Thanks for all the lovely responses. I'm not sure if I'm happy with this chapter, but I wanted to get something uploaded and I'm too tired to think anymore. There is some Darcy/Lizzy at the end for everyone asking for more of them. I will try to give them more, uh, screen time. Thanks again for reading.
After placing the rose in a small vase she sat in deep contemplation. Obviously, this was much more than some dream. There was another power at work that she couldn't completely understand but she didn't need to. The talk with her husband and Georgiana both had given her the insight and courage to stop denying her feelings for Richard. There was no way she was going to get any sleep. Pulling on her robe and some shoes, she decided to sneak out for some fresh night air. It was nearing two in the morning and she didn't think anyone would be awake. Abigail crept quietly down the stairs and nearly got lost trying to find the way out into the garden, all the while hoping she wouldn't run into a servant who would mistake her for a robber. The night air was crisp and chilly, but it invigorated her. She felt more alive and happy than she had been in a long time. The moon was full and bright, beckoning her to bask in its glow. She breathed in the mixed fragrance of grass and flowers. Laughing softly, she closed her eyes and turned her face toward the moon and opened her arms as a gentle breeze caused her robe to flutter and her long hair to flow with the current. Only when she heard a branch crunch behind her did she realize she was not alone. Pulling her robe tightly around her, she turned slowly, half expecting to see her husband again. But instead she was met by the handsome face of Colonel Fitzwilliam. No words she could come up with seemed good enough for the situation she found herself in. He was having an equally hard time expressing himself, so they were both content to simply stare quietly at the other.
Fitzwilliam was entranced by her beauty. The sight of her hair loose and dancing in the wind was enough to drive any coherent thoughts from his head. The moment left as swiftly as it had begun when Abigail realized what she was wearing. She still held the robe tightly as she gathered her hair and held it to one side.
"Um, Richard, I…uh…didn't think anyone was awake," she managed to stammer. When he noticed her blushing face he finally convinced himself to look elsewhere.
"I couldn't sleep. I tried writing a letter to my parents to tire me out, but it didn't work. Then all of a sudden I felt a strange urge to walk in the garden. I am sorry to disturb you, Abigail."
"You are not disturbing me. I shouldn't be running around in the garden at this hour and in my nightclothes, but I needed some fresh air. I had an interesting dream." She shivered as the wind picked up.
"Let us go inside. I don't want you to become ill." Abigail nodded and they returned to the house. Fitzwilliam had brought a candle with him from his room, something Abigail had forgotten, and so guided her back upstairs to her door.
"Thank you, Richard. I hope that we both find sleep," she yawned as she spoke. "Oh! Wait here, I have something for you." He stood in thought and watched her disappear into her chambers. Several seconds later she returned holding the rose. "Please accept this as a small token of thanks for everything you have done - for Margaret and for myself." She smiled warmly and if it was not so dark, he would have noticed her blushing again. Fitzwilliam took the offered flower and kissed her hand.
"I accept it wholeheartedly, my lady." She loved when he called her that and sensed that it was much more than an acknowledgement of her title. "But you owe me nothing."
Abigail found something very interesting on the carpet and spoke barely above a whisper. "I owe you great deal, I think. You have done so much for someone you barely know and you have made Margaret very happy. All she ever talks about are the adventures she has with the Colonel." Their quiet laughter was followed by a very pregnant pause.
"I could make you happy too." He knew he should have held his tongue, but his talk with Georgiana had given him hope and all through that evening she had acted differently, even bordering on flirtatious. Georgiana had said that she talked to her, so perhaps she had changed her mind about him.
The carpet had lost its appeal and she looked up into his eyes. Her husband's voice floated into her head. Colonel Fitzwilliam will make you happy. I will be watching over you from above and he can watch over you down here, especially now more than ever. She didn't quite understand the "now more than ever" part, but she knew she agreed with him. "Richard, I…this is all very overwhelming."
"I understand, Lady, please forgive me for bringing it up again. I bid you good night." Angry at himself for being too pushy, he started to leave, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
"Richard, please, hear me out." She hadn't let go of his arm. "I have no doubt that you could make any woman very happy and I am flattered that you have singled me out. I care very much about you. I even think I am in great danger of falling in love with you. You're handsome, brave, and, after seeing your performance this evening, you have an interesting sense of humor. I just think things are moving a bit fast. I had no say in the choosing of my husband. Everything happened so quickly. I want us to get to know each other, the right way. Are you up to the challenge of courting me, Colonel?"
He gave her the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. "Most certainly, General. But please know that I have been in danger of falling in love with you from the first moment we met." He noticed she still had his arm and teased her. "Lady Abigail, while I do admire you greatly, would you be so kind as to release my arm?"
"Oh yes, I am sorry, Colonel Fitzwilliam. We should be getting to bed now."
"You're right. Sleep well, my lady."
"And you as well."
Making his way through the halls to his own chambers, Fitzwilliam was elated with joy. While he would have liked to run away with her and elope, the prospect of courtship excited him. Somehow he knew he would never get to sleep tonight.
The colonel and the countess were the last to come down to breakfast. Abigail's siblings noticed the look they gave each other and the blush that spread on both their faces. Georgiana greeted them both with a knowing smile.
"Trouble sleeping last night, Fitzwilliam?" Darcy asked of his cousin.
"Yes, at first, until about three in the morning. Then it was pleasant dreams from then on." He and Abigail briefly glanced at each other, an action not lost on Darcy.
A servant came in to deliver the morning's letters and Bingley informed Darcy that one was directed to him. It was from Rosings, but he knew that the writing was not his aunt's. Immediately he opened it and read in earnest. "I don't believe it!" he exclaimed.
That drew everyone's attention. "What is it?" asked Fitzwilliam.
"This is from Cousin Anne. She says that Miss Bingley is staying at Rosings and has informed my aunt of my engagement."
Mrs. Bingley sighed in exasperation. "That girl did what!"
At the same time, Bingley and Louisa made similar outbursts. Darcy was furious and his sisters and cousin were doing everything they could to calm him down, with little luck. In his anger, all his thoughts came out in broken sentences.
"How dare she interfere…what gave her the…out of all the stupid…!"
Mrs. Bingley was livid. "That's it! I am going to Rosings to set Caroline straight, once and for all. I apologize, Darcy. I am utterly ashamed of her actions."
Darcy stood up and began pacing near a window, as he often did when angry. "No, you shouldn't have to go running after her. What's done is done. I will return to Pemberley and invite my aunt and Miss Bingley to meet with me. I intend to sort out this entire mess once and for all – my engagement and my aunt's refusal to accept Lady Abigail."
"How do you intend to do that?" asked Georgiana.
He stared purposefully out the window. "As for my engagement, she must deal with it. As for Lady Abigail, I shall show her the evidence she so craves – by digging up our sister's grave. If an empty casket does not quell her, than I will have no qualms about never speaking to her again." With boots stomping, he exited the breakfast room before anyone could speak.
Elizabeth hummed to herself as she walked along the dirt path on her morning walk. It was one of the tunes that Darcy and her had danced to at the ball and she smiled at the thought of her fiancé. Her eyes took in the countryside; every tree, fence, and field. Before long, she would live elsewhere. Away from her family and friends – all that she had grown up with. A sudden onset of nervousness came upon her at the thought of her impending nuptials and she stopped dead in her tracks. Will I still be the same person after I'm married? A moment later she laughed such thoughts away. All I need now, she thought, is to complain to someone about my poor nerves. But no matter how much she shook off such feelings, they still lingered in the back of her mind.
She continued down the path, her feet unknowingly carrying her towards Netherfield. After cutting through some trees, she was greeted with the sight of her intended, albeit with his back to her. From her vantage point she could see the tension in his shoulders as he leaned against a fencepost and wondered what had caused him grief. So many things came to her mind. Elizabeth cleared her throat to get his attention. Darcy turned and the morning sun shone behind him, illuminating his handsome face in a halo of light. And he is to be my husband. At times, Elizabeth still wasn't used to that fact.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy." She wondered why she chose to use his surname, even though they were quite alone. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
He smiled warmly. "You could never be a disturbance, Elizabeth. I'm rather glad to see you."
She colored slightly and moved to stand next to him. "I'm sure that someday you will rethink your words, sir. I can cause quite a disturbance if the occasion calls for it." Elizabeth smiled and arched her brow. "You seem upset by something or someone," she continued.
"Two someone's, actually." He offered her his elbow. "Come; let us walk while I tell you my troubles. It seems Miss Bingley has sought the refuge of my aunt. She is staying with her now at Rosings Park and has told her of our engagement."
"How dare she! I can guess as to how Lady Catherine reacted."
Darcy patted her hand softly. "Considering that she has always intended for me to marry her own daughter, she is quite put out, I assure you. What Miss Bingley hopes to achieve by allying with her is beyond me."
Elizabeth shook her head. "She probably thinks that she can win you if she has Lady Catherine's support."
"She had absolutely no chance at that even before I met you." Darcy slowly maneuvered his arm so that they were holding hands. He was a little unsure at first, but he was reassured by Elizabeth's gentle squeeze. He looked down at her and she seemed lost in thought. "What are you thinking about?"
She looked up at him and smiled, but he saw a hint of sadness in her eyes. "I was just thinking about how much I'm going to miss Hertfordshire. This is all I have known my entire life - these people, this countryside. I'm just nervous about leaving it all behind."
He stopped and took her other hand. "Elizabeth, you do not have to leave it all behind. We can visit whenever you like. I don't want you to feel as if I am taking you away from your friends here."
"I'm sorry, it just my poor nerves," she responded in a perfect imitation of Mrs. Bennet, giggling to herself.
Darcy looked a bit frightened for a second before joining in her laughter. "Should I be worried that you do that too well?"
Elizabeth swatted him playfully on the arm. "I do not!" A sudden gust of wind blew some leaves into their path and she picked a leaf out of Darcy's hair, her hand lingering near his cheek. "Would you still love me if I do start complaining about my nerves?"
"Nothing could ever make me stop loving you - even that."
She responded by leaning up and kissing his cheek, but before she could pull away completely, Darcy bent his head and their lips met. If she was in any doubt of the ferocity of his feelings, this kiss put them all to rest.