His mind flashed back to the last time he had known the frustration he was experiencing at present—Elizabeth's rejection of his first ill-devised proposal. The memory of his failure only spurred darker feelings.
That woman he loved so, who had promised herself to him, and who now was known by his own name. How could she claim to return his ardor, and yet act as she had this evening?
His mind felt tangled in snarls, his temper aflame, and his heart in mourning. He slumped before the fire in his study with the glow warming his already hot skin, forehead bunched in a manner avoided since he and Elizabeth had begun their courtship. The velvet chaise beneath him brought no comfort in its luxury, and instead reminded him that he would likely not be welcomed into the arms of his wife this evening.
The velvet allowed him to sink further, and he watched the lick of the flames snapping against the wood and stone. It lulled him from the frenzy of his cankerous thoughts.
Darcy knew not how likely his wife was to receive him, or if time had only solidified the barrier drawn up betwixt them. Her face gave nothing away.
Elizabeth moved through the room, green skirts rhythmically swishing with her hips as though her grace were a part of nature, and glanced not once in his direction. His eyes wandered to nothing but the rear of her head, fixed on the pinned curls that refused to reveal any hints.
Could he speak with her now? Perhaps the night apart had allowed the tension to ease, and they might return again to the bliss known prior to their dispute.
A tiny, terrible voice called to Darcy's mind, arguing that it was not emhis /emresponsibility to make amends. She had pushed the matter. She had been the one so insistent, so convinced, while he had tried to politely dissuade her. There was no cause for him to go chasing after the woman.
Another look at her, the back of her lovely neck framed by a handful of fallen curls, and he felt without a choice. He would humble himself, if it meant they could be at peace again. If it meant she still loved him.
Darcy approached with a set stride, the crowd easily parting before him as he crossed the room. He was nearly halfway when a small, surprisingly forceful tug was felt on his upper arm. He glanced down with the knowledge that it could not be Elizabeth at his side, and therefore confusion at who else would handle him in such a way. Perhaps it should have been obvious.
Caroline Bingley gripped his coat sleeve like a cat sinking claws into a new plaything. Darcy instinctively pulled back. Her clutching paw stayed.
"Mr. Darcy." She leaned closer, her hip brushing his thigh. "Sir, how good of you to come this evening. I was quite hoping you might show. There are simply never enough capable partners for the sets, you know."
If she was expecting an offer from him, as the assuming urge of her eyes foretold, she would surely be disappointed. Why would she anticipate such an offer from him?
His eyes made a quick scan of the neighboring bodies. "Are there not, Miss Bingley? Lord Kempton seems quite disengaged." And with that, he deposited the girl, moving quickly away before she could reattach herself to his innocent arm.
Elizabeth had moved, and his eyes searched fervently to relocate her. The rush of emotion that hit him when he spotted her was difficult to decipher all at once.
She was waltzing amongst the other dancers, that lovely green dress swaying over the floor to follow her charming nature, and her hand in that of George Wickham's.
Never could he remember such rage. He moved to his wife unconscious of his steps, the other dancers slipping from his mind. The whole room dimming out as though a curtain had been thrown up. Darcy saw only Elizabeth's disarming eyes, shining in their familiar mischief and teasing manner. They were gazing upon Wickham the way they had once gazed upon him.
"Unhand her!" He bellowed. The anger was rising from the furnace of his gut, setting fire to his chest. He felt alight.
Elizabeth and the devil faltered in their steps, looking away from one another to find Darcy storming toward them. The music stalled away at the sound of such commotion. Darcy took the opportunity to reach for Elizabeth with an open hand.
She dodged his touch. And worse, his stricken wife curled into Wickham's side, as though his hand on her waist brought comfort from Darcy's approach.
Wickham puffed his chest in the juvenile manner of a young boy pretending to duel.
"What is the meaning of this, Darcy?"
The foolish words hit Darcy with all the stupidity that was George Wickham. He wished for a pistol, but instead used his fist. The punch produced a decided snap from Wickham's nose, and brought only the barest satisfaction to Darcy. He wished to inflict more.
Wickham stumbled, releasing Elizabeth's waist from his clutching hand. Darcy moved to embrace her. His arms pulled her close, reassuring, comforting—
Darcy was struck with the terrifying notion that he had missed something. Had Wickham thrashed out at her when he'd thrown the punch, or pulled at her when he'd stumbled back? Had the devil done more than force a dance on his bride? He would kill the man. He had never been so sure of anything.
Pulling his head back to detect the cause for Elizabeth's shout, Darcy came face to face with the lady's hands, shoving up against his chin and nose to beat him away. He reeled back.
"Darling?" He asked, seeing the shock on her face. She appeared disgruntled in a way very uncharacteristic of herself. He could not help his worry from increasing. "Darling, tell me, what is the matter?"
Instead of replying, Elizabeth ducked down to kneel beside Wickham where he'd sat upon the ground, moaning with two hands pressed to his surely broken nose. She glanced back up at Darcy with disgust.
"What sort of a gentleman do you claim to be, sir?" She accused.
Darcy could not comprehend the venom behind her words, nor the tender way she held Wickham's cheek in her palm.
"I believe it may be best if you leave, Mr. Darcy, and allow me to tend my husband's wound."
Then there was a pull on his arm, escorting him away from the scene that had his heart pounding like horse hooves.
His sweet Elizabeth. His Lizzy. What did she mean by behaving so with that devil? How could she use those words against him again, calling into question his behavior as a gentleman? He knew not where to begin with identifying the ways she had pierced him in less than a minute, and knew only that the fire that had been burning in his chest not felt more similar to a stone slowly pressing out every breath. So this was heartbreak.
The man that had pulled him from the scene, he realized, was Bingley. The man looked terribly flustered, and Darcy felt a small reassurance that someone was beside him in his moment of greatest pain. Someone would understand.
"Blast it all, Darcy! What has happened?" Bingley looked upon him as if he were a creature released from the menagerie.
"Elizabeth." Darcy said, searching between bodies to glimpse his wife. She must have still been kneeling beside that wretched crook.
Bingley's alarm only grew. "You mean Mrs. Wickham? When did you begin to call her by her Christian name? My friend, I am concerned—"
All was falling to miserable pieces. What sort of hoax was this? A very cruel trick to play, indeed. The pressing stone on Darcy's chest increased its weight, and he gasped a quick breath.
"Of course." Bingley's eyes narrowed. "Married last autumn in the Meryton church. We both attended, sat in the same—"
"NO!" Darcy's world had gone off-kilter.
His Elizabeth could not have taken the name of such a scoundrel. His Elizabeth was much too wise for the sort of trickery Wickham pedaled. His Elizabeth could never be happy with that man.
You could not make her happy, fool. A terrible voice announced his fears. She does not wish to stay with you, does not need you the way you need her.
Darcy swallowed bile.
"This is an absurdity." He tried to growl, but it came out much weaker. "I am returning to Pemberley at once, and my wife will be leaving with me. Enough of this foolishness."
Bingley's look of incredulity only grew, and Darcy could not stand his next words. "What wife, Darcy?"
Darcy burst away from his friend determined to find Elizabeth and escort her to anywhere Wickham was not. They could speak calmly together. Whatever this was it could be resolved. The sea of waxy gowns and stiff coats hindered his view, but he pushed back to the center of the floor where Wickham had been last. There he found them, the two still on the ground in one another's company. His fingers were eager to swing out again.
Elizabeth was on her knees, the gown folded beneath her and she leaned forward to gently dab at the blood on Wickham's upper lip with a damp rag. His smile at her might be thought fond by others, but Darcy saw only the flash of a shaving razor between two lips.
"Hold still," Elizabeth admonished him when he'd reached up to touch her wrist. He disobeyed, wrapping a hand around the soft skin. She laughed at his impertinence, pulled away the cloth from his face, and leaned over to kiss the lips she'd cleaned of blood.
"Now sir, do try to be more careful so that I needn't bother with all this miss to get a kiss. It is rather inconvenient."
Darcy stood before them, shaking.
"No," He shouted.
The pair went on oblivious, Wickham's hand running up her arm.
"NO!" He repeated, louder this time, more insistent. Begging. Do not do this, he thought. Do not love each other. Do not subject me to such suffering. Have mercy.
Wickham's hand moved to her shoulder and, ignoring all rules of propriety as was his way, kissed her there on the floor of the ball the way Darcy had kissed her each night since they had wed.
Elizabeth's hands did not push the man away as Darcy had hoped, but wrapped themselves around the folds of the Wickham's coat.
Darcy ran then, unable to bear it. He knew he should stay, should fight and return to his home the wife he'd so desperately battled to earn. How things had come to this, he could not understand. They'd had one spat—just one! Since they'd married a month prior. Lizzy loved Pemberley, loved her role as a mistress able to provide for so many, and most importantly, claimed to love him.
He could not stand the scene a second longer, and soon found himself out the door, barreling over the dirt road that led to the assembly hall, and out into a grassy knoll. It was dark and unfamiliar outside. Trees and shadowed shapes loomed in his peripheral. He knew not from which way he'd come and in his frantic searching for some sense of direction, his boot caught on a fallen branch.
He went sprawling, and all was black.
When Darcy woke, it was to a scrambled heartbeat and the same calm flickering fire that had danced before him prior to his dozing. He clutched the settee of velvet beneath him, assured by its solidity. There was no sound of a ball, just the snapping of flames. His surroundings were the familiar comfort of Pemberley, and he breathed deeply at the realization that he'd suffered from a nightmare.
Elizabeth is still my wife. His mind was quick to remind. She must be in her rooms. Too much time could not have passed since we argued. The wood is still burning strong.
He jumped to his feet, a mistake considering the prone manner in which he'd been lying. His head swam with the quick movement, and he staggered to the door like a man in his cups. The stairs were not far, He leaned on the elegant railing as an aid until he felt properly stable again, moving up to the second floor where he was sure Elizabeth would have retreated to. She was not one to mope or cause theatrics before the staff, and she likely would have moved quickly to her rooms after the heated words were exchanged.
He moved to throw open the door in haste, but stopped. It would appear demanding. He should knock. He tapped the back of his knuckles lightly against the oiled wood, hopping that if a knock could sound unpresumptuous, his did.
There was no reply, and Darcy worried that perhaps his knock had been too soft. He tried again, only to receive the same result. For the first time since waking, the thought occurred to him that she could be elsewhere. Then, a new fear struck him with a sudden ferocity: Could she have, in her distress, fled to the grounds of Pemberley? His worry mounted undefinably. How would he find her out on the woods, with so little light to guide him?
He gripped the door's handle and thrust it open despite his earlier premonitions. And there she was, much like himself, lying before the fire in her sitting room with her head cushioned on the arm of her chair. He saw the back of her neck as he had in that terrible nightmare, looking just as smooth and elegant as he knew it to be. She did not stir as he approached, and he wondered if he should wake her to make peace or wait for the morning. He was already resolving that his heart could not bear the hours of unease when he caught her gaze.
"Oh!" Elizabeth sat up at once. Her eyes were bewildered as though she had been existing in some other world. She took a moment to adjust herself upright, then said, "Forgive me, Fitzwilliam. I did not hear your entrance."
He stood beside her chair, the fire cast moving shadows over the face she had memorized. His voice held concern, and his forehead crinkled in his worried way. "I knocked. Twice. Are you feeling ill, my love?" Darcy moved to kneel before her, his hand cupping the back of her neck, then her forehead, feeling for a fever. Aside from the expected heat of being so close to the fire, he noticed nothing of alarm.
Elizabeth was surprised at the compassion in his voice. Only an hour prior the same voice had boiled with subdued anger.
"Ill I think not." She murmured, holding his hand to her cheek when he began to pull it away. "Perhaps a trifle confused."
"Darcy was quick to speak. He did not wish to waste any time in assuring his wife with the sentiments he'd come to declare.
"Lizzy, I must apologize for my words. I meant not to cause you pain." He stood from his knees, fitting beside her on the seat of the cushioned chair. Her eyes followed him with devoted attention. "I do not wish to fight. Compared to losing you all together, some time apart seems trivial. Dearest, please, know I did not act out of a wish to control you but a wish to have you near. I understand that you may not need me the way I need you, but as long as—"
"Will" Her voice cracked and her looked up from his lap where he'd been gently drawing circles over her palm.
Darcy found her eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, Will," She said again, and Darcy relaxed at the way she spoke her name for him. It was a comfort. "Is that what you thought? That I wished to escape from you? What a foolish man you are."
Darcy was not used to seeing Elizabeth cry. Perhaps it was because Elizabeth herself did not make a habit of shedding tears, and the moment struck him as intensely significant. He reached for her slowly, allowing her to guide him in how she wished to be comforted. She fit herself against his chest, his arms secure at her waist.
"When I said that I wished to return to Longbourne, I did not mean it out of disdain. Surely you know that?" The unconvinced furrow of his brow told her that he did not. She rested her chin on his chest, looking up at him.
"I understood your request as a homesickness for your old life, and perhaps," Here Darcy paused, his jaw working, "perhaps a dislike for your current circumstances."
"Sir!" Elizabeth exclaimed, and Darcy saw the genuine shock on her face. "Have I hidden my pleasure at being your wife? I did not think such a thing possible." She kissed him impulsively—not the enduring sort of kiss they had come to share in the evening once enclosed in their chambers, but the spurred kiss that spoke of surety. She need not sit around and think about whether or not to offer him her lips. And he certainly need not believe his attentions unwelcome.
"Darcy grinned boyishly in reply, then quickly sobered. "I fell asleep after our disagreement over dinner." Elizabeth started at this, knowing how strange it was for him to sleep early. "My following dream was terrible. It reminded me how grateful I am that you came to love me. Know that no matter the circumstance, that is what matters most to me. I'd rather be able to love you from a distance than not at all."
He paused, took a breath."So please, my love. Please forgive me for being selfish and wishing to keep you for myself."
Elizabeth, who had before been listening with eyes still shining of tears, sat up in alarm. "That was why you did not wish me to go? Because you did not wish to share me?"
"Of course. If I could be with you always, I would make it so. You wishing to leave so soon after our wedding worried me that you did not wish to be here at all."
Elizabeth could feel the warmth of his palms through her gown, and the anger that had been bubbling inside her earlier began to melt into a slower burn.
"Not at all, my impertinent Mr. Darcy."
The sharp lines of his face softened. Elizabeth thought to herself that the firelight complimented her husband's profile exceedingly well, and was just about to say so, when he voiced his question.
"Why did you wish to leave then?" They had been slowly falling closer together into a more libertine position the longer they talked, and Darcy was now quite reclined at a diagonal angle with Elizabeth cradled over him. She looked down from her superior location, then kissed his stubbly cheek.
"I am afraid the truth shall paint me in the light of a weak woman, sir, and I'd hate for you to think of your wife in such a way."
Darcy had been momentarily distracted by the touch of Elizabeth's lips, but her words snapped him to attention.
"Nonsense," He insisted. "You shall always appear to me as the bravest and best of women." He paused to touch the hair pinned back by her ear. "That will not be changed."
Elizabeth was growing red, a blush that had started at her chest and began to rise over her neck. She could feel the heat of it, and wondered if Darcy could notice in the already reddish light cast by the fire. Perhaps she was safe.
"Then you must accept that you have married a woman whose stubborn head may rival your own."
A grin returned to Darcy's mouth at her teasing, and he began to consider that the evening was not so bad a night after all, particularly when he considered how it felt to have the weight of his wife situated over him in a way that spoke of her ease.
"I do believe that was a fact long ago acknowledged."
Elizabeth hmphed at his reply. "Very well, Fitzwilliam you shall have your answer."
He could see from the way she twisted her fingers about that Elizabeth was not as comfortable with the discussion as she let on. He smoothed his hand up and down her back.
"Whatever it is darling, I would prefer we speak of it and reach the best answer together than allow its silence to torment more nightmares into my sleep."
She quirked an eyebrow. "Tell me more of this nightmare, Sir. You were rather sparse in delivering details."
He smiled, a small flash of teeth and laughter. "I shall tell you more soon enough, but I will not fall for your attempt at diverting me from an explanation."
Elizabeth knew full well that such an overt ploy would not keep her husband from seeking out his answers, and thus, as the blush flowered over her cheeks, she succumbed.
"You see, Mr. Darcy, I have recently been employing my mind with one of my favorite pastimes of observing the character of a person, but this time, I have turned my curious eye upon myself."
"And what, pray tell, have you discovered, my Lizzy." Their teasing words dissipated all of his tension from before, and Fitzwilliam wished for nothing more at that very moment than to whisk his wife up in his arms. The shining reflection of the fire glistened over her warm eyes, doing nothing to dissuade him.
Elizabeth's hands wandered, pressing gently over his outer coat so as to smooth its folds and moving up to his neck, fingers gliding under his collar to cool his warm skin.
"After much consideration, I have noticed an effect of my upbringing on my current nature. It would seem, Sir, that I am a determinedly independent woman who grew up holding fast to the idea of her independence amongst the influence of, though well-meaning, perhaps foolhardy relations." She focused her eyes on Darcy's chest, though her fingers continued to move round his neck. "And now, as I find myself married to a man for whom my heart holds such great love, that stubborn independence is waning as the need for you grows." Her hands stilled; her eyes dared not move. "Do you see my predicament, Will? I was never the one who needed another. My sisters depended on me, as did my father and mother. My life before existed on a propensity to appease the needs of others, not my own. For the first time in my years, I am no longer self-reliant. I need you, and I know not how to exist in such a manner."
Fitzwilliam watched his wife—the narrow bend of her shoulders, the smooth shaping of her lips around the spoken words, the now very apparent blossom of pink on her cheeks. He was reminded once again that being in love was perhaps the most spectacular occurrence of his lifetime. With that in mind, he tilted his head to kiss Elizabeth's hand still lightly teasing the skin of his neck.
"Then we are far more similar than previously believed, my Love, for I too have faced the struggle of transforming from an autonomous being to one whose survival relies greatly on my beloved." Elizabeth, with her brown eyes melting, looked upon him as though he'd kissed her feet. Perhaps he had, in his own way, humbled himself before her. "I had only Georgiana who needed me as far as my relations were concerned, but life was a far-reaching field of responsibilities. I do not wish to regal tales of woe to you. You know me best of all people, dearest, and you know my past. We are not so different in this way then, surprised at the need we have discovered. I believe I have simply had more time to adjust to the idea, and if I might share my discovery, I do not believe it is such a bad thing to love someone in this way."
Elizabeth felt thoroughly simmered, as though that good man had thawed her fears in the smoothness of his voice and the soft reassurances of his reason. She allowed one hand to venture amongst the unruly curls that made up Darcy's mane, kissing his dimpled chin with evident pleasure.
"I believe I quite like your conjecture, my Love, and it shall be a comfort to me if ever I doubt again."
He tipped her lips up from his chin to catch a true kiss. "Shall you stay with me then?"
Elizabeth grinned. "I believe it would be the most highly-recommended course to follow for the good of our health."
"Indeed, my good Lizzy. Tis only the logical remedy."
With her confession given up, and such happy tidings shared between the two, Elizabeth raised her question once more. "Now Will, you must give it up. Tell me more of this horrific nightmare, and perhaps I can assuage your fears."
Darcy's demeanor dived, his face twisting with a grimace. "Yes, that deplorable journey into sleep. There was no hope for me once Wickham appeared."
"Wickham?" Elizabeth was all shock, as her husband scarcely murmured the name unless utterly unavoidable. "Whatever for were you dreaming of him?"
The remembrance of the devastating alternate world spurred Darcy to action, and his arms had quickly pulled Elizabeth to his chest as he stood, heading for the suite door.
"The scoundrel had married you, and I was—"
"Hush!" Darcy's words were lost as Lizzy's hand flew to shut his mouth. Her eyes were wide. "Put the thought out of your head, Will! Trash it, I beg of you! For I only wish to live in a world in which I may call you my husband and a marriage between George Wickham and I is considered nothing but laughable."
Darcy found this response highly favorable, and upon saying so, discovered Lizzy's lips meeting his own.
Well, that's a wrap. The text published is unedited, as I'm sure there were mistakes that you found, so for any incorrect grammar, I do apologize. But hey! I am very excited about posting my first PP Fanfiction piece, so please emplease /emget back to me with your feedback whether it be via review or a PM. I am in love with the world Jane Austen preserved for us in her novels, and more in love with these characters. Happy October, y'all, and God bless!