A/N: No Harriet, no Elton, no ball, no strawberry party, no Box Hill incident, no going off to London, no death of Mrs. Churchill, not even the Westons' Christmas party... and yet here we are – who knew a "perfect" Frank would speed things up so much? ;-) However, I hope that the character development still remains intact to some extent despite 33 or so chapters being cut from the book's plot.
Thank you so much to the people who reviewed: karenalma, Gluestick, Smoltenica, Austenfan10, DarcyFan, Vee22, sweet-dreamrose, april168, hagadoe, Abi, asianinvasion0530, Sarahbarr17, Katie Duggan's Niece, The Ashes Fan, c, TheBlackSister, Lia06, iambbq, SakuraCherryBlossem and batzmaru347 – I really appreciate it!
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Chapter Four – Very Much In Love
Emma hurriedly dropped his hand and they both immediately took a step back from each other as they turned to look at the housemaid who had just walked up to them from around the corner.
The girl fortunately had not seemed to observe anything out of the ordinary. 'Miss Woodhouse, Mr. Churchill has called; he's waiting for you in the drawing room.'
Emma looked just as frustrated as he felt at the interruption, but ever the lady, her words gave no indication of the fact. 'Thank you, Hannah. Tell him I'll be there in a few minutes.'
The girl curtseyed and went back to deliver the message, but any hope that he and Emma could continue from where they had left off was fast fading – the fragile moment had been broken and rendered supremely awkward. Emma's face was turning steadily more pink and she seemed unable to meet his eyes. He wished fervently that he could return to where they had been a minute ago, just after he had all but told her his feelings, and her reaction had seemed positive...
Could he take her hand? Perhaps he could take her hand; she had done it first, after all, so surely it would not be improper for him to do so... he just had gather up his courage to reach out and–
Emma sighed. 'Perhaps we should go inside,' she said quietly, and then still not looking at him, she began to walk.
No! His window of opportunity was closing, and he had no more time to waste in second-guessing himself. Almost without his conscious thought, his hand shot out to grab her arm, staying her, preventing her from walking away.
She looked up at him then, searching his face, her eyes registering surprise, hope and shining more potently than either, longing. It was enough.
And that was how the man who had previously been debating with himself over whether or not taking her hand would be breaching propriety, without an ounce of hesitation lowered his head to cover her lips with his.
At first he felt Emma freeze as if in surprise, but after a split second he felt her mouth move tentatively against his, and a weight he hadn't realised he'd been carrying fell away as any remaining uncertainty as to her feelings was banished. He reached one hand up to cup her face while the other found her waist, drawing her in to him; and then he gasped into her mouth as he felt one of her hands bury itself in his hair while the other clasped the back of his neck, pulling him closer to her.
And then he could not stop smiling even as he hugged her close and immersed himself thoroughly in the business of making their first kiss one to remember. His Emma. His Emma, whom he had thought lost to Frank Churchill but a day ago; his Emma, who was not only not engaged to that man, but who was not even heartbroken at his engagement to another; his Emma, who was currently situated in his arms, kissing him back with the same trembling eagerness that was his–
Emma, who had just placed both hands on his chest and pushed him away.
As fast as it had leapt up before, his heart plummeted. Could he possibly have been mistaken in her feelings for him? Had it been an ill-judged measure to throw caution to the wind and express his regard for her in – he blanched – such an utterly ungentlemanlike manner?
If he had made a mistake, he knew Emma would never trust, never respect him again, and their friendship would be utterly ruined. Taking a million-to-one chance, had he just gambled away something which, once lost, might never be recovered? Heart in his mouth, he searched her face anxiously for some clue, anything to tell him what she was feeling, and then he realised she was staring at something past his left shoulder, and her blush was deepening by the second.
Following her gaze he turned hurriedly to meet the stunned and rather embarrassed gaze of Frank Churchill.
'I came out to find Miss Woodhouse,' he said automatically, and then he coloured, looking anywhere but at the two whom he had stumbled upon. 'I'm so sorry,' he muttered to the hedge behind them. 'I'll just go and wait in the drawing room, shall I?'
Mr. Knightley nodded in grateful acknowledgement, and Emma, her cheeks now rosy red, managed to say admirably steadily, 'Thank you, Mr. Churchill. We shall only be a few minutes, but we still have some unfinished business here.'
At this Mr. Churchill's lips twitched as if he were trying not to smile, and he looked over at Emma, eyebrows raised. Emma's blush deepened, but she rolled her eyes and waved him away, smiling a little self-consciously.
As soon as his footsteps had faded, Emma, her face still rather pink, began to laugh helplessly, even as she stepped back into his arms and rested her head against his chest. 'I suppose Father will interrupt us next,' she smiled.
He brought his arms around her slowly, and his predominant emotions were joy and overwhelming relief. The enormity of the situation was only just starting to sink in. 'Does this mean we are engaged?' he asked.
Emma raised her head to look up at him, eyebrow raised. 'Mr. Knightley,' she said severely, 'you just kissed me in broad daylight right outside my father's house.' Then, even as the edge of his old panic began to set in, her face split into a broad smile. 'If after that we are not engaged, I warn you, I will have to slap you.'
He could have laughed in relief if he had not been staring at her in wonder. 'In that case,' he said, a little breathless from the expression of her smiling eyes as she looked up at him, 'if you have no objection, we are most definitely engaged.'
'Oh, but I do have an objection,' she said, and had her hand not come up to gently – lovingly – cradle his face, he might have been worried at her words. 'I imagine,' she continued, 'that it is an objection most engaged couples feel.'
He raised an eyebrow. 'Oh? And what is that, my Emma?'
'Simply this: that I do not wish you to remain my fiancé very long.' And if there had been any ambiguity in her words, it was banished when she reached up to place a soft kiss on his lips.
After some time of delicious silence, a new thought occurred to Mr. Knightley and he looked down at Emma, feeling slightly sheepish. 'I just realised,' he said, 'that I did not even make a declaration as such.' He rubbed the back of his neck a little self-consciously. 'I cannot make speeches, but if you would wish it, I can try, even though we're probably inverting the order of events somewhat.'
Emma laughed and shook her head before hugging him close. 'I appreciate the thought, Mr. Knightley, but there is no need, truly. We understand one another now, and that is all that matters.' Then she looked up at him impishly, a playful eyebrow raised. 'And after all, as such tried and true friends, we don't need words to express our feelings, do we?'
Just for that comment he had to indulge in some wordless communication with her. He was fairly sure she understood the sentiment he was attempting to convey. 'Indeed we do not,' he finally agreed aloud, his voice very low.
Emma smiled, and then she sighed. 'I suppose we should be getting back to the drawing room. Mr. Churchill will be waiting.' However, she made no move to step out of his arms.
Mr. Knightley nodded reluctantly, for a moment also unmoving, but then finally he relinquished his hold on her with a sigh.
'I owe much to Mr. Churchill,' Emma said, as they walked arm-in-arm back to the house. 'He was the one who helped me understand why I was so set against you marrying Jane Fairfax, or anybody, for that matter.'
Mr. Knightley had for the past half hour been trying to readjust his mistaken assumptions with reference to reality, but this defied comprehension. To think that Mr. Churchill, whom he had been hating and envying in almost equal measure for over a month now, was not only not an obstacle to himself and Emma, but was actually the catalyst to their union was astounding. 'Then I owe him my gratitude,' he said, 'for he also helped me – albeit unintentionally – understand my own feelings.'
Emma's eyes were bright with amusement. 'Oh, of course,' she smiled, 'you had imagined an attachment between myself and Mr. Churchill, hadn't you?'
'You make it sound so preposterous,' he said gruffly, pretending to be annoyed, 'but I assure you I had never believed anything more strongly, and nothing has ever given me more pain.' He might have begun in jest, but he ended seriously.
Emma's smile faded, and she pressed his arm. 'Then, indeed, I am sorry for it. I only wish we could have reached our understanding earlier without all this pain and confusion.'
Mr. Knightley smiled down at her warmly, content in the knowledge that whatever they had been through, their attachment was mutual and sincere. 'Well, we are here now,' he said. 'And for all we know it might have been a whole lot worse.'