Summary: A courtship is a delicate matter. However, in these dark times, one does not have the luxury to wait for a considerate amount of time. This is a look into Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement to the wedding and to the infamous mid-credit scene. This deadly couple has plenty to look forward to.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The honor goes to the brilliantly talented Jane Austen, the wonderful twisted idea of Seth Grahame-Smith, and to the man who made this a reality Burr Steers.
A/N: I started this about a year ago right after I finished writing Midnight Trainings. Unfortunately, I was hit with writer's block and I had several other stories that I wanted to finish before I returned to this. But I'm here again with this PPZ story! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did writing it and please don't forget to leave a review!
A Warrior's Courtship
The destruction of Hingham Bridge was a victory the living could proclaim. Many of the undead were blown to bits from the blast; the rest fell to their demise into the canal. Once the smoke cleared it was seen that the remains were piling up in broken zombie body parts. There was enough gunpowder left to arrange another explosion to eradicate the fallen, and to thus avoid, a breach of the remaining unmentionables that were unreservedly stuck on the other side.
Altogether, the zombies suffered a severe number of casualties. As for the living, only two were injured.
Elizabeth Bennet was found holding onto the still form of Colonel Darcy, tears streaming down her soot-covered face, as she beseeched him over and over again to wake up. It was her oldest sister, Jane, and his good friend, Bingley, who discovered them. They had witnessed the final horrifying seconds of the two charging upon Elizabeth's horse, escaping the horde of zombies that were rapidly coming their way. There was little to be done once Bingley gave the order, but as soon as the dust and smoke settled, the anxious couple hastened to find what they had undoubtedly believe was the grisly results. Much to their relief, Elizabeth and Darcy were wholly intact; yet, Ghost was not as fortunate. It grieved Jane to see that their beloved horse had perished, but in that moment, her concern was to her sister and praying many thanks to the heavenly Father for returning her to their safe keeping. Likewise went to Mr. Darcy for he risked his life to save Lydia from the clutches of Mr. Wickham.
Jane had not known the depths of Mr. Darcy's attachment to her sister prior to the harrowing rescue, but there was little doubt in her mind that he truly held Lizzy to the highest esteem with his gallantry and selfless acts to recover their lost younger sister. Mr. Bingley did admit as much to her once Elizabeth had suddenly ridden off after Mr. Darcy to St. Lazarus. Of course, neither knew that Elizabeth, herself, was feeling the same regard towards Mr. Darcy until they found her crying over him. For Jane, it was a disconcerting sight to witness for Elizabeth was always the strongest one. The second oldest Bennet hardly ever gave into tears, not even during the grueling trials their Shaolin masters set before them. Not to say her sister was without feeling or capable of such. Elizabeth kept those feelings to herself and refused a living soul to catch her in those vulnerable moments that required an impassioned release.
But bared she was to those in her presence—stripped of her defenses, helpless to the design of fate—as she tearfully implored for a life to waken.
Her sister was distressed and it was up to Jane to provide the strength required for the next tribulation.
"He won't wake up," Elizabeth said, her voice a shaky whisper, even as she was slowly lifted to her feet. Turning to Jane, she continued: "Why won't he wake?"
"It'll be all right Lizzy," Jane insisted, although even she was uncertain for she was always the one with the disposition for believing in the good of everyone and in any situation. The direness was evident and the urge to comfort with placating words would sound false regardless how serene her countenance was. Inwardly, Jane feared the worst had happened and she knew not how to tell her despondent sister.
"He's breathing!" Bingley declared his relief and elated mien returning hope to the sisters. "He has a weak pulse, but I daresay Darcy is alive!"
Elizabeth's knees buckled from underneath her, and Jane was there to catch her as the former could not help the exalting praise of thanks to God above for bringing him back to her. Darcy was alive. He will heal. That was all she could ask for since there was so much left unsaid between them.
The soldiers were coming towards them. A medical officer arrived to take note of the wounded and confirmed Bingley's announcement that Mr. Darcy was alive, but he needed immediate attention. As far as he could ascertain, the explosion had knocked Darcy out but there was no knowing the extent of his injuries until properly examined.
It was to the Bennet sisters' disappointment that Mr. Darcy was removed and they could not accompany him. Bingley assured them that he would not abandon his friend and would write to them of his condition as soon as he received a report. Jane told him that their family was currently staying with Lady Catherine in Rosings Park and would find them there. He nodded, bowing to each sister as he took his leave.
A soldier nearby offered his services to aid Elizabeth as she was having trouble walking on her own. With his help, both he and Jane were able to cross the remaining portion of Hingham Bridge with Elizabeth as they made their way over to the medical tent. There they found Lydia, still in shock from the ordeal. Despite being surrounded by many attentive soldiers, Lydia was uncharacteristically subdued and upon seeing her sisters, she did weep for joy. She managed to rush over and embrace them vigorously that Elizabeth gasped in pain.
"Forgive me!" Lydia wailed, not taking heed of her sister's discomfort for she was too overcome with contrition. "I had no notion of Mr. Wickham's villainy! The scoundrel had me locked up, chained, and there were so many zombies! I feared they would turn me and I would never see you, Kitty, Mary, Mama, or Papa again!"
"There, there Lydia," Jane soothed. "You're here with us. But Lizzy—"
Recalling Elizabeth riding back to beat the impending obliteration of the bridge, Lydia sobbed anew but did release her sister so she could be looked after. While Elizabeth was being attended, Jane consoled Lydia until she collapsed from exhaustion. Regardless of Lydia's propensity for the dramatics, the alarmed eldest was reassured Lydia would be well and she was taken to a cot where she could recuperate. Elizabeth was pronounced to be in good health. Apart from some scrapes and bruises, she had been luckily unscathed from the blast.
Mr. Darcy absorbed most of it, Elizabeth surmised to herself. Even now he's still saving me and my family.
Once Elizabeth and Lydia had been cleared for travel, all three Bennets departed for Rosings Park where they could be reunited with their family. They were quite sullen since they were in the dark about Mr. Darcy's condition. Lydia remained for the most part of the sojourn silent as she reflected her close brush with death and how her rescuer could very well be in peril. For a seemingly proud and haughty man, Mr. Darcy disabused all their previous conjectures about his character with his recent activity. They had so much to be thankful for that neither Bennet sister was certain how to express their felicitous gratitude. Then there was the matter of his relations. Lady Catherine would want to hear about her nephew that Elizabeth worried how the news would affect her. Would Lady Catherine turn the Bennets out from her protection? After all, it was her sister that Mr. Darcy took upon himself to extricate. She could rightly blame them for his injuries and seek retribution in some way.
Elizabeth dared not voice her concerns to her sisters. If Lady Catherine demanded justice for her nephew's demise, then she would accept the responsibility and take whatever punishment she might deem proper. It would be an honor to die by the hand of England's greatest zombie slayer. Perhaps she could reunite with Mr. Darcy…
Don't think so! Mr. Darcy is a warrior. He will fight to live. He will not give up. Elizabeth closed her mind off from any further unwarranted thoughts. The sooner they arrive at Rosings, the better.
Their arrival at Rosings was a mixture of somber joy. They had sent a post ahead about Lydia's recovery and Mrs. Bennet was too overjoyed to see her youngest was alive and unscathed from any zombie bites. After embracing her, Mrs. Bennet's nerves (which have been very overwhelmed over this entire predicament) were miraculously cured in having her sweet Lydia returned to her. However, her nerves took her once more when it was revealed about Wickham's dalliance with the devil.
"That poor, dear man!" Mrs. Bennet wailed, collapsing in the nearest footman's arms. "To be stricken so unfairly! If he hadn't been infected, then he would surely have married Lydia!"
"There, there Mrs. Bennet," Mr. Bennet placated with mocking indifference. "There is much to be grateful for with your three daughters in good health. As for 'poor, dear' Mr. Wickham… I would say God had him judged rightly so. He did, after all, absconded Lydia without nary a concern for her family."
Yet, Mrs. Bennet would not be deprived from a decent round of hysteric mourning over losing the possibility of a married daughter. Even if he was turning into a zombie, she had no doubt he would have been the finest and gentile of all zombie gentlemen in the entire realm. However, much to everyone's astonishment who knew her, Lydia declared she was not sorry for Wickham's transgressions and that she was all too happy that Mr. Darcy got to her in time before she was compromised for eternity. "Even though he was an officer, I daresay I would not have married him! Not after his deplorable conduct," Lydia announced.
This sudden growth in maturity rendered Mr. Bennet quite speechless as did Kitty and Mary. Mrs. Bennet was too preoccupied with her woes to have noticed her youngest change in heart. Lady Catherine, who had not the opportunity to know Lydia well, was not in the mind to feel sorry for George Wickham. He was her late brother-in-law steward's son and not worthy enough to have her notice. However, it was her favorite nephew she wanted to know.
It was difficult for Elizabeth to share with her what had happened, but she called upon the strength of her inner warrior to look Lady Catherine in the eye to tell her that Mr. Darcy was injured and his condition could be very grave. Lady Catherine did not bat an eye nor let any other emotion show on her countenance as Elizabeth regaled what happened on Hingham Bridge. Lydia supplied her side of the story as well and commemorated on how brave Mr. Darcy had been to save her and how he refused to let Mr. Wickham get the best of him.
"I daresay he better not," Lady Catherine said with her usual stoic disposition. "Darcy not only has the blood of an Englishman, but that of a spiritual samurai. I do know his father had sent Mr. Wickham to Kyoto as well; however, his birth prevents him from achieving the same status and skill as Darcy. Well, I suppose there is nothing to do but to wait on my nephew's condition. You are all more than welcome to stay until we know without doubt that the border has been secured."
All seven of the Bennet family thanked Lady Catherine for her continued generosity. Mrs. Bennet had managed to pull herself together to bow and profusely thanked her for her magnanimity, which certainly could have rivaled Mr. Collins' propensity for giving compliments of a hyperbolic nature. The family thought it best to retreat for the time being to reacquaint themselves (Mr. Bennet decided the library needed a proper introduction so the ladies could have their time alone), but Lady Catherine requested Miss Elizabeth Bennet to stay. This is it, Elizabeth thought as she turned to Jane to assure her sister that all was well. She didn't wish Jane to fret over her even if Lady Catherine desired her death in recompense for Mr. Darcy's injuries. She would accept the price no matter what and she will not allow Jane to share the blame.
Once they were alone, Elizabeth lifted her gaze to the warrior woman and said steadfastly: "While I am quite aware of the terrible news I bore to your ladyship, I am willing to take full responsibility for Mr. Darcy's condition. It was my sister that he decided to take upon in rescuing, which was my burden alone, and I can only be remorseful that it was not I who suffered." In supplication, Elizabeth got down to her knees and bowed her head. "I am offering myself to your ladyship for whatever punishment you deem worthy. Even death if it is necessary."
There was a minute of silence before Lady Catherine bid her to rise. Elizabeth did with her hands clasped in front of her. She only prayed that Lady Catherine will be swift in her decision so not to keep her conscience in further suspense. To her astonishment, Lady Catherine only had this to say:
"You're a rarity indeed, Miss Bennet. Not only have you impressed me with your fighting skills and your womanly resolve, but the fact that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for the sake of my nephew. Mind you, I am not at all pleased with his choice to run off after your sister, but I can only surmise that his reasons and motivations were selfishly his alone. You do not strike me as the type of woman to plea for a man to assist you in a task that you are fully capable of undertaking. To do so would go against your character and your reputation as a warrior of the deadly arts. With that said, your offering of yourself to my designs is to be commended but not necessary. I do not wish to punish you for my nephew's choices. If anything, there is much to be celebrated with your sister's safe return. Now… go Miss Bennet and be with your family."
Elizabeth could not believe what she heard. She was not going to be held accountable? Surely, the warrior's code insisted some blood price…
"I daresay you are bewildered Miss Bennet," Lady Catherine imparted. "Pray, if it pleases you and your conscience, then I can insist your penance should occur at my leisure whenever I see fit. Would that be sufficient?"
"Lady Catherine…" Elizabeth started.
"A warrior with your skills should not be wasted. I can think of useful employments that require you to be alive than dead. Do you accept?"
Without hesitation, Elizabeth acquiesced. "Then it is settled. You may leave Miss Bennet. I expect to see you at dinner."
They did not receive word from Mr. Bingley until two days later. The dispatch was sent as soon as Mr. Darcy was transported to a hospital in Essex. It was written in Lady Catherine's name as she was his relation so unfortunately Jane or Elizabeth did not see it. The good lady did share the contents in that Mr. Darcy's sister, Miss Darcy, was informed in Derbyshire about her brother's welfare. As to the extent of his injures, Lady Catherine did not disclose the information but revealed that Mr. Darcy did wake at least once before succumbing to unconsciousness once more.
As much as Elizabeth wanted to inquire further to Mr. Darcy's well-being, she knew it was not in her place to make such requests. If Lady Catherine wished to share everything, then that was her choice. As it were, the Bennets had no intimate connections to Mr. Darcy and it would be highly improper if Mr. Bingley solicited a separate and private letter to Jane about Mr. Darcy. Although, Elizabeth recalled, it had not stopped Mr. Darcy from sending his own letter to her to explain his actions, but part of her had wished Mr. Bingley put aside propriety for the moment. The only solace she had from Lady Catherine was that Mr. Darcy was receiving the proper medical care and that his waking indicated a positive sign. She could rule out a severe head injury.
Days turned into weeks.
Over time, the residents in Rosings received news that zombie reportings have been few within the county. Hertfordshire did have a minor incident of the undead already present but as for the canal itself… there had been contradictory reports. Some say it was holding, while others say zombies did breach it and would be attacking at any moment. Since the evidence clearly provided the contrary to the latter, there was plenty of unease among the people nevertheless.
Word on Mr. Darcy's state had been a fixture on Elizabeth's anxious mind. Since the first letter there were at least three more from Mr. Bingley to Lady Catherine on his friend's health. Each time a new one arrived, Lady Catherine would read it without a hint on her mien as to what the contents contained. She would give a perfunctory nod; lips pressed firmly together, and then continued the conversation or activity as if she hadn't paused at all. On occasion she would give updates to the family about her nephew usually at either Mr. or Mrs. Bennet's query. Of course, those questions (from Mr. Bennet) would be a direct result of Elizabeth's unspoken look. Her mother was too daft to pick up on her subtle cues unlike her father, but Mr. Bennet could not help but ponder his second eldest daughter's interest. He knew he owed Mr. Darcy a great deal for risking his life for his youngest, yet he could not fathom why Lizzy had this keen interest. As far as he knew, she strongly disliked the man. And who could blame her? The gentleman did her a poor disservice by slighting her. Perhaps there was more to the St. Lazarus rescue then his girls let on.
One afternoon Mr. Bennet summoned Elizabeth after she finished her morning combat training. She was still wearing her sparring clothes when she entered the library, which was his new favorite place in Rosings. He knew he was fortunate that Lady Catherine did not mind he whittled his hours there.
"Daughter, sit," he commanded in his soft spoken way. Elizabeth did and looked up at her father expectantly. "It has come to my attention that whenever Lady Catherine receives a letter in regards to Mr. Darcy, you my fiercely warrior, are in want of news about him. Am I wrong to come up with such a conclusion?"
Elizabeth blushed. She hadn't realized she was transparent about it. She had hoped her father would take her cue as a necessity of politeness. Apparently, she was wrong. "Well… it is only fair since he did risk his life for Lydia's. And… he did absorb most of the blast on Hingham Bridge."
"Indeed. You are telling me that your reasons are only benevolent for his actions? Not for any other personal reason?" It was not accusatory but strictly curiosity. "I believed you to be indifferent towards Mr. Darcy or has something changed that I am not aware of? Come Lizzy. There is no need for secrets."
"I was. Indifferent but it did change. Mr. Darcy… He was not the man I perceived him to be. In fact, I was led to believe an entirely different story about Mr. Darcy and I have my own shame and guilt to blame for being so prejudiced. Mr. Darcy is a remarkable man and an excellent warrior to have at one's side in battle. He has faults, yes, but who does not? To be truthful, I have misconstrued some of his flaws to fit with the likeness that I wanted to see and blinded myself and others as a result. So you see Papa… I have done him a terrible dishonor."
"I see," Mr. Bennet replied, stroking his chin pensively. "A dishonor that you speak of would certainly earn you a dozen lashes from Master Liu."
Elizabeth did not wince at the thought. If anything, she deserved those lashes! "I have offered myself to Lady Catherine in contrition for having putting her nephew in the situation that he is in. She has declined to discipline but did offer to use my skills when she sees fit. I trust that is an acceptable substitute."
"If Lady Catherine believes it, then it must be," her father said. "Although, I do believe there is something vital missing. Could it be that my Lizzy likes Mr. Darcy?"
"If I did then what do you think?"
"Despite his propensity for being an unpleasant fellow, I daresay he is rich enough and you would have fine clothes and carriages to be certain. Your mother will be very happy indeed at such a match."
"Have you any other objection other than his wealth?"
"I do not. I do know you are not mercenary and if his riches did not entice you before… it will certainly will not in the present. Unlike your sisters, you have always been a practical and sensible creature with a deadly reckoning to be had. This would be nothing if you really liked him."
"I do like him," Elizabeth confessed. "These past weeks have been a torment to me. He is all amiable and agreeable and he has done our family the type of service that cannot ever be repaid. I have come to learn so much about him that he is the kind of man I can respect and truly esteemed. His skills are an equal match to my own and he does not seem to be the type of husband who would ask me to hang up my sword."
"Well, I see the only recourse must be a marriage if he so desires it and when he has regained his health. You have my blessing Lizzy."
Her eyes widened with shock. In regards to weddings, she knew her mother would be thrilled, but her father… Mr. Bennet had always expressed his displeasure at the thought of his daughters being married and would much prefer if they stick to their training so they could survive. For him to give his blessing on an institution that he did not like was staggering!
Noticing his daughter's expression, Mr. Bennet let out a chuckle. "I never thought I would live the day to see you so flabbergasted! Let me assure you, my dear, that I could not have parted with you to anyone less worthy. If your praises of Mr. Darcy are what you say them to be, then I have no reason to object to a union that would make you happy. You will not suffer a fool and I trust your judgment that he was not the original character we all thought. And since you are anxious to hear about your young man's progress then I shall endeavor to make the proper inquiries."
"Thank you Papa," she breathed, rising to embrace him.
"Just think… If Mr. Darcy does come out of this alive and restored, then you will have a mother who will be very affectionate more so than ever. Are you prepared for that Lizzy?"
She laughed heartily. "Sir, I would expect nothing less!"
"Nor I," he conceded. "Perhaps he will regret not dying in the first place."
It was close to two months since Hingham Bridge when a letter was posted from Mr. Bingley to Lady Catherine in the hopes that he and his sister could seek refuge for a short time at Rosings.
During dinner, Lady Catherine made the announcement of the two additional members to their party and that they should be expecting them soon. Mrs. Bennet could not withstand her glee at the idea of Mr. Bingley and her Jane being together once more. Maybe this time he will propose after all! Mr. Collins, who had joined them, was also eager to make Mr. Bingley's acquaintance as he was the friend to his lady's nephew and regretted not making himself known at the ball in Netherfield. Meanwhile, Jane was inwardly pleased to know Mr. Bingley was coming to Rosings. She had often thought about since Hingham and wondered if his feelings had changed. He was most gracious when she rescued him from his grenade and he was comforting during that god awful wait for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy to return. Maybe there was a chance he would make an offer of marriage to her. However, she dared not raise her hopes lest this visit was temporary as Lady Catherine said it was.
Elizabeth was also pleased with the news concerning Mr. Bingley. Despite the bold request for someone who had not been formally introduced as far as she knew, she was rather surprised at Mr. Bingley's forwardness since he was mostly of a passive and quiet disposition. Then again, there were plenty in his past letters to Lady Catherine that were privy only to her so something in them must have excused his impertinence. While she did not wish to renew her acquaintance with Miss Bingley, Elizabeth knew she would be willing to put up with her for Jane's sake. However, Elizabeth could not promise her civility if Miss Bingley continued her antagonistic attitude as she had done in Netherfield. If she did not like what passed through Miss Bingley's lips, then Elizabeth vowed she would seek retribution.
As for another matter, Lady Catherine did not add if Mr. Bingley had further news of Mr. Darcy's welfare. Elizabeth had hoped she would mention something new and she sought her father's countenance for aid. Mr. Bennet (sensing his favorite daughter's distress) calmly dabbed his mouth with his napkin, and cleared his throat.
"Lady Catherine," he bade. "Has there been any word on Mr. Darcy? It's been a while since we heard a new report on his condition. I am curious to learn how he is faring considering I owe him a debt of gratitude for recovering my daughter."
"Ah, yes! Indeed!" chimed in Mrs. Bennet, nodding her head. "I know not what I have done if my Lydia was not returned to us!"
"Mama," said Lydia, having the decency to look down to hide her blush from the others.
"Well, it is true. I think I would be quite forlorn if I had lost her." Mrs. Bennet resumed her eating of the succulent piece of beef. "I had lost my appetite when we realized Lydia was missing. Even now my nerves are flaring up when I think about what could have happened if Mr. Darcy hadn't arrived in time."
Of course no one dare mentioned that Mrs. Bennet's lack of appetite did not seem to hinder her consumption at the moment. The attendants of Rosings had learned quickly about Mrs. Bennet's swifts in mood and how the best course of action is to not say anything at all. Contradicting her would only serve to bring continuous unwanted attention and not a moment's rest.
"Of course," Lady Catherine adroitly answered. "I daresay any mother would feel such a loss acutely." Setting her gaze on Mr. Bennet, she continued, "As for my nephew, there are tidings of good news. He is conscious and very much on the way for a full recovery. Mr. Bingley mentioned that Mr. Darcy was most anxious to return to the canal to see how our men are faring with the unmentionables. How long he will be there I do not know. My nephew is nothing if not thorough in his missions. He will return once he is satisfied."
"That is good to hear," Mr. Bennet concluded. He gave Elizabeth a covert wink and she could not help the slight smile from forming. Mr. Darcy was all right! The news was such a relief to her. Perhaps Providence was smiling down upon them at last.
The following afternoon Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley arrived. He was in good spirits and Caroline was in a dour mood, but she brightened once they were brought to Lady Catherine. Elizabeth could not help but note on how flattering Miss Bingley was to her ladyship and even had something pleasant to say towards Lady Anne. Clearly, she was doing her best to impress Mr. Darcy's relations and Elizabeth had to hold back a smirk over how indifferent Lady Catherine was to her overtures.
After the cordial greetings and customary inquiries, Mr. Bingley was asked about the canal and if there was any need for alarm.
"I fear I do not have the answer to that question. Lately, I have been looking after my family. Unfortunately, my other sister and her husband did not fare well. They were attacked by the unmentionables while I was fighting and I thank God that Caroline was not present."
"Indeed. It was horrible what happened. It was by the grace of God that I had a headache and could not attend the theatre. Poor Louisa and Mr. Hurst," Caroline said, her eyes misting over at the loss of her sister.
"I am very sorry for your loss. In these times, we all suffer casualties," Lady Catherine shared.
Bingley agreed. "I wish I could assure your ladyship and the rest of you about the canal; however, we should have word about it from Darcy."
Elizabeth managed to contain her countenance at the mention of Mr. Darcy's name. Did that mean he was to arrive sooner than they thought?
"Yes, you mentioned in your last letter that my nephew has gone off to the front lines to observe the situation. Did he say how long he will be gone?"
"Not long," Bingley reported. "In fact, I expect him to be here in Rosings quite soon."
"Splendid. We will have his usual room prepared in case his arrival is a lot sooner. This is good news to be certain."
Indeed it is, Elizabeth thought, smiling to herself. Then her smile vanished as she wondered what would she say and how she should behave around Mr. Darcy. Their last encounter had been awkward to say the least and the only sensible conversation was about Lydia. While Elizabeth's feelings had changed, she could not help but ponder Mr. Darcy's feelings. Will they be indifferent towards each other? Or will he make another offer for her hand? So concerned she was on his behalf that she hadn't considered the repercussions if his wishes had changed. Never had Elizabeth felt so helpless or powerless that she knew not where she stood. She could only pray that Mr. Darcy will be merciful towards her.
It was a cheery, sunny morning and everyone within Rosings seemed to be in high spirits. For Lady Catherine and her daughter, it was close to high spirits as they could maintain on their reserve countenances. Lady Anne (in Mr. Collins' good opinion) was shown in moderate liveliness with the faintest trace of pallid over her muted features. Her soft groan indicated her obliging thanks for the compliment.
After breakfast, Lady Catherine requested all the ladies to join her in the grand room where they could commence with the cleaning of their muskets and handguns under her supervision. The men, on the other hand, decided to seek their own employment. Mr. Collins announced he would take a stroll around the grounds so he can benefit from the exercise before his wedding day. Mr. Bingley went to Mr. Bennet to privately solicit an audience in the library. There was no denying what his intentions were as Mr. Bingley gazed at his eldest fair daughter when they took their leave. Despite Mr. Bennet's misgivings about his daughters marrying, he knew his Jane loved Mr. Bingley and he would not deny her happiness (or her mother's).
So while the two men were in talks over Bingley's plans, the ladies took their seats in front of Lady Catherine with Mrs. Bennet on her right side. Under the former's scrutiny, all five Bennet girls, Miss Bingley, and Mrs. Jenkinson (for Anne could not hold her own gun) made sure their respective weapons were thoroughly cleaned.
Conversation was sparse as Lady Catherine preferred the quiet when one dealt with weapons. Idle chit-chat can lead to mistakes when one's focus is not entirely on the task. It could result in a gun backfiring or rendered useless when engaged with a zombie or three. Strict she was in these proceedings that one did not dare oppose her expert counsel; except Mrs. Bennet, who could not remain silent for long.
Not in the presence of an intimidating figure could Mrs. Bennet keep to her own musings. It began with a simple remark about the weather and how the sun seemed to chase away the dreary days of late. Then she went on to say how grateful she was for Lady Catherine to take in her family; her generosity would never be forgotten and how magnificent and well-trained her Black Guards were and how she never felt safer in her whole life (even though her daughters are very well-trained in the deadly arts and she suppose there was some advantages to it). Furthermore, she could not get over how splendid the décor she kept throughout the grandiose manor. She stated how she had never seen such lovely works of art before and where could one obtain such fine pieces.
Lady Catherine bore it well with noncommittal replies although one look upon her mien could see the traces of annoyance. The final comment was in regards to the excellent warrior herself.
"I daresay your eye patch is quite fetching," Mrs. Bennet extolled. "Is it for fashion or function?"
"Function," Lady Catherine answered tersely and the Bennet matriarch had the good decency to look chasten for mentioning a detail that would rather not be discussed.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth kept stealing glimpses at Jane knowing it was matter of time before Mr. Bingley would come to seek an audience with her beloved sister. She knew he loved Jane and there was no doubt in her mind that he will make it official. However, Jane kept a serene composure with only a flicker of a smile gracing her lips. When the footman announced Mr. Bingley's presence, the collective gasps among their mother and the Bennet sisters knew this was it.
Jane, hardly containing her countenance, arose and gave her pardons to Lady Catherine so she could speak to Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth gave her a wink and mouthed "I told you so" which Jane blushed but had to concede her sister was right about his affections. The fair-haired Bennet turned to follow Mr. Bingley who gave her a courteous mid-bow as they walked out of the room side-by-side for privacy.
At least that situation would be at last resolved from further interferences. Elizabeth could not contain her joy for Jane since she could not think of a better person who deserved happiness more so than she. After all the heartache and suffering, Jane was finally getting the man of her dreams for there never was a couple so well-matched or well-suited for one another. Not even Miss Bingley's consternation could not ruin this mood.
No, indeed, not during this particular auspicious day.
Besides, Jane's soon to be good fortune, there was also the imminent arrival of another to the party and soon. Elizabeth was anxious to see Mr. Darcy and how well he fared after Hingham Bridge. Her recollection of the previous night told her that Mr. Darcy intended to arrive at Rosings at some point this very day. To think… how much had truly changed since her last visit to Rosings and Hunsford! Gone were the initial feelings of disdain and contempt when she thought about Mr. Darcy. Now, only thoughts of an agreeable nature resided in her mind and how her heart seemed to flutter with anticipation. When she found him at the In-Between, she never had the opportunity to share her recent report about his character or what his letter meant to her. Her focus had been on finding Lydia and if she had known what his intentions was in that moment… She might have accompanied him. Then again, he purposely kept her in the dark to regain her good opinion, and for that, Elizabeth was uncertain if she could forgive herself for practically sending him to his own doom.
"There isn't a thing Darcy wouldn't do for you," Mr. Bingley told her.
Such insolence to take matters in his own hands! However, I cannot fault him for I would have done the same. Despite her resolve not to think kindly of him or admit their similarities, Elizabeth knew precisely what she had fought to deny could no longer be tolerated. She and Darcy were the same. He was her other half—a man befitting the skills required for a warrior like herself. He accepted her help in the unmarked zombie grave when he could have dismissed her and handled it on his own. Then there was the look in his eyes that she once mistook as abhorrence was now an admiration that was so tender in its regard that she wondered how she could have been so blind not to see the obvious!
Any other man would have encouraged her to stay away, but not Mr. Darcy. He never once hinted or implied he expected her to relinquish her sword. Even during his ill-worded and poorly executed proposal in Hunsford, he never once stated his expectations she resign herself as a household wife. Back then he wanted her fighting skills alongside with his and Elizabeth prayed the sentiments were no longer extinguished. The idea of marriage was becoming very appealing to her and she hoped she had not missed her chances.
"Mr. Darcy," the footman's voice proclaimed suddenly; the wait no longer an obstacle to Elizabeth's growing expectancy. Her face was warmed at the prospect of seeing Mr. Darcy in the living flesh that she placed her hand over her beating heart as she turned to look over her shoulder.
Her breathing slowed as she watched him enter the room, his countenance looking remarkably well and not as if he was standing at the threshold of Death's doors. Her inspection revealed no markings or scars from the traces of blood that had covered his visage. His gait upon his entrance did not falter or hint of a limp or any possible injury that might impede his movements. In all outward appearances, Mr. Darcy was in the best of health that it would be difficult to believe he had been involved in a bombing nearly eight weeks ago. At least that was the impression he gave. It was slight… very slight but Elizabeth perceived how Mr. Darcy was favoring in leaning to his right as he stood and that his bow was not his usual falling to the waist. She surmised he must have a broken rib that was still healing, but other than that, he was still the same Mr. Darcy she could recall. Time and distance had not changed her newfound esteem.
"My favorite nephew," Lady Catherine delivered. "You have lain unconscious for so long that when we heard you arisen, we feared you had joined the ranks of the undead. Any word from the canal?"
Straight to business the lady warrior contended but Mr. Darcy did not seem affronted that his aunt had not asked after his welfare. After all, she could observe for herself that he was well and she did receive his letters about his recovery. Her little jest was more for her own leisure than anything.
"It's holding for the time being." It was a relief to learn and share that the threat was not going to spill into Hertfordshire or any of the other counties. It had been a fear that Darcy had kept since the siege of London, but any additional information was abruptly interrupted.
The uproarious cry of "yes" echoed the corridor and it was frankly clear that Bingley had asked the question everyone had been waiting keenly for. There was a twitch of amusement on Darcy's lips as he was pleased his friend was able to claim the happiness he had desperately wanted.
Simultaneously, Mrs. Bennet and the rest of her daughters could not hold back their delight as they stood to rush out to congratulate the happy couple. As good news as it was, Miss Bingley followed them out as well as Lady Anne and her companion (it would be rude not to extend the felicitations). Not even the impropriety of the shrieks and shouts from Kitty and Lydia could be frowned upon as Mr. Darcy bowed to each and every lady. The last was his aunt who captured his attention with an imperceptible nod and an intuitive smile for her reasons on leaving was her very own and not to be discern by anyone else (however one could conjecture with her silent dismiss of her guards what it might entail). As for her nephew, he understood what his aunt was doing and it was her subtle way of acknowledging her consent.
Finally, it was Elizabeth Bennet who trailed behind with the high hopes he would call her, and at the same time, dreaded he would. And indeed, he did.
"Mr. Darcy," she said softly, her hands nervously twitching at her side. Never had Elizabeth ever felt so exposed that she was certain her mannerisms would be disconcerting to any who knew her well. For once, this courageous and bold fighter was finding it to be inopportune for her to meet his steady gaze. She scarcely knew herself presently but she had always said her courage rises with every attempt at intimidation. Although, it was not his intention for her to feel that way. It was her recognition of her past prejudices and folly that could have ruined everything. Now clear-headed and open-minded, Elizabeth met his eyes. "You look as if fully mended."
"I am. Thank you." How intent those umber eyes were! And yet, his expression did not betray his inner thoughts or feelings that Elizabeth was uncertain how to proceed in this innocuous discourse. Did he change his mind in regards to her? Did he blame her for his near brush with Death? She knew better than to expect a missive from him, but the past communications had left her completely in the dark! To her astonishment, his next words carried a far more personal touch than any written word could convey. "If it wasn't for you I would have surely perished. You have saved me in more ways than one." Here he inhaled sharply as if to compose himself for the following announcement. "What you said to me on Hingham Bridge…"
"You heard me?" she interjected, completely taken aback by this confession. She had spoken to him in an act of desperation, an impulsive desire of her heart for her feelings to be voiced. In the heat of the moment, Elizabeth knew not what she was hoping to achieve but only the inclination that she must admit to him that she did find him agreeable the first time she laid eyes on him. She could not let him think she loathed him from the beginning.
"I did. It gave me hope."
"What?" A frown marred her brow for truly he did not mean…? Could it be that not all was lost? Her heart pulsed wildly in her breast at the implications surrounding his mode of declaration.
"That your feelings for me might have changed. However, one word from you will silence me forever on the subject." His demeanor shifted and an emotion unlike any other she had witnessed on his face came to light. There was a shy hesitance, a tentative precariousness, that barely concealed the uncertainty and fear that was growing. Vanished was the former confidence and arrogance that once covered his façade. He was no longer a man who knew the outcome on which he was about to ask, but humbler and unassuming. She held the power of his fate and future happiness if she desired not to have him still.
Elizabeth made sure her lips were sealed as a smile threatened to take over. She knew what her answer was and she waited for him to take the next step.
Moving closer to her person, Mr. Darcy finally said what he wished to say, what he should have said, and now he realized the truth to his feelings that it was not she who should feel worthy to have him but rather he felt worthy to have her if she chose him.
"You are the love of my life Elizabeth Bennet. So I ask you now—half in anguish, half in hope—will you do me the great, great honor in taking me as your husband?"
Elizabeth's gentle yes was music to both their ears as she repeated it a second time just so she could be certain of its reality. The rapture that overwhelmed them could not be denied for they have done nothing but refused to accept that they belonged to one another. The first kiss was chaste—new to the feeling, a test of timidity—in case she changed her mind or he decided to withdraw his offer. But it soon became apparent that neither was unwilling to release the other from the agreement as the kiss altered and she was holding him tightly, her hands pressing against the back of his head so he could not move away. However, he had not the slightest intention of moving away as he returned her affections, clasping her to him so this dream could not slip away.
As they were both of a passionate nature, and this being a new development, they reigned in their desires as their lips clung to each other in a slow and tender embrace, tempering the fires that could easily ignite. When the need for air was demanded, they remained in one another's hold, their foreheads touching together. Parting was not an option as they stood there quietly breathing each other in.