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Clouds Will Intervene

Chapter 11

No one knew what to say when the most unexpected of parties stood in the entrance vestibule. The four people that had arrived by carriage only a few short minutes before were divested of their coats and stood awaiting the tension to break. Fitzwilliam and Caroline Bingley stood to one side. Next to them was Major Andrew Elton, a friend of Fitzwilliam's. Georgiana stood in the middle of the room, her eyes cast down towards the floor in shame.

Bingley and Jane emerged from the music room and stared at the four in front of them. Bingley could not believe his eyes. Could it really have been his sister, Caroline, who had helped orchestrate this meeting? He was all disbelief. They too remained at the edge of the room, awaiting the storm.

Elizabeth and Darcy did not move from their place by the window. It was his eyes that told her everything she needed to know. They were cold and indifferent once again, hiding his pain and displeasure. He would let no one in, would not talk to anyone. He just stood looking out over the surrounding countryside.

The snow covered hills reflected the light at an awkward angle, the result being a cold, bright cast to be shed on the room. The harsh light on his face made him look deathly pale, his every feature accentuated with heavy shadow. The place looked grey and lifeless when the light bounced about the room. The yellow sun of summer seemed so far away when standing in this cold place.

It was unusual to see him lean against the window surround for support; he always had so much strength, such a presence when he stood up to his full height. But now, he looked so different. The dark circles around his eyes betraying his unrest, the worry of the past few weeks had finally catching up. Now he was forced to face them once more.

Neither made a move towards the room outside. Elizabeth was far too worried about the lack of action from the man beside her. She was prepared to take the role of mediator, knowing that it would be best for Darcy and his sister to talk in private. He had other ideas.

Marching out to where the six people stood, he glared at each and every one of them, his sister last. After what seemed like an eternity, he walked towards Georgiana and grabbed her wrist dragging her into his study. Jane gasped in shock and the anger written on Darcy's face, her worry moving from one sibling to the other.

Still, not a word was spoken. Elizabeth stood in the doorway to the music room and gestured for the rest of the party to enter the room for refreshment. For now, she would be happy to act as hostess to the little impromptu gathering. Slowly, everyone entered the room, all lost in their thoughts about what was taking place in the study.

~*~

As soon as the door to the study was closed, Darcy led his sister to a chair and dropped her into it. After relinquishing his hold upon her, he took his usual place by the window and stared out at the frozen lake. His breathing was heavy with the anger he felt. Just as everything was coming right once more, another mountain to climb appeared him front of him.

Georgiana sat quietly in the chair. Neither knew what to say to each other, their close relationship strained to the point of breaking after her actions. Her fright at his response to her appearance overcome, she realised that she not afraid of what her brother would do, she more worried about his silence. How could she repair the damage she had done? Her sense of guilt pushed its way into the front of her mind; tears began to slide down her face.

"Do not cry Georgiana, it will not solve anything. You have gone too far this time."

He still did not turn to look at her, his back straight, arms hanging by his sides. The tension in the room palpable, hanging in the air between the two. Both knew that eventually it must break, neither were looking forward it happening. Finally, it snapped.

"William..."

"Do *not* speak to me. You have hurt me more than I ever imagined possible. How could you make me choose? I thought, that you, *you* of all people would understand my reasons for wanting to marry Miss Bennet. I needed you to be with me those weeks since and you deserted me." He turned to face, the hurt evident in his expression.

"I did not think, I was a selfish being and I did not consider your happiness. I have been filled with guilt ever since..."

"If you felt guilt so soon after then why did you walk away in the first place? You are meant to trust me; I would not make a decision that would damage you. How could you not believe me when I say that this alliance will be beneficial to both of us? Elizabeth cares about me and she has been concerned for you during your self-imposed exile. What do you expect me to do now? Take you back and forget that anything ever took place? My affection for you has diminished to such an extent to have damaged our familial bonds forever."

With the last words, Georgiana stood and walked towards the door. It was obvious that her trip was all for naught, the breech between them could not be corrected and she had lost the person closest to her. That was until she looked around to glance at her brother one last time. He slumped into the chair she had occupied and hid his face in his hands. She could tell from the shuddering of his shoulders that all was not well.

Walking over to where he was sitting, she kneeled down before him and took hold of his hands. Pulling them away from his face, she saw a side to her brother that she did not believe existed. Hurt, disappointment, anger. That fateful summer with Wickham had not even brought on these emotions in him. Her remorse at what she had done was complete.

"You have not been sleeping well dear brother. Your eyes are tired..."

"Tired? I wish I were just tired. I am exhausted, utterly exhausted. I have not slept properly since you walked out of that room. I was meant to look after you once our father died. Although all the decisions I have made since that day have been for both of us, you were my primary concern. I tried to make you happy, to give you everything you wanted. I spoiled you, so much so that when I decide something for my happiness, you have to try and take it away.

"I have agonised over Elizabeth for such a long time. For nearly two years I have been trying to make her mine. At first I did not want to love her because of her connections but I couldn't stop. I tried to remove myself from her but I could not erase her from my mind, I was in a daze. All I could think about was her smile and how it made me feel alive. At first she did not direct her smiles at me; she despised me and told me so. I never gave up hope that one day she would love me, love us. I thought that when that day came, you would be by my side, supporting my decision to bring this person into our family."

"William, I don't know what to say. I never knew how deep your feelings ran for her. I guessed that you enjoyed her company but, I was led to believe that you were making a mistake. That she had fooled you into believing she was in love. Aunt..."

"Yes, Aunt Catherine spoke of a lot of things, and now the amount of damage caused has been multiplied. We are in a mess George, and I cannot think of a way to remedy it."

"First, you must make a certain lady of our acquaintance your wife. We will work our way on from there, as a family. Please forgive me William. I am truly sorry for what I have caused. I know the trust we once shared is gone forever but..."

Before she could finish the sentence, Darcy stood and pulled her into his arms. She responded, wrapping her arms about his waist. Tears streamed down her face as he kissed the top of her head and gave his forgiveness. Their relationship could never be the same again but both knew that this was a new beginning.

~*~

The occupants of the music room were sat in silence. Cups of tea and coffee had been graciously offered and politely declined. All ears were straining for any sign of movement or sound to come from the study down the hall. There was only one person in the room distracted by anything else, and this was Major Andrew Elton.

He had known Fitzwilliam for a long time now, not just as a commanding officer but also as a friend. They had stood many a time together on the battlefield facing the oncoming French armies. Undoubtedly, they would spend more time in the same situation in the future. He was a few years older than Fitzwilliam being five and thirty but still a good catch for any woman. He was hoping that a young lady in this very room might agree with that statement.

When he first set eyes on the woman of his affections the previous day, he knew at once that she was the one for him. He had not seen her when walking towards the carriage in Hunsford as it was dark but soon enough, he saw her when they stopped at an inn on the way. Her figure amazed him, her eyes entranced him and her voice swept him away. To him she was like a dream in orange silk, a beautiful albeit slightly mature lady of good breeding.

Sitting across the room from him, his mind wandered from what was going on in the study to the vision in front of him. He knew from that point on that he would speak with her at length in the coming days to ascertain how she felt about him. Handing her into the carriage, he felt sparks as their bare hands touched. From her expression, he knew she had felt it also.

Elton's reverie was broken by the opening of the doors and the admittance of a servant in the Darcy livery. He walked directly over to Elizabeth and in hushed tones passed on the message he had been charged to deliver. At once she stood and excused herself from the room. When the doors had been firmly shut behind her, the occupants of the room exchanged confused glances.

~*~

A small knock on the door announced the anticipated arrival of Elizabeth to the study. Darcy called for her to enter, his voice quiet and muffled through the thick, oak door. As she turned the handle to enter, she realised her apprehension at what she would find within. Her fright at seeing him drag his sister away so violently was a side to him she did not care for. His temper once risen was formidable and this fact scared her more than anything.

The room was beginning to darken as the light outside began to fade, dusk rapidly approaching. The room was starting to become more familiar to her now, the books strewn about the place, read newspapers laying on the sideboards and numerous bits of paper littering the impressive oak desk.

Stood in the middle of the room were two people, the girl hiding her face in her brother's chest. Darcy looked towards Elizabeth and extended and arm by way of inviting her into the embrace. She took it and a moment later she was wrapping her arms not only around him but also around her future sister-in-law. Georgiana looked up and smiled at Elizabeth .

Darcy looked down at the two people he loved most of all and smiled. Finally, they were together. A family reunited. Surely nothing else could stand in their way.

~*~

The snow began to fall that night, lightly at first and then heavier as the household started to retire. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Darcy walked into the music room with Elizabeth and Georgiana, one on each arm. Caroline Bingley was beside herself with joy and hugged each of them in turn. Her good deed done, she was content for the first time in a long while. It was then that she noticed the handsome officer friend of Fitzwilliam's looking at her. Their eyes meeting, she could feel a stirring within her, a sensation she had never felt before.

He walked over to her and kissed her hand. Her heart fluttered as his lips brushed against her skin. Never before had she felt like this, a longing to know this man better became apparent. The couple spent the rest of the night talking, quietly, in the corner of the room. They thought no one noticed but all eyes frequently alighted on them over the course of the evening.

Jane and Bingley watched as Darcy and Elizabeth laughed and smiled during conversation with Fitzwilliam and Georgiana. They were content to let the newly reformed family have some privacy. So much had happened in a very short space of time that no one quite knew what was going on anymore. They decided not to mention the fact that Darcy and his fiancÚ were not only sat side by side, but holding hands, touching knees, anything to maintain a physical contact.

Fitzwilliam and Georgiana let them have their small intimacies, it had been a hard time for the couple but at last, it finally looked like the sun might make an appearance. One sign that not all was as it should be was the exhausted image Darcy assumed. Weeks of sleep deprivation meant that he was particularly weary when it was time to retire. Being the perfect host, he remained downstairs until all his other guests had departed for their beds.

Fitzwilliam was the last to ascend the stairs, a private word with his cousin needing to be said. As everyone but these two exited the room, Darcy fell into a chair and started chuckling. His cousin took the seat opposite him and looked questioningly.

"I am sorry Fitzwilliam; I am just so tired I could think of nothing else other than laughing."

He stopped laughing and rested his head against the back of the chair, his eyelids heavy.

"You have found a very special lady in Miss Bennet. I would have taken her myself but for my being a second son. She is quite in love with you I see. Tell me, what did you do to win the affections of such a charming, intelligent woman? I had thought all hope was lost."

Fitzwilliam stood and poured a glass of wine for himself and his cousin. Darcy accepted the proffered drink and smiled. Only his cousin knew of the failed proposal in Kent , only he knew the struggle it was to finally win the heart of the beautiful Elizabeth Bennet.

"Now tell me Darcy, exactly how soon are you going to marry your exceptionally pretty fiancÚ? If you do not do it soon, I fear either I or Bingley may have to call you out! I suspect that it is only the marriage license that needs signing now to make it official."

Darcy started at this comment but Fitzwilliam held up his hand.

"I half expected that you might. Believe me, I also know how short life can seem. It was the next logical step for a couple in your situation. All I ask is that you are discrete and marry her as soon as possible. As I know these are your intentions I am content in the knowledge that nothing could prove this happened in eight months time."

Darcy swallowed and looked away. Of course, the idea of pregnancy had crossed his mind fleetingly but not in depth. What if it did happen? How would they hide the truth from society? He sighed as the burden of thinking of this prospect settled into his mind. Deep down he knew that everything would be all right, but his mind still refused to be at ease. Fitzwilliam sensed this.

"I am sorry Darcy, but I thought it important that you at least start to plan for this emergency. It may not happen but should it...Well. All will be fine. I shall leave you to your thoughts. I would not keep Elizabeth waiting if I were you, she may be wondering where you are."

Fitzwilliam smiled and quitted the room, praying that his cousin knew what he was doing.

~*~

Elizabeth had been sat by the fire waiting for Darcy to retire for the night. She had guessed that Fitzwilliam had wanted a word with him as she left the room and so patiently anticipated his arrival. At last, he did. A small knock on the door announced his presence. He let himself in.

Quietly, he closed the door behind him and leaned against it, his eyes closed. At once, she ran across the room and into his arms. He let out a sigh as she hugged him tightly. The discussion he had just had with Fitzwilliam playing heavily on his mind, he led her across to the bed. Sitting on the edge, he started pulling his shoes off, a task still painful and difficult.

Elizabeth pushed him back onto the bed and finished removing his shoes. Over the short time she had been here, this task was often performed by her. Not this time however.

"No Lizzy, just...sit here." He patted the bed just beside him.

"I shouldn't be here Elizabeth . God knows what could happen if I stay, what might already have happened."

"I know what you mean. Is this was Colonel Fitzwilliam wanted to speak about? I guessed that he wanted to speak in private with you. Is this it?"

"You are very astute Lizzy, I can have no secrets from you." He smiled at her and took her hands in his. "It is a choice we have to make. If we continue like this before our marriage then there may be questions asked *if* a child is conceived. On the other hand, we may not have this problem. Nothing is certain. The deed may have already been done we do not know, yet anyway."

"I take your meaning. But if the unthinkable had already happened, we have nothing left to lose. If I were, what would we do?"

"I do not know is the honest truth. We would have to live through it I suppose. Compared to some of things that have happened to us, well, I can think of worse."

"Yes." She paused and took a deep breath. "So what about now? What do we do?" She looked at their joined hands. As soon as one problem was corrected, another one sprang up.

"Events are spiralling out of my control Lizzy, I know not what to do anymore. I cannot think, too many things are happening. Do you want me to go? I am just so tired." He turned to look into her eyes, she gave him her answer.

Standing up, she started to undo his cravat. A few minutes later, the couple fell asleep, content to be in each other's arms.

~*~

The snow fell steadily overnight covering the surrounding landscape with a thick layer of white. It capped the peaks nearby creating a look almost alpine in origin. The sky was overcast the next morning with a promise of more snow to come during the day. Everyone in the house was reluctant to get out of bed. The air was cold out from under the covers even with the fires lit. Hot baths were run and jumped into, mainly for the warmth rather than cleaning. Slowly the house woke up and turned out for breakfast.

All except Darcy. He had slept through the night without waking once. Elizabeth had not the heart to awaken him when he was sleeping so well. The maids entered the room to light the fire and did not look twice at their sleeping master in a guest's bed. Elizabeth merely slipped out from the covers, donned her robe and went to find her hot bath.

It was not for many hours that anyone else in the room stirred. His breathing deep and steady, he slept contentedly in the knowledge that he could conquer any obstacle in his way. The light that poured through the gap in the drapes was bright, a reflection off the snow that lay beyond the glass. This brightness of the room was the first thing he noticed as he awoke from deep slumber. The second thing he noticed was the empty space beside him.

He could not remember his lover moving from the bed. This knowledge and the light from outside lent him the knowledge that the hour was getting on. Still, he did not want to move from the warmth of the covers. The matters that must be addressed began to seep into his conscious thoughts. Writing to Elizabeth 's family to inform them of the wedding was his main priority. Dealing with Lady Catherine was to be his next.

It was these issues that bade him pull away the covers and brave the harsh chill of the room around him. The fires had long since died down as the bed chambers were used very little during the day. He assumed that everyone else would already be away from the rooms and quickly dressed himself in the shirt and breeches from the previous day.

Slowly, he opened the door to the room and after a brief glance in each direction, hurried to his own chambers down the corridor. Once bathed and adorning a change of apparel, he steadily made his way down to the room below. The damp coldness of the weather instilled an ache in his leg that made the steps an unusually uncomfortable experience. His only consolation was that no one was there to witness his slow progress.

Although his condition was common knowledge with his guests, he endeavoured to give the appearance of normalcy to them. The blow he had been dealt with the accident was something that he had decided to keep between him and Elizabeth. He knew that the people below were all aware to the extent of his injuries. He merely did not wish to flaunt it at all times.

Reaching the bottom step, he listened carefully to ascertain where everybody was. He could hear the laughter of his cousin emanating from the main drawing room and so headed in that direction. He knew that the hour was late and that his appearance would cause some degree of curiosity. He prepared himself for all the looks that would be cast in his direction. For someone of such a taciturn disposition he was not looking forward to the encounter. Only the smile his beloved Elizabeth would give him would make the ordeal worthwhile.

A footman was waiting by the door to open it should anyone leave or enter the room. Darcy waved him away with a flick of his hand, he felt the need to be alone for a few seconds. Slowly, he turned the handle on the door and pushed it open. As he had guessed, all eyes turned to him, an expectant look on their faces. He smiled as best he could and closed the door behind him. Looking straight ahead, he made his way to a particular lady sat demurely at the other end of the room. All conversation had stopped, all gazes following him. He tried to ignore them; he was in no mood to give consequence to the curiosity of other people.

Elizabeth was indeed smiling at him as he walked through the group of people. His walking was stilted and lacked the grace that it once did. She could sense the discomfort writ on his features. She knew not whether it was from his injury or self-consciousness. She wished that everyone else in the room could be removed to make him more at ease.

He seated himself in a chair near the fire, close to Elizabeth and Georgiana. He turned to the rest of the room aware of the questions that were about to be asked. It was at this moment that he dearly wished he was still abed. His reticent nature made him nervous even in front of close friends and relatives. He did not perform well to anyone let alone strangers. Years of social engagements had hardened him to prying eyes but the training seemed all for naught this morning.

The rest of the group took their cue to divert themselves from staring at the master of Pemberley. It was quite obvious that he was in no mood to answer their enquiries after his health. Conversations resumed, everyone happy with the knowledge that he did indeed look rested and much healthier than he had done for quite some time. It was Elizabeth that asked him the question he dreaded, only she could get away with it.

"You are looking well rested today Mr. Darcy. Pray tell me, do you feel as well as you look?" Her arch smile was nearly his undoing, a laugh almost escaped his lips but he restrained it to become merely a smile.

"You tease me Miss Bennet. You see, I have the pleasure of knowing you better so that I may discern when you jest. That is more like the Elizabeth I fell in love with. Not a care in the world, just a contentedness that prevailed over everything else."

Her smile faltered, the realisation that this ordeal had changed them both so much. Were they recognisable anymore? Were their characters changed forever by events in which they had no control? He saw this worry and sought to ease her mind, recapture the moment.

"I am sorry, I have caused you undue concern. We neither of us are the same but enough of use remains I feel. You are witty and I am overly proud, there, we are not changed. We will return to some semblance of our former selves one day but for now we must enjoy the personalities we have been dealt. What say you showing me that smile once more? I will never tire of you fine eyes when you smile."

She did smile if only for his sake. Her happiness once again marred by a problem that required careful thought and deliberation. Her question at least was partially answered by his response. His words and expression shew a light heartedness that had been missing from their conversations recently. She was glad for it to return, a reminder that all will be well once again.

"You have so many emotions running across your face I do not know what you are thinking. Let us return to a conversation that does not require too much introspection. To your original question, I am indeed feeling better from my rest. There, now you shall respond with something equally flippant."

She did laugh at this; her Mr. Darcy was making her laugh! There was a time when she refused to believe he had any humour and here it was. He laughed softly too and their easy companionship once again resumed. It was in this vain that the conversation remained for some time. He knew that at some point he would have to brave a much more serious topic. Eventually, he did.

"We must write to your family, Elizabeth. We should delay no longer for I cannot wait to make you my wife. I was hoping for it to be so before Christmas but..."

"And it shall be. I have been giving this some thought but I do not think we should discuss it here."

She gestured about the room towards the people who were taking a keener interest in a conversation not their own. He nodded his understanding and set to making plans to separate his fiancÚ from the rest of the group. The ringing of the luncheon bell made for a useful diversionary tactic. Glancing at Lizzy, he could tell she was thinking the same.

As host, it was normal for him to leave the room last and that he did, with Lizzy on his arm. They were not missed when they did not turn into the dining room and instead headed straight for his study. Once there and with the door closed firmly behind them, he pulled her into his embrace. She did not resist, happiness being in the arms of one's lover.

"I missed you this morning when I awoke. I have grown accustomed to your being there when I open my eyes."

She looked up at him, her eyes betraying the same thoughts. He leaned down to kiss her upon the lips. It was a tender kiss, deep and meaningful. It conveyed their love for each other without the need for words. He pulled away and smiled at her. There was a job to be done.

"As much as I would like to kiss you all day there is the matter of writing to your family. As I have already said, my wish was for us to be wed before Christmas but I do not know how this can be achieved. Addressing the issue will require some delicacy."

"Yes you are right on both accounts. Not only does the invitation have to be issued but you have also to ask my father for permission. That sounds so silly now, a mere formality."

He chuckled and nodded. Relinquishing her from his arms, he led her to a leather chair by the window. Once she was seated, he took his place in the chair next to hers. Resting his chin on his fist, he pondered the problem before them. It would be a difficult task to word the letter. He was of no doubt that Mr. Bennet would give his permission but he did not want it to seem like that was a ready made assumption. It was Elizabeth that came up with an answer.

"Maybe we should invite them to join us for the Christmas celebrations. They could arrive soon, well before the actual event and then we could take it from there. My mother would surely enjoy seeing the home her daughter will soon be mistress of and you know my father is keen on talking with intelligent people."

She patted Darcy's hand as she said this, he smiled in response. Pondering this solution, he could find no fault with it. Well, other than having Mrs Bennet in his home for quite some time. If that was the price that must be paid to marry his Elizabeth then so be it. In all other accounts, the plan was excellent. Asking permission from Mr. Bennet in person would be far more politic than in writing. A letter would be more like closing a business deal than securing the hand of the woman he loved.

"Then that is the course of action. Who should write? You or I?"

"You certainly for you are still the master of Pemberley, I have no claim to the estate as yet. They are to be guests of yours, not mine."

"Not for long. This will be as much yours as mine one day. I am a firm believer of equality between men and women. You have shown me this for how am I a better person that you? Show me a man that can do half as much as his wife. No, you shall be as equal to me as any other man. I would not have it any other way."

She was lost for words. It had long since been that women had no authority or rights when compared with men. She had found someone who though differently, who would treat her as an equal, how much more fortunate could she be? Before long, there was a knock at the door. A sign that their prolonged absence had been noted. Darcy called for them to enter; Charles Bingley carefully entered the room, not wanting a repeat of two days previous.

"We were quite wondering where you two had disappeared to. Come Darcy, come Miss Bennet, your cook had quite outdone herself again."

Elizabeth stood and looked down at Darcy. He did not stand but smiled at her.

"You go along, I have no appetite as yet. I shall finish that business we were discussing Miss Bennet. I believe it requires urgent attention."

She nodded, a look of barely disguised worry passed across her face. Reading his unspoken plea, she followed Mr. Bingley from the room, leaving the man she loved behind in his own world.

~*~

As Elizabeth walked into the dining room, she was met by the questioning eyes of those around her. She could not explain Darcy's behaviour yet everyone expected her to know the answers. She did not know why he refused to eat, why his recuperation was not progressing at the rate it should. All she could do was wonder with the rest of them.

Taking a seat next to Georgiana, she smiled and apologised for her tardiness. The meal began once again and individual conversations took over from the stares. Georgiana turned to Elizabeth and asked her the questions.

"Where is my brother? Surely he must be hungry, he missed breakfast this morning."

"I do not know why he has chosen not to join us. He said he had no appetite but I am of the same mind as you, he must eat and soon if he is to recover fully. He will not talk to me though. Maybe you should discuss it with him, maybe then he will listen."

"I shall do, after we have finished here."

The noise quietened down as everyone partook of the food before them. Elizabeth noticed that Caroline Bingley was taking a great interest in the officer beside her. It was rare for that person to be engaged with any one topic for more than a few seconds but Major Elton had succeeded. Elizabeth could have sworn that Caroline looked more feminine than usual and actually had a rather pleasant expression when in discussion with the gentleman. Perhaps even Miss Bingley could fall in love.

Looking further along the table, she espied Jane and Bingley talking in hushed whispers. Propriety seemed to be disappearing from the list of importance with everyone in the room. It could be surmised that she was observing a thoroughly modern family in the making. No longer bound by the strict rules of society almost everyone in the room was having a far better time. That was except Fitzwilliam.

To Elizabeth , he looked distant but in a happy place. One where a certain young lady of their acquaintance resided. He had tried to hide the letters he had been receiving from his lady; Kitty wrote far more often to him than she ever had to her sisters. It was nice to see him finally winning over the affections of a now quite sensible young woman. He had always been made to believe that a match for money was necessary in his situation. Having observed the intense happiness that accompanied a love match, he had changed his mind. Better to be in love and poor than rich and miserable.

The meal progressed quietly and without incident. Each person either deep in thought or whispering words of affections to the person sitting next to them. No one was aware of the hurricane approaching them, a weather front that would put all their characters to the test. Blissful ignorance was abound, the silence was soon to be shattered.

~*~

The first indication of the impending storm was clatter of the main entrance doors swinging open. Which such force were they pushed apart the noise reverberated throughout the house. No one had heard the carriage wheels as they were silenced by the snow lying thick on the road. As the occupants exited the dining room to discover what created such a racket, they stopped dead in their tracks upon sighting the vision before them.

"Where is MY nephew?"

Chapter 12

"Where is *my* nephew?"

Her shrill voice rang out through the hallways and corridors of the house before finally descending upon the person she was summoning. At first he thought his mind must be playing tricks on him but then he heard the scurrying of servants making their way to the entrance. He was confused as to what to do. Ignore her, pretend that she did not exist or meet her face on. She had already made the decision.

She did not wait for her coat to be whisked away before she headed straight for his study. She knew he would be there for it was obvious he was not entertaining the guests that had spilled forth from the dining room. This at least gave her some semblance of pleasure as he was not with that country girl of no consequence. She swept past them without gifting them a glance. Certain people in that group would be dealt with swiftly enough, of that she would make sure.

She did not knock on the door but pushed her way through with not a care for his private domain. Georgiana, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam followed her. No man should have to face this particular lady on their own. As the four entered the room, the first thing they all noticed was the gentleman sat behind the desk. He did not stand, he merely leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. He was apparently going to wait for his aunt to explain herself.

She took one look at him and then spun round to look at the people behind her. Her expression condescending when she betook the sight of Elizabeth, disappointment settled onto her countenance when her gaze rested upon Georgiana and Fitzwilliam.

"I do not think you require your own personal army, nephew. You may bid them leave, there is nothing I wish to say to them." She never took her eyes off the ensemble in front of her.

"They may stay for this is their house too." His tone was nonchalant, more the tone used at a dinner party than a confrontation.

Her eyes narrowed as she turned towards him. Resigned, she sat on the chair before the desk. The other three remained standing apparently awaiting the battle to begin.

"I assume that I do not need to explain my presence here, Darcy. Your actions recently have placed this house and your name into disrepute. I have come to ask that you relinquish this silly, young girl. Your reputation may be recovered and I may be of some assistance to you in bringing your good name back into society. I have no quarrel with you, your dear mother would not have wished you to stoop so low..." Georgiana made to speak with her aunt but her brother silenced her with a shake of his head. "...As almost your closest relative, I promised your mother before she died to help raise you and encourage you in the right direction.

"This alliance is not to be borne, surely you must see this. You have many ladies of good breeding in your acquaintance if you do not take your cousin, Anne. Yet you have chosen to marry a nobody, an impertinent young girl with no familial connections. Come Darcy, it is not too late for you to change your mind."

She had almost forgotten the group behind her, all the members of which were slowly burning holes in the back of her head with their eyes. Two were embarrassed that a relation of theirs could speak that way of someone in the room. The other more amused by the scene playing out in front of her. Darcy's expression was unreadable. He sighed as if taking careful measure of her words. It was a long while before he made any comment. All waited with baited breath.

"Thank-you Aunt Catherine for such a generous offer. I am pleased to hear that you would *aid* my reacceptance into society, I would expect no less of a close family relation. But I am afraid I cannot accept the offer. I have quite made up my mind. Elizabeth Bennet is a well respected young woman and I have the fullest of intentions to marry her before the year is out.

"It is with this information and your insults towards my fiancÚ that I must now make a request of you." He stood and walked slowly around the front of his desk, he never broke eye contact with the woman before him.

"Get out. Remove your person from my house and my land. Do not step on these grounds ever again. Do you hear me? You alone have ruined our reputation. Had I been allowed to marry Miss Bennet without all this gossip then not a word would have been said. It is you alone my dear Aunt that has made it almost impossible for me to enter polite society again. *You* have reduced Georgiana's chances of marrying well and it is you that has slandered my fiancÚ's good name. It is on the basis of these facts that I demand you remove yourself from my presence."

His eyes were icy cold as he delivered the request, his voice forceful and unwavering. It was this that made her stand, shocked at being spoken to in this manner, especially by her own nephew. She dare not argue with him so disdainful was his expression.

"Is that your final word on the matter?" He nodded. "Georgiana, you do not have to remain here with your brother and his country..."

"You have no control over Georgiana, you shall cease to make futile demands and leave."

"On the contrary dear nephew, Georgiana is my responsibility now as her guardian. You not longer have any authority over her actions."

"Yes aunt, but I do." Lady Catherine spun round to look at Fitzwilliam. It was true, he was still her legal guardian.

"Surely Fitzwilliam, you do not wish for Georgiana's future to be damaged by such a connection?"

"I have nothing against the match. Miss Bennet is a sensible, well mannered, intelligent young lady. Georgiana would do well to take from her example. I do not believe Miss Bennet would belittle anyone so insultingly should they not comply with her wishes. My cousin would be very well educated exactly where she is"

"Nephew..."

"DO NOT SPEAK! I am beyond politeness, now go. Else I shall have you forcefully removed. Do you understand me?" Darcy's was cold, his expression perfectly readable with cold disdain for the woman before him.

Lady Catherine was speechless. It was with narrowed eyes and jaw set that she turned and stormed out of the room. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana exchanged looks and followed her, ensuring that she depart immediately. Elizabeth looked towards Darcy, he had not moved, the expression of disgust still on his face. Suddenly, all colour drained from his face and he fell to his knees. She ran across the room and knelt by his side. He slumped sideways to rest his forehead against the cool surface of his desk.

"I am well Lizzy, I am well. It is merely dealing with my thoroughly obnoxious aunt." Taking deep breaths, he closed his eyes.

"You are not well; you have not eaten properly for days, weeks even. How are you meant to regain your strength? I have been so worried about you since I arrived and then this happens. You are a fool sometimes Mr. Darcy."

He smiled as she used the formal address. He opened his eyes and looked at her, his expression apologetic. It was with a raised eyebrow that he addressed her.

"Are you going to help me stand or are we to remain like this?" She laughed at his comment and stood beside him.

Slowly, they managed to raise him to his feet and reinstate him behind the desk. He leaned his head against the back of the chair and once again closed his eyes.

"I shall go and find you something to eat. I shall be but a moment my love." She kissed the top of his head and left the room. The snow had started falling again.

~*~

The weather outside had worsened considerably. The drive was no longer visible as it lay under the thick blanket of snow. This fact was all too evident to the coach drivers. They did not want to displease their lady but there little choice in the matter. Put very simply, the journey to Rosings could not take place tonight.

Suddenly, Lady Catherine stormed from the building, an enraged expression evident on her face. The postilions and coachman took a glance at each other as if to decide who should inform her of the bad news. It fell to the youngest who when he did tell the grand lady, promptly got a clip around the ear. He did not flinch as she delivered her punishment but held fast. He had to keep his job.

Eventually, after yelling at the poor boy before her, she did re-enter the building. Once again the doors were flung open and her nephew demanded. This time, she remained in the entrance, she now had a favour to ask and did not want to incite his wrath once more. At length, he did appear. His expression was disinterested to say the least, she noticed little. This thing she did look upon was the way he was leaning heavily on a walking cane.

"What is the matter with you Darcy? Why do you insist on using a cane indoors? It is most unfashionable." He was plainly not amused.

"I remember quite distinctly requesting you take leave immediately. Why is it then that you stand once more in my house?"

He raised an eyebrow as he posed the question, the tone of his voice still icy but not as intimidating. The entire household was observing the scene play out before them. It had only been a question of when he would turn on his Aunt after her despicable actions. Now was the answer.

"The weather has taken a turn for the worse. I was wondering, dear nephew, whether you would be willing to grant me a place to spend the night. My coachmen will not proceed in this current climate. I will obviously be leaving at the first opportunity. I would not wish to impose on your hospitality."

Her tone was polite enough yet also condescending. He was amazed at how her character could change when she required assistance. He was at a loss for words; he could not make her leave due to the nature of the roads but he was reluctant for her to remain under the same roof as him. Elizabeth came forward and stood by his side; if she did not mind then neither would he.

"You may stay on one condition, you do not insult any of my guests further. Should any report of ill treatment reach my attention then you shall spend the remainder of your visit in the barn. Is that understood?" She nodded, after all that she had seen today, she did not doubt his claim that she would be sent to an outbuilding.

"Greaves, ready a room for our guest and provide accommodation for the men outside."

The footman set to task, Darcy gestured for the party to enter the sitting room. He and Elizabeth followed last, watching the errant relative walk along, ensuring that no incident arose from her dislike of certain members of the group. Nothing happened, she entered the room with no look of disdain or a word. After exchanging a glance, they followed suit.

The afternoon passed with barely a word being spoken. Propriety was remembered between the couples and altogether, everybody in the room was exceptionally bored. Not one person knew what to say, they all knew where they would rather be.

Darcy wished that he could be back in his study, away from the uncomfortable silence. He had still not had anything to eat and was feeling it so now. His entire body was shaking; he had barely the strength to lift his hands anymore. Concentrating on the sparse conversation was proving a challenge also. Something had to be done.

It was Georgiana that sensed his predicament. She had of course had the full intention of speaking with her brother after lunch but something else had intervened. Now, with very little energy, he was becoming weaker by the second. She knew that Elizabeth would also be sensing the problem with Darcy and the two exchanged worried looks. It was Georgiana that came up with a solution.

"Well, I think it may be time to freshen and change for dinner. What do you say Aunt Catherine?" Her voice was still quiet but there was a forcefulness that Elizabeth had heard before. Somewhere in the depths, there was a strong woman in Miss Darcy.

"Yes, maybe you are right."

Everyone one in the room stood, including Darcy albeit very shakily. One by one, the occupants of the room exited leaving Darcy, Georgiana, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. As soon as the doors were closed, they rushed to the man on the verge of collapse. Somehow, each person knew what they must do.

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth made to lay him on the sopha* whilst Georgiana left the room to find some source of nourishment. She did not tarry long. At first, Elizabeth thought she had lost her mind for she brought a glass of sugar dissolved in water.

"This may help. I have been reading research on how sugar can affect a person in this way. People who have not enough sugar in their body become weak like William has." They all looked at the man before them, his eyes closed, sweat beading his brow.

"It is worth a go. Give me the glass, you hold his hand."

Slowly, they managed to get him to drink the cloudy solution. It seemed to make no discernable difference but steadily, he grew calmer and ceased to shake. After some time, he opened his eyes and beheld the sight of the three looking at him. Try as he might, he could not recall how he had entered into this state or why they bore concerned expressions. Confusion overtook him and he started to worry.

"What is the matter? Why do you look at me so?" He sat up aware of a deep headache forming.

"You, stupid, stupid man." He turned to look at Georgiana in the face, never had he expected her to utter such words. She explained why. "All this time we have been worried for you when you have not partaken of any food and then this is the result. You even have to audacity to not remember what has happened." He was still confused, Elizabeth took over.

"You passed out so low were your energy reserves. We had just cleared the room before you fell. Luckily, your sister managed to bring you round. You should be grateful that you have a very intelligent person in the house."

Darcy looked back at Georgiana. He was still unsure about what happened. He was thankful all the same.

"I think I may listen to your advice now for I have an incredible headache."

"Then my advice, cousin, is that you retire to your room and rest. I shall see that meal be sent upstairs. This has probably been brought about because of our dear aunt. The less you see of her, the better in my opinion."

Fitzwilliam stood and held out his hand for Darcy. Pulling him up from the sopha, he aided his ascent up the stairs. Georgiana and Elizabeth followed as far and their own rooms and changed for dinner. It had been an eventful day and was not over yet.

~*~

The two cousins sat in the darkness of the room. Neither had said a word since entering and neither meant to. It was a time for silence between them, the pressure of the last hour slowly decreasing. Darcy removed his coat and cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat and settled into a chair by the fire. Fitzwilliam remained standing but stared into the dancing flames. It was a long time before either man spoke, but eventually, one did.

"I was scared Darcy. I have never seen you look so...vulnerable."

"Do not speak of it Fitzwilliam..."

"Fine, of what do you expect us to converse about? Maybe the weather, how about politics. I cannot ignore what has just happened and I'm sure neither can anyone else who bore witness to it. How did you allow yourself to enter such a state? Did you not realise that would make yourself ill? That more than yourself would suffer because of the consequences?" Darcy tried to stop the barrage of criticism; Fitzwilliam took no notice and continued.

"You have not the slightest awareness of the panic you instilled in the three you allege to care for the most. Did you not think that we would be pained to see you weakened so? Had you not pulled through then who would have taken care of Elizabeth? She would be considered a fallen woman, shunned from society for the rest of her days. But you were too selfish to realise."

"Stop, please stop!"

Fitzwilliam turned to look at his cousin. He could never be prepared for what he was about to witness. Darcy was leaning forward in the chair, his face hidden behind his hands. His shoulders shook as the tears ran down his face as he considered all that had happened. Slowly, Fitzwilliam walked over to the younger man and knelt beside him.

"What is the matter, Darcy?" He had not once seen his cousin break down in this way, not even when his mother had passed away many years before.

"Everything yet nothing. You say I think not about my actions but they are all that plagues my mind. Do you not think that I in part regret almost all my actions these past two years? How different it could have been if only I had treated Elizabeth the way she deserved from the very beginning. If I had not viewed her as inferior but as an equal then all this would never have taken place. I should not have ridden in the rain, I should not have travelled straight to Longbourn, I should have kept my lust contained and I should not have invited her here. And now I have to think about how to deal with out aunt, arrange to get married very quickly and also have time to think about my well being. I have not run the estate for such a long time and I cannot see my resuming that responsibility for quite some while. In short, Fitzwilliam, I am lost."

Gradually, he stopped his lament and looked up into the fire. His eyes were red as the tears upon his face dried in the warmth of the room. Fitzwilliam did not know how to respond, the desperation he heard and shaken him. He had not felt that Darcy could ever break down, but now he had.

A knock at the door shattered the silence. Fitzwilliam walked over and opened it fraction. It would be no good for anyone else to see his cousin in this state. The meal that he had ordered be brought upstairs had arrived and was laid out upon a large tray. Fitzwilliam decided to take the tray himself and place it on a table, it was another thing entirely for the hands to see him in this condition. The door closed behind him and the tray placed to one side, he sat in the chair opposite Darcy.

Neither man spoke for what seemed like hours. Slowly, Darcy calmed down and leaned back into the chair, his eyes closed.

"You should eat, I do not think that drink of Georgiana's will last very long and I think we could all do without a repeat of that debacle." Darcy opened his eyes and nodded.

Steadily he rose from his chair and made his way to the table on which lay the food. After briefly looking at what was available, he took nothing and fell into the chair behind him. Fitzwilliam stood at once determined to break his cousin from his hole of despair.

"You *will* eat something Darcy. You can conquer this and I shall help you if necessary." The other man shook his head and closed his eyes once more. "Think about Elizabeth and Georgie if you will not do this for me. They would not like to see you suffer again."

Darcy opened his eyes and looked at his cousin. It was an empty expression, almost devoid of the life normally found there. How had his cousin fallen so far without anybody realising?

"Come now, Darcy. You must eat if only for the people who love you. Nothing you have done and regret matters to those who truly care. Can you not see this? I merely wish you to regain your full health. The old Darcy has missing for such a long time that I am struggling to remember him. I can see him there, in your expression, awaiting a chance to regain control of you. All will be well when this happens but you must build up your strength.

"I must say, that scar will lend you a more menacing look when dealing with our aunt. I have no doubt that she is downstairs plaguing your poor Miss Bennet now that she has neither of us to defend her."

The tactic worked. The thought of his Elizabeth battling it out with his aunt without support pained him. Fitzwilliam saw this problem work its way into Darcy's mind and the solution being formulated. All of a sudden, he leaned forward and took the bread roll. It was a start, a step on the way to a full recovery.

~*~

Dinner had progressed as well as could be expected with the presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The absence of Darcy and Fitzwilliam had been noted ("Where are *my* nephews? It is most rude of them not to attend to me personally.") but aside from this, all had gone smoothly. Very little had been said over the course of the meal bar small pleasantries and enquiries of good health. This was the best possible outcome in the situation.

It was not until the retreat into the drawing room that everything began to take a turn for the worse. The ladies removed themselves from the dining room to allow Bingley and Elton a chance to discuss politics and indulge in a glass of port ("Darcy has an exceptionally fine selection..."). There, sat in silence were Caroline Bingley, Georgiana, Jane, Elizabeth and Lady Catherine. Nobody knew what to say. The easy distraction of food had now been removed and with nothing else in place as a diversion, evilness won.

"You see Miss Elizabeth, how Darcy has maintained the colours chosen by his dear mother. Now she was a grand mistress of Pemberley, there shall be none like her again for she was of good breeding. I would not expect you to be aware of the fashions in London high society."

Elizabeth did not know what to say! How else could the comment be taken but as a personal attack on her connections? Georgiana, Jane and Caroline sat in open-mouthed shock.

"I am indeed aware that it was the late mistress of Pemberley that chose the colours for many of the rooms. Mr. Darcy told me so himself. He has of course given me permission to change them if I so please when I become mistress. I do not know what colours shall be chosen. It is a decision for myself and Mr. Darcy."

"No you silly girl. Mr. Darcy is far too important to be consulted with such menial tasks as interior fashion."

"I shall help her Aunt. Miss Bennet and I would be able to decorate these rooms with as much grace as my mother did."

"Dear Georgiana, this is not your role either. You will be returning to your education in London after the festivities. You had better immerse yourself in your studies as to enhance your minute chances of a good match. You would be more suited to returning to Rosings with me."

"I thank you for your offer Aunt Catherine but I should very much like to remain here with my brother and Miss Bennet."

"That is if they marry. Where is he now? If he does indeed care for this Miss Bennet so much then why does he not attend to her? Since my arrival he has spent very little time in her company. I find this indicative of his fascination with a lady of such low connections to be waning."

Elizabeth could take it no longer. Her person had been insulted to an incredible degree and now she was being spoken of as if she were not even present. She stood and walked over to where the older woman was sitting.

"I do not care for our tone of voice Lady Catherine. I have attempted to remain civil during the course of this visit but now you have gone too far. If Mr. Darcy has chosen me to become his wife then so be it. You should have no reason to argue with this decision. As I have already told you during your visit to Longbourn, any happiness derived from this relationship will far outweigh the disadvantages caused by your maliciousness. Your nephew has shown me his truest feelings and I have no doubt of our felicity in marriage."

"But you have changed him. The fire in his heart has burnt out and now he is a shadow of the man he once was. You know this to be true. His marrying you will be of convenience or even necessity. Who knows what levels to which you have stooped to secure his good opinion. He may feel obliged to you because of favours outside the caring of him during ill health. I have heard it all Miss Bennet."

Elizabeth stood before her stunned. Tears of anger welled in her eyes as the mark was struck. Doubts filled her mind. What if he did feel an obligation to marry her for their nights together, for her reputation? She did not have long to ponder these thoughts as the doors to the drawing room were pushed open.

Upon seeing her face distraught, tears slowly splashing down he cheeks, Darcy immediately marched over and took his fiancÚ into his arms. His anger was rising, his eyes darkened with a rage he did not often feel. He released her quickly and turned to face the woman responsible for the upset. Upon seeing his expression, Lady Catherine seriously wondered whether he would strike an elderly relation.

"Georgiana, please accompany our aunt to my study. I shall be there presently." He was seething, his voice calm but belying the true feelings within.

Once she had been removed from the room, he walked Elizabeth over to her sister and gave instructions for Jane to offer comfort as best she could. For now, he was too incensed to talk with anyone but his aunt. Walking from the room, he was followed by Fitzwilliam to the study. The hour of reckoning was now upon them.

~*~

As the door to the study was closed once more, no one knew quite what to expect. To say Darcy was angry was an understatement of cosmic proportions. He was livid. He could not speak anger welled up inside him so. Walking towards his desk, he leaned against the front edge and looked straight at his aunt. She could not hold the gaze, his look was too intense.

"I had thought that I had made my terms to your staying her perfectly clear. You were not to speak out of turn to any one of my guests. I spend a matter of hours out of your company and you insist on belittling my fiancÚ. Why did you breech the rules of our agreement? Did you not think I would act on my word?"

"Do not be silly Darcy, of course you would not. There was a time when you would never have made such a pathetic statement. She has quite changed you; I can see you are not half the man you once were."

"Is that so? There was also a time when I would not have spoken to you thusly but you are not worthy of my respect anymore so changed are you. Tell me aunt, when did you become so ignorant of the feelings of others? So mercenary that would wish unhappiness on not only your nephew but also on your daughter?"

"You speak of feelings but you do not know your own..."

"DO I NOT? PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME ON WHAT I AM FEELING?" She was shocked, never had she seen such a side in him but now, twice in one day she had managed to incite him to shout.

"You are feeing lust, a need that requires fulfilling like most men require. You are no better than others except that everyone else is more discrete. Do not think me unawares of your coupling with Miss Bennet. A marriage between you now must take place because of your impatient nature. You, my dear nephew, have sealed your own fate."

"So, that is how little you think of me. And what of your niece, do you take pleasure speaking of such things in front of Georgiana? I was brought up to be mindful of manners and knowing when to speak of such matters. I see you were not. In my mind it is you that lacks breeding.

"Your thoughts on my feelings could not be further from the truth either. I should not have to justify myself to you but I shall. I love Miss Bennet. I did when I was at Rosings last spring and I had for some time before. That is right aunt, love. An emotion that you ceased to feel at birth. My mother would not have wished me to marry Anne if I were not happy with such an arrangement. It would not surprise me if you had planned this whilst she was ill after my birth so desperate were you to unite our houses.

"Your definition of love is so forgotten that you would commit your own daughter into a marriage of respect but no feeling. How do you survive being so cold inside?"

He walked to the window and stared into the blackness outside. He had shown her too much, he had displayed his true feelings. He had never done this until he had met her. Elizabeth had indeed changed him but he could not help but feel for the better. It was true, he had been selfish person all his life. He may have started to think about marrying Anne if it he had not met Elizabeth. His following of the good principals taught to him could be seen as proud and conceited but not anymore. His character had been altered irreparably and he did not mind.

Now he had said all these things to his aunt he felt like a weight had been lifted. His justification for marrying was controversial, it was a love match and they undoubtedly would raise some eyebrows. With Elizabeth by his side, would it really matter anymore? He suspected not. He was brought back into the present by his aunt talking to him.

"You think me incapable of feeling do you? You expect that I care not for my daughter or any other member of my family. You are mistaken, all three of you are. I had not picked up on any particular regard from you toward Miss Bennet. From the times I have observed you, I detected an indifference that indicated that she may be a passing folly. You seemed to change your opinion very quickly and before I knew what was happening, she had secured you for herself.

"What was I meant to believe? I know enough of these simple country folk to imagine their money-snatching ways. She was another potential predator aiming to capture your fortune. My time here has shown that you do not spend time in her company like a husband should. What was I meant to think?"

"The reason he has not been here aunt is because of health." Georgiana came to her brother's aid.

"Health? What sort of problems have you now Darcy?" He did not respond, Georgiana spoke once again.

"Aunt Catherine, my brother has been quite unwell these past few days. You never stopped to enquire of his injuries when you removed me from his guardianship. He almost died Aunt. There was very nearly no hope for him to pull through. It was Miss Bennet that helped him, that made him well.

"Since then, he has steadily grown better but upon your arrival, well..."

"What you are trying to say is that I have caused him to become ill again? Is that it?" She looked almost guilty as the news settled in.

Darcy turned to face his aunt once more. She could see clearly now the affects of ill health on his features. His face was thinner and lacked colour. The scar was deep and still healing. He had lost a considerable amount of weight and did not stand as straight as he once did. She had only just noticed all these things about so engulfed was she in her plot to split him from the woman he loved.

"I did not see how you have suffered recently. And you still insist that it was Miss Bennet that saved you from certain death?"

"She helped me yes. I was going discuss an engagement with her when this all happened. So you see, it was already set to take place before these unfortunate events. Your visit that morning made my decision easier for I knew that she must have some feelings toward me in her refusal to agree to your promise. I do not ask that you like her or become friends. I am asking you to respect my decision to make her my wife and mistress of this house."

She looked away, embarrassed as she realised all the things she had said. Eventually, she nodded her agreement before standing and quitting the room. She would leave at first light.

~*~

Fitzwilliam left the room first leaving Darcy and his sister alone for a few moments. The news that her brother may have taken liberties with Elizabeth already had shocked her. She needed to know if it were true. Having always looked up to him, this was a severe blow to her estimation of him.

"Is it true?"

He did not attempt to feign ignorance of what she was speaking; he merely tried to answer without damaging his sister's sensibilities.

"Why do you wish to know? How will affect your opinion of me?" He laughed as another problem presented itself before him.

"I just wonder why such reports have been made public if they are not true. My opinion of you may change if you have, but I am sure I could understand your motives."

"I cannot answer you. That comment may sound like an admission in itself but it is up to you to make that assumption. It is not right for me to discuss such things with a young lady such as you are."

"You have denounced propriety elsewhere, why not answer me this simple question. I will still love you dearly and I will still embrace Elizabeth into our family. I am merely curious. I am not na´ve, William. I know what happens in the world."

"You have had a very thorough education I see. I may wish to speak with the person responsible for that."

"Do not stray away from the matter at hand. Tell me."

He looked into her eyes and nodded. He pulled her into an embrace when he saw her perception of him change.

"Oh, our Aunt leaves nothing but destruction in her wake. You need not have found out and now, well, now you know. Just remember Georgiana, I am a mere human and have my faults like any other man. Please do not count this among the worst for I shall hate myself forever if I had changed your impression of me."

"You need not worry. My love for you is unwavering. I just needed to prepare myself for the gossip when I return to Town."

"You need not. I could hire tutors for you here. You never need leave Pemberley if you do not wish." She pulled away and looked at him.

"You are serious?" He nodded. The smile that alit her features was heavenly, her gratitude genuine. He hugged her once again.

"We must go and see Elizabeth. She will be wondering where we are. You can tell her your good news then."

"Do you think she will be pleased about my remaining here?"

"She will be overjoyed. I am sure of that."

He was right. As soon as the news was broken the two new sisters were inseparable much to Darcy's pleasure. Now, where was that after dinner tea.

Chapter 13

True to her word, Lady Catherine left at first light. The temperature had dropped considerably over the course of the night freezing the snow that covered the roads. The surface now being firmer meant that she could pass in relative safety to Rosings and leave the young lovers in peace. She did not bid anyone farewell, as soon as the dawn appeared, she left Pemberley forever, vowing never to return.

Of course, this was not an immediate problem to the people remaining there. Still asleep (not all in separate room either), they remained quite oblivious to the departing of Lady Catherine. Dawn gave way to intense daylight and the beginning of a truly beautiful day. This was how it was when Darcy and Elizabeth were persuaded to awaken.

Still entwined in each others arms, it was Elizabeth that awoke first to gaze at the wonderful sight her fiancÚ posed. She thanked the Lord above for the man beside her when she espied him every morning. Life could get no better than this in her eyes. Asleep next to her was the most handsome man she had ever lain gaze on. And he was hers, from now until eternity.

He could not resist smiling when he realised she was indeed staring at him as was her wont most mornings. At first it made him feel self-conscious, now it was endearing and gave him a sense of absolute peace. He could feel her fingers gently stroke the deep line running down his face reminding him of the events of the past few weeks. It was almost over, all their waiting and suffering was nearing the end when they would become man and wife. He opened his eyes to meet her loving gaze.

"You are most stunning first thing in the morning Lizzy. I fear it shall be necessary for me to see you thus everyday for the rest of our lives." She smiled at him; the glint in her eye took his breath away.

"You are not so bad to look at either, Will." He closed his eyes and chuckled at her tease.

Rolling on to his back, he thought over the events of the previous day. So much had happened; it felt like eons ago he was telling his aunt to accept his marriage. The knowledge that she had was still sinking in. At last, nothing more could stand in their way. Fitzwilliam had saved the day by not consenting to have Georgiana removed and she in turn had helped their aunt to understand his relationship with the woman beside him.

Now however, the task of sending the letter to Mr. Bennet regards his permission to marry Elizabeth commandeered his thoughts. With the flurry of activity yesterday, he had quite neglected to send the extra important missive. That would have to be rectified at once this morning.

Elizabeth snuggled up closer to him, resting her head on his bare chest. He held her close with his arm and kissed the top of her head. As much as he needed to arise from this blissful state, he could not bring himself to move. It was common knowledge now that they were already sharing a bed. He would not have chosen this to happen had there been no accident. He would have waited until their wedding night before indulging in carnal desires.

His thoughts flew back to their first union. His depression and disillusion with life after the accident had finally broken him down. She happened upon him as he hit the bottom of a downward spiral and helped him to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For that he was eternally grateful. Once was not enough however, he had tasted perfection and he became addicted within no time. His need to feel her again increased until it became too much to bear. His only consolation was that she needed it as much as he did.

It being common knowledge did not mean they could rise as a couple however, he knew he must remove himself from the heavenly embrace before the rest of the house awoke. Taking a deep breath, he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. She sat up behind him, pulling the sheet over her exposed breasts. As he stood, she took in the sight of his form.

When she had first espied him naked, his form had not been so...thin. His ribs could be seen and counted from both front and back. His once muscular arms were barely skin stretched over bone. His injured leg still showed some bruising and swelling. He could feel her eyes criticising his damaged body.

"I wish you would not look upon me so disdainfully madam." His back was still towards her as he pulled on the breeches worn the previous day.

"You mistake me sir, I do not look disdainfully. I look with concern at your much altered appearance. You have indeed been so ill..."

"But now I am set to improve." He turned to face her now, adorning his shirt. "Lizzy, would it be... would it matter if I do not return fully to the way I once was. I do not mean to worry you but, I suspect that some of the damage done may be irreversible. I do not mean physically either for we are both aware that I shall never walk well again. But, I am scared that my character may, well, that... I do not know how to put my fears into words."

"You are worried that your pride and self-esteem may have been damaged beyond repair. That you will not know how to become the Mr. Darcy that you once were when we met." He smiled and sat beside her on the bed.

"I would never want to go back to the way I was when we first met. You had changed me so much before the accident. But you are right. I worry that you will not love me as I feel that I am barely recognisable to even myself. I am not the man you developed feelings for anymore."

"No, you are not. But then this has changed me also. I believe that neither of us are the people we once were before all of this happened. But because it has involved both of us, I think that we have both altered to the same extent and therefore our love has changed also. I cannot speak for you but I know that the thought of being without you hurts me."

"As it does me. You have certainly put my mind at ease for had you replied differently, I know not what I would have done." She kissed him gently before shooing him from her room.

"You must leave now else you shall be caught and who knows what scandal might then be caused. You shall send the missive soon? I long for our marriage."

He nodded and gathered up the remainder of his clothing and his boots. He smiled at her before he opened the door and checked to see if there was anyone about. Noticing there was not, he left the room to dress ready for the day ahead.

~*~

The letter was sent by express that day, and a week later, they arrived. As the carriages made their way up the winding road to Pemberley, all the occupants drew a breath when they first saw the house itself. Nestled quite beautifully in the snowy landscape stood the building that inspired so much awe. Nobody could quite wait to gain entrance, it had worked its charm once again.

As they pulled up to the courtyard to the rear of the building, there was a welcoming party awaiting them. When the door opened, Elizabeth and Jane rushed forward to greet each of their sisters and mother. The smile on Mr. Bennet's features when he espied his two favourite daughters was a sight to behold. It was Elizabeth that went to embrace him first and then Jane, both girls happy to see him once again.

The occupants of the second carriage made themselves known once the Bennet family were reunited. The Gardiner's opened the door and joined the reunion. Darcy was at once made more at ease, Elizabeth having at least two sensible relations was a blessing indeed. Joy was expressed at the extended family gathering and then all made their way indoors once again, the icy chill pervading all senses.

That was except Fitzwilliam and Kitty. He walked towards her when the rest of the group dispersed to gain entrance to the warmth of the house. Her eyes were cast down as he pressed a kiss on the back of her hand. Slowly, she raised her gaze to meet Fitzwilliam's and smiled. He had indeed missed her and she him. For weeks now, Kitty had been wondering if she had imagined his affections but here was the solid proof that it was real.

"You have been sorely missed Miss Katherine."

"As have you Colonel Fitzwilliam. Your letters have been of great importance to me, each morning I would pray for your communications."

"It delights me to know that they were so warmly received. I also found your missives to be of great import."

He squeezed her hand before finally relinquishing the contact. With her holding on to his arm, they entered the building and to spend time with their families. Once they entered the sitting room, they were met by the exclamations of Mrs Bennet as to the exquisiteness of the furnishings and the grandeur of the house. Kitty rolled her eyes and smiled at Elizabeth and Jane before taking her place next to them on the sopha. Fitzwilliam sat next to his cousin and Bingley as both awaited for the barrage of compliments to began to calm.

Mr. Bennet sat near to Darcy wishing to speak with the man he hoped would very soon become his son in law. The thought that he would have at least one refuge from his wife's silliness was of great comfort. Darcy turned to the older man and smiled, as soon as possible he would want to speak with Mr. Bennet not only about his upcoming marriage to Elizabeth but also on how to deal with Mrs Bennet.

At length, she did quieten down for at least others to gain an opening into the conversation. It was Mr. Bennet that spoke first, his desire to know the gentleman beside him great indeed.

"Well Mr. Darcy, I dare say that your house and estate are quite fine. I believe my wife had mentioned this enough however so we shall speak of something else."

Darcy nodded at the older man. Indeed Mrs Bennet had more than outdone herself in the effusive praise of the property. A far less sensible man such as Bingley would have struggled to maintain a pleasant countenance when dealing with the woman, unfortunately for Darcy, he was looking extremely disagreeable five minutes into the visit. That was until Mr. Bennet started upon a much more diverting line of conversation.

"You seem much improved, young man. Pray tell me, are you well enough to ride that fine horse that so gallantly deposited you on our doorstep?"

"Indeed I am sir, well, I mean to say that I have ridden Lysanda once whilst we have been here. I have been very busy dealing with various... incidents this past week." Mr. Bennet nodded his head understandingly, the drawn look on both the man before him and his daughter's face belayed how much 'incident' there had been.

"Perhaps we should ride out one morning this week then. I should very much enjoy to see your estate more fully and away from the noise of tittering ladies."

At this Darcy chuckled, a sound that made Elizabeth look in his direction. For her part, she had very little to laugh about. Her mother had all but dominated the conversation making it almost impossible for her to talk with anyone else in the room. She was quite desperate to enquire after Kitty for the way she was staring quite blatantly at the Colonel created a few questions.

She had of course been aware that they had been frequent correspondents over the past weeks but beyond that was ignorance. Whatever was happening between the two, he was certainly reciprocating for he looked at her almost as much. A smile suffused onto Elizabeth's features. A match between them would be more than wonderful for Kitty had grown so much after Lydia's influence had been removed to Newcastle. Yes, Kitty was quite the attractive and desirable young woman now and the Colonel would be hard pressed to find a better match.

Of course, there was always the fact that he was a second son and as such should really marry for money and connections rather than love. She was unsure as to how Darcy would take the alliance but she hoped that he would be understanding. He had himself made a love match now, his perspective on material gain through marriage should be altered. Shouldn't it?

Another matter that confounded Elizabeth was that of Caroline Bingley and Major Elton. He had an easy going character much like that of the Colonel but to be attracted to Miss Bingley?! They did look quite the young couple sitting almost next to each other beside the fireplace. To her, they looked in a world of their own, oblivious to Mrs Bennet's exclamations and the general chatter about the room. At one time she had thought Miss Bingley incapable of forming a true attachment to anyone without ten thousand a year but here was the proof.

Elizabeth was happy for them, truly. Had not Miss Bingley reunited the two Darcy siblings and attempted to right all her wrongs? Had she not been usurped from prime position to be mistress of Pemberley by a country nobody? The last thought made her chuckle. At last everything would work out perfectly. She turned once again to observe her father and her lover discussing matters quite amusing to them both.

How she longed to join them, to talk with the two people she loved above all. That they were talking jovially made her smile. Yes, they would get on very well indeed, not a doubt in her mind of her father rejecting Mr. Darcy as a son-in-law. Turning her gaze, she espied Mr. Bingley, Fitzwilliam and her uncle Gardiner discussing matters of politic. She longed to be a part of that conversation too for she had never been fond of ladies gossip. Her aunt noticed this and moved to sit beside her.

"Well Lizzy, this is a fine place for you to have hidden yourself away in. This does so much remind me of our summer here." Elizabeth smiled in recollection.

"Yes, so much has happened since then. I feel a different person now so much have I grown in these few short months." Her aunt looked into her face for signs of any discontent. Other than temporary boredom, she found none.

"The worst is over now I suspect. You have indeed aged Lizzy but only to increase your beauty for you are quite blushing under the scrutiny of your Mr. Darcy. He is yours now, isn't he?" Elizabeth nodded and dropped her gaze to her lap, a smile alighting her face. "Good, I must admit to your uncle and I hoping that such an attachment would take place. You two seemed very much in love when we were here last August."

"We were not so much in love then."

"Were you not? He certainly was. It is rare for a man to show so much affection publicly. You are very lucky, he will make you feel loved every day for the rest of your life. I am sure of it."

Elizabeth looked up and betrayed her intense happiness. She longed to tell her aunt that they were to be married and soon as long as her father gave permission. As much as she was loathe to, she had had to remove her engagement ring before her family descended upon them. As her father had not yet been asked, it would have been improper. Not that this had bothered them before.

After a short while, the bell for changing for dinner was rung and the party made their way up to their rooms to freshen up. Elizabeth had been in her room but five minutes when she heard a quiet tap on the door. Opening it, she saw Darcy standing there, looking sheepish. Beckoning him in, she quickly closed the door behind him. They stood looking at each other for what seemed like an eternity before she finally rushed into his arms.

"Oh God, Lizzy. I was beginning to wonder if I should have you to myself today at all. I've missed you."

"How could you miss me? I was sitting across from you the entire afternoon. Do not tell me you have already inherited some of my mother's silliness?" He laughed as he buried his face in her shoulder, breathing in her scent.

"If only you knew what you did to me..." He kissed his way down her neck and along her collar bone, his arms pulling her close to him.

"I do know sir, I know very well. But we cannot explore this now as we are not yet married and anyone of my family could walk in..."

She moaned against him as he brought a hand round to cup her breast through her clothing. He silenced her with a kiss. A deep, meaningful kiss full of longing and desire. She moved her arms to around his neck, pulling him closer, neither wanting the kiss to end. She was so lost in him that she barely noticed when he swept her off her feet and carried her to the bed.

Gently, he lay her down atop the covers and lowered himself beside her. His hand again moved to touch her breast, her back arching against his hand in response. Their kiss deepened as he thrust his tongue into her mouth, her fingers fumbled with his cravat. They had much too many clothes on for her liking.

Suddenly, she was brought back to the painful reality as she heard footsteps running down the corridor. He noticed her stop moving beneath him and raised himself from her to enquire as to what was the matter. She smiled at him but pushed him further until he was forced to roll away from her.

"We must stop lest we are discovered and my father call you out." He laughed at the image that jumped into his head but upon seeing her serious countenance, stopped immediately.

"You are right as always my love. But, soon I shall be able to keep you to our bed all day without a care of who is in the house."

"I long for that day Will but for now, we must ready ourselves for dinner."

"That day shall not be far off for I am to go riding with your father in the morning." Her expression became worried when he mentioned riding, after his fall last time she was doubtful as to whether he should carry on with such a pastime. "I shall be fine, Liz. Besides, we shall be talking for the most part. I am going to ask his permission whilst we are out. Away from all our relations..."

"Especially my mother, yes I get your meaning."

"I did not mean that but now that you point out that definite advantage..." He stopped when she made to slap him playfully. Grabbing her wrist he pinned her to the bed once more and resumed their kiss.

A knock on the door made him jump almost from the bed however. She giggled quietly and then made to make them presentable once more. After straightening her dress and his cravat, she moved to the door and asked who it was.

"It is I, Jane. Are you well Lizzy?"

"Yes I am quite well Jane." Stealing one last kiss with Darcy, she opened the door to admit Jane.

"Thank you for telling me of your plans to meet with my father Mr. Darcy. I shall see you at dinner." He bowed and walked briskly from the room.

"Lizzy?" Jane was horrified and Elizabeth just amused.

"Come Jane, you must help me choose a gown for dinner."

~*~

It was an early start for Mr. Bennet and Darcy as they set off out into the estate. Darcy was of course astride Lysanda (the horse slowly getting used to the struggle of being mounted) but the horse choice for Mr. Bennet had taken some careful thought. It was settled finally that he would ride an even tempered stallion named Caesar. Together they took the main carriage path away towards the lake.

Both men rode in a companiable silence, neither were very social and so did not mind the lack of small talk. Darcy knew that he would have to broach the subject of marriage eventually as did the older man beside him but for now, that would wait.

The day was cold and their breath condensed before them. The snow had steadily departed over the past week leaving a muddy slush behind. A light mist had descended over the park clamping the cold damp air about them. Both were wrapped warm in layer over layer of jackets and coats. So lost were they in thought however that they did not notice the cold chill that surrounded them. It was Mr. Bennet that spoke first as they reached the top of the hill above the house.

"Well Darcy, now that were are away from the talk of ladies, why is it that you have invited us to your wonderful house? Surely you could have returned my Lizzy to Hertfordshire for Christmas had she been so desirous of our company." His comment was teasing, his voice was not. He stopped the horse so that he may look down upon the house in the distance, just visible through the fog.

Darcy did not know what to say. He had not expected the subject to be upon them so soon and for the man beside him to raise the subject first. Now he was lost for words and this did little but amuse his companion.

"Come now, I think I may guess why you requested our presence and it has something to do with my beloved daughter does it not? Are you to take her away from me finally?"

"Yes, well, that is I would like to. I have asked Elizabeth to become my wife and she has accepted."

"I thought as much. I had thought you might have asked before her arriving here but then, she would not have been allowed to if you had asked her before would she?"

Darcy swallowed as the truth of what happened was alluded to by Elizabeth's father. Looking away, he missed the amused look on the man's face. Discomfiting Mr. Darcy would undoubtedly be one of his favourite pastimes.

"I am wondering why you even asked my permission for she is of age now. If Lizzy wants to do something I should not dare stand in her way. You will know that by now I should imagine."

Darcy looked at Mr. Bennet and smiled as he recollected many a time she had stood her ground. Nodding, he looked down as he remembered the most painful example - his rejected proposal. Still, he had her now and that was all that mattered. She would not leave his side again, of that he was certain.

"I am aware that she is now of age but I still felt I should ask you. Your closeness demands this sign of respect and I am sure that you would have taken a less then favourable view of me if I had not."

"Yes, you are right. I thank you for asking me. Of course I shall give my permission for two to be wed. That was not the only question your wished to ask me, was it?"

"No." He was nervous, he had never once thought about how he was to pose the question to his future father-in-law but now the time was upon him. The wording had to be just right for it not to sound scandalous. Clearing his throat, he started.

"Over the past weeks, Elizabeth and I have, well, become very close. I had thought of many reasons for this request and they all sound false and lifeless to my ears now so I shall speak my true feelings. I find that I depend on her being there, that I need her next to me. I cannot bear the thought of her leaving my side once again. It is with this in mind, that I ask that you allow us to marry from Pemberley. So that we may not have to separate again."

Mr. Bennet swallowed and looked away. The intensity of the love in Darcy's face so great. He know knew that Lizzy could do no better than the man before him. All the same, it was a difficult decision. Scandal was already rife about the couple and this could fuel or tame the rumours. More than mere love could also be the reason for a quick marriage. He prayed that it was not because of any indiscretion, the raw emotion on the younger man's face suggested that this was not the main reason.

"Mrs Bennet will be sorely unhappy that another daughter will not be married from Longbourn but I am sure your ten thousand a year will more than counter those thoughts in her." Both men chuckled but for different reasons. Darcy reclaimed his mask of indifference and looked directly at Mr. Bennet.

"You will allow it then sir? We would of course wish it to be as soon as possible."

"Yes yes, you may take my Lizzy for your own as soon as you wish. Only you shall have to tell my wife for she will be most displeased."

Darcy's broad smile emerged and lit up his entire expression. Mr. Bennet had wondered if such a smile existed on the taciturn gentleman before him but there it was. He could not help shake it head at all the things that had plagued the young man before him, no wonder he gave the appearance of being much older than his nine and twenty. When he smiled, his expression was young, it spoke of a youth cut short by responsibilities and bereavement.

"Come then, let us see the rest of your Pemberley before we have to rejoin the women for we shall not have a moment of quiet once they are told of your imminent marriage." Darcy nodded and spurred his horse forward towards the lantern below.

"So Meryton thinks I am only worth ten thousand then? I had thought they would be more accurate."

"Indeed? Why sir, if you do not mind me asking, how much are you worth?"

Darcy laughed. "More like twenty actually. But I am not one to brag about that."

"No, you do right."

And with that they rode off to tour the park.

~*~

In the early afternoon, the mist cleared and the sun appeared. The chill persisted but at least the air was no longer damp. It was this lull in the weather that prompted Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty, Caroline Bingley and Major Elton to take a stroll around the Italian garden just below the east terrace. Indeed, the garden consisted of very little at the present due to the harsh winter conditions but in summer it was a sight to behold.

The couples soon separated into their respective pairs, each with a guide to describe how well the gardens looked in the spring and summer months. They gradually drifted further apart, each small group lost in their own conversations. For his part, Fitzwilliam was enraptured by the beauty of his companion. He had heard Darcy say that Elizabeth and Jane were the most beautiful of the sisters but this one, the fourth youngest was also exceptionally pretty. He was quite entranced by her.

"Colonel, did you not hear me?" His reverie was broken as the young lady beside him gave him a nudge.

"I'm sorry, could you repeat..."

"It does not matter," She said with a smile. "Tell me something about yourself. What was it like growing up with a man like Lizzy's Darcy?" He laughed at her way of giving Elizabeth possession of his cousin.

"Well, he was a very quiet boy that managed to get into an awful lot of mischief and blame it on his elder cousins. I spent many summers here with Darcy when we were children. Swimming in the lakes, fishing in the rivers, riding of course. We both wanted to be soldiers but as a son and heir to Pemberley, he could not. I used to envy him his position but having seen what it does to man's sense of humour, I find fighting more to my liking. I used to anyway."

"It certainly sounds more exciting than growing up with four sisters. Do not get me wrong, I love them all but to have had a brother would have been much more fun. But then if I had, I may never have met you."

She looked up at him and smiled. He was in desperate danger of falling in love with the young lady before him. Her expressions and character were so much like a mixture of her two eldest sisters but they were different at the same time.

"Come now Miss Kitty, you must tell me something about you. Tell me of your first riding lesson for I am in mind for a good laugh." She swatted his arm playfully and laughed with him.

"I cannot remember it for I fell off and lost my memory of the event. Or so people tell me. I am not a great rider, we walk more in my family. But I can ride and I would dearly love to become more proficient. If I were to have the right tutor that is."

"Oh, I think that could be arranged. I do enjoy to ride all day long. There is nothing more exhilarating or free. I think you may come to like it as much as I if you were to be instructed more carefully."

"And who do you have in mind for tutoring me, Colonel?" She stopped and turned to face him, looking up into his smiling face.

"Me. I would teach you to ride if you were willing to be my student, my companion."

The smile disappeared as a look of such intensity overcame his features. His hand held on to hers tightly in case she should fall away into the ground below. He was not falling, he had fallen. He could feel his heart beating for her, his mind begging her to say yes to the question he dare not ask.

Suddenly, he became aware of a noise behind them as Miss Bingley and Elton approached them. The spell broken, the leaned down and placed a kiss on the back of Kitty's hand. The smile was back but the longing look in his eyes remained. Kitty was breathless, never before had she experienced a look so intimate and loving. All her preparation by reading romance novels could not have readied her for the joy she felt.

"We should return to the house, the chill is getting closer as the night begins to draw in." He turned and smiled at the couple behind him, their expressions suggesting that they too were also plummeting into the depths of each others hearts.

~*~

It was decided that they should wait until after dinner to declare their marriage arrangements to the group. As soon as he had returned from his ride with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bennet sought out Lizzy to give her his warmest congratulations. He had summoned her to the library whilst Darcy went to write a letter to procure a license.

When Lizzy entered the room, she saw her father immediately, sat by the window looking wistful. Walking over, she sat in the chair beside him, a smile playing on her lips. She had of course known what they would talk about during the course of the morning and she did not doubt that her father would give permission. She would have gone ahead with the wedding had he not but she did dislike the idea of going against his word.

"Well Lizzy, you have caught yourself a fine young man. He is quite amiable and amusing in his own way. But I could be sure that once upon a time you disliked the man. Tell me, how did your opinion of him change? I should dearly like to believe you happy but such a quick alteration in feelings. I am at a loss."

"Oh papa, you are quite right to wonder but are not my present feelings more important than those of an age ago? I love him, surely you could have seen that when I tended him all those weeks since. He captured my heart long before that, prior to Lydia's indiscretion. I met him at Pemberley when touring Derbyshire with my Aunt and Uncle. He was so altered, none of the improper pride he was so famous for in Hertfordshire. It was then that I saw the real him and I found myself in love before I knew my feelings had begun to alter."

"His affection for you is great, Lizzy. I just pray that your love for each other will last a lifetime and beyond. He is a good man, I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy." With that, he stood and kissed his favourite daughter on the forehead. "Your marriage will take place as soon as a special license is acquired."

~*~

That evening, when the news of their soon-to-be marriage was broken to the rest of the family, raptures of happiness ensued. It took a full ten minutes before anyone could squeeze in a congratulation between Mrs Bennet's exclamations of joy. Everyone present had known that it was just a matter of time before the event took place but even so, finally hearing the words spoken at last made it look as if the rain was a thing of the past. No one would wish anything more to stand between the couple and their one true wish.

Of course, it was a great shock for Mrs Bennet to find out that the wedding was merely days away but when presented with the circumstances, she could not formulate an argument. All thoughts of an elegant trousseau were dashed but least Lizzy could never have anything wanting when she was joined with Fitzwilliam Darcy. Especially when they were to be married by special license. No one in Meryton had that title yet.

The rest of the party offered their most heartfelt wishes to the couple that had survived so much turmoil the past few months. So lost were the group in their raptures of talking of a Christmas wedding that they did not notice first Lizzy and then Darcy leave the room silently. That was of course except Mr. Bennet. Nothing escaped him when it came to his favourite daughter.

Carefully he also slipped from the room during Mrs Bennet's effusive planning of the upcoming nuptials. Once outside, he did not have to walk along the corridors long before he heard the soft laughter of Lizzy and her fiancÚ dancing through the air. Following the noise, he turned into the long gallery that housed the Darcy family portraits. The light was sparse as only one candle lit the way and that was coming from the table nearest the couple at the other end.

Gradually, his eyes adjusted to the darkness surrounding him. He did not move, only focused on the pair before him. Although a way off, he could make out all their words and actions. They were looking at a portrait on the wall, he standing behind her, his arms encircling her waist holding her close.

"I take it when we are married I shall oft find you here, staring at my likeness."

"No, for I shall have the real one to stare at. I merely wanted to look upon this painting once again. I believe that is when looking upon this portrait that I realised myself in love with you."

"And then I happened upon you, walking through the gardens where in my imagination you have always walked. To see you here, the place dearest to my heart. I was going to ask you again that morning, when you received the information of your sister's elopement. I had ridden to ask for your consent to become my wife. I am sure that fate once conspired to keep us apart." She turned in his arms to face him.

"I think we have defeated fate now for I know nothing can separate us again. You already have my heart, body and soul. I am yours for eternity."

"And I am yours Elizabeth." His words were whispered against her lips before he crushed them in a deep kiss.

Mr. Bennet had seen enough of his daughter's devotion to her betrothed. The intensity of the kiss between them spoke volumes of their love but for how long would it last he wondered. Such feelings lasted but a short while before succumbing to the ravages of time. Soon their fiery passions would becalm to embers and then nothing. He had seen it before and only hoped that he would not see his beloved daughter suffer the same fate.

As he made his way back to the party leaving the lovers lost in their embrace, one thing his Lizzy had said made him feel uncomfortable. "You already have my heart, body and soul." He hoped that she was speaking metaphorically for the literal meaning did not bear thinking of. He made a vow to have words with her on the morrow. For now, he left them to each other.

Chapter 14

Any passers-by would take note that the magnificent Pemberley was a wonderfully serene place where undoubtedly the occupants idled their days away in a state of pure bliss. Surely no person who resided in such a place could have any cause to dash about as the building itself was such an inducement to relax. This was not the case.

Since the announcement of a wedding that was to take place in less than a week from that very house, not one of the inhabitants had had a moments peace. Mrs Bennet's voice echoed throughout the halls and corridors as she screeched instructions to make the hall and the happy couple the most beautiful sight in barely seven days.

Mr. Bennet remained quietly concealed in his future son-in-law's fine library and found much amusement from observing the said man entering the room for a few minutes away from the ensuing hustle and bustle. It was on these occasions that he took to observing the gentleman before him. Where once stood a proud and intimidating man of straight stance and severe countenance, a different man had taken his place.

It was not a massive leap to assume that the recent events this man had struggled through had changed him so completely. His face was perpetually tired and drawn looking but with an air of contentment never seen before. His eyes sparkled with a happiness seen in only the most ardent of lovers. His stature had taken a beating for sure but even with a body bashed and broken, he still moved with grace and elegance.

As he entered, he would smile and roll is eyes as the door restricted any of the frenzy just behind it from entering the room. He would only be there for a few minutes looking out of the window, lost in the thoughts of seeing his lover at the alter and having her by his side for eternity. Alas, someone always found him quickly and broke the most pleasant of reveries before dragging him back to the unhappy prospect of choosing fabrics for all of his fiancée's sisters.

From observing him for these few minutes at a time, Mr. Bennet could tell that he would get on very well with the taciturn young man that had so helplessly fallen in love with his most bewitching daughter. Yes, without a doubt, Mr. Darcy would be his favourite son-in-law.

Bingley was a good sort of man but lacked the intellectual prowess of his friend. Wickham was, well, Wickham, and as for the romance taking place between Kitty and Colonel Fitzwilliam, not much was needed to be said. He was a good man but with a very small amount of money and no inheritance. Would his officer's pay be enough to keep a young woman such as Kitty Bennet? Such questions were for the future however and for the minute everyone in the house was happy.

If this was the case, why did he feel so strange about his favourite's marriage to the illustrious Mr. Darcy? Something about the match did not seem quite right. That they were in love was a definite fact, they shared a deep understanding of each other that belied a strong friendship and were equally well matched in intelligence and wit. But still, he felt uncomfortable about their union. He could not help think back to that evening in the portrait gallery when he espied them sharing an intimate moment. Her words still rang in his ears.

"You already have my heart, body and soul."

He must speak with his Lizzy father to daughter before it was too late. Choosing the right moment was essential and luckily, for him, she chose the perfect moment to enter the library alone.

Upon seeing her father, she smiled and closed the door silently behind her. He returned the smile and gestured for her to join him by the window. Walking over, she took his proffered hand and seated herself in the chair opposite his.

"Well Lizzy, you have unleashed a hurricane of activity inside your future home."

"Yes, it would appear so. I wonder how people survive when their wedding preparations take months. Just a week will be enough for me I feel." They both smiled and a comfortable silence ensued for a few minutes. It was soon to be broken.

"Elizabeth, I have been meaning to have a word with you for a few days now. I would not have you worried but it is on quite a delicate matter."

Her smile faltered slightly as she looked away. She could not make eye contact lest he detect the secrets she was most keen to hide. This was going to be a hard conversation for both of them.

"I would wish to tell you a story, Elizabeth. It is about a gentleman who fell madly in love with a woman. Her personality and charm attracted him and at first, her behaviour was almost flirtatious and flattering to the young man. He could not help but be drawn to her. Both of them being so naïve and innocent, they anticipated their vows sometime before their marriage. Passion overruled their relationship and both thought that it would last forever.

"When their wedding day came, nothing could have made them happy. They had already discovered the delights of the special night and nothing felt remotely special. Soon their passions were low as they had spent it all before their joining. What was left was a marriage built on nothing except a dead lust. They live as strangers now, punished by not being given an heir to the estate, only daughters were produced from a match so completely false and devoid of love. No conversation to be had as nothing they have in common.

"You know how a marriage based on lust can turn into a miserable existence. You and Jane are the light of my life and now you are set to leave me."

Elizabeth looked at her father, amazed at what he had just said. His description of her parent's marriage was bleak to say the least but she could not fathom why her father would tell her such a vivid tale a few days before her own wedding. Or could she? Looking away once more, he asked her the question she was dreading.

"Tell me truthfully Elizabeth, have you built a marriage on a lust that will die the day you exchange your vows? Have you followed me down this most unhappy path?"

She shook her head. She simply did not know what to say. Had she built her marriage in the same vain as her parents? Would she and Darcy be unhappy for the rest of their days because of their inability to wait? She did not think so but then arrived the nagging doubts. Silently, she berated herself for allowing such thoughts to enter her mind.

"No father, I do not believe so. Our marriage will be built on a strong friendship that will remain true to the very end. Our love will grow stronger with each passing season. I am convinced that we shall be the happiest of people. Surely your life has not been so unhappy?"

"No, there have been moments when I have been content. But I should like to know that you shall not leave this world with the same regrets as I will. I know that you and Mr. Darcy are not as innocent on entering this union as Jane and her Mr. Bingley."

Everyone seems to know that! Thought Elizabeth, annoyed that they had managed to be found out when they tried so hard to be discreet. She needed to get away, where she had sought solace she had found unhappiness and painful thoughts.

"I have to go now father, mother will surely be looking for me again. I thank you for the advice. I am happy in my choice. Mr. Darcy will be the very best of husbands. I assure you, our... passion... will not wane."

He stood and kissed his daughter on the head before she walked from the room, her head full of thoughts, none of them welcome.

~*~

The sun was setting already in the mid afternoon. The winter months were gaining ever closer and soon it would be the end of autumn. It was on this equinox that the wedding was to take place. A new season, a new start, a new journey through life together. It was to be their perfect day, a time when they would quash the rumours in London and when they could publicly be man and wife.

It was a discussion about the wedding ceremony that held Darcy and Fitzwilliam's attention in the former's study. The special licence request had been dispatched two days previous by express rider and no answer had yet been received. Darcy was confident that it would arrive soon and was enlightening his doubtful cousin as to why he was so calm about it all working perfectly.

"Of course I am sure it will arrive and in good time. I happen to know the Archbishop from a friend of mine at Cambridge."

"Ah, the Darcy contacts strike again. Well, tell me who it is then." Darcy smiled and stretched out his rather long and painful leg in front of him.

"He is much older than I but he remained at Cambridge for some time. He is in the House of Commons now I think. His father became the Archbishop a few years ago. I spent some time with them before I met Bingley. He told me that if I ever needed any assistance in this matter he would be most discreet and expeditious."

"I think I remember him now. Well, you certainly have this planned. All we need is for the license to arrive and then you shall be the happiest of men for a few weeks until Bingley is wed and then you shall be the second happiest."

"Ha! I think not. Only when you have struggled through like Elizabeth and I can anyone be truly happy. I do count the hours until she becomes Mrs Darcy and I can hide her away with me here until we decide to come out into society once more."

"At least you will be fit enough to meet her at the alter now. Last week, I must confess, I still had my doubts. You have only just started to put some of that weight back on. Only knows how Miss Elizabeth has been feeling seeing your scrawny body everyday."

"Wretched I should think. Enough of me, how about you and Miss Katherine? You seem to have become very close in a short space of time. Is this another Bennet sister that has felled a member of our noble bloodline?"

Fitzwilliam grinned and stood. Slowly he walked towards the window and observed the last vestiges of light reflect of the lake before them. Yes, that is exactly what had happened. His heart had been won by the woman much younger than himself. Once this was all over, he was certain he would ask for her hand in marriage and he prayed that she would accept.

"I have seen that same expression on my reflection in that very window when thinking of my Elizabeth."

"She is very much like your fiancée is she not? But so different too, her eyes are..."

"Bewitching?" Charles Bingley closed the door as he finished the Colonel's description. "I find that Jane too can capture me with her gaze. I feel like I will drown in the depth of that look. How do such enchanting women have such..."

"A mother, yes, that is the question indeed." Darcy shook his head as they heard Mrs Bennet screeching once more from the music room. "We shall be a fine set of brothers-in-law shall we not? All cooped up in our studies when our... interesting family comes to stay." All three men chuckled as they heard their future mother-in-law in the corridor outside.

~*~

Major Elton was smitten. The realisation hit him hard as he sat in his room waiting to emerge for dinner. He had not expected to fall in love whilst on this little expedition but in love he readily fell. From Fitzwilliam's information, he had gathered that Caroline Bingley was generally considered to be a proud, snobbish woman that was insulting and on occasion rude. His own observations had not identified any of these faults within her character. She had been charming and beautiful since he had first set eyes on her.

He did not know the full story of how she came to be entangled in this tale of love, betrayal and deceit but was convinced that she was now repentant for all the sins she had committed. Everything was going well now it appeared as the young girl accompanying Caroline had settled back with her rather grumpy and obviously still very unwell brother. Her brother and his fiancée were to be married very soon and even the Colonel seemed to have found that special kind of happiness.

Matrimony seemed to be on everyone's mind and even Elton was considering what it would be like to retire and settle down with the object of his affections. The fact that he was a lowly officer seemed to matter little to her, her pride and snobbish nature had taken a hammering evidently. So much so that she was even willing to fall in love with a man with very little fortune and almost no connections. He only wondered at how it was caused and whether it was a permanent change. He obviously hoped it was.

Miss Bingley came from a sphere entirely different from his own. He had been brought up in a moderately wealthy family in Yorkshire, a county where nobody fell in love quickly. Not known for its romantic nature, Yorkshire produced young men that were hard workers but incapable of flattering a woman beyond providing them with a cup of tea. The world in which he found himself was almost from another planet. The super rich were an fascinating bunch and he found that although they were interesting, he would not wish to exist in this manner.

Would the object of his desires mind being slightly removed from this magical world and live in the harsher environs of the North? If she was indeed in love with him then yes she would, but good breeding and education of the manner in which she had progressed has the uncanny ability of dehumanising the mind. Again he thought on the change that the whole unfortunate situation had wrought upon her character. Every decision he made stemmed from this alteration.

He would be hard pressed to fall in love again like this; no woman in his life had made him turn remotely sentimental. Not once had marriage and retirement from the army entered his thoughts but now that is all he could think on. Maybe it was just the circumstances that had brought him to this part of the world. Who could resist falling in love when their mission had to reunite two siblings that had fallen out over a love match. Darcy and Elizabeth radiated an affection that could be contagious and effectively cause everyone to imitate the same feelings towards another member of the party.

Too many factors were involved to make a rational decision possible. He would observe Miss Bingley carefully and then ask to court her. If they could still be as close and in love at a distance and through correspondence, then he would happily marry her. He prayed that all would work according to plan; his heart was well and truly captured by the woman in orange.

~*~

With thoughts of what her father had said in the library, Lizzy walked slowly towards the sound of her mother. Thoughts plagued her mind as the doubts took root and grew out of all proportion. It was true that her parents had never had the same connection that she had with Darcy but all that they had gave way once they were married, their passions ebbing. She could not believe it but the worry in her father's eyes made her question their decision.

When she reached the room where her mother was awaiting her, she took a deep breath and opened the door. She was alone in the room and when Elizabeth closed the door behind her, she walked across to where she was sitting. It struck the younger woman how quiet her mother was these past two days since the announcement had been made. She had wished the happy couple joy and taken it upon herself to arrange the wedding breakfast (the ceremony was arranged by Elizabeth and Darcy alone) but something had changed.

"Ah, there you are Lizzy. Come and sit by me for a while before we continue." Elizabeth did as she was requested and sat beside her mother in one of the chairs by the fireplace.

"There is not much more that can be done today my dear, you shall be lucky to make it to the altar next week."

"I do not require much for me to make it mama, I shall be content if Fitzwilliam is waiting there for me and the vicar is prepared to conduct the service."

"Yes, I think you might be happy with just that, as would your Mr. Darcy. To be so in love is a wonderful thing, I only wish I could remember what it was like." A distant look appeared in Mrs Bennet's eyes; a fleeting memory of a sensation long gone appeared and then left as quickly as it had arrived.

"Your father and I were very much in love when we were married. He was so handsome when he was younger, sought after by all the young ladies of Hertfordshire. Not much of a fortune but an estate was a good living to be had. We met when I was sixteen, he was two and twenty. He seemed to pay so much attention to me and I to him that we fell helplessly in what we thought was love.

"We walked together and talked of all manner of things, he explained to me about the estate and of society in London. It seemed like everything was going to be wonderful when we finally wed. That was not to be though. When the day finally arrived we were so happy, I was Mrs Thomas Bennet. It was but a few short months into our marriage when Jane was born, not an heir to Longbourn. Your father loved his daughter but we so wished for a son. With the birth of you, our second daughter, he found me less and less interesting.

"Soon, he barely spoke to me at all and I was left alone with our two beautiful girls. With the birth of your sisters, we did not know each other. Our passion and love had died. I was not always as silly as I am now, I sometimes wonder if I would be like this if we had been blessed with a son but that is by-the-by. I love each and every one of my girls, they have been my constant companions since the death of his affections.

"As much as I have tried to marry off my darling girls, I will miss each and every one of them." She turned to look at the saddened face of her second eldest and took her hand. "Promise me, Elizabeth, that you are not making to same mistake that I did. Make sure that you do marry for love, an affection that will not wane if you do not carry a son. Darcy is a good man, he has loved you from the very beginning I am sure. But if you do lose his good opinion by not producing an heir, never stop loving your children. They will always be your most constant friends."

Tears worked their way down the faces of both women as Elizabeth whispered her promise. Her mother's admission of unhappiness and the reasons for it made Elizabeth's heart sink. Her parents had told her their sad tale because they thought she might be making the same mistake. This morning she had been sure she was not, but now she was unsure. Darcy would need an heir to Pemberley. If one was not produced, would his affection for her dissolve? She so desperately needed time alone to think on everything that had taken place so far.

Kissing her mother's cheek, she left the room and walked to her own. With a heavy heart and a head full of thoughts and feelings unknown to her before, she lay down on the bed and wept.

~*~

Colonel Fitzwilliam left Darcy and Bingley shortly before the bell for dinner was rung. He had hoped to spend some more time with Miss Katherine but best laid plans and all. The realisation that had happened in Darcy's study was unnerving, he had fallen in love. He had once doubted that he would ever be capable of such an act. He was not a romantic man like his cousin, yes, he had known women but only as short dalliances. Nothing ever serious had taken place regards women and now, here was this slip of a girl with whom he was planning the rest of his life with.

At first he had been attracted to the future Mrs Darcy but was soon discouraged from that line of thought when he realised his cousin was more than just in love with the woman. Watching Darcy make a fool of himself over a young woman that did not share his feelings was most upsetting, but everything turns out all right in the end. It was during this whole debacle that his life was turned upside down with the smile of a young lady. She was indeed like Elizabeth in looks but in character she was so young and vivacious. She would make him very happy indeed.

As he entered the sitting room, he espied the source of his musings sat by the fire. Everyone but he and Elizabeth were sat in wait for the move into the dining room. He walked towards his beloved and alerted her to his presence. Propriety had long since been abandoned in the house and the various couples were talking quietly amongst themselves without a care in the world.

"Good evening Colonel." She made eye contact and then quickly looked away, a becoming blush lighting up her face.

"Good evening Miss Katherine. How has your day been?"

"Very well sir, but there was something missing. I believe I have not seen enough of a certain gentleman. He has been talking to me these past few days but today he did not come. Do you know why, sir?"

"Indeed I do, he sends his apologies but he had to help his cousin sort out his rather hurried wedding preparations. He did say to tell you that he missed your company especially and begs that you will forgive him." She once again looked into his eyes and smiled.

"You may tell him that all is forgotten. I only hope he stills wishes to talk to me often."

"He does, very much so." He could feel his heart beating hard in his chest, his love for the woman before him rushing through his veins. How much he wanted to shout it out to the room. He hoped she knew.

At that moment, a servant entered the room with a message for Darcy. He spoke quietly but the room heard the most important part. At once, Darcy stood, a concerned expression taking over his features. He thanked the servant and addressed the room.

"I have some important business to attend to. Please, you may start dinner without me, I shall return shortly." And with that he exited the room.

As the doors closed, everyone looked at once another. What was wrong with Elizabeth?

~*~

He ran up the stairs as quickly as he could, concern for his Elizabeth numbing the now vicious ache in his leg. He did not know is she was ill or upset, all he knew was that she was not going to be there for dinner and he not seen her all afternoon. Her parents had been particularly quiet in the sitting room before dinner but he had not thought that they made have said something to her. As he approached her chambers, he did not know what to expect.

Quietly, he knocked on the door. No answer. He listened intently, trying to discern any noise or movement from the room beyond. Slowly, he opened the door and took a deep breath and what he saw. He entered the room and closed the door soundly behind him. Rushing over the where she lay on the bed he sat beside her and took her into his arms. Wrapping in his arms, he surrounded her with his loving embrace. He stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. She was shaking, her tears spent, her body tired.

He did not know what to do. What had wrought such a sudden change? This morning she had been so happy as she left his room before the sun arose. Her happiness had seemed to increase the closer they got to the day that would be together forever. Slowly, she becalmed and returned the embrace. He would not release her until she had told him everything.

"What has happened?"

"It is nothing really, just a silly worry that entered my head and I could not remove."

"Nothing? Lizzy, you look truly ill! Please, surely you can trust me?"

"Of course I can trust you, we would be in a very sorry state if I could not." She smiled up at him and after a gentle kiss, he smiled back. "I have had a very enlightening day. Both my parents have taken it upon themselves to tell me of their unhappy marriage. First my father this morning and then my mother later on. I think they fear that we are making the same mistakes they did."

"What do you mean? Why would they think that? Can they not see that you and I love each other, deeply?"

"Yes they can, but then they did too when they first married. I do not know how my father has found out but he knows we have anticipated our vows," at this, William started but she calmed him down. "Do not worry, he is not going to call you out or anything. He has suspicions I should say. He told me that he and my mother also did and that they were punished for this by having only daughters. He also said that they are so unhappy now because they spent their passion before they were wed. He fears the same for us, Will."

He took a deep breath and rested his cheek on the top of her head. He did not know what to say. Yes, he could promise that it would not happen to them but he was sure that the same words were spoken between the Bennets. How could he show his Lizzy that all would be well? There was more to come.

"I did not know what to do when my father told me this. I did say that I was positive it would not happen to us but I do not think he was convinced. So I left to find my mother. I came upon her in the music room all alone sat before the fire. She asked me to sit with her and she told me the same story from a different perspective. She says that my father fell out of love with her when she bore daughters instead of sons. That with each babe produced, his affection waned and died altogether. She is worried that if I cannot provide you with an heir that you will not love me anymore. That all I shall have is the children that their father does not care for."

"Oh Lizzy, I do not know what to say. Your parents really have bared their souls to you today have they not? And they have successfully implanted doubts into your mind and I do not know the way to firmly erase them. All I can say is that it will not happen, that we will always love each other, no matter if we only have daughters, I shall love you and them just as much. But I fear that this will not be a good enough resolution for you."

"I am ashamed that I have allowed these doubts to enter my head. I feel that I do not trust you the way that I should and it hurts me because I know that I am causing you pain. Our case is not the same, I know this. We are different, our relationship is built on a very deep friendship but I still know that you will need an heir. If I cannot provide you with one, I need to know that I will not be any less worthy of your love."

"Elizabeth, if you provided me with no children at all I would love you all the same. I do not want to have children just to pass all this on to; I want to have them because they are ours. They are the product of our love for each other, no matter what gender, we would love them just as they are."

Tears she thought she had no more of welled in her eyes as he spoke the words she very much needed to hear. He kissed her slowly and gently, letting his love for her show in the best possible way. Breaking apart, he smiled and addressed the other niggling thought in her head.

"As for our passions diminishing, I have wanted you for such a long time now and I can see no end to my needing you. You ignite the fires in my heart every time I see you. We have been here almost a month and our passion shows no sign of decreasing." She laughed and nodded her agreement to that statement. "There, see, we have no more worries. We shall be married in a few short days and all will be perfect. I shall love you for the rest of our days and you shall love me too."

"I shall always love you Fitzwilliam Darcy, with my entire being." She looked deep into his eyes, her expression serious.

The atmosphere in the room changed as he decided showing how much he loved and needed her became a priority. Suddenly, he kissed her firmly, his tongue parting her lips and savouring the taste of her mouth. He could feel her hands snake up around his neck and pull him closer, her fingers raking furrows in his hair. Her need for contact equalled his.

His whole heart cried out for the woman in his arms, his very being screamed for her touch, the anticipation of her professions of love made him shudder. His feelings were all at once painful yet bliss, he hoped the sensations never left him.

He gently laid her down upon the bed, his hands caressing her breasts through her clothing. Breathing was laboured as they broke from a kiss that left their senses reeling. She quickly divested him of his jacket, waistcoat and shirt, a sharp intake of breath as she touched the bare skin of his chest. He kissed her once again, roughly, before he rolled her over to gain access to the fastenings of her dress.

He was becoming quite proficient at disrobing Elizabeth and he made very short work of the once challenging task. Slowly, he turned her to face him once more and deliberately slid the dress down her body. He enjoyed the sight of her form slowly coming into view. Hot kisses trailed down her skin as it was exposed, she gasped as he took one of her nipples into his warm mouth.

Her desire for him was taking over her mind, she wanted nothing more than to feel him on top of her, inside her. The revelation that her thoughts were wanton beyond belief excited her all the more. She writhed under his touch, begging him to take her once again.

The process of removing her clothes complete, he sat back to enjoy the view of her body in the throes of passion, a need to be close, to him. He was the luckiest man alive, a thought that regularly crossed his mind. He stood and quickly threw off the remainder of his clothing. Her eyes caressed his body with their loving gaze, her desire evident when she glanced over his straining manhood.

Laying down beside her, he swept a hand across her silky skin. Starting at her beautiful breasts he moved down across her stomach, over her thighs and skin, carefully stroking her feet. He adored all of her, loved every single last part of her body and soul. Her lips caught his in a deep, meaningful kiss. His hand worked its way back up to her sex, his tongue darting into her mouth as his fingers enacted the same between her legs.

Her back arched as his hand worked its magic upon her. The need to be possessed well nigh overwhelmed her mind. Sensing this, he moved to lay betwixt her legs, his erection brushing against her hot folds. Looking deep into her eyes, he entered her slowly, the sensation of being inside the woman he loved taking over all rational thoughts. The desire to possess her being calmed with a necessity to love her, worship her.

He kissed her, exploring her mouth like it was the first time once again. She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close never wanting to let him go. He began to move in and out of her steadily, taking the time to acquaint each other with the pleasure of each movement. Breaking the kiss, they looked deep into each other's soul, together as one.

Their breathing became laboured as they moved together. Each could feel the pangs of pleasure in their brains, the darkness of ecstasy creeping in around the edges of conscious thought. Intense feelings of the approaching oblivion waved across them. Her eyes started to close to the sensations being created.

"Open your eyes, I need to see you as we fall." His voice was raspy, barely more than a whisper. She did as she was told, she could have denied him nothing at that moment.

He increased the pace, the need to spill his seed inside her becoming more urgent. They were close, both could sense it. She clenched around him, the precipice looming before them. Once, twice more he thrust deep inside her then blackness.

Nothing else existed, her mind exploded with the feelings. She felt him shudder inside her, heard his cry as he too experienced heaven. He slumped heavily atop her, the weight of his body a comforting presence. Her mind, reawakening, she hugged him close. Their breathing still affected by the exertion.

They remained that way for some time, neither wanted to move or speak. The love they shared was deep and profound, a spiritual experience accompanied their physical pleasure. Souls connected for a brief time, a true sense of being one. Neither wanted to break the spell.

It would not be long before they were missed, both knew this and so eventually, move they did. Not a word was spoken, actions spoke louder. Thoughts were occupied by an event not far away, that of when they would not have to part again. Once dressed, he kissed her gently, caressing her cheek as he did so.

Breaking apart, they resumed their public roles. He as the master of the house as she as his fiancée and guest. Together, they left the room. Their wedding could not be soon enough.

Chapter 15

The days leading up to the wedding whirled past is a flurry of activity. The last of the preparations were made and all members of the party were enjoying the comforting knowledge that nothing else could go wrong. Or could there? The special license for the wedding had yet to arrive but Darcy was quietly confident that all would work out in the end.

It had also been a time for reflection of all the events leading up the strange yet magical ceremony that was due to take place on the morrow. Some were memories of events long ago, some happy and others decidedly not. A few people thought of events that were to happen in the future, distant and not so far away. Needless to say, that even though it was a happy household, not much was said so lost in thought were all members of the group.

After the frank and sad discussions both Elizabeth's mother and father had given her, to say that her impression of her parent's marriage had altered would be an understatement. Three days after that unhappy event and she was still wondering why her parent's had decided to divulge such melancholy reminisces upon the week of her wedding. Were they truly worried for her and Darcy? Did they honestly think that their love would wane with the passage of time? Or were they preparing her for what may happen is they did not work at their marriage vows? The answer she knew not.

That Darcy was still upset with the ideas implanted into her head she did not doubt. He grew concerned whenever she became quiet when laid in each other's arms. He did not question her affection, of that she was sure, but he did worry that she may be affording their words too much thought. In that, she knew he was right but try as she might, she could not remove them from her mind.

One thing she was certain of was that she was to be married in the morning. That only one day remained of her being Miss Elizabeth Bennet. This thought cheered her no end for so long had she wished for it to happen. Since their meeting at Pemberley in the summer had she entertained such a notion as being Mrs Darcy. A silly fantasy maybe but now it was to take place and nothing could prevent it, or so she prayed.

The ground outside had once again be covered with snow over the course of the night. How pretty everything looked she mused by the window. She hoped that it would remain for the day of her wedding. The crisp whiteness reminded her of purity, a perfect description for the love she and Darcy shared. Oh how she wished that everyone in the world could experience what she did if just for a moment of their life.

Colours seemed to be more vibrant, the air fresher, her life brighter. Everything around her seemed to be more alive. Darcy had once told her that before he met her, his world was shades of grey. She knew what he meant, how could she had she lived for so long without noticing how dull the world looked. How much better everything was now she was in love, and that someone loved her too.

She supposed she should be nervous about the service that was to take place in less than a day but she was not. Excitement and anticipation took over, it was almost like that impatience that a child had before their birthday. A feeling that almost makes you feel sick but giddy at the same time. Was it seemly for a woman to be experiencing these sensations? Who knows, all she knew was that Darcy was feeling the same way.

That morning he had woken her with a such a look of boyish enthusiasm that she half expected to be told that today was her wedding day. How he would awaken tomorrow morning she could only imagine. This led to one cause for vexation, they were not to spend tonight together. Both had reluctantly agreed that they should refrain from intimate relations on the eve of their wedding but as the time grew closer, she did not know if they would manage.

Since his accident, she had disliked spending any time away from him. Their long separation when he returned home was well nigh unbearable. After their reunion they had spent nary a moment away from each other. Their dependency upon each other was so complete that even the idea of spending the night away from each other's arms was intolerable. She needed to be kept safe within his embrace, his need was equal.

The dreams that once plagued him when she arrived had abated. Rarely was his sleep interrupted after the impromptu visit from Lady Catherine. At last he was regaining colour in his features and his eating had returned to normal. It was an odd sight to see Darcy change from barely eating anything to wolfing down all the food within his reach. At first it was a cause for relief, now it was some reason to laugh at the dining table.

All problems aside, Elizabeth's time at Pemberley had been a good opportunity to become accustomed to the running of such a large estate. Over the past few weeks when there had been some free time, Mrs Reynolds had taken it upon herself to educate the future mistress of Pemberley. At first it had been fairly daunting but over time, she had become used to doing accounts and ordering menus. It was as if she had taken over the roll already. She had even heard the housekeeper telling Mr. Darcy that he was marrying an excellent student. This only added to her happiness and feelings of acceptance.

Her reverie was to be interrupted soon as she heard her sister's making their way down the passage beyond the door. Her few moments of solitude had been hard sought and she had put it to good use. With a clearer mind and a happy outlook on the world, she greeted her family as the door opened. With a smile, she joined the conversation. Yes, tomorrow could not come soon enough but at least she could enjoy the rest of her time as an unmarried woman.

~ * ~

Kitty Bennet was happy for two reasons. One, that her now favourite sister had finally succeeded in finding that happiness that eluded her for so long. And secondly, that because of this whole traumatic event she herself had met the man of her dreams. All that she had ever wanted in a man was to be found in the wonderfully attractive figure of Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was witty, charming, handsome and above all, in regimentals. Although the removal of her dim-witted younger sibling had caused Kitty to mature in some respects, the sight of a uniform was still too strong a pull.

She hoped to expect an offer of marriage from him in the near future. Certainly, he had made his preference for her quite clear in their private and intimate conversations. Correspondence received when separated had served to increase their attachment but finally seeing each other at Pemberley only confirmed their feelings for one another.

She often wondered what her own wedding day would be like. Would it be a small private affair as Elizabeth was having or a lavish social occasion as Jane was planning. She hoped for the former but had a suspicion that her mother would have something to say about that. Having had two daughters married in such a fashion did not sit well with Mrs Bennet. Perhaps a special license could persuade her.

Her thoughts turned to Elizabeth and her impending nuptials on the morrow. Nerves did not play a part in her sister's countenance. A deep longing for this day to disappear and for it to be the morning of her wedding was evident each time they spoke to arrange one final detail. Kitty hoped that she too would not be anxious, that the love she felt for her intended would eclipse all fears and enable her to look forward to the event with as much joy as her sister felt.

Jane was nervous on the other hand. Her wedding was not for another month but the scale of the event had lost all sense of proportion. Dear mama had managed to invite the whole of Hertfordshire to witness the wonderful joining and this worried Jane no end. Kitty could safely say that was not what she wanted when she wed the man of her dreams.

"On what are you thinking?" His voice was quiet and deep, a sensuous sound that made her heart leap and her insides quiver.

"On weddings."

"How could one not think of that subject when they are all about us? I think that you would like to be married in such a way as this." He turned toward her, a smile playing about his lips, an intense look in his eyes.

They were walking about the rose garden, enjoying the winter sunshine and the crispness of the air. Both well swathed in warm clothes, they had ventured out much to the envy of Elizabeth and Darcy, both penned inside. The Colonel had decided that he needed some time to think on his situation with the young lady beside him and what better way to think than with her walking with him. So they strolled along, her arm holding on to his, she leaning in to him slightly.

That he loved her there was no denying. That Darcy approved of the match was also without doubt. That Mr. and Mrs Bennet were also hopeful of a union was evident. Then why did he not just ask her? He partly believed it to be fear of rejection, the same sensation Darcy had gone through when wondering whether to ask for his Elizabeth's hand once again. That option never came to pass and the Colonel wondered if he could recreate the scenario to remove the need to pose that famous question.

He felt her pull him towards the small sitting area that was along the back wall of the garden. She sat on the cold wood and looked up at him, a smile gracing her features. She was so young, a good fourteen years his junior. Would this matter when such a strong love was between them? He thought not, but would she?

"It is my turn to ask you on what you are thinking?" He turned his full attention to her, he could have kissed her and whisked her away to Scotland at that very second. Something would have to be done.

"On weddings, or rather, on one in particular." He sat beside her, she turned to face him, their knees touching. He took her hands in his, his thumb stroking her knuckles through her gloves. "For some time now, I have felt a strong connection between you and I. Please, let me finish. This could be influenced by the strong feelings flying about the house but I think not. Since the moment I met you at Longbourn, I have felt a strong desire to know you better. Since that has now occurred it had assured me of one thing. That I cannot live without you. The light in your eyes captures mine, your voice entrances me, your lively wit and disposition ensnare my mind. I have never felt this way before.

"I have come to sense that you feel this way too. Am I correct?" She nodded, unable to take her eyes away from his expression. "I know that there is a significant age difference and being the second son I have no fortune to offer you, I have only myself to give. I would be most honoured if you would accept me and agree to become my wife."

Tears welled in her eyes, the happiness she felt inside indescribable. "Yes." One simple word caused time to stand still for the lovers. Her breath caught as he lowered his head toward hers, their lips meeting for a gentle, tentative first kiss. An eternity lay before them, both happy in the knowledge that it would be together.

~ * ~

They were as proud as an aunt and uncle should be when their favourite niece was about to be married to one of the finest men they had ever had an acquaintance with. That Lizzy was to become a resident of Derbyshire, a county that Mrs Gardiner had no small amount of affection for was an added bonus. That they had seen the early signs of an attachment forming when touring over summer made them even happier that the pair were finally managing to be wed in peace.

That it had been a long and tying journey they were fully aware. The news circulating London about the couple were horrifying to say the least. The Gardiner's did sometimes wonder what happened to the world when society would create falsehoods when a man almost loses his life. They had hoped and prayed that the rumours were not true and this marriage should help to quash some of the stories. Speculation on why the union was to take place so hastily would fuel the most dedicated scandal mongers and they themselves found it quite probable that is was more than deep affection that warranted this hurried ceremony.

"I fear it may be quite some time before the Darcy's will be venturing into Town again my dear." They were sat before the fire in the small sitting room attached to their chambers. The elegant surroundings that Pemberley offered were a shock to begin with but everyone was soon used to the magnificence of such a large estate.

"I think so, dear husband. But they should have no cause to repine when such beauty is before them. Derbyshire is most delightful in the spring and Lizzy will enjoy rambling about the grounds for a lifetime before she would want to be cooped up."

"You are quite right there. They are so lost in each other that I doubt they shall return to London for quite some years. We may have to visit them here, but of no great misfortune that shall be. How shall I bear two women incessantly recounting the features of the wild and untamed landscapes."

"You tease, my love, but you cannot deny that our little niece has certainly made a most advantageous match. A love match and one so strong is rarely seen."

"I can honestly say, I am glad I married for real affection and not for money or station. I would not want Elizabeth to marry for anything else, especially after seeing Lydia off on such a road to unhappiness."

"No, I would not wish such a fate on anyone. I do wonder though, that some of the scandal may be similar to that of our youngest niece. There is something about this rushed event that sparks questions. I do see a difference in Lizzy that has occurred since we last saw her in summer."

"These circumstances would change even the hardiest of characters. Do not read too far into a difference in personality. I agree, she has grown more mature and serious since the accident but nothing more, surely."

This was a change that Mrs Gardiner did not expect her husband to see. A woman's intuition is more finely honed than any man's and she did sense a definite change in the way Elizabeth acted around her betrothed.

"I do not think that there shall only be three people living in this house for very long. I shall conclude my musing on that note but do not be surprised should certain events come to pass in the not too distant future."

"You fret too much my darling. Leave poor Lizzy and her Mr. Darcy alone and come look out of the window." He was stood gazing at the most wonderful seen occurring in the rose garden below them.

He put his arm about his wife's waist as they espied Kitty and the Colonel celebrating what appeared to be a very romantic proposal. A smile alit their faces as they looked on, the happiness of the couple outside spreading to the older pair inside. This had truly been a magical time of year when romance blossomed out of control and more than one heart was joined with another.

~ * ~

Darcy sat in his study, a was decision about to made but he was still unsure as to the outcome. Before him sat two men, both of whom he saw as brothers, both wondering why Darcy had summoned them before him when they had much rather be with the women they loved. Both looked at each other, and then back to the man before them.

"You asked us here Darcy now spit it out, what do you want? I am sure you would rather spend the day staring at your beautiful Elizabeth rather than at us?"

"Indeed I would cousin. But I have a decision to make and I cannot so I must ask for your assistance."

"What could be so important, Darce, that it had gotten you looking quite perplexed?"

"Another good question, Bingley. I cannot decide who to have stand up with me. I have narrowed it down to two gentlemen but beyond that I am struggling." Fitzwilliam smiled at his younger cousin's quandary.

"Am I to suppose that those two men you have narrowed it down to are now the ones before you. Both men that you have grown up with and therefore see almost as brothers. You do not want to injure the feelings of either man but you insist that you must choose. Is my supposition correct thus far?"

"As always. It is a problem is it not? I find that I cannot decide and so I have to ask for your help. I do not find it amusing!" Darcy couldn't help but chuckle at the predicament upon observing the gentleman before him burst into unrestrained laughter.

"Maybe you should toss a coin upon it my friend for it would solve this situation more readily than your careful deliberation." At this all three of them laughed heartily, all happy for their true friend to be making a reappearance after so long out of spirits.

"You have certainly improved this past week. The Darcy we are more accustomed too seems to be returning and not before time. Has your fiancée seen you this jovial and full of humour? Her impression of you must be tainted by the miserable spectre that haunted your person for such a long while."

"She will be full surprised I bet for you were quite different when we were introduced to Hertfordshire society." Bingley knew that something had happened the summer before and the full impact of that occasion removed the smile from both Darcy and Fitzwilliam.

"I admit that it has been a challenging three years with various obstacles being thrust into the path of true happiness but these clouds are moving away. Elizabeth is bringing the sun with her and clear skies are just around the corner." He smiled and the pair sat opposite him, their expressions bore that or wonder. Where had Darcy developed his poetic streak? "You have been no use to me whatsoever. I asked you here to help me decide which of you I should have as my groomsman and instead you have diverted the line of conversation completely off course." He smiled once again.

"Well, the marriage is different from any known to me so why should this aspect of it be according to tradition?" Both Darcy and Fitzwilliam looked at Bingley askance. "Well, why not have two groomsmen?"

Bingley watched in amazement as the idea was processed, thought through and accepted by his companions. It was rare that a scheme of his produced a positive result but this was an exception. He watched as Darcy stood, shakily gain balance, walk towards the brandy decanter and pour a drink for all three of them.

"I believe this requires a small celebration."

~ * ~

"Do you sometimes wish for a small wedding, dearest?" He was not sure that she had heard the question, her expression belied no obvious response. In fact, Bingley was so positive that she had not been paying attention that he was about the repeat the enquiry when she responded.

"I am content with our preparations thus far but on occasion I do wish that it were a small intimate affair such as the one we bear witness to tomorrow. I should not care for all the events that are to be blamed for this hurried arrangement however."

Her serene countenance did not alter during her answer. That slight smile that was a constant feature did not waver, her eyes gave no clue as to her true feelings yet he knew that she was pondering on what more to say. At length she continued.

"They have changed so much Charles. I barely recognise my sister and the closeness we once shared has diminished. A few months ago they would not have suggested anything of this sort but they are shutting themselves away from everyone they hold dear. No, I would not wish for a small wedding. I am happy that we are following the laws set down by society and having a long engagement." She looked over at her fiancé sat in the chair opposite hers.

The fire crackled happily in the hearth while both individuals in the room began to think of how this whole occurrence had changed everyone connected to it. The winter sun shone through the windows and cascaded across the floor in a constant stream of light. It suggested a warmth that was not there, an intense cold pervaded the air beyond the glass effectively trapping everyone indoors.

Bingley could not help but think on what his beloved had said. Would they have not rushed to the altar if everything had gone according to plan? He did not believe for one second that the thought would not have crossed his friend's mind. He had been out of sorts for more than just a few months. He had seen the effect Miss Elizabeth Bennet had on Darcy years past, shortly after their initial acquaintance. No, he did think that a small and quick ceremony would have been desired, but not for the same reasons perhaps.

"Anyhow, we should be happy for them my love for they are finally putting an end to this disaster and embarking on a new and happy life together. We shall be making that journey soon, angel and they would wish us equal joy." He stood and walked to the young woman before him. Never in his life would he have guessed her to be as bossy and old-fashioned as she was turning out to be.

"Yes, I am happy for them Charles but it is tainted by knowledge of their actions. It will all be made right I am sure. Forgive me, I am sure you did not expect me to be such a worrier. I am truly pleased for them and I am delighted that I am making the same journey with you." She looked up to him for the first time in the discussion, a genuine smile gracing her perfect face.

"Stand before me Jane, let me look upon you." She stood and gazed deep into his eyes, amazed at the passion and love she espied there. "May I kiss you, properly?" She nodded her consent, her nerves being ignored as he closed the space between them. Slowly, his lips made contact with hers tentatively. She enjoyed the sensations flowing through her but she sensed that he wanted to go further.

Since he had described the passionate embrace in which he had caught Lizzy and Darcy, she wanted the same for herself. Would this be the time that her dearest love kissed her with a longing rivalling that of her sister's kiss? Indeed it was. She could feel his tongue move across her lips and she opened her mouth slightly. He took this as encouragement and slowly probed her mouth, savouring the sweet taste of his beloved. He tempted her to try to do the same to him, drawing her into his mouth.

Her legs felt weak at the intensity of emotions coursing through her body. Wrapping her arms firmly about his neck, she steadied herself and enjoyed the moment. Feelings she had never experienced before made themselves known. She could sense a deep longing starting in the pit of her stomach and a throbbing between her legs. Although new, they were not entirely unpleasant. Yes, she could get used to this.

It finished all too quickly however. As she was brought back into reality, a sense of something hard pressing into her stomach made itself known. Not knowing what it could be she tried to break away to look but Charles would not let her move away from his arms. He crushed her into a fierce embrace, clamping her to his body. Frustrated, all she could do was wrap her arms about his person and wait to discover the identity of aforementioned object.

The longer they stood, the less she could feel it and then it disappeared altogether. Annoyed that she had not managed to discover what it was, she broke from the embrace to look at her husband-to-be. He smiled at her, the dark look in his eyes subsiding. The moment was over but she felt sure it would not be the last time he kissed her like that. Her quest to find the object began to fade in importance as he looked upon her thoroughly kissed lips.

The idea of a quick marriage was becoming more and more favourable by the minute. He had made his point quite well she thought and wondered at how easy it would be to go all the way with the man before her. Yes, their wedding could not come soon enough.

~ * ~

A small knock on the door alerted Lizzy to the presence of someone beyond it. She knew who she wanted it to be but also knew that they had agreed to spend the night apart from each other and had already bid each other pleasant dreams. So she was unsure as to who it could possibly be when she crossed the room to enquire as to the identity of the person on the other side.

"It is I Lizzy, may I come in?" The door was swung open to let Jane gain admittance to the room. Smiles were shared as was a quick embrace before the door was once again firmly closed.

"I hope you do not mind but I had a thought whilst laying in bed. This will be our last chance to talk at this time, as we have done for so many years." They both crossed the room to the large bed dominating the centre of the room and crawled beneath the layers of covers.

"I know what you mean Jane and I am more than happy to have this last chance before tomorrow. Everything has changed I can barely recall life before all this happened. Pray tell me, was it always this exciting and busy?" They both smiled at the comment both knowing how true it was that nothing was ever going to be the same.

"You have begun your new life with your very soon-to-be-husband and of course nothing shall ever be the same. But then life was never meant to meander along as it always has done. You are meant to reach a point where it all changes and it begins anew with a new person with whom to travel with. You chose your Mr. Darcy and I chose my wonderful Mr. Bingley."

"Yes, your Mr. Bingley is a truly excellent man and he shall make you very happy. You are so alike, I am sure you shall never argue or have a differing thought all your married days."

"Unlike you and William you mean. You have always had differing opinions and I am sure you always shall have. Your marriage will never be monotonous, that is certain." Both ladies laughed as they thought upon the men they were about to travel with. They quietened and became thoughtful, fears, worries and dreams surfacing

"Lizzy, you have so much more knowledge on this than I. Charles kissed me today." She noticed her sister turn to look at her, an eyebrow raised and a small smile playing on her lips. Jane decided to forge on with her enquiry. "We were all alone in the sitting room and he walked over saying he wanted to kiss me. We had shared small, chaste kisses up until that point but this was different. His eyes were dark, not scary but in an exciting animalistic way. I was surprised by the kiss when he sought to enter my mouth with his tongue. But I was excited, it was breathtaking."

All Lizzy could do was stare in rapt attention while her sister recounted was sounded to be a very passionate kiss indeed. Having been on the receiving end of many of these exchanges herself, all she could do was wait for Jane to carry on and get to the point she was struggling to understand or accept. A small smile did creep on to her lips however, finally her sister had experienced pure pleasure in the arms of the man she loved.

"I felt strange, it was an almost painful feeling in my stomach and my legs felt weak. What does this mean, Lizzy? I know that Mama will tell me all about my wedding night but I long for you to tell me for I know that you have experienced this already, do not try to become all innocent." Jane shot her sister a look that dared her to deny it.

"Yes I have experienced this as you rightly say. Your feelings and the sensations running through you are because you are deeply in love. You want to do more than kiss your Mr. Bingley but you may not think it yet. It is a natural reaction to being kissed in that way. Mr... men also experience a similar reaction as you will see on your wedding night. I am not going to tell you anymore of the event as I do not was to scare you. But trust in your husband and he shall give you great pleasure."

To say that Jane did not go through a range of emotions would be a lie. At first she was shocked, then fascinated, curious and finally dubious. She wanted to know more but assumed that Lizzy knew of what she was speaking. The matter was dropped but the information was to be pondered long and hard between now and Jane's wedding day.

"Jane, how I shall miss our chats. With whom shall I confide all my secret worries?"

"I know, I shall miss them too. But I am confident that we will always be in contact for I shall write you everyday."

"Yes, and I am sure that we shall see each other frequently with our husbands being such close friends. They will understand if we should wish to lock ourselves away for a few hours to share our news."

With tears welling in their eyes, the sisters hugged each other. Nothing would separate them really. They were each marrying good men who would understand their need to remain close. Everything was going to be alright.

"Stay tonight Jane, I can feel my nerves building already. I know I should not be but, well, it would not be a wedding without some nerves would it?"

"No, indeed it would not. But do not turn into Mama, I am not sure I could cope with two of you fluttering your handkerchiefs!" With this, the sisters laughed and settled down for their last night living together.

~ * ~

Their kiss goodnight had been tender and meaningful. The passion that they shared was out away for the evening knowing that if they kissed in such a way, they would not be able to part. He loved her, his heart sang for her, his whole being screamed out for the touch she could bestow upon him. How was he to survive the night when he ached to lay beside her, holding her against him?

That he understood the reason for their separation calmed him somewhat but did not make it any easier. In twelve hours she would be bound to him for an eternity, till death do they part. It could not pass swiftly enough for already he was missing her an inordinate amount. He could feel his resolve slipping as he opened the door of his room to look out along the passage to the entrance to his beloved's chamber.

Darcy instinctively made his way out of the room and closed the door silently behind him. His mind shouted it's objections to his actions but his heart led him on, he had to be with her for he was quite lost when he could not embrace her. He was hidden by the shadows when he espied Jane walking towards her sister's room. He watched as she gained admittance to the place he most wished to be himself. He knew that she would remain there until morning, he would not see his Lizzy again until the wedding tomorrow.

A deep sadness overtook him and he berated himself for how unreasonable he was becoming. Lizzy and Jane had a right to spend one more night as unmarried women. He was being selfish, plain and simple. He had best remove himself from the passageway and make better use of himself. Lurking around in the dark was going to help nobody. A quick decision was made, he would go at once to the library and spend some time in quiet and solitude with a book. That should wile away some of the long hours between his seeing Elizabeth once again.

He was dressed only in his shirtsleeves and trousers when he entered the room. The light in the fireplace fading slightly but still providing enough to illuminate the room thus enabling him to find a candle. Once several luminous points were scattered about the room, he started to rummage through the extensive collection of books. Having found one he thought interesting enough to maintain his concentration until such a time he was able to fall into slumber, he settled down to read.

After several attempts at trying to glean any information from the same page, he closed the book and tossed it onto the floor in front of him. Laying his head back on the chair, he closed his eyes and pictured his beloved before him. To him, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever lain eyes on. He had not always been of this opinion. It was shortly after the 'tolerable' comment (a few words that he still berated himself for) that he saw the light in her eyes.

It was from that moment that he could sense himself falling. A fast descent into a wonderfully deep feeling of love, with a woman that hated him. If only he had realised his errors earlier in their acquaintance then they could be married and none of this would have happened. Instead he insulted the woman he adored and her family all in one fell swoop.

The knowledge that he had finally gained her affections and love comforted him and a smile overspread his features. So much had happened to keep them apart but they had prevailed and now virtually nothing could stand in their way. Or would the clouds intervene once again?

He had still to receive the special license that he requested so many days ago. Yes, it should have arrived by now and a slight worry was beginning to creep into the back of his mind. Still, he refused to let the situation get him down, his belief in their getting married in a few hours time was so strong that he could almost will the document to appear before him.

The room was warm and the light was fading rapidly. His eyes closed, his body in relative comfort, he could feel the first signs of drifting off to sleep. His mind fooled him into believing that he was in bed with his Elizabeth, that her body was snuggled up against his. He could almost smell her, feel her breath falling on his chest. Yes, he would sleep tonight without her, but just this one last time.

It was sometime before he was awoken to the harsh reality of a cold room and an aching body. It was hours after his last conscious thought as the light was starting to appear just beyond the hills. It was only after a few moments of gathering his senses did he realise that Mrs Reynolds was stood beside him wearing her nightgown and holding out a letter.

He took the object and thanked her, her expression amused at finding him so in a freezing library. When she did not find him in his room she knew exactly where he would be. Taking a blanket with her, she walked to the room where she knew him to sleep when troubled by something. Her affection for the young man was common knowledge, like one of her own she cared for him. That would have to stop when he married but for now, she could look after him for a few hours longer.

"You have a few hours left to sleep but I thought you would like to receive this now. It arrived by express not half hour since. I have also brought you a blanket, I wouldn't want you to catch a chill on your big day now." She put the covering over his shoulders and made to leave the room.

"Thank you, for everything." He smiled at the older woman as she closed the door behind her.

Yes, he would sleep for a little while longer now that he held the special license in his hand. Today would be perfect.

~ * ~

The morning of the wedding was a blur of activity and on the odd occasion, panic. It had been the screeching of an overexcited mother that woke the two women sleeping soundly. After many hours of talking, they had fallen in a blissful slumber, each imagining the men they loved as they dreamt the night away. It did not take long for them to realise the import of the day and rise in a happy and excited daze. Much had to be done.

Darcy was awake by the time the commotion outside reached fever pitch. He was busy stretching, working out the aches that had taken root in his body when Mrs Reynolds came to make sure that he was up and about. To say he had spent the night in a chair in a cold room, he looked remarkably well rested. No doubt he was anxious for the hour of his wedding, she thought to herself.

He smiled when he saw her, gripping the important missive in his hand, he walked from the room, an expression of uninhibited joy gracing his countenance. Retrieving the blanket, she closed the door to the room and went about making the final preparations for the day.

Mrs Bennet was in a fit of nerves. Her second eldest was to be married in a few short hours and yet she was not half dressed yet alone breakfasted. She needed to get Elizabeth on her own for a few short minutes, the discussion on what to expect on the wedding night was something she was looking forward to doing. She had missed her chance with Lydia and now she could make an excellent speech to another of her daughters. Next it would be Jane, oh what a happy day that would be.

Mr. Bennet was wandering along the corridors trying desperately to escape the sound of his wife shouting orders to servants that were not hers. Oh to find a corner of the house where he could but think on what was about to happen. His little Lizzy was to be forever have another man first and foremost in her heart. Although he knew the day would come, he was still not ready for someone else to take his place in her affections. His one consolation was that he was a good man, one, he could say with some reluctance, that would love and cherish his darling girl all her days. Or so he now realised.

Walking along he saw Kitty, Mary and Georgiana walking towards the breakfast room. In the few short weeks that they had known each other, they had formed a close friendship. Mary and Georgiana had been brought out of their shells and in turn they had turned the once boisterous Kitty into a young woman any man would be proud to call his wife. Mr. Bennet just did not realise how soon it would be before some man did make that claim. For now, he watched his daughters walk away in the hope that he would have them for some time to come.

The Gardiners were next to arrive at the breakfast room, a smile gracing both their faces as they thought on the happy union about to take place. They each thought back to the previous Summer when they had happened upon Mr. Darcy when touring the area with Elizabeth. The pair had seemed so very much in love back them and to see that love come to the fore was a great feeling indeed. No words could express their happiness for their favourite niece as she embarked on the journey of a lifetime with a most wonderful gentleman by her side.

Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam knocked confidently on the door to the groom's chambers. They were welcomed in and the door closed behind them and they walked over to where Darcy stood by the window. He was drinking his morning coffee, no need to rush about like everyone else in the house. They were amazed at him being so relaxed, neither men thought that they would be so tranquil on their wedding days, neither too far off.

"I say Darcy, you don't seem to have a rush in you. What has happened to the panic stricken groom in this modern day and age?" Bingley's jovial tone made Darcy and Fitzwilliam smile. Today's wedding would certainly be a very different affair to the majority.

"I am not nervous and I do not feel the need to rush as there are two more hours before we have to arrive at the church. The special license has arrived, you two have the rings and all that needs to be done is for us all to get there at about the right time. It is almost completely out of my hands now, for which I am thankful." He glanced at the men standing in front of him before returning his gaze to the scenery outside.

The sun was shining once again melting the snow that lay on the ground beyond the glass. Icicles dripped from the boughs of the trees as ripples from the lake disturbed the ice that lay on the surface. It was going to be a cold yet beautiful day, a perfect example of a Derbyshire winter of which today was the first. What better day to get married than on the winter solstice. The first day of a season, the first day of the rest of their lives.

As a complete contrast to the calm and peaceful atmosphere of Darcy's room, Elizabeth's was in complete chaos. Mrs Bennet had walked in to find Jane and Lizzy chatting and laughing as if nothing remotely important was about the take place. With a screech she ordered Jane to her room to ready herself whilst she herself took care of overseeing Elizabeth made into the perfect bride.

Once her hair was carefully arranged into a simple yet elegant style, with small flowers taken from the orangery adding little bursts of colour, she was dressed in her wedding gown. It was beautiful, a dress that she felt sure William would appreciate. Once this was completed, she settled down to calm her nerves and savour the last few moments of being Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She thought nothing of her mother dismissing the maids and taking a seat beside her.

"My dear, you do look pretty. Mr. Darcy will be vastly happy I am sure. You have become such a beautiful young woman these past few months. He will be a wonderful husband, I am positive." Lizzy could not help but think of the contradictory statement her mother had made from a few days ago. She kept her silence however and pondered what on Earth her mother was about to tell her of her wedding night.

"Now, you must listen carefully to what I am about to say for it is of the utmost importance. I did not have a chance to tell dear Lydia of her wedding night so I shall make sure I tell you. Do not be afraid Elizabeth, for your husband shall treat you with respect and love. He has been a most attentive fiancé to you my dear and this shall carry on through your marriage. Trust in your heart and enjoy yourself. If he is any man at all, he shall make you happy in your bed, as long as you trust in him."

Lizzy was all astonishment, never in all her imaginings of this scene had she thought her mother would say that. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of all the times she had misread her mother and father's marriage. Hers would always be full of love, forever. She had promised that to her mother and father, she hoped that they were happy for her truly.

"You are a beautiful woman, I have not always told you so but you are. You shall be happy my darling, I am sure of that. Now, we must be off for I should not like to make Mr. Darcy wait for his future wife any longer." Both women stood and embraced before leaving the room to make their way to the church.

Elizabeth was greeted by her sisters and Georgiana, all four were to be her bridesmaids, something she was exceptionally happy about. Each complimented her on how well she looked before she was hugged by her father.

"Well, Lizzy. You have even outstripped your sister Jane today. I am happy for you my child. Not come along, let us not keep the party waiting. I m sure you are anxious to see your young man again." And with that, he took her arm and led her through the doorway and out into the chapel that adjoined the manor house.

It was a small room with a few pews elevated to the right and before the altar at the far end. Fresh flowers from the hot-house mixed with holly and ivy decorated the modest chapel but none of this registered once Elizabeth set eyes upon the man she was to marry. He looked stunning, his expression one of admiration and love. He carefully watched her walk down the short aisle to take her place beside him.

As she reached him, he took her hand and kissed it gently, his gaze never leaving hers. Never before had he been so much in love as he was now, her cream dress was so simple yet elegant. Such a vision of perfection had never been seen before. And here she was, stood beside him to be joined forever. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tore his gaze away from her.

Neither heard the words of the service, each too lost in the moment that they had longed for. They responded at the appropriate times but the feelings surrounding them were too much. If pressed, they could not answer any questions about the ceremony bar what each other was wearing and how they felt. A strange cocoon seemed to embrace them, locking them from the rest of the world.

When at last the service was ended, the spell weakened slightly and they became aware of what was happening.

"Forasmuch as Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth have consented together in holy Wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

As soon as they heard these words, the sound of clapping could be heard from behind them as all their family and friends congratulated them. All he knew was that she was now his. Nothing could separate them now.

"Well, Mrs Darcy, not even the clouds will intervene now." And with that he kissed his wife.

Epilogue

The months after the Darcy's wedding passed slowly and in relative peace. That does not mean to say that they passed without event, on the contrary much happened in the year following that wondrous event. We continue our story almost exactly twelve months after, the air is cold and the snow has fallen causing the ground to glimmer and shine.

Hertfordshire is not known for the harsh winters as seen in Derbyshire or Yorkshire but still it is a magical time where the countryside is at its most beautiful. The bells of Meryton church ring out for the service that is about to commence. People gathered outside conversing and gossiping quickly rush in to the building, nobody would miss this occasion for the world. A wedding is due to take place and the town is alive with talk of the happy couple.

The church is awake with activity and colour as the flowers decorating the room are so vibrant. Hues of orange and red streak the hall and mixed with the calmness of winter roses, a magical effect is produced. The room is full of people all wishing the young couple well as they start a new life together in holy matrimony. Near the front of the church are the Bennets and Fitzwilliams.

Mr. and Mrs Bennet were sat next to their daughter Mary and her fiancÚ. He was a young clergyman from the next town named John Whiteman. They had met shortly after their return from Derbyshire as he took over services at Meryton for a short while. Their romance had been slow and steady, the first of its kind at Longbourn. After many weeks of talking and discussing the relative merits of the Book of Common Prayer, he realised he was madly in love with the young girl.

So it was, that nine months after their meeting, he proposed marriage and a life of love and affection to the sensible Mary Bennet, and she accepted. Not one for being silly, she had to berate herself for the constant smile that lit her features when he was near. For someone so completely unromantic, she had found the man of her dreams and he was perfect.

Of course, her parents were more than happy for their only remaining unwed daughter to find the happiness they both desired for her. Since all her sisters had left home, Mr. Bennet had found a companion in Mary. Someone to talk with about sensible subjects. She also had a wit similar to that of Elizabeth's when she had a chance for it to be displayed. He would be more than sorry to see her go but he was so used to it now. Not ten months ago he watched as Kitty took her place at the end of the aisle.

Their wedding had been another small affair with a special license (the only way to get Mrs Bennet to agree to hurried affair). They had travelled to Derbyshire once again for the service, the small chapel at Pemberley was the perfect location for the ceremony they wanted. Something discreet, only family and close friends present. Nothing should distract the eye from the most important part of the occasion, the deep love between the two being married.

The Darcy's were more than happy for the service to be held at their home. Travelling was still out of the question for them, neither were in any condition to be making the journey to Hertfordshire in the deep winter. Having already made the trip once in the new year, it was decided best they did not try to place themselves into society once more.

Plus, the groom was particularly fond of Derbyshire having grown up there. To be married from his cousin's home was comforting. He saw Darcy as his brother, closer than his actual brothers in fact. They were in attendance also and once again Pemberley was filled with relations and friends. The whole Fitzwilliam family descended upon the house, all of them filled with congratulations for their son and his bride. Mrs Bennet even managed to behave and create a good impression on them.

It was not long before Miss Katherine Bennet became Mrs Richard Fitzwilliam and good cheer was spread throughout Derbyshire at yet another member of the esteemed family being entranced by the beautiful Bennet women. Of course, not all the family were pleased about the arrangement. Lady Catherine had barely gotten used to the fact that her most eligible nephew was to marry a country nobody when he other favourite was marrying yet another! From the same family no less.

She did not make her presence known at the wedding, her fear of Darcy was so extreme that she merely wrote a strongly worded letter to her brother warning him of the dangers of being associated with such a family. When Darcy read the letter his uncle had received, he almost laughed. He had been used as a reason to not marry the girl as she was tainted by association by not one but two sisters deeply involved in scandalous relationships.

Needless to say, the wedding went ahead and Lady Catherine could do nothing but sulk with her increasingly bored daughter, Anne. It was not long before Anne broke the communication ban and wrote to both her cousins stating how happy she was that they had both found women to love and respect. They continued to correspond with her without Lady Catherine ever knowing and the three cousins became closer. In fact, Anne spent some time over the summer at Pemberley, her mother was infuriated that she should associate with such a family. When reminded that it was also her family, nothing more could she say.

So it was that Mr. and Mrs Bennet, Mary and John and Kitty and Richard stood three rows back from the altar at the front of Meryton Church. Two rows ahead stood Mr. and Mrs Bingley, the latter now showing her condition but happy nevertheless. Eleven months ago, both Elizabeth and William travelled from Derbyshire, not a month after their own wedding to witness that of the her sister and his best friend.

They stayed at Netherfield a week before the ceremony but remained out of society in general. On one meeting with Mr. and Mrs Collins, it was made quite clear that they were disgraced and served only to be stared at with contempt. No matter they thought, as long as they had each other. Nothing could detract from the happy occasion about to occur. Jane and Charles had been engaged for four months now, since just before Darcy's accident. After the delay that it caused, they were more than ready to tie the knot and after several more intimate embraces when walking around the large estate at Pemberley, it perhaps could not come soon enough.

Darcy acted as Groomsman for the service, no, this wedding was to be quite normal in every way. Lizzy acted as the bridesmaid and once again, she and her husband found themselves in front of the altar, finally they could learn the words of the ceremony, well, some of them anyway. Meryton church was packed to the rafters with people travelling from all over Hertfordshire to wish the young couple well. Some, however, came to see Mr. and Mrs Darcy for themselves and detect any possibilities of rumours being true.

In truth, the staring did disconcert the couple somewhat but this all went unnoticed by the blushing bride and her new husband. The Darcy's having had quite enough of society returned home almost immediately. Partly because something they wished to remain hidden was becoming quite noticeable and also because they knew what it was like to want some privacy when first married. An invitation for the Bingleys, Bennets and Fitzwilliams to visit at any time was issued and away they went.

Charles and Jane barely noticed, so lost in each other were they that they retired early that night. After so many passionate kisses, she had yet to find out what the prodding sensation was but tonight she was determined to discover its identity. She brought to mind what both Lizzy and her mother had told her about connubial bliss and decided that she did in fact trust her husband implicitly.

She took her time in her bath, making sure that she was as relaxed as could be before meeting her 'real' husband for the first time. This was the man that nobody else saw or knew of. This was the private Charles Bingley and she intended to enjoy him. She selected a silk nightgown chosen with a great deal of care by Lizzy who had some experience of what men liked in the nightwear department (Elizabeth went as far as to say that she had quite gotten out of the habit of wearing anything to bed for it was never on for long. This made Jane blush profusely but she listened with an open mind.) and waited patiently for her husband to appear.

He was as nervous as she when he opened the adjoining door to their chambers. His nightshirt and robe were fastened loosely, he almost looked uncomfortable wearing them. Quietly he moved to the bed and sat beside his Angel. Taking her hands in his, without speaking a word, he closed the gap between them and kissed her gently. It did not remain so for long as she felt the passion within her building. Soon they were laid next to each other on the bed, the kiss deepened, breathing erratic, hands were all over each other, touching and feeling through the thin fabric. The hard prodding began again ruling out the possibility of it being something in his coat. Suddenly, he stood and pulled her up with him.

"May I remove your nightgown? I wish to see all of you?" At first she wanted to say no but Lizzy's advice popped into her head. Trust.

She nodded her consent and he gently lifted the garment off over her head. When he first espied the beautiful being that his wife was, he could barely speak. Self-conscious at first, she tried to cover herself with her arms. He would have none of it and kissed her deeply, taking her breath away. All modesty was forgotten and he caressed her slowly. The throbbing between her legs was almost unbearable now, after much experience since that first kiss, she knew it was a sign of her pleasure in his touch but she needed more.

"Sir, you have me at a disadvantage. I wish to see all of you too." He stepped back from her and looked deep into her eyes.

"You are sure? I would not want you to feel uncomfortable in any way." She shot him a look that suggested that in her current state, she could feel no more uncomfortable.

He removed his nightshirt quickly and threw it to one side. When he once more took in her expression he was surprised to see exactly where her gaze was fixed. Chuckling to himself, he redirected her towards the bed and continued his ministrations without the encumbrance of clothing.

Afterwards, when their passions had been sated for a short while, they lay together, arms and legs entwined. Their breathing was slowly returning to normal as a thought struck her. So that is what that prodding was! They had never worn nightclothes since.

It was after many such acts of love that she found herself in the condition visible in the church at Meryton. A symbol of their love for each other, she would not hide it away like women were meant to. It was natural and just and both Charles and Jane wanted everyone to know it.

The occupants of the church had their attention drawn to the back of the room when the organ began to play the entrance music. Through the doors walked the blushing bride, her silk gown a different colour from the ones she was usually found in. The pure white of her very elegant dress contrasted with her slightly darker skin and highlighted how black her hair was. The smile that was on her face eased the sharpness of her features and she could almost be described as beautiful at that very moment. That smile had not once left her since she had met the gentleman she was about to marry for he had made her so incredibly happy.

Of all the people changed since the accident, Caroline Bingley was the one more noticeably different. Her personality once spiteful and resentful was blossoming into light and cheerful. She treated people with more respect and found that she had a wit about her that made people laugh. The love she felt was something she had never dared hope for. In all her years out in society, she had not once looked for affection, only material possessions had been her wish in life. How different she was now after she had met him.

Just before the altar, watching her walk towards him was the saving grace of Miss Bingley. Andrew Elton had never been so happy in his life as he was at this minute or in fact ever since he had first espied her in the carriage ride from Rosings to Pemberley. He only offered the help as a favour for his friend, Richard, but it turned out to be the best decision he ever made. So it was that Mr. and Mrs Elton left the church, very much in love and showing no signs of ever not being.

One family's presence was missed at the wedding by everyone, that of the Darcys. They were ensconced in Derbyshire for the winter having not left Pemberley since the Bingley's wedding almost a year ago. They were regularly visited by all members of the family but would not venture out of the grounds unless absolutely necessary.

They had created their own little utopia when nothing else was needed for them to be happy. Darcy had resumed complete control of the estate but relied more heavily on his steward than was his want before his marriage. This left him with plenty of time to lavish on his wife in which he taught her to ride in the late summer months.

A great deal of coaxing was required to make the naturally very wary Elizabeth go near a horse. After his near-death, she was not of a mind the risk the activity to blame for his accident. She did acquiesce in the end however and although not a natural, he did not give up on her and before long they were galloping across the estate as though she had ridden all her life.

Contrary to the doctor's opinion, Darcy did make a full recovery and during the summer he had barely no trace of an impediment to his walking. The scar down his face was still deep but he would not have changed it for the world, especially when he found that his beloved did care to stroke it when she thought him asleep. Her naturally cheerful disposition did return and no small amount of teasing was heard by the servants with a great deal of laughter in response.

Mrs Reynolds looked upon the man her young master had become and smiled for he was happier than he had ever been. Her joy was shared by his sister and all the family that visited them throughout the year. The Darcys had been changed irrevocably but only in the sense that they enjoyed life to the full taking care to make each and every day count.

Georgiana did indeed live with them and took all her lessons at Pemberley with never a desire to return to town until such a time as she was introduced to the world at large. This, she decided, was going to be delayed by some years as she was more than happy to remain with her brother and sister in the relative seclusion of the Peaks. Not to mention that she loved being an aunt to her beloved nephew.

Bennet Fitzwilliam Darcy was born in the July after they married. Ben for short, he was product of his parent's unwavering love during a hard time of their life. William always believed that he was conceived when Elizabeth had first arrived at Pemberley but she was convinced it was after their first encounter. The suffering she had found her love to be in was too much to tolerate that night and she eased it by giving herself to him. It was then that they decided to marry and spend eternity loving each other. It would be fitting for their firstborn son to be the product of such a union.

Nothing was said by either of their family when a son was brought into the world after only six months of marriage. It had been accepted by all and joy was the only emotion felt by everyone connected to the Darcy's. That was until the impromptu visit of Lady Catherine in August. She had come to retrieve Anne (for Pemberley was very seriously polluted and she worried for her dear daughters health) and marched straight into the music room. It was there that she beheld a sight that changed her life.

Georgiana and Anne sat at the pianoforte playing a duet. A smile on Anne's face the likes of which had never been seen before. Her face was flushed with colour and her eyes shone with happiness. Across the room sat Darcy, Elizabeth with Ben in her arms. Both looked at the child with undisguised adoration. The perfect family scene was playing out before her eyes. Darcy stood when he saw his aunt enter the room. Carefully, he took his son from his wife's arms and walked toward the elderly woman.

"Auth Catherine, may I introduce my son, Bennet Darcy." He smiled as she walked toward him, her eyes never leaving the small bundle in his arms. It was upon seeing the babe that her life fell into place. The perfect family she had so desperately tried to split was willing to forgive and accept her once more.

She did not retrieve Anne as was her intent. Instead she stayed for a month complete at Pemberley, commenting on the improvements Elizabeth had made and suggesting a few of her own ("You should really place more shelves in that closet, dear Mrs Darcy!). From now on in their life, it was blue skies and sunny days. The clouds had finally left forever.

The End


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