The End and Beginning of All Things That Matter
Elizabeth's hands clenched on the tablecloth she was holding. Wickham and Lydia had left a couple of hours earlier and she had insisted on aiding Betsy with the cleaning up of the dining room. The truth is that she need to do something, anything, any banal action that would permit her to concentrate on the movement of her muscles and not on the continuously growing dread that had found a home inside her chest.
She could not erase Mr. Darcy's face from her memory. Oh, not his smiling face from the afternoon they had spent in Pemberley, but the heavy gaze he had thrown her way as she recounted the devastating tale of Lydia's elopement. Elizabeth could almost see him drawing back into himself, taking back both the words he had said and those that had not left his lips as well.
"I must leave you, goodbye".
No truer words had ever been spoken.
He had turned his back and left and Elizabeth could only wonder if she would ever see him again. The evening's events seemed dreamlike and absolutely detached from reality; they were once again torn from each other and she had absolutely no idea what to do about it except to try and keep calm and carry on.
A crystal glass half-filled with wine crashed onto the floor, Elizabeth could only stare at the shattered pieces and the flowing liquid as it filled the cracks of the floorboards.
"It's him!" cried Kitty as she launched herself at the window, "he's at the door…Mr. Bingley!"
And suddenly the Bennett household sprung to life, Elizabeth barely managed to shut the book she held in her hands and stand and stare at her sisters for a second. Her heart beating happily for Jane, here he was once more, one more chance at happiness for her beautiful sister who had silently ached for the silly, silly man.
Ribbons flew across the sitting room whilst Mary arranged the chairs and Jane held a laced pink ribbon to herself as her mother approached to tie it. Elizabeth arranged a couple of papers and suddenly she heard Kitty say:
"Look! There's someone with him!" a grimace took over her face as she continued, "Mr. What's-his-name-the-pompous-one-from-the-ball".
Elizabeth felt the wall against her back immediately and for a brief second she felt as if she had fainted but she could feel the scratching paint against her fingertips, she let out a ragged breath as the room continued to move around her. She looked up at her sisters and her mother and tried to will herself into action and for a moment she managed to reach towards of the tables but her hands were shaking so badly that all she managed to do was to tear open a drawer and shove whatever nonsense she found within her reach inside it.
Elizabeth wished she could be elsewhere with all her might and at the same time she wanted to stand still and just be in his presence. She had missed him, there was no point in denying it any longer, she had dreaded and craved this moment and now, now…she managed to stumble onto her chair and force her hands to straighten her dress as best as she could.
The maid came in.
"Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley m'am".
Despite the gut-wrenching ache that had settled within him, Darcy could not help but spare a small smile and a chuckle at his friend's evident turmoil. He could not deny that he was quite stunned as he saw Bingley literally flee the Bennett sitting room, he had thought that there was no way this visit would not go according to plan…but then again so few things do work out as one wishes them to.
Take Elizabeth, for instance or to be more precise Elizabeth's gaze. Had Darcy known that she would be fixing him in such a manner…Dear Lord, he had no words to describe what those eyes conveyed or what it meant, all he knew was that it was most certainly not expected. This, however, did not mean that it was unwelcome, Darcy knew that he would give anything to have her look at him, and look at him, and then look at him a little more.
Darcy knew he was a fool.
He left, he gave his advise to Bingley and he walked away. He could feel the ache in his chest that tugged at him, at some empty cavity within that could only be filled by the soft touch of Elizabeth's hand against it, and God was he a fool.
Walk away old man, he said to himself, walk away.
His dark boots stood out in contrast against the golden glow of the growing wheat. He extended his hand and it hovered over golden leafs as his feet continued to drag him away from his heart, eve as he imagined he could still feel its residual fluttering inside him. He could not help but be glad about his friend's newfound happiness, and it helped him calm his own aching longing for a while. Then again as he turned towards the house he stood for a while gazing at it, at the place where she had lived, where she grew, where she breathed and bathed and slept. He had been there; he had been there with her. And he tries with all his might to convince himself that he could not have hoped for more.
He imagined her in there with her family, with her new brother, smiling. He imagined her happy and for a moment he felt happy as well, but it was only a moment, he knew was not strong enough, well, not when it came to her. In his mind it was clear that happiness existed only with her beside him, against him, always. He blinked against the sunlight as he tried to ignore the ache in his bones, in his soul if you would call it that.
Since his hasty departure from Pemberley Darcy had done little else but to think of Elizabeth, then again this had been true since their first meeting but on this occasion it was quite different. Her words: 'I do not think it is too late', oh how they had shaken him! How they had turned inside his head for nights on end, how he wished he had reached out to her and prevented her from leaving, how he wished they had had more time to explore whatever it was that seemed to exist between them. But was it too late now? Had all his chances been exhausted? Had he failed? He wished for some sort of clarity or understanding but it seemed he would get none.
But no, he thought to himself, he had not failed or at least not entirely. He had, in a small way, managed to help young Lydia even if she chose to stay married to the shameless scoundrel. Never had Darcy harboured such strong feelings of disgust and naked rage against a person; but this man, this man brought out the very worse of him. How dare he to try to harm yet again that which Darcy held most dear? The man seemed to have a knack for it.
He had given Wickham the money and that was that; the crisis had been averted. The newlyweds had departed and Elizabeth would never truly know what had happened, there was no need for her to know, all that mattered was that she was safe and happy and well. And now, as he marched on and away he thought of the wrong he had managed to correct, of how he had persuaded Bingley to try once more and though the first attempt did not provide the expected result he was certain that the second had worked out magnificently.
The wheat field came to an end and his hand came back to rest lightly beside him, if he turned back he would not be able to see the house, he made a fist and continued to walk on.
Elizabeth felt the other side of the bed dip under her sister's weight; she faked sleep by breathing deeply and keeping her eyes firmly shut. She could feel Jane's eyes on her, expectant, hoping for an explanation on what had happened in the sitting room but Elizabeth would not open her mouth, she kept on breathing slowly. Eventually her sister lay back on the bed and drifted to sleep and Elizabeth did not feel any guilt, after all to keep one more secret from her made no difference at all.
She willed herself to sleep.
The next morning an eerie silence took over the breakfast table of the Bennett household. The servants watched with surprised looks for this was quite the unprecedented occurrence, no giggles from Kitty, no haphazard comments made by Mary, no conversation between Mrs. Bennett and her husband, not a single word exchanged between Jane and Elizabeth. Nothing.
Elizabeth raised her eyes and perused the table slowly, her entire family looked at her but their mouths remained shut; her own gaze remained blank as she regarded her father and he raised a white hairy eyebrow as if asking: Will you tell us? Will you tell me? Are you well?
She answered with a slight shake of her head and she went back to her cup of cold and bitter coffee. Elizabeth nibbled at her toast for a while and she decided that whatever had transpired between her and Lady Catherine the previous evening should not ruin Jane's happiness at her engagement. Elizabeth would rather break her own hand before being the one to sully her sister's newfound joy.
As she turned her head towards Jane she forced a small smile to her face as she asked:
-"So I hear we shall celebrate this wonderful engagement with a glorious ball in Netherfield Park?"
Her eldest sister looked back at her and for a second she could see how Jane was looking for something in her expression, in her eyes, but she found nothing and thus only smiled in that gentle, loving way of hers whilst replying:
-"Indeed, Charles promised me quite energetically that everything would be ready within a fortnight".
And Kitty, quite anxious after staying silent for such a prolonged time, asked eagerly:
-"Will the militia be coming?"
Elizabeth stared at her reflection on the mirror and wondered about time and its strange and relative nature. A fortnight had come and gone and here she was, yet again in a large room in Netherfield Park, except this time she was not here to keep her sister company while she convalesced but rather to stand beside her and her future husband with a smile and words of encouragement.
A beautiful white dressed laid on the large bed, with the right shoes to match beside it, it had been her sister's engagement present to her and Elizabeth had been unable to hold back a laugh as she explained to Jane that she was to receive the presents, not give them. And her sister had replied with her glowing smile, a long embrace and a whispered: 'Exactly'.
Elizabeth shook her head at the memory as she tied her hair so that it only flowed gracefully over her right collarbone; it was held together by a small plate in the form of a rose that had been adorned with glowing stones, the glowing candlelight reflected on them.
She felt heart beat faster as she descended the stairs to meet her sister and Mr. Bingley at the entrance. It had been a fortnight since she had last seen Mr. Darcy and though Mr. Bingley was not sure of his presence tonight, Elizabeth could not help but feel a slight glimmer of hope and dread at the possibility of seeing him. She was quite at loss on how to act when in his presence, they had long ceased to be acquaintances but they were certainly not friends and for the life of her she could not come up with a word that could describe their present situation. She would have no choice but to wait and see, but if she were to be honest with herself, all the waiting and doubting was carving away at her heart leaving behind a dull ache.
-"Lizzie! Mr. and Mrs. Collins have just arrived!" exclaimed her blushing elder sister, "come, come to meet them".
Elizabeth took the hand she had proffered and followed her lithe figure to the door, wishing with all her might she could put all these murky thoughts behind her.
Darcy had not meant to be late to the ball but then again therein lay the point, he had not been certain if he would be attending the ball until a few second prior. He descended from the carriage and nodded at the driver and as he took the first step towards the entrance of Netherfield Park he was certain he could swear on any God and any Bible that he felt as his heart ascended towards his throat.
He dug his fingernails into his palms and straightened his back, he could hear the music played by the orchestra and the conversation that flowed through some of the open windows and drifted away into the starry night sky. As he crossed the threshold one of the butlers announced his presence and several heads turned in his direction, none of which were of any interest to him, he knew Bingley would be too busy with his guests and his fiancée so he drifted towards the drinks table in the hope of finding himself a fortifying beverage.
As he stepped into the dancing hall he was glad to find his friend dancing with his bride to-be, they looked gloriously happy and Darcy could not help but wonder how he could have ever doubted the love between these two…then again he had been a different man at the time.
How strange was it to be standing in this same room again, yes the decorations, the crowds and even the music had changed but it was the same room. He had stood here and gazed upon the crowd, he had danced with Elizabeth and argued with her and stared at her and…so much more.
It was more than a little overwhelming.
He took a rather large swig of his wine glass.
As Darcy deposited the empty crystal on a passing tray he caught Bingley's eye. The dance had just concluded and his smile got even wider, which Darcy had considered to be impossible, the man grabbed his fiancée's hand and gently dragged her through the multitude towards Darcy. A second later there they stood smiling, glowing and slightly out of breath looking up at him and Darcy could feel as a small smile stretched his lips.
-"Old chap!" exclaimed Bingley and he clapped him lightly on the arm, "It is good to see you, we did not know if we were to expect you!"
-"I would not have missed it for the world," Darcy said and he placed a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder, "I do hope you will excuse me for the delay,"
-"Nonsense, my dear man, I see you have had a drink," Bingley waived at one of the man carrying a tray, "I am in grave need of one myself, will you join me?"
Darcy shook his head and extended his left hand towards Ms. Bennett as he bowed his head lightly.
-"Ms. Bennett, I would be honoured if you would allow me the next dance,"
He did not miss the widening of her eyes and the surprised glance she shared with his friend, however he remained calm and offered a small smile as he awaited her response. She, in turn, smiled widely at him and nodded her head gracefully, with a bow and a curtsy they left Bingley's side and walked towards the dance floor.
As they swayed slowly Darcy felt the need to speak his mind and said:
-"I have not congratulated you properly on this happy union,"
-"Well Mr. Darcy, my sister and I are firm believers of the principle that there is no time like the present,"
At her words Darcy looked directly into her eyes and thought he saw a knowing glint, it felt like he had been handed the key to a door and it was up to him to decide whether or not he wanted to open it. She looked directly into his eyes and Darcy noticed that there was only one other woman that had been capable of that feat. And suddenly, as he held Jane Bennett, as they swayed and danced and moved in the room all Darcy could think was Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth.
The music halted and he stood in front of Mrs. Bennett who gazed directly at him, her clear blue eyes held no judgement but instead they were filled with wisdom. She smiled once more at him and curtsied and suddenly Bingley was besides her, bestowing a small kiss on her blushing cheek. Darcy smiled at them and walked towards a fresh glass of red wine.
No time like the present.
Elizabeth loved dancing…She loved it, loved the music, the movement, the crowd around her, the contact, all of it. Elizabeth loved dancing, but right now she could not think of something she would rather do less. Her chest was aching, she wanted to smile and be there for her sister, to share her smiles and her glowing moment but she could not and the guilt was eating away at her.
She had danced a couple of merry melodies with her sister but after a while it had been too much and she excused herself. She fled towards one of the garden doors and took one of the wine glasses that had been proffered by a butler. The night air served as a small comfort as it caressed her skin, she sipped at her drink and then walked away from the mansion and towards one of its massive gardens.
After a few minutes of walking she reached a small wooden bridge, it went over a small flowing river that probably led to one of the lakes in the state. She rested her forearms against the humid woodwork and turned her head towards the large mansion, she could see the glowing torches in the terraces, she could hear the music from the orchestra and the loud chatter of conversation and she knew that she wanted no part of it.
She had not seen Mr. Darcy and had decided that she would rather not see him at all. It would be hard, he was her new brother's closest friend but she would somehow devise a way to avoid him, for his sake and hers as well. Dear Lord, she had hated every word that had come out of Lady Catherine's mouth but could she deny them? Even if she did want Darcy, she knew that his family's name would only be sullied by her family's mistakes. She spared a thought to Georgiana, how could she possibly concede to be Elizabeth's sister knowing of her connection to Wickham's new wife? It was all too complicated, too broken and unnecessary. Surely there would be someone else, someone better, someone…
"Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter! Now what have you to say?"
There was nothing to be said.
-"I have been looking for you," a voice uttered behind her.
Her back stiffened at his words, he saw it. She let out a ragged breath and then he saw how she tried to regain her posture, to will away some of the tension in her shoulders, and she did manage it somehow but he had already seen.
-"Ms. Elizabeth", Darcy said as he stepped closer to her, "Good evening"
As he stood beside her on the bridge he saw a very small and almost perfunctory smile adorn her face and she uttered his name in reply. They stood together in silence as they gazed into the shifting waters, the slight glow of the moonlight and the firelight adorning its movement.
-"Are you well?" he asked after a while.
-"Quite well, thank you," was the quick reply.
He gazed at her, her lovely and graceful profile, her neck that seem to call at him; her hair that seem to beg for his fingers to caress and card through it. It was only until she looked back at him that he realised that he had not uttered a single word for quite a while and when he opened his mouth all that came out was:
-"I am so very glad to see you…and if I may, I would like to say that you…"
Darcy was caught off guard by this remark and he cleared his throat as he looked away from Elizabeth's face and tried to excuse himself.
-"I apologise, I did not mean to…"
Darcy turned his head back as he heard Elizabeth's voice catch in her throat and there, there he saw tears glistening is her lovely brown eyes. Why were there tears there?
-"Ms. Elizabeth please tell me what is wrong, has something happened?"
-"I said STOP!"
She did not shout, it had been uttered in single broken whisper, it had taken her breath away and she was now clutching at her chest and breathing heavily. Darcy reached towards her without thinking and she flinched away from him rapidly.
-"Ms. Elizabeth I…"
-"You have done enough," was her choked reply, "you have done more than enough, sir"
Darcy stood up straight, his heart pounding wildly in his chest and his mind filled with the turmoil that was his thoughts. He attempted to organise them so that he could attempt some sort of response but Elizabeth's voice continued as she turned to look straight at him.
-"I know what you have done," it sounded like an accusation but he decided to wait for the conviction, "And I can barely look you in the eye after all you have done for Lydia and I suspect for Jane as well".
Darcy felt his eyes widen at this, how could she have known? Oh dear, it must have been Lydia, that young girl and her ever chatting mouth, he should have known that the word 'secret' held absolutely no meaning to her. But this was not the time to bristle at young non-present girls, this was the time to finally, finally utter his mind.
-"You must know, surely you must know it was all for you," he said with a small smile.
She did not smile back, on the contrary a sad grimace took over her lovely features and Darcy could not help but wish there was a way he could soothe them.
-"If it was then I am very, very sorry, Mr. Darcy" she said as she lowered her gaze, "You had no reason to take on such a burden, I do not see why I should deserve such kindness from you,"
-"How can you- surely you have not…" Darcy was out of words, he had not expected this at all, " Last April I professed my feelings to you and though I am quite aware that they were unwelcome, I must confess that they remain true,"
-"Please sir, obliterate those feelings and embrace that which had been destined for you long before you knew me," Elizabeth's knuckles turned white on the wooden rail, her shoulders were shaking but her voice remained steady.
Darcy felt genuinely confused, where were these words coming from? What fault had he committed to deserve such a refusal? He found himself at loss yet again, and had no idea as to where to direct the conversation and before he could find a solution Elizabeth's voice carried on:
-"Your aunt, sir," she said, "she came to see us on the night of Jane's engagement,"
And Darcy's heart froze.
Why would she? How could she? What had she said…?
-"You are to be married to her daughter…" Elizabeth added with a shaky voice as she slid one of her arms around her waist, "and at this instance, after all that has occurred, I cannot stand and declare myself worthy,"
Darcy could not help bust gasp.
-"You have done too much and I have nothing to offer in return…" Elizabeth uttered, and it seemed to him that she shrunk into herself, her right hand still held tightly against the wood of the bridge.
He stared, he stared and stared. Dawn was approaching, the voices and music inside the mansion had dulled to a low murmur but he barely noticed them, all he could see was the morning light as it caressed the contours of Elizabeth's figure and all he could hear were her sadly whispered words as they rung inside his head. Oh, but she was perfect. She was everything he needed and wanted and desired and he had no idea how to live life if she was not present. What did his aunt know of happiness or love or trust or intelligence? It did not matter, none of it did, all that mattered to Darcy was this young woman, this strong woman that had been hurt by absurd words and nonsensical judgements.
He took her hand and gently stirred her body towards him, and as she faced him he made sure to be looking straight into her eyes as he said:
-"I love you," and he raised her beautiful hand towards his face, he opened the palm to his cheek and laid it there, and to him it felt as if it had found its home, "Elizabeth, we stand here at the place where everything started and all I can say is that I love you,"
She gasped and backed away slightly but he held on, he ghosted his lips lightly onto her palm as he turned his gaze once more on hers.
-"You are too generous to trifle with my feelings," he said as he smiled softly, "So I beg of you to tell me if you do not feel as I feel, for one word from you will silence me forever,"
Darcy took her hand and placed it on his chest, on his beating heart and he smiled at her, suddenly filled with certainty, with the absolutely knowledge that there was no room for hesitation or doubt, this was the time and he had better take hold of it and shape his future as he desired.
-"You have made of me a better man," he said as he raised his other hand to caress her soft cheek, "You have me a man deserving of you, and I am so very thankful. And so I ask you now, now at the end and the beginning of all things that matter…if you would have me as your own…"
Elizabeth stared back at him with her lovely lips slightly open, he could feel her hand shaking and so he strengthened his hold lightly in the hope of reassuring her and then as a stroke of courage hit him, he tugged her towards his chest. His right arm held her around the waist and his left one against the lovely skin of her face. He caressed it once, twice, and he thought of the first time he had held her and in his mind all he could think was yes, yes,yes.
He touched her chin lightly and raised her face towards his own, he looked into her eyes, those eyes that had haunted and enchanted him and all he could see there was a desire that reflected his very own feelings. They had been trapped inside their own hearts and minds and now all they needed was a word, a single word that would finally set them free. He grazed his lips against hers in what could not have been called a kiss, and neither was it a caress…it was shared air, and in it their shared hearts and their shared souls. They both held their breath for a second and then he heard Elizabeth whisper brokenly:
AN: Oh God, please don't hate me. I know I have taken forever to write the ending to this series but if I'm honest…I had a bit of a writer's block (or rather fandom change if you like). But I got so much love for these stories (really I was quite overwhelmed) that I felt somewhat obligated to finish it. So, it is unbeta'd, all mistakes are mine and at some point I will read through the whole thing to try and fix them.
I realise that I have taken some liberties with the ending of this story and I hope that you will like it nonetheless. If you don't then just ignore it and pretend it ended like it did on the film.
I thank you my dear readers for holding on (because really, I know you were holding on) and for hoping. I hate, hate, HATE when fics are left unfinished and so I thank you for not letting me hate myself and encouraging me to finish this...It is for you that I have written it and I truly hope you enjoy it.
Thus ends the very long Author's Note. Carry on then!