This story begins the morning after Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth, and after he's given her his letter. She's still on her walk reading the letter, and Darcy and the Colonel arrive at the parsonage to take their leave.
Charlotte welcomed the gentlemen into her parlor when Sally announced them. She and Maria exchanged pleasant greetings with them, and then the Colonel asked after Elizabeth.
"She is still out walking this morning, I am afraid," said Charlotte. "She will regret missing your visit, I am sure."
"Fitzwilliam, I must return to Rosings to finish our leave preparations," Darcy said rather abruptly, as he rose, deciding he would rather avoid seeing Elizabeth again, "If you wish to wait for a chance to visit longer, I should be another hour before I am ready." He then turned to Charlotte "I wish to thank you for your company during our visit, Mrs. Collins."
He bowed and was moving to leave when Sally burst back through the doorway. "I have an express from Longbourn that must be given to Miss Bennet without delay, ma'am!" she exclaimed. Darcy took in the worried look on Mrs. Collins's face, hesitating. He did not want to make the offer, but knew he likely had the best knowledge of Elizabeth's current whereabouts.
He took a fortifying breath, and then offered, "Mrs. Collins, I crossed paths with Miss Bennet while out walking this morning, and may be able to find her."
Charlotte looked a little relieved, "I would be grateful if you could, sir, as Eliza's family is not one to overuse an express, and I believe this is truly urgent."
Darcy turned and requested his hat and coat from the maid, and then exited the parsonage in search for Elizabeth for the second time that morning. He hoped he could find her quickly, so that he could escape again. He was still trying to accept that he had read her feelings toward him so poorly, and did not think he could handle any more of her apparent hatred.
Darcy sighed to himself. Had he really been so wrapped up in his own needs that he had not stopped to consider her feelings at all? Thinking back over their conversations, he contemplated her teasing. He had thought it was meant to be flirtatious, but taken in the new light of her true feelings, he could see how it would be a way for her to mask her contempt within the rules of polite society. He found his ability to inspire such disgust from her distressing.
He wondered how many other of his acquaintances viewed him in the same light. Did they see him as selfish and uncaring? Was he selfish and uncaring? He had always treated people well. He thought about the people close to him; his family, his true friends, the people in service to his households, and his tenants. They were respected, cared for, and he put their well-being before his own. He liked to think he was a good, honorable man. He then thought to those unconnected to him, especially those he did not expect to remain in his life for more than a passing amount of time. He generally tried to avoid interacting with them, he supposed. Sometimes the avoidance was for self-preservation, when he thought of the match-making mothers and their clinging daughters, desperate to marry well. The easiest way to discourage them was to be disinterested. Virtual strangers were constantly trying to ingratiate themselves with him. But then, when had he stopped caring if any of them were genuine? How long had it been since he had given anyone new a chance? He could see how his reserve among strangers could be considered arrogance. He had made no effort to hide it.
He looked up the path he was walking down, and saw Elizabeth. She looked to be sitting on a fallen trunk, and heaven help him, still reading his letter. How had he dug himself into this awful hole? How would he be received? Had she at least acquitted him of cruelty toward Wickham?
His thoughts moved Elizabeth's way with people. She treated everyone well, even if they did not deserve it. He and Caroline Bingley were perfect examples. Caroline had been rude, condescending, and downright malicious at times, and yet Elizabeth had deflected her scorn with a pleasantness that showed her intelligence and grace. She could barely stand him, yet he could not even tell. He realised then, when looking back again, that she must have been irritated with him in conversation, yet she had never been rude. She even deflected his aunt's ridiculous inquisition, as it could hardly be called anything less, without aggravating a woman who took little provocation to set off. Her warmth toward everyone, her obvious caring for those she loved was what had attracted him to her. He had wanted so badly to be included in that circle of caring.
When he drew close enough for normal conversation, he braced himself for a strong reaction and called out her name to draw her attention. She started and looked up, and he saw her face clearly under the brim of her hat for the first time. She appeared to have been crying. She stood up, sliding the letter into her jacket pocket.
She murmured, "Mr. Darcy."
He nearly sighed in relief. He had expected a sharp greeting, but she looked quiet and uncomfortable. Maybe a little confused. She did not appear to be gearing up for an argument, thankfully. He still did not relish intruding on her solitude to bring her to possibly bad news.
"Miss Bennet, I apologize for interrupting you, but there is an urgent express waiting for you at the parsonage. I offered to find you and escort you back as quickly as possible." He felt that if he could pretend that nothing was amiss, this extremely painful moment would not need to get any worse.
A/N: I know, I know, it's been done. I've never been satisfied with any of the other versions of this, so I'm giving it a shot. I hope to update weekly, but this is a true work-in-progress, and I'm posting as I write. I know how I want the story to go, but fleshing out what I hope becomes a quality story may not always go as I plan. I don't expect it to be novel length, since, while I marked it angst, I don't intend to make it overly painful. As a result, I'm not going to throw in any major twists. My major beef with previous versions are generally whiny/childish Lizzys and too silent, secretive, and brooding Darcys. This is what I think would happen if they stayed as true to character as I can keep them while being thrown together.
Thanks in advance for any criticism, I'm by far no professional.