The next day, Elizabeth Darcy woke with no doubts as to who and where she was. This undoubtedly was due in large degree to the presence of her husband in the bed they shared. It was not her bed - she had never slept it in it before this night. They were in a borrowed room at a rented estate. Somehow it was impossible to feel quite at home in such a place.
On the other hand, they had discovered any number of small conveniences. Darcy preferred to have the right side of the bed, she the left. Neither of them snored. Elizabeth tended to be too hot to rest comfortably, and Darcy too cold, but neither had any such difficulties when they were together. Last night, after they tiredly wrapped themselves around each other, they had quickly and contentedly fallen asleep in a tangled pile of arms and legs and sheets.
Elizabeth blinked up at the ceiling. She felt a little sluggish, as if she had slept in.
Which, given the light pouring through the window, she undoubtedly had. Elizabeth stretched and carefully extricated herself from her husband. She could not see his face - he did not sleep on his back, as she did, so except for his outflung arm and mop of fair hair, she could just make out the outline of his figure beneath the covers.
She walked to the window, wincing a little. There was a residual soreness though, at the time, the slight sharp pain had been almost entirely subsumed in the pleasure.
It was another bright wintry day. Elizabeth tightened her robe, a little self-conscious, and glanced back at her slumbering husband. She had rather enjoyed lying against him, skin-to-skin, but of course she did not want the servants to see her like that, and even more she did not want the servants to see Darcy like that.
He had not actually mentioned this consideration. When she first asked what he needed his robe for, he coloured and said he was not a savage to go about without a stitch of clothing on.
"Am I a savage then, dearest?" she asked. Darcy laughed low in his throat - a very different sort of sound from his usual laughter; she had told him it sounded like a purr, which only made him laugh more - and gently stroked her hair off her forehead.
"Only occasionally," he said.
Elizabeth smiled to herself as she remembered, letting her forehead rest against the glass. She would have liked to see the sun rise this morning, but then, the park was so unattractive, it could only have been disappointing. That was something she wanted to save for Pemberley. She felt suspended between her past and the future; only when she was at Pemberley would she really step into her new life. Everything would begin there.
She turned her head and caught a glimpse of her reflection. She walked over, wondering how she would look this morning. Yesterday, the self in the mirror had been a small, slender girl with wide curious dark eyes and freckles dotting her small nose. And now?
She looked back at herself. She had not grown in stature, her freckles had not vanished with her father's name, and not even her husband's could add dignity to the nose. The clear brown complexion and narrow face, the plain gold chain about her neck, the sharp pointed chin and quizzical smile, they were all the same. Yet as she instinctively raised her hand to her stomach, the sapphires in her ring glinted. She caught her breath, and took a step closer. Her eyes were different; the same in shape and colour, but the expression utterly unlike anything that had ever been there before. More thoughtful, but still merry; at once less confident and more so. This was someone different from the girl Lizzy.
It crossed her mind that this was the person Darcy saw when he looked at her. To him, she would never be the young whimsical girl her family and friends thought they knew, just as the frail boy clinging to his mother was someone she could never truly know. She had always been, and would always be, the woman Elizabeth to him.
She whirled to look at the bed. Darcy had not moved; he seemed to have barely stirred, then reached out for her and found her gone. Without a second thought she dove for the bed, catching only a brief glimpse of her clothes lying haphazardly across the floor, his neatly folded on a chair.
"I was looking at the mirror," she said, pressing her toes against his legs.
"Elizabeth, your feet are cold," he complained, but only held her a little closer.
"I wanted to see if I seemed very different, after . . . after . . ." She couldn't keep blood from rushing to her cheeks, and looked away shyly. Darcy sat up, pushing his hair out of his eyes. She idly noticed that it was much less tangled and generally untidy than her own. "You look different," she added, reaching out to touch his cheek. Something glinted there - a small growth of beard, almost rough against her fingers. She had never seen him so; she could not think whether she liked it or not. "This is even lighter than your hair. That must be why you always look clean-shaven."
"I daresay." He moved the covers aside and stood up, absently straightening his robe. "I ought to shave and get dressed. I must look wild."
Elizabeth considered. "Well, rather." At his grimace, she added, "There is something to be said for the occasional wildness."
"I beg your pardon?" He looked over his shoulder at her.
"Under good regulation, of course." She swung her legs out. "Fitzwilliam, you have been awake for nearly three minutes and you have not kissed me yet. I expected a more dutiful husband."
She was pleased that he no longer looked vaguely distressed as he often did at such banter during their engagement. Instead, he laughed and walked over to where she sat at the edge of the bed, bending down to kiss her soundly; not as a cautious lover, but with the easy passion of a young husband.
She was of half a mind to lift up her arms and kiss him again, when there was a tentative knock at the door. Both looked at it with some chagrin.
"I think that must be Sarah," she said ruefully. Her cheek stung, and she touched it. "You were quite right, Fitzwilliam."
"You should shave before you kiss me."
His mouth twitched. "Of course - and you should talk to your maid. She seems quite distressed." His gait was as light as she had ever seen it when he walked back to his own chambers, absently picking up her clothes and folding them on his way out. Elizabeth felt almost dazed by the sparkling cheerfulness suddenly pervading the plain, borrowed room, and she opened her door with a cheerful smile.
The maid looked deeply apologetic. "Mrs Darcy, I did not mean to - that is, I thought you might . . . you said not to come until you called for me, but they said . . ."
"Sarah," Elizabeth said kindly, "what is it?"
"Your mother, mi - ma'am. Mrs Bingley has been with her these fifteen minutes. And then Mr Bingley came down and Mrs Bennet was wanting to know all sorts of things, and asking ever so many questions - " there was an unfamiliar trace of censure in her tone - "and so they sent me."
Elizabeth had never heard the girl speak in such a fashion. But, of course, she was Sarah's mistress now. The maid's loyalty was no longer to the Bennets, but the Darcys. Undoubtedly she would pass on servants' gossip to Elizabeth as her mother did to Mrs Bennet.
"Thank you, Sarah. I shall be downstairs soon."
Sarah looked deeply relieved. "Shall I help you dress, madam?"
"That should not be necessary to-day," Elizabeth said, "just go down and tell them what I said." Sarah bobbed a curtsey and Elizabeth, shutting the door behind her, sighed. She did love her mother, in her way, but Darcy had not been entirely misreading her when he concluded that she would not wish to be settled near Longbourn. It would be three days' travel in good weather. Mrs Bennet would never trust her nerves to a journey through Derbyshire, at least not in winter.
There were most assuredly more benefits to being married than her husband's fine person. "Fitzwilliam," she called. Darcy, restored to his usual black-clad, clean-shaven, impeccable self, almost immediately returned to her room.
"What was it, Elizabeth?"
"My mother," she said. "She is here."
Darcy's eyebrows rose. "Now? Why, it is only - "
"I know." Elizabeth sighed. It was fruitless to wish her different; she would never change. "Jane and Bingley are with her."
"We should probably join them." Darcy had half-turned, suiting actions to words, when Elizabeth stopped him with a touch on his arm.
With a smile, she said, "Sometimes Jane is too good for the rest of us. Saintly as she is, I have no inclination to follow her example. We shall be down in our own time."
"As you wish."
This was a touch too much docility. Elizabeth threw a suspicious look over her shoulder.
"I have not Bingley's desire to please and be pleased by the whole world. If you feel yourself in no great hurry - well, she is your mother. I will follow your lead, in this."
"An important caveat!" She looked around randomly for her brush. "What should I wear?"
"There is certainly no danger of my growing too agreeable to be endured. Elizabeth - " He pulled out a drawer and handed the brush to her with a faintly bemused expression. "No wonder your father insisted on sending the maid with you."
"It is your fault. You are distracting me."
"You did not want me to leave," he pointed out, looking very handsome and very out-of-place. He was always striking, but amidst the feminine frills and fripperies of the room, the effect was heightened an hundredfold. Elizabeth abruptly realised how underdressed she was, compared to her fully-clad husband, and to hide the sudden awkward embarrassment she felt, went searching through the clothes suitable for travelling, throwing them about in her usual haphazard manner. Darcy prudently stepped away from the bed, where he had been perched, and watched with his arms folded and one eyebrow raised.
"There, it has to be one of these," she declared. "Do you like blue or yellow better?"
"I - Elizabeth, why are you asking me? I know as little as any brother is permitted on the subject. Surely anyone else would provide a better-informed opinion."
She laughed, and met his bemused eyes. Would it always be like this? Would there always be this rush of happiness at the mere sight of him? Hers was a naturally affectionate disposition, but this - this was quite out of the ordinary realm. "You cannot think I care anything for any other person's pleasure in me," she said.
He blinked a moment, swallowed, then said judiciously, "I prefer you in yellow."
She beamed. "So do I. It is my favourite colour, you know."
"I know." In his usual disconnected way, he said, "You were wearing yellow at Pemberley."
"I was! That was my favourite dress." She hummed a little to herself as she changed her clothes. "Fitzwilliam, help me."
"What can I do?" He sounded appalled.
"I cannot reach all the buttons. I forgot that this one is so complicated."
The awkwardness in his usually graceful hands made her laugh, as he struggled to manage the small buttons, and the warmth of his breath against her shoulder made her turn around and kiss him without forethought or care, her hands tightening on his neck. He was surprised but by no means unenthusiastic; his lips lingered on hers a moment before they parted.
Despite his sudden high colour, he said composedly, "You never combed your hair, dear."
She could not keep herself from wrinkling her nose at him, and sat down with a flounce. "It would serve you right if I sent you to face my mother alone and let Sarah help me. She is becoming quite the martinet. 'You must not forget your robe, Mrs Darcy.' 'You must not forget your tea, Mrs Darcy.' 'If you say so, Mrs Darcy' with the most impertinent look! Although it is really because she is so frightened, poor thing. She is as afraid of erring as Georgiana, I think."
"I shall tell Mrs Reynolds to be gentle with her," said Darcy.
"I can manage well enough on my own, I am not used to having my own maid. Jane and I always shared her before," she admitted. "There." She finished pinning up the last curl and turned to face him. "Am I handsome enough to tempt you?"
He gazed at her for a moment, an expression of quiet pleasure on his face. Then he straightened and extended his arm. "My dear Elizabeth, I hope you know by now that I find you infinitely tempting."
"It is very wrong of you to say such things," she replied, laughing; "soon I shall be in danger of losing my composure."
He studied her intently for a moment. She could not read his expression, it was unfamiliar - or rather, she recognised the mischievous glint a moment too late. With the door open, allowing any passer-by to see them, she fully prepared to don the mask of Mrs Darcy of Pemberley, he captured her face in his hands and allowed his lips to lightly and briefly dance over hers, a bare hint of a kiss she could scarcely feel.
She raised her brows. "You look very satisfied with yourself, Mr Darcy."
"I am very satisfied with myself, Mrs Darcy," he said unashamedly. "Today, I am satisfied with everyone."
"That I can understand." She smiled up at him, then added, as they went downstairs, "Let us hope you include my mother in that statement. My composure does not seem quite what it was."
Elizabeth could not help blushing as she entered the parlour. Not only her mother, but her sisters and father, were present. Her first thought was to scold Sarah, the next to take Darcy's arm and stand straight and proud at his side. Perhaps she did not look very different, although Kitty and Mrs Bennet did not think so by the volume of their exclamations over her gown, but she knew where her place was.
Still, there was a sadness too, particularly once it was all over and she was kissing them all good-bye, for the final time. She loved her father, and yet simply knowing Darcy, let alone loving him, had made a divide between them. Seeing what a man of sense and wit and intelligence could be, and seeing what her father was, left a bitter taste of disappointment in her mouth. She had seen his failings before, but never in such sharp relief.
It was a revelation, that she loved the part of her husband that was Mr Darcy as much as Fitzwilliam, the grave, inscrutable man quiet at her side, as well as the tender, passionate one who in her arms cried out her name. She could not keep her eyes from returning to his face again and again, only for snippets of moments, but it was enough.
"Goodbye, Papa," she said, glad of the reassuring warmth of Darcy's hand against her back. "Kitty, Mary - " She was surprised to see the younger of her sisters burst into tears; she had never had much to do with the middle girls.
"I will write to you, I promise," she said.
Catherine sniffled. "Lydia said she would, too."
"Oh, Kitty. I would not give my word if I did not mean to keep it."
Kitty nodded and embraced her once more. "I will miss you, Lizzy." She looked fearfully at Darcy, who was talking to Bingley with the air of a fretful mother hen whose chick has just leapt head first out of the nest.
Elizabeth smiled fondly at her husband. Kitty glanced from one to the other, blushing, then bit her lip and at his approach extended her hand.
"Mr Darcy," she said bravely, "I hope you will be very happy."
He was very surprised but clasped it. He did not kiss it, as Wickham would have, and Elizabeth rather thought that a relief - Kitty might have fainted otherwise. "Thank you, Catherine."
"I am glad you are our brother, you will take proper care of us," she blurted out. Elizabeth was not sure whether to be gratified for her husband's sake or share her father's pain; she decided on the former as she accepted Mary's grave good wishes, then turned to her last, or first, sister.
"Oh, Jane. How long shall it be before I see you again?"
They embraced one another tightly, exchanging fervent promises to write. "Do not forget that you are the mistress of Netherfield," Elizabeth whispered. Jane laughed.
"I shan't. Oh Lizzy - do take care."
"I will want you, I know I will. How shall I get along without you?"
"I would not know better than you," Jane said seriously.
"No, but you would assure me that whatever I did was right!" She clasped her sister's hands tightly. "Goodbye, Jane."
"Goodbye, Lizzy." Jane was unashamedly weeping. Elizabeth kissed everyone goodbye a final time, then gravitated to her husband's side.
"Fitzwilliam," said she, and he needed no more than that. They bid their last farewells, Darcy shook Mr Bennet's and Bingley's hands, helped her into the carriage, and their journey began.
To Pemberley they were to go.