included for Lieutenant Colonel Hunt as well. Every time she signed her letters with a flourish, she tasted possibility in the air, and Lydia found herself hoping for the first time in fifteen years.

****

Two days after her period of mourning ended officially, Jane announced that they would be visiting Pemberley, and what’s more, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Beatrice would be there - along with their dear friend Lieutenant Colonel Hunt. Lydia nearly fainted from excitement.

****

It was not all perfect. Her mama and father were at Pemberley - their father’s failing health allowing him to beg as many excuses as possible to stay in Pemberley’s extensive library. Lydia avoided them for the three days leading up to Hunt’s arrival. She noticed that even Sarah avoided her own grandparents, and a part of her was glad that her daughter understood her feelings, but the other part of her was sad that her daughter was forced to make such choices at all. Sarah was far too old at four and ten.

****

Lieutenant Colonel Hunt did not hesitate to ask Lydia for her hand in marriage. He had been in Pemberley for only five days of his two week visit, and everyone had decided upon a walk. Their mama had been holding Lydia’s arm, rambling about how kind and generous her sisters were, telling her that she would never need to fear the hedgerows, as Jane and Lizzie would always care for her. After all, her mama reasoned, Lydia was far too old and ruined for a second marriage, so she had to rely upon her sisters until Sarah married well.

Lydia had tensed at the implication that Sarah would marry any time soon. Thankfully, Lieutenant Colonel Hunt interrupted smoothly with a, “Mrs. Bennet, I hope you do not mind, but I have not gotten to catch up with Mrs. Wickham in over seven years, and I was wondering if I could ask for her company on this lovely afternoon stroll about Pemberley.”

Her mama had easily relented her arm and gone to join Sarah, Bennet, Madeline, Thomas, Charlotte, Cecilia, Francine, and William, as well as the Fitzwilliam children, Ewan and Ellen. Mrs. Bennet doted upon her grandchildren, especially Jane’s twins. The group walked with the grandchildren leading the way, followed by Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, Jane and Mr. Bingley, Beatrice and Colonel Fitzwilliam, and in the rear, Lydia and Lieutenant Colonel Hunt. After the first half an hour, Lydia realized that they were beginning to lag far behind. In an uncharacteristically shy way, Lydia found herself too nervous to talk.

“Mrs. Wickham,” Hunt started, breaking the silence for the both of them, “may I ask if you are still mourning your husband - not in society, but privately? My brother’s widow has been without him for two years and it seems that she will never stop missing him, I daresay she misses Henry more than I do. And… well I suppose I could not bear the thought of your suffering.”

“I have never mourned George Wickham for even a moment, if I may be honest with you.” Lydia admitted, and she paused, thinking of the brave girl she once was. She took a deep breath and continued “And if I may be so bold, I mourned the loss of you far more. The thought of never seeing you again filled me with agony. When I thought… when I thought that Anne was your wife, and that Henrietta was your child… I thought I was going to die at the sight.”

“Why is that, Mrs. Wickham?” he asked, although his eyes told her that he knew the answer.

“Because I have loved you for the last decade of my life, and I knew you would never love me in return,” she replied breathlessly.

“You’re a brave little thing, Lydia Wickham. Foolish but brave,” he whispered, echoing their first private conversation. Her heart stuttered.

“Why foolish, Lieutenant Colonel?”

“Because I have loved you for just as long, and I came here to Pemberley for the express purpose of asking for your hand in marriage - if you’ll have an old soldier like myself.”

James Hunt kissed her that day on the lawn of Pemberley, and Lydia was so incandescently happy she thought she might die. Only this time, it was for the right man.

****

Her papa tried to convince James that she was an unfit choice of bride when he asked him for permission, and James had laughed in his face and told him that he had been unaware that Lydia even had a father, given how absent he had been for her whole life. Lydia loved her bold fiance, and James got permission in short order. Sarah broke down into tears when she received the news, she was so happy that James Hunt would be her father for the rest of her life.

****

Her second wedding took place in Dorset in late autumn, with all of her family in attendance. James smiled at her and told her she was the perfect bride. Lydia cried several times during the wedding and James wiped each tear from her cheek. Kitty giggled with glee. Mary gave her her blessing, telling her that James Hunt was the ideal groom. Lizzie was proud of her. Jane was as supportive as she always was. At two and thirty, Lydia realized that her life was just beginning.

****

She and James had only one child. A boy named Oliver Hunt. He was good and kind. Lydia remained loud and shrill, brave and foolish, she giggled and gossiped. She was loving and fierce, and James Hunt was her soulmate.

She lived happily ever after.

 

(The End)