A/N: Written for the 2006 Yuletide story exchange. Big thanks to my betas: Xanthe, Senji, and Arden.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was known throughout all of Derbyshire as a good and honest man, but even his greatest proponents could not claim he was in possession of an open temper. While his family and friends were never in doubt of his affection, Mr. Darcy generally avoided offering a direct statement of sentiment, preferring to demonstrate his feelings through actions, rather than words. For the most part Elizabeth Darcy did not regard the lack of formal professions of affection. Darcy loved her, they were happy, and overall her life was more than pleasant. A few words more or less could have no significant impact on her happiness.
One day, a few years after her marriage, Elizabeth found herself in a curious conversation with her sister Jane. Sweet, sensitive Jane was worried because Bingley had gone to London for a week and had neglected to tell her that he loved her before leaving. Additionally, he had not brought her flowers for weeks, marzipan for several months, or even asked her to accompany him on solitary walks in the park. Worst of all, he had forgotten the anniversary of their union. Jane's eyes filled with tears as she confided in Elizabeth her fears that Bingley no longer loved her. Elizabeth hastened to reassure her sister that Bingley's affections were unchanged, and by the time Jane returned to her estate, her usual placid temperament had returned.
Alone at Pemberly -- Darcy had accompanied Bingley on his journey -- Elizabeth found herself considering the conversation; she could not help but compare her own marriage to her sister's. There were certainly many differences. Darcy rarely gave Elizabeth presents, though her household budget was more than sufficient to purchase any flowers or candies she might desire. Anniversaries were observed by elaborate dinners served in the formal dining room; Elizabeth did not enjoy them, but chose not to say anything as they seemed to carry special importance for Darcy. There were many solitary walks and leisurely rides throughout Pemberly's extensive park, but Darcy never took the opportunity to serenade her with romantic poetry as Bingley did for Jane. Darcy was neither a poetic soul nor a romantic one. Elizabeth suspected she could count the number of times he had declared his love to her on the fingers of a single hand.
Most would no doubt consider Darcy's first, unsuccessful, proposal to be his first avowal of love. Elizabeth took into consideration the numerous amendments and addenda he had used to qualify his declaration and decided that the sentiment had not been sufficiently earnest to warrant a position on her list.
Presumably the second, successful, proposal would then be the first time that Darcy had honestly, sincerely declared his love; but, after a pleasant quarter of an hour passed in reminiscence, Elizabeth was forced to conclude that that occasion had not been marked by an outright declaration. Darcy had praised her and admired her and had even discussed the fruition and growth of his attachment, all without using those most precious of all words. In retrospect, Elizabeth was surprised to discover that she had accepted a proposal that had at no point directly alluded to the higher emotions. She had not noticed the absence at the time, and the memory of five happy years did not incline her to take belated offense.
The wedding was also remarkably devoid of passionate statements; though Elizabeth had realized the lack at the time and, despite Jane's gentle remonstrance, had found great amusement in the idea of wedding vows independent of love. The minister had not seen the humor, but Mr. Bennett's eyes had twinkled at her wit and she was sure that Darcy had been at pains to hide a smile.
Upon consideration, Elizabeth realized that the first time Darcy had told her that he loved her was on their wedding night. She blushed at the recollection. Darcy had been...well. In any event, it had been a very intimate moment when he leaned forward to whisper the words against her lips. At the time she had been in too much discomfort to attend to his speech, much less respond, but a moment later Darcy had shifted over her and the pain blossomed into a startling pleasure. Elizabeth smiled and allowed herself a few additional minutes of happy remembrance.
The second time Darcy had told her that he loved her was not such a pleasant occasion. They had been married a few months when Darcy announced his intention to teach Elizabeth to ride and Elizabeth, who preferred the carriage but who could see the advantage of the flexibility that came with a single horse, rose to the challenge. Unfortunately she did not prove to be a natural on horseback, and the first time she attempted a canter she took a nasty fall and lost consciousness. When she came back to herself, she found her head cradled in Darcy's lap. Hot tears fell on her face, chased by Darcy's broken voice declaring that he loved her and could not live without her; she heard him make many promises to God that day, until she and Dr. Jones were able to convince him that she would suffer no lasting consequence from her fall.
Later Elizabeth insisted that her riding lessons continue despite Darcy's vehement protests. Bingley took over her tutelage and, though Elizabeth knew Darcy followed her for every lesson, they both pretended that he had spent that time in his study. Once Bingley declared her lessons complete, Elizabeth began joining Darcy on his inspections of the estate. The first time Darcy had looked at her sharply, but he said nothing and by the end of the day some of the tension had fallen from his shoulders. Now they rode for pleasure as well as business, though Darcy still insisted on walking or the carriage whenever it was likely Elizabeth might agree.
Lydia was indirectly responsible for the third declaration, several years after the second. After she and Wickham had exhausted their welcome with the Bingleys, Wickham had decamped to visit some friends in London. Elizabeth suspected these friends were actually gamers who Wickham intended to fleece and was not surprised when Lydia invited herself to Pemberly for a short visit while her husband was away.
Three months later Darcy had taken to spending the majority of every day in his study, the servants were on the verge of revolt, and there was a possibility that Pemberly would be hosting a ball with neither the knowledge nor the consent of its master or mistress. Elizabeth reached the end of her patience as she began to receive bills from the local dressmaker, despite the fact that she herself had not ordered a gown since the previous season. Lydia was requested, then commanded, to find a new home to wait for the return of her husband and she left for Longbourn in a downpour of tears all the while insisting that she was being very ill used.
The moment the carriage rattled down the drive with Lydia safely ensconced within, Darcy exited his study to give his wife an embrace, a rare event when they were outside their rooms. "I love you," he murmured against her hair as they held each other in Pemberly's large, welcoming front hall. Elizabeth returned the embrace with equal ardor and they retired to her bedroom, despite the fact that it had not yet reached tea time.
A month later Elizabeth found herself with child. When she told Darcy, his face lit up and he spent the rest of the evening coddling her and telling her how much she was loved. That night he tucked her gently into her bed and then, for the first time since their marriage, retired to his own rooms for the evening. Less than pleased with this state of affairs, Elizabeth allowed it to carry on for three days before she removed herself to her husband's bed. Overriding his objections, she slipped in beside him and for the first time in four days she slept both long and deep. She woke to find herself in Darcy's arms and there were no further protests to her joining Darcy in his bed.
Two months before Elizabeth's confinement, Mr. Bennett passed from this world to the next. On the journey to Longbourn and in the privacy of their carriage, Darcy held Elizabeth close as she wept and though Elizabeth remembered little of the journey, she would never forget the comfort she drew from his repeated assurances of his own love and constancy. At the funeral, Darcy made no complaint as she gripped his hand with her own, not even when her fingers tightened until they ached.
Elizabeth's confinement had been but a few days before Bingley's London journey; if she had not been under strict orders from the physician to rest she would have joined Bingley and Darcy on their trip. Instead she found herself alone, remembering the five times that Darcy had told her he loved her. Precious memories without question, but as she considered the matter Elizabeth realized that she had a memory even more precious, one that had not yet lost its clarity to the inevitable impact of time.
The birth of Elizabeth's first child had been a long and difficult one and, by the time Anne Elizabeth Darcy took her first sobbing breaths, Elizabeth felt physically and emotionally undone. At little Anne's first pitiful wail, Darcy had burst into the room, his face pale but for the dark half-moons under his eyes. He had trembled as he took his tiny daughter into his hands, and the look of adoration he had shined upon Elizabeth was more powerful than any overt declaration of love could ever aspire to be.
As Elizabeth lay alone in her bed, her beautiful child safely ensconced in the nursery just a few rooms away, she decided that she had no need of flowers or chocolate or vocal assurances of Darcy's affection.
Darcy had given her his heart and soul. It was enough. She had no need for more.