I couldn't sleep.

Nor I. My aunt...

Yes, she was here.

How can I ever make amends for such behaviour?

Darcy rushes down the great stairs of Netherfield, finding he barely has time to straighten his coat or smooth out his shirt. He has simply tossed them on after a rather bewildered and rattled servant roused him out of bed, stuttering of "A great Lady, sir. A Mrs…Lady Catherine de Bour…" He only needed to hear that part of the announcement to move to action. Quickly apologizing to the flustered girl as he pushes past her (and promptly sending her to back to bed. It is ridiculous for anyone to be awoken at such a late hour, servant or not. Hmph, almost half-past midnight. Utterly uncalled for), he all but slows his frantic pace as he reaches the parlor where the Mistress of Rosings currently resides. Taking a deep breath, he opens the door, giving her the usual bow of deference.

"I hope you are in good health this night, dear aun…"

"It is true?" she demands, voice rising as she stops pacing the floor, swiftly turning about to fix him with one of her patented icy glares. Her measured expression rapidly takes in his disheveled appearance, causing her to narrow her blazing blue eyes even more. Unexpectedly, it occurs to him how as a much younger man, such a look from her seemed to freeze his very blood. It proves not so different a look of his mother's. They are sisters after all. But whereas Lady Catherine sees fit to wield such an expression at every opportunity, his mother saved the exertion for when only at her most cross, frankly such instances so rare he could count them on one hand.

"Is it true, Fitzwilliam?" she repeats, pulling him out of his thoughts. He cannot help raising a quizzical brow at her arbitrary question.

"I apologize," he begins, giving another slight bow, "But I am afraid I do not know of what you speak…"

"That proves quite contrary to what I have heard," she hisses, still pacing the floor. "Oh for the love of God, boy, sit down!" she snaps, motioning at a nearby chair. Finding he has nothing better to do, he takes her advice. Sitting in silence and stifling a yawn as she takes yet another determined turn about the room, he racks his mind to see if he can possibly ascertain why she's seen fit to make a visit at this unorthodox hour.

"This will not do!" she mutters. "Not at all…"

"Forgive me, my lady," he says rising and heading toward the brandy decanter sitting on the table behind him. "I should have offered you some sustenance." Pouring two healthy droughts of the fine spirits, he offers her one. Liquid courage indeed.

"Why would I want such a thing at so early an hour?" she retorts as she takes the snifter, quickly bringing it to her lips and finishing off its contents in one gulp. "I say, who drinks at such an hour?" she questions as she shakes her glass in front of him, signaling that he pour her another drought. He obliges, fighting to keep his expression impassive. Passing her glass back, he returns to his seat.

"I have just been to the Bennet farm…"

"It is an estate," he corrects, automatically sitting up straighter in his chair at the mention of the name. "'Longbourn' I believe it is called."

"No matter," she replies with dismissive wave of her hand as she takes a seat opposite him. "I have just been there, having told the second eldest daughter of the rumors of your impending engagement to her, and of how she should watch to protect herself against such chatterings, especially when they prove completely false."

"Rumors?" he all but chokes, but Lady Catherine continues without pause.

"Your mother would be astounded at such an ill match. She would not stand for the unfavorable situation and disposition of the girl, a situation and disposition completely opposed to my Anne, may I remind you."

"You really think it so?" he says, voice dropping with barely concealed exasperation at the obvious fallacy of such a conclusion.

"Hmph!" she snorts. "Think it? I know it!"

"How peculiar," he murmurs in reply, setting aside his half-finished glass. But already she's chattering on again, allowing his mind to wander to his parents and their situation. The irony of it is not lost on him in the slightest.

Whereas the late Lady Anne Darcy, née Fitzwilliam could be called anything but mild-mannered, it was the end of such similarities between the sisters.

Her Ladyship Catherine de Bourgh took ecstatic pleasure in dispensing advice wherever she may, with or without leave. Lady Anne Darcy preferred giving that which was sought, volunteering only the necessary opinions. Lady Catherine demonstrated a hard and unyielding air, her willfulness inflicted on all who crossed her path. Lady Anne preferred the other side that coin, so firm and confident in her esteem that she found little need to impose her biddings on others without reason. It was after all why she married Mr. Darcy. Why the long, and more often than not, strenuous (if whispers of the older relatives were to be believed) courtship between Lady Anne and Old Mr. Darcy came to pass. Why such shifting passions gave way a robust and resilient marriage built on wit and wisdom, bound by a commitment and love spanning some thirty years.

She did not need to prove anything, neither to her family, nor to other such resolute naysayers. Those petty worries over the supposedly detrimental match were better left to those who created them. In turn, her concerns only lay in the undying fidelity she gave to her honorable, principled, and beloved husband, his father. And such reasons proved enough for Old Earl Fitzwilliam of --------'s daughter to hand her heart over to such a man, her temporary dismissal from the good graces of the family be damned. Her affections remained determined throughout, even when her family's line of reasoning softened after she and her daughter's near death in childbirth. Hence, she rarely found reason to call upon any of them. Content in her pleasures at Pemberley and loved by those upon the estate, most of all her husband, she held her relations at extensive bay.

Such was the iron will of steadfast loyalty and uprightness the Darcys instilled in their children. And as a result, neither child saw the constant need to prove anything to anyone. For by holding their esteem in their hearts and minds, where no one could seek to take it away, they remained secure in their dispositions. It is all evident even now, judging by the way his aunt's words echo in his mind, which has already been made up.

If Lady Anne and Old Mr. Darcy could overcome such a supposed impediment of unequal standing, why could their son not? Or more importantly, why would he not?

"Darcy!" Lady Catherine retorts. "I say, Darcy!" she commands, voice rising with increasing exasperation at his silence. "Come now, boy; have you not listened to a word I have said?" she continues, tapping her walking stick upon the floor to get his attention. "The Bennet girl declined to deny such rumors of your impending engagement, no matter how many times I demanded she do so, for all of our sakes. She even refused to say that she would not accept any future proposal from you," she barks. "Willful, obstinate, girl," she adds. His head suddenly snaps up at her words.

"Pardon me, aunt, but of what did you speak?" It could not be. Did she truly refuse to deny my advances? And then he finds he cannot help it as his eyes narrow at her continuing words.

"You must promise me that no such alliance will come to fruition," she demands. "Especially after your mother and myself settled on my daughter for your match. The lines shall remain clean that way."

"Come again?" he replies, voice low with disbelief and completely taken aback. "Lady Anne explicitly stated such an agreement? I am afraid I do not recall it."

"It was inferred!"

"So she did not state it?" he questions, knowing full well Lady Anne Darcy would never agree to such a thing, especially without telling of her son of it. She was a strong believer of allowing him all responsibilities he was due, and he has never been made aware of this one.

"You are willing to put aside my daughter for this Bennet girl?" her ladyship huffs.

"I believe you misunderstand me," he retorts, voice hardening, though whether or not it's the result of her insult of the 'Bennet girl,' he does not know. "I am not putting her aside. Such an agreement was never made known to me, and therefore one cannot put aside something which was never there. And I would greatly appreciate if you did not bring my mother into such a thing," he finishes archly.

"Do you dare call me a liar?" Lady Catherine disdainfully replies, gripping the arms of her chair so tight her knuckles have begun to turn white.

"I would never deign to insult you so," he easily replies. "I simply wish to keep the current conversation on the topic at hand, leaving my mother and your daughter out of it. Now, Miss Elizabeth proves the subject of the discussion I believe?" he questions, attempting to sound as innocent as possible and praying she cannot hear his heart race.

"Such a match will prove utterly disastrous," Lady Catherine continues, voice sharp with censure. "There will be no advantage for any of your relations, your mothers or…your father's," she sniffs, curling her lip at the apparent horror of it all. "Oh, such an alliance may prove enough for that Bingley boy. But you contain a better sense of accountability to the future progeny of the Fitzwilliam-Darcy line. Or so I would like to think."

Swiftly rising from his chair, he turns his back on her, steeling himself to remain civil in the face of such scorn.

"I am sorry that you see this all in such a light," he begins, facing her and biting back his rising wrath at her insinuations, especially against his dear friend and his well won fiancé. "In the meantime, my dear Lady Catherine, I think it is time you go. It is such a long journey back to Rosings and I do not wish to make your travels any more arduous. You have already come quite far out of your way," he finishes, making his way to the door.

"Pardon?" she retorts.

"I have much to do this morning and I am afraid I cannot delay you any longer."

"Are you…laughing at me?" she questions, rising from her chair and arching her shoulders in disbelief.

"To the contrary madam," he replies, voice deadly serious. "I am simply doing what I should have done some months ago."

"You will not propose. It will not be allowed…"

"I believe such business lies between myself and the gentlewoman in question."

"By Jove, it does not!" she retorts as she faces him. Her fervent feelings on the matter evident upon her face, her eyes burn with defiance, her mouth twisted with reproach. "It lies between everyone it affects. Most importantly this family, Fitzwilliam! Do you not know who you are? Who she is? Has she any wealth? Any viable connections? Any sense of deference to her superiors? She seeks to corrupt some two hundred years of legacy, destroy such a birthright as created by the aid your distant grandshire gave to King James himself, not so long ago. She will not worm her way into such a worthy household. I will not stand by and witness such wanton destruction! Who does she think she is?"

"She is a gentleman's daughter and I am a gentleman. Beyond that, there is nothing more to be considered."

"To the contrary…"

"Nothing. More." Lady Catherine is taken aback at the unyielding tone of his voice, but quickly regains her composure. A lesser person would not catch so quick a recovery, but Darcy proves far too familiar with her ladyship's disposition.

"I know when I am not wanted and when my opinion goes unobserved," she sniffs after some time, pushing past him and opening the door herself. "As I did with the apparently appealing Bennet girl, I shall not take leave of you."

"I am sorry for it, madam," he replies stiffly, giving her the usual deep bow of farewell.

"I doubt it," she sniffs, whirling out of the parlor and into entranceway of the great house. "Damned obstinate Darcy bloodline!" she mutters to herself, breezing out the front of the house and alighting into her carriage.

He watches in window as her coach pulls away in the drive. And then suddenly he lets out a long sigh, though whether of sheer relief or frustration, he cannot tell. But he does not have time to dwell on such thoughts, his mind now thoroughly occupied with the new information that has been revealed.

She did not promise to deny me -- surely it cannot be a sign? he thinks as he heads back to his chambers. Shrugging out of his coat and shirt, he makes way to bed, slipping into the warm blankets. Maybe a good rest will settle his tumultuous mind. But that proves doubtful, considering what little is left of this night.

'Tis time to throw down the gauntlet, he muses as he scrambles out of bed. No point in attempting to clutch at the last vestiges of sleep. Not when the sun will soon peak over the horizon. A good long walk should put him in order. Granted, he does not have so much freedom to take a turn about the grounds as he would on his own estate. But no one should be up by this point to question his rather tousled appearance. Yes, it will do quite well.

Refusing to bother with waking his valet at so early an hour and getting only halfway dressed, he quietly makes his way out of his room and downstairs. Padding softly so as not to wake anyone, he easily finds the side door. Slipping out into the misty morning, he begins to walk. And soon, he finds he is heading in the direction of her father's estate, though whether it is of his own volition or the result of some mocking hand of fate, he does not know. Frankly he does not wish know; the less he dwells on what compels him to follow wherever she treads, the better. His heart proves not quite ready for such an inquiry again. Not yet.

You must know. Surely, you must know it was all for you. You are too generous to trifle with me…

The words pound in his head, aching to fly from his mouth. Not that he has practiced them, turning them over in mind repeatedly. Not that he knows them by heart, or has pictured what he can only hope would be her reaction to the sound of them. It could all go to pieces. He could find himself in the same miserable way as before. Such would be the well-deserved consequence of setting aside his propriety yet again.

I believe you spoke with my aunt last night, and it has taught me to hope as I'd scarcely allowed myself before…if your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once…

He should stop, turn back, make himself presentable at least before posing such an astonishing question again. But it proves too late, for her pleasing figure appears on the horizon without warning. If he makes a dash for it, she may prove unable to catch sight of him yet. Then again, does he really wish that she not see him? More importantly, does he not desire to see her? It cannot be denied, the consequences of beholding her in such unguarded circumstances be damned.

My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed…

She should not be standing there, only a only a few feet in front of him. Radiant against the rising sun, so physically close yet so far away. Granted, she stands in only what appears to be a thin wisp of a gown, her coat carelessly thrown about her. But propriety is already abandoned. It only matters that she is there. There, for him. For herself. She comes to stop in front of him, a gasp of surprise escaping from her mouth. Remaining still as a stone, her dark eyes flit over him in that peculiar way of hers that causes something deep within his heart to stir up in an almost savage sort of way. A most exquisite torture indeed.

I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul…

And it is then and only then he hopes that all shall work itself out in the most excellent of ways.

…and I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.

Yes, this morning of promise demands no less.

A/N: Just to alleviate some confusion, Old Earl Fitzwilliam of -------- is Darcy's grandfather via his mother, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, who became Lady Anne Darcy upon her marriage to Darcy's father. Because she was an Earl's daughter, she would be of higher social rank than Darcy's father, who had no title.