hyacinth: guess what i heard
benedict: there’s no point in guessing you’ll tell us anyway
hyacinth: you’re no fun
gregory: *spongebob meme* yOuR nO fUn
benedict: more fun than anthony
Anthony: Hey I am VERY fun! The MOST fun! Just ask Kate! Especially during mini golf!
gregory: dont grammar police me el
Eloise: i wouldn’t if you used proper grammar, greggie
Daphne: Mini Golf is not fun. It is LIFE.
hyacinth: *stanley rolling eyes gif*
hyacinth: *a 10 is speaking meme with hyacinth’s own selfie*
colin: *gordon ramsay facepalm*
Daphne: Hyacinth, what happened?
Eloise: is this the thing about Pen?
colin: what thing about Pen?
gregory: he spks that new
hyacinth: STOP STEALING MY THUNDER
hyacinth: I SAID IT FIRST
benedict: you haven’t said anything
Anthony: Also stop yelling, it’s unbecoming.
hyacinth: YOU’RE UNBECOMING
hyacinth: PENELOPE FEATHERINGTON IS ENGAGED
Daphne: ??????? When did that happen?
benedict: when the fuck was she dating anyone
Eloise: hey don’t be rude!
Eloise: also yeah i heard the same thing but it’s probably a rumor
Eloise: she hasn’t responded to my text yet
Colin: so she’s not engaged?
Eloise: no idea
Eloise: why does it matter?
benedict: yeah why does it matter colin?
greg: yeah colin y
Daphne: I would like to know too.
Colin: no reason
Colin’s phone continues to blow up with messages - a constant vibration against the hotel desk - but he’s pointedly chosen to ignore his siblings.
And besides, he needs to buy a ticket home.
He hasn’t been this spontaneous in a long time, despite the constant travel and blogging and jumping on flight to flight. But something about this - this moment, this news… he feels compelled to go home.
He misses his siblings, of course. And his mother.
But Penelope possibly getting engaged?
Without telling him?
Even if it’s only a rumor, Colin doesn’t like it.
So he ignores the unsettled feeling in his stomach and books a flight home for the next morning.
Colin: Hey - i saw your new post. I’m hooked! Can’t wait to see where you take the story next.
Pen: Wait you saw that?
Colin: Of course you posted it all over social media. I follow you you know.
Pen: well thank you
Colin: How are you otherwise? Any big news to share?
Pen: did Eloise say something?
Colin: nope just wondering
Colin: i’m heading home tomorrow gonna surprise mum
Colin: maybe we can grab coffee or something?
Pen: i have work tomorrow
Pen: and going out for drinks with eloise after
Colin: perfect i’ll meet you there
Colin: can’t wait!
Colin: last minute but who can pick me up from the airport in a couple hours?
Anthony: At work.
benedict: why are you at the airport
benedict: also not me too far
Eloise: Colin Bridgerton
Eloise: Why are you at the airport?
Daphne: Hyacinth and I can pick you up
Eloise: lol yes please
benedict: then he’ll have to tell you why the fuck he’s here
Colin: … on second thought nvm i’ll get an uber
When Colin arrives home - his childhood home, where he used to eavesdrop in each room and casually reveal secrets and was threatened by his various siblings multiple times a week - he sighs in relief.
For a moment, at least.
For a moment he can relax - even if something in his gut still feels sour, like something isn’t quite right.
Frowning, he drops his luggage in the main foyer. “Mum?” he calls out.
“Oh, so you heard she’s engaged have you?”
Colin, startled, jumps slightly as he turns towards the voice behind him - his mother, naturally, standing regally as always, completely unsurprised at his arrival. Naturally. “What are you talking about?” he says, frozen and frowning, but Violet shakes her head as she takes a sip of tea.
“Is that any way to greet your mother?”
Rolling his eyes, Colin walks into his mum’s arms, sinking into her embrace for just a moment. For just a moment, another piece of the puzzle slotting together. Home. Violet kisses his cheek before drawing back and patting it. “Welcome home.” She tilts her head, narrowing her eyes, and Colin remains impressed how easily she can make him feel like a little boy again. “Even if it wasn’t to see me.”
“Who told you I was - ”
“No one.” She directs him to the living room with her head. “I just heard that Penelope was engaged.”
He tries not to growl; truly, he does. “Did everyone hear about this rumor?”
“How do you know it’s a rumor?” When Colin glares at her, Violet laughs. “Relax, darling. You still have time.”
“Time to do what - ”
“Oh don’t be silly,” she says, waving a hand in his direction as she sinks into the couch. Colin decides to remain standing, arms crossed. The nervous energy has returned, making him restless; he’s used to this, of course, and usually it ends with Colin on a plane or a train, more pictures and blog posts and tours -
But this time, he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to search - search for -
“Are you finally ready to admit it?” Violet leans back in her chair, still drinking her tea, but eyes never leaving his face.
Colin kicks nothing in front of him, avoiding her eyes. “Admit what?”
“Colin Bridgerton.” Colin meets her eyes now, he has to - and, well, she raises an eyebrow at him. “Are you finally ready to admit you’re in love with Penelope?”
The denial is right on his lips. It’s easy and familiar and right there - it lingers, suspended, in that tiny space between thought and word, but then Colin breathes. He breathes the words back in, buries them in his throat, burns them with that sour acid rolling in his stomach. And instead, Colin sighs.
Instead, he drops to the couch and buries his head in his hands. “How could I be so stupid?”
“You should be lucky that none of your siblings are here to answer that question.” Colin just barely lifts his head to glare, and Violet grins. “It’s about damn time, Colin.”
“Yeah, I know.” He sighs again, running his hands through his hair. It’s likely more of a mess than usual, but he doesn’t have it in him to care. “Do I - do I even - ” These words are stuck too, but they’re scary and unfamiliar, like first signs of sunlight at dawn, tiny slivers of light peeking out behind cracked walls. “Do I even deserve her?”
Violet sets her cup on the table. She leans forward so there is no question of him trying to avoid her gaze. She is firm and sure and Colin loves her. “There’s only one person who can answer that question, Colin.”
Gulping, Colin closes his eyes for a moment. He collects himself - maybe he doesn’t deserve her, doesn’t deserve her brilliance and presence and wit - but he wants to. He wants to be enough for Penelope. He wants to stay for her.
He wants her.
“I think I’m going to take a nap and a shower.” Colin stands, running his hands down his thighs. “And then - and then, I’m going out tonight.”
Violet smiles. “I won’t wait up.”
Colin: you up to grab a pint tonight?
Michael: why are you in town though
Colin: long story
Michael: does it have anything to do with the rumor i heard about Penelope being engaged?
Michael: you’re jealous aren’t you?
colin: we’re gonna ambush her and eloise tonight
Michael: well since i owe you
Michael: since you’re the one who told me just ask out fran
Michael: guess i’ll be there
colin: glad to know my sister is more important to you than our friendship
Michael: she is
Penelope Featherington is the moment before sunrise, where the world is calm and quiet, but so full of possibility. She exists in those seconds in between breaths, where the sun peaks above the horizon, a kaleidoscope of reds and oranges and yellows, brilliant and beautiful and so, so breathtaking.
And when Colin sees her, laughing on the dance floor, all he can think is:
I fucking love her.
It’s dark and musky and the shadows try to hide her smile, but Colin sees. He sees her now. Even if she tries to hide, he would find her - she’s the flame, he’s the moth, and he’s ready to burn.
But there’s a different sort of burn in his chest when a guy - a boy, really, lanky and goofy and his hand is on her hip -
Colin knows she hears him because she freezes. And like most things with Penelope, she does so totally, without hesitation, as if her body is not in her control. But as she turns to face him, an adorable scrunch in her nose and eyes furrowed in confusion, he knows that mind is whirling.
“Colin?” Casually, she shrugs out of the boy’s - fine, man’s - embrace and walks straight to him. Her face clears, a bit brighter and a lot happier, and Colin feels his heart in his throat. “What are you doing? I thought you were in - ”
“Doesn’t matter.” Without thinking of it, he reaches for her hand, his thumb resting on her palm. She doesn’t move away. “Can we talk for a second?” He nods towards the edge of the room, where it’s quieter.
Penelope frowns but follows, their hands still locked together. Colin finds peace in that.
They reach an almost empty wall, random pictures and engraved letters displayed proudly. He doesn’t want to crowd her, so he keeps his back to the wall. Leaning against it, he props a foot up but doesn’t let go of her hand. Instead, he studies her fingers and her nails and her arm and her -
“Colin? What’s going on?” Finally, he studies her face. She is beautiful and he’s truly an idiot. “What are you doing here?” Her throat clears as she casts a hesitant look to their hands. “And why are you - ”
“Are you engaged?” he asks, finally, shoving off the weight on his shoulder, a shadowed burden he’s been carrying ever since that first text message. Now it’s shattered on the floor in little jagged pieces and it’s up to her to decide - are they going to put it back together, piece by piece?
Or walk away?
Penelope frowns. “What the hell? Where did you hear that?” Her voice transitions to laughter, amused and pleasant and god, he wants to kiss her.
“Is it true?” he asks instead, voice hoarse. She hasn’t denied it, just avoided, and he knows about avoidance and the dread is still crawling up his legs like an unruly vine. “Are you engaged?”
“Why does it matter?” Her frown is back and while she looks like she wants to hide herself away, cross her arms against her chest, she doesn’t pull her hand away from his. She bites her lip instead.
“It matters.” He hopes his voice doesn’t sound testy or irritated or too harsh - she deserves him at his best self - calm, and charming, and concerned for her. “Penelope - ” he says, when she remains quiet, just watching him and frowning and chewing at her lip. “Just - just tell me.”
Silence, for many moments, where it’s just the steady bass of the music, clinks of glasses, and laughter in between drinks of alcohol. But it’s just him and her and this pause; just Colin and Penelope and the truth he wants to cradle in his hands.
“No,” she says. “No, I’m not engaged. Colin - ” she shakes her head when he tries to interrupt. “Colin, did you fly all the way out here because you thought I was engaged?”
“Yes.” Colin doesn’t hesitate. What’s the point? Penelope is smart, she’ll figure it out anyway. Indeed, she just stares at him, something softening in her gaze; a warm glow, like the setting sun on summer beach, radiating contentment. His heart almost aches trying to escape from his chest to bury into hers. Colin pauses, watching her, waiting for her - until - “Come with me?”
Penelope glances back, to Eloise and maybe another friend or two. But then, she nods, squeezing his hand. He intertwines their fingers and grins.
“Where are we going?” she asks once they escape the bar, tiny nods to Michael and Eloise - who pointedly stare at their clasped hands - taking their first deep breaths of the night sky.
Colin just grins. “Trust me?”
Penelope sighs. “If I must.”
But she grins too.
“So you’re going to have to tell me why we’re committing a felony before we do it.” Penelope glances back at the dark alley, at no one and nothing because Colin is not stupid, before chewing her lip again. “Not that that’s going to stop us, but at least I’ll have all the facts.”
“I love you.”
Penelope freezes. Colin would be mad at himself for spilling so quickly and suddenly like that, when he’s picking a lock to the side entrance of a bookstore to reach its rooftop, not really looking at her. It’s dark and smells faintly like paint or smoke, he’s not quite sure, and it’s not the romantic setting he’d envisioned. But he glances in her direction once the words escape him and her reaction - wide eyes, mouth open, unmoving…
Taking her by surprise just might be worth it.
“Wha - what?”
Colin grins as he returns to his task, unlocking the door and swinging it open. As he grabs her hand again, he pulls her closer - not too close, not yet, but just enough to feel her warmth against his chest. “You asked why we’re committing a felony. We’re breaking and entering so I can show you the roof.”
“But - ”
Colin decides that even if he should hear her out, explain it all to her fully, it’s probably best he does it with a view and surrounded by fairy lights. So he gently leads her up the stairs and to the rooftop.
And Penelope gasps. He watches her; he watches her take in the carefully strung lights and two cushioned chairs, flowers planted across the terrace in precise designs and patterns. There is a firepit, if they wanted it - Colin didn’t think this far ahead, otherwise he would be insistenting on s’mores right now - and a view… A view of the city, of the buildings and the lights and the people, a small escape from the noise and gossip and busyness.
Just the two of them, on their roof.
“Colin…” It’s more of a whisper than anything, but he hears her perfectly fine. Because he’s looking at her, at the way her hands ache to touch each petal and each stem. He watches how her eyes light up as she soaks in the view, unsure what exactly to look at.
He watches her face flicker between emotions - surprise, awe, fascination… something else, not quite as black as the sky, or as white as the twinkling stars, or even red like the flowers between her fingers. It’s something - but it’s golden.
And then Penelope looks at him. “Colin?”
“I love you,” he says, again, this time on purpose and determined and with all the care in the world. He steps closer to her. “I know - I know I should have realized it ages ago. You - you’ve always been my friend, but you’re brilliant and witty and so kind and beautiful and - I can’t believe I’ve been such an idiot to not realize… And I’ve always been running, you know? Avoiding. I didn’t want to come home because I didn’t realize what my home was. It’s - I’ve been searching… and that was stupid, because you’re right here . You’re it, Penelope Featherington.”
One hand over her mouth, she doesn’t say anything, just staring at him. He steps closer still, taking that hand in front of her face and holding it in his own. “I love you.” She stays quiet, just staring, and Colin can feel the nerves building. “Say something, please?”
“You really are an idiot, aren’t you?” Penelope shakes her head, a small smile growing on her face. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to - I don’t - I - ” The words linger in the air, unfinished but unneeded. Truly, he doesn’t want to know how long she’s been waiting, how long he’s been blind. “I love you too.”
Colin grins. “I know.” When Penelope rolls her eyes, he laughs and tugs her closer. “I didn’t want to admit it to myself, because that meant I was not only stupid, but mean and I like to pretend I’m nice.”
“You are nice.” Penelope looks up at him, smiling and eyes glowing and how is he supposed to not kiss her right now - “Colin?”
“Hm?” Her lips are very pink and inviting, especially when her tongue peeks out to swipe over her bottom lip…
“Colin.” He forces himself to look at her eyes. She’s amused, which is good, and her other hand now rests on his bicep. If he flexes, it’s not on purpose. “Kiss me?”
The grin won’t leave his face. “I love you.”
Penelope groans. “Yes, yes, we’ve established that, can you just - ”
So Colin kisses Penelope, and wonders, once again, how the hell he managed to go so long without doing so.
Eloise: pen with you?
Eloise: she safe?
colin: fuck yes
Eloise: did you finally get your head out of your ass?
Eloise: congrats don’t fuck it up or i’ll fuck you up
colin: don’t plan to
colin: but noted
Pen: um so you meant all that last night right?
colin: every single word, penelope
Pen: just making sure
Pen: better break off my engagement then
colin: yes you tell all those imaginary fiances that you don’t need them
colin: you got me
Pen: i like you
colin: i know
colin: i love you too
Eloise: i can’t believe that shit WORKED
Daphne: I’d say I’m surprised, but this is Colin after all
Daphne: Poor, stupid Colin
Eloise: men are idiots
hyacinth: im annoyed i didnt think of just making up a rumor!!!
hyacinth: damn it
Fran: you’re fucking welcome