Dear readers, I published three Pride and Prejudice Variations under the name Laura Moretti, on Kindle and on Amazon. All Elizabeth-Darcy stories, and all happy endings, of course.

My latest book is called "Games of Love and Cruelty," and the story is set in the same universe as my "Slices of Life" and "Heatwave" fics, that you might have already read. Same context, same characters… But the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth goes a different way.

But now back to Colors…

- X -

« When I came back into Hertfordshire, the second time," Darcy says, "it was to see you."

Elizabeth frowns. "I… am not sure I follow."

He doesn't meet her gaze. "I fell in love with you very early. Even before you and your sister came to stay at Netherfield, I believe. But I was convinced that the disparities in our families' situations made an alliance between us impossible. Then I saw you again at Rosings Park, and…"

He raises his eyes to her – she is petrified. He is very pale, his voice is low, tentative.

"I remember each of our dinners, each of our walks. Every detail – every word, every gesture of yours. I was struggling. I walked to the Parsonage a dozen times, wanting to propose, but then – I…" His voice breaks. "I was a fool."

There is a pause. The fire cracks. Somewhere below, 253 people are trying to sleep. Somewhere east, houses are still submerged under freezing water. Elizabeth feels stretched between two times, two realities. Her mind is going to tear up, like a sheet of paper.

"I left – again, for London. I couldn't forget you," Darcy explains – it's almost a whisper. "I came back home – to Pemberley – but I could not forget you here, either. I saw you in every lane, in every room."

Elizabeth closes her eyes. She can see it too, her ghost, near the lake, under the lime trees. In the hallway, near the eastern window. Down the stairs, looking up at him. She feels like crying.

"I heard about the death of your father. Bingley was already betrothed to Amelia… But I…" Darcy stands up, begins to pace the room. "I knew the house was entailed. I had heard that money was – that you were in reduced circumstances. You had to move away, to give room to your cousin, Miss Bingley informed me with a sort of – glee."

Elizabeth could see it. Could hear it – Caroline's voice. Coming through a fog. It was all very far away.

"I mention the glee," Darcy adds, "because that moved me. I imagined the worst. I saw your situation as even more dire that it really was, I suppose. I imagined the Miss Bingleys of the world, sneering at your family. So I had to see you."

Elizabeth is very still. "To propose?"

"Maybe – yes – I do not think I had reached a decision, one way or the other." He shakes his head. "I suppose I deliberately placed myself where I would not be able to resist my feelings for you. "

"But… " Elizabeth protests. She can't make sense of his words. Everything is upside down. The landscape of the past, falling apart, like pieces of a wooden jigsaw puzzle. "I… You did not even visit – did you?"

"I did."

Elizabeth stands up too. "I apologize, Mr. Darcy," she says. "After my father's death, after Jane's marriage, I… everything I remember is a blur."

She takes a few slow steps. It is raining in her mind. Pieces of time, of reality, falling around her, crashing on the floor. In that tiny cottage, near her Aunt Philips – a cottage they were not sure they could really afford, that they were not sure they could really keep. Her mother, screeching. In the narrow corridors, under the low ceilings. Saying – screaming – that it was Elizabeth's fault Jane had to marry so low (a Reverend – rather poor). Screaming that if Elizabeth had accepted Mr. Collins, they could have waited. Jane wouldn't have been forced to throw herself away.

Loud accusations. Incessant. Ghastly. True.

"I visited the morrow of my arrival," Darcy says, "to offer my condolences to your family. Then a second time – I do not recall the pretext I used. Your mother rang for tea. You were there – in the drawing room, but did not speak. You were wearing a black bombazine dress – with a little lace, just here…"

He moves his hand in the direction of Elizabeth's collarbone – the gesture is so tender. So gentle. Sadness is choking her again.

"I am sorry," she repeats. "My memory is all a haze."

Her turn to pace the room. Trying not walk to on the pieces (Her past, lying on the floor).

"So that is why you agreed to marry me," she says.

"Yes."

"After the scandal…" Elizabeth hesitates. "After you found me in that barn… It was clearly an accident – and, even so, after Lydia's elopement had dishonored us all, you could not have been expected... You were not honour bound in any way to… a daughter of such a family… all the blame would have been fallen on me. And yet… you acceded to my mother's every demand."

"I loved you. I still do."

He can't keep his eyes away. He is staring at her – studying her with such an intensity – as if he wants to see through her skin – straight to the interior of her soul. To see every movement, every thought.

Silence falls.

"But…" Elizabeth massages her temples.

The wedding night.

His anger, his insults.

"But then…"

She doesn't have to say it aloud. He sits down. He seems very tired. "Dearest, I cannot explain myself," he whispers. She hears despair. Fear. "I… My conduct does not make sense to me, either."

253 people, trying to sleep downstairs. And both of them, now.

"You have to understand how… miraculous it all was," he explains. "The barn, your mother's pleas, they were the perfect pretext. I had been struggling between love and duty, and suddenly, both were aligned. You were compromised, I had to marry you. But I still…"

Family. Society. Expectations. Circles. The snake, hissing in his ears, telling him how selfish he was.

"There is no excuse for the way I acted. I was not thinking straight. I suppose – if I have to find an explanation…" His voice is low, again. "I suppose I believed that if I voiced my misgivings aloud ¬– we would fight. You would be offended, furious. You would tell me how ridiculous I was."

"You wished to lay it all to rest," Elizabeth says, slowly. "You wanted to give me your black pebbles of doubt, so I could laugh at them and crush them and reduce them to dust."

"I… This is a strange way to define it, but, yes. I suppose you are right."

"And instead, I…"

She stops.

"And instead," he says, "I crushed you."

The conversation ends there. He stays on the couch, watching her. She is pacing the room. Kicking pieces of time as she goes. Memories changing their skins. Worlds shifting and restructuring. It is an unpleasant process. She sees herself through his eyes – a silent, sad maid sitting in a parlor, in a black bombazine dress – whom he wants to save. Whom he wants to hold in his arms and cherish.

He sees her ghost in every lane, and then he saves her, and he gets the ghost.

She returns to that moment in the parlor – that piece of her past that she doesn't even remember. She sees it like a scene in a play. Her mother is serving tea. Kitty must be out, visiting. Mary must be in the other room, reading – there is no piano for her to play. Mary hates Elizabeth now. Elizabeth is the reason there is no piano for her to play. After the barn – Elizabeth begs Mary to stay silent – to not go to her mother – but of course Mary does her duty. So much resentment in her sisters' eyes.

But back to that moment (the one Elizabeth doesn't even remember). The parlor. Darcy's second visit. She is sitting on the beige settee, far away from her mother. Far away from him. Maybe it's a sunny day, light filtering through the glass, dust dancing in the air. Her black dress, with a little lace around the collar – Elizabeth is not talking. Darcy is looking at her.

A false image, from a false memory. It changes the past, though. A little. It cannot change her father's death, her mother's hatred , her sister's bitterness. Jane's loss. But – Elizabeth was so lonely. And now she knows – there was somebody who – who loved her.

Those grey days begin to take a fragile silver hue.

"Elizabeth," Darcy whispers, now, in Pemberley. (He can't take his eyes off her. Like in that memory. The false one.) "Elizabeth, I can bear anything – your anger – your reproaches – but not your silence. Please, I beg you – tell me what you are thinking."

There is no anger. Instead, she feels her heart is bursting. She wants to stand up back in that drawing room, in the tiny cottage, in her black dress, with her mother watching, she wants to walk to him and tell him that she is so sorry – for everything that has not yet come to pass – that she didn't understand him before but that she understands him now, that they can avoid months of pain, that she wants to love him now.
She looks at him in the present, what he sees in her eyes is enough – he stands up and walks right to her – then stops (love and shyness and fear). She puts her hand on his heart – on the light blue shirt (except, it's is not really the light blue shirt, of course).

He covers her hand with his.

Their first night is very awkward and very tender. Everything in the dark. The candle on the night stand has burned out. Elizabeth keeps her shift, he keeps his shirt. His gestures are tentative and she doesn't know what to do. It does not hurt, but it is so odd. Out of her realm of experience. She has no words, no context for what is happening.

The room is different, she realizes, while their bodies are intertwined. He is kissing her. She feels his skin and his weight. Her bedchamber – it was grey – it has been grey for months. Now – well, it is still dark, with the curtains drawn, but – it is different.

He stammers words of love in her ear and she – she holds him so tight.

The sun has risen.

She opens her eyes. He is sleeping besides her.

She hears him breathing. Everything is so still. She stays still, too. Moving is a risk. The moment could shatter.

Memories move in the air, a slow silver dance. The sad ones, the new ones. Melancholy. Joy. His words. His embrace.

Images of the night. The closeness and the flesh – again, she has no words – a gentleman's daughter does not learn those. She wonders if she will ever get used to this strange, gorgeous, barbaric ritual. She wonders if women who – fallen women – when they – if they ever become blasé about such intimacy.

She feels like she never will.

Elizabeth starts. The sun is warmer – it must be late – 253 people and the staff, waiting – her maid and Darcy's valet are helping downstairs. She rises up from the bed as silently as she can. She dresses as silently as she can. She braids and twists and pins her hair as she can.

The result is... commendable. Twenty-one years at Longbourn, five sisters, one maid.

"You look beautiful." His voice.

"You must be in love, Mr. Darcy," she laughs. No jewels, she is wearing an old, dark purple dress. The fabric can survive sick children, stew and crying widows.

She sits on the bed. To smile at him. He grabs her by the waist. "You are not thinking of leaving, I hope."

"It seems I cannot." She lies down on the cover, alongside him. Rising on one elbow, studying his face. She kisses him, once, on the lips.

"You must understand, I would like to leave," she states. "I very much desire to speak with Mrs. Reynolds about mildew, sickness and soup. But would a dutiful wife disobey her husband?"

She thinks he is going to answer in kind, that he will joke along, but he does not. He keeps watching her.

"I am so happy," he says, slowly.

She is very conscious of the stillness of the room. Of the rays of the sun, on the bed.

"I should not be," he continues. "People have lost everything – lost loved ones. It will be years till they recover. The estate will suffer substantial losses. It will be years till we recover."

"I will be by your side," Elizabeth says.

She feels sadness again – tenderness too strong in her heart, the desire to shield him – against the future and the past – against exhaustion and heartbreak. She caresses his cheek, she touches her lips once more. Afterwards, his eyes are a little too bright. He puts his hand on her nape, draws her closer.

Kisses are silver and endless.

"Still, I do not feel guilty," he says. "My thoughts are too full of you."

Elizabeth reflects for a while. "The flood is not your fault," she muses, after a moment. He looks at her ponderingly. "You feel everything is your responsibility," she explains. "But this disaster is the will of providence. It is not mismanagement."

"It is mismanagement," he grumbles. "But not mine." Elizabeth heard it downstairs – the dams, it seems, were not well maintained.

"That is why you can allow yourself to be happy in this moment."

"Your mind works in bizarre ways," he whispers. Before drawing her close again.

She goes downstairs. She enters the summer drawing room. The large French doors are open, they connect the east parlor and the music room beyond. Elizabeth freezes.

The image is so striking she can hardly breathe.

Colors, inching closer.

This part of the house was flooded during the first rising. The waters have receded, leaving everything covered in mud – a lost, monochrome word.

This morning, clean-up began.

On the right, grayish beige, everywhere. To the left, servants moping and wiping and washing and polishing – exposing golden oak floors, blue sofas, red tapestries, lavender walls.

Colors, eating the grey away.

Metaphor, embodied.

Her husband comes down. He stands behind her, he puts his arms around her waist again. Together, they watch. Mrs. Reynolds walks through the room, giving instructions to an army of helpers. She seems done in, and it is only ten.

She hardly notices them.

"You know," Elizabeth whispers to her husband, when she is gone, "you are right. My mind works in bizarre ways indeed." She hesitates. "I… Sometimes, I see the world differently."

He hesitates too. Then, "So do I."

He tells her about the circles. She tells him about the colors.