Mr. Darcy rarely smiled. In the past, if he should have had the desire to make such a motion, the women surrounding his person immediately thought his actions open for interpretation and superfluous gossip would ensue about his supposed affections on which lovely lady it had been bestowed. A smile on a man often incited petty thoughts about their good standing of an elusive higher rank, which naught was the case.
Miss Darcy remained the only person able to make him smile in any true fashion; when she proudly announced her latest accomplishment or unfalteringly declared a less than accurate observation, he found himself unable to respond with any other amiable reaction than a private smile. She was arguably his favorite person, for her company was a refreshing change from those he was regularly required, as the master of Pemberly, to assemble with.
Howsoever, like every other aspect of Mr. Darcy's life, the unexpected presence of Miss Elizabeth Bennet would prove to be his tragic flaw, his Juliet, his deadly sin. He wasn't quite sure of when the rare display became so frequent as to permeate many of his conversations with friends and strangers alike, but eventually deduced it was near when he got the absurd notion to propose a second time.
No, that wasn't truthful. The action had most certainly become recurrent the moment Elizabeth had accepted.
It went unchecked by Mr. Darcy until one fine afternoon when Mrs. Bingley came to call on Pemberly from her own estate, in the company of her husband. While the two sisters and Georgiana conversed around the pianoforte, and their husbands stood on the balcony admiring the uncommonly pretty fall view, Bingley broached the subject.
"Mrs. Darcy's effect on you is excessive—I cannot recall seeing you in a more enjoyable state," he said, grinning in his normal, amiable fashion.
Darcy immediately sobered, pondering on his friend's puzzling and uncharacteristic words, "What would give you that thought?"
Bingley turned away from his friend, scanning the grounds with amusement. "Before Mrs. Darcy came into our lives, you were considered in an excellent mood if you maintained a cold civility to all, and your most dear friends considered it lucky to receive a little more."
"I can assure you, Bingley, that the affections, or lack thereof, were unintentional."
"No need to apologize—it was very much your character but a year ago."
Darcy raised an eyebrow, meticulously observing the man before him, "Cold civility was my character? It's a great wonder that any of you should have deigned to remain in my company and acquaintance."
"Indeed," Bingley, completely unaware of Darcy's sarcasm, continued cheerfully. "And yet somehow, Mrs. Darcy has fought against the immeasurable odds to soften your most cruel disposition."
Mr. Bingley couldn't respond to his indignation, however, for at that moment Elizabeth approached the pair, tucking her right arm around her husband's to lean on him. A swift glance at his features, and her own quickly took on a semblance of delight.
"Mr. Bingley, I must commend you," she laughed, still holding onto her husband. "For whatever you have said to my dear Mr. Darcy has resulted in his evident irritation, a feat I have been unable to achieve with any sort of consistency. We must exchange notes; perhaps we shall finally pin down his elusive character."
Even as she spoke, Darcy's expression lightened to one of playful annoyance, and he was only able to refrain from smiling by recalling up Bingley's past statement. The mere idea that his beloved Lizzy had the influence to change his temperament so drastically in so short time period was an astonishment to any lesser being; but to him, it was accepted with an tolerant grace for her inescapable revolutions of all brands.
"Ah, Mrs. Darcy," Mr. Bingley leaned around his friend to beam at her, "we were just discussing Mr. Darcy's lightening of mood and nature since his fortuitous meeting with you back in Meryton."
"I see," Elizabeth said, weaving her fingers with Mr. Darcy's. "Taken into consideration, I suppose he doesn't quip at strangers quite as much as he used to."
Had Darcy not been staring down at her, he wouldn't have caught the pleasure in her eyes. Bingley acknowledged only her teasing tone, and continued off with that, oblivious to her subtle pride on the subject of her husband's manner.
"Precisely! Darcy here has refuted all thoughts on the notion, despite it being quite evidently true."
"I never had a most cruel disposition, Mr. Bingley," Darcy objected quite passionately. "Elizabeth accused me of such a state once, and I should appreciate my dearest friend not validating it. Experiencing such an insult one time is quite enough."
Mr. Bingley laughed, "That was said in jest, good friend. I, and anyone else fortunate enough to make your acquaintance now, know that you have always been anything but cruel. You cannot argue, however, that you did adopt a cold indifference for several years before meeting the lovely Mrs. Darcy."
"Of course he can't," Elizabeth grinned. "If he does, I shall be forced to remind him of the first ball at Hertfordshire, where he danced with no one at all."
"Are you quite finished?" Mr. Darcy asked, his tone so steadily monotonous that both Bingley and Elizabeth couldn't help but to smile at the unexpected reproduction of his old attitude.
Bingley glanced over his shoulder at his wife and Georgiana, the younger performing on the pianoforte for her guest, "I suppose I've hounded you enough, Mr. Darcy. Excuse me while I entertain the women with my most sorely missed company." He bowed to the couple and strode into the parlor room, sitting beside Jane and complimenting the lovely Miss Darcy on her beautiful performance.
"And have you anything else to add about my obvious lack of endearing character, Lizzy?" Darcy turned to face her fully, wrapping his arms around her waist. She thought for a moment.
"I suppose it's sufficient enough for me now, but you'll have to work diligently on improving it further. I should hate to see you act as unsocial at the next ball we hold as the one in Hertfordshire all that time ago. Though I believe I wouldn't have been half as intrigued with you if you had invited every girl present to dance."
"So you admit my cold personage was, in the end, beneficial to both your happiness and mine?"
Elizabeth gave him a swift kiss, "Perhaps."
Mr. Darcy smiled.
A/N: Much thanks to my beta (Kayinay) for her awesome edits! More chapters to come?