Author's Note: AHA July/August playground challenge based on "Carolbaby's" plot bunny. I know, the title stinks! No beta on this one. I'd love to hear reviews (pretty please?) Thanks for reading!
On the occasion the birth of Fitzwilliam Darcy (William to those who love him), the heir of the great estate of Pemberley in Derbyshire, The Countess of Matlock, William's maternal grandmother, gifted her grandson with a blanket she had made herself. The blanket was light blue, made of the softest cotton with satin edging. The Countess had spent many long hours painstakingly embroidering all sorts of exotic animals on the blanket, based on drawings in a book from her husband's library. A favorite activity for them both was when she told William stories about the adventures of "William the Explorer" as he came across these animals in his travels. The two had been especially close until The Countess' death when William was five years of age, at which time he began to carry the blanket with him at all times.
William's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had often criticized his parents for allowing William to carry the blanket with him. During a visit to Pemberley, she came across the six-year-old boy while he was alone and scolded him harshly then tore the blanket out of his hands.
Later, the combined efforts of Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, not to mention a plate of his favorite biscuits (which the cook always found necessary to have at the ready during Lady Catherine's visits), were necessary to persuade young William out of his hiding place and relay the cause of his distress.
Mrs. Darcy retrieved the treasured article from her sister, but before returning it to her son she discussed the recent events with Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy shared that he had overheard William's older cousins ridiculing his son's behavior the last time they were together, thankfully outside of William's hearing. The couple agreed that perhaps the sight of William—whose large stature made him appear to be at least two years older than he actually was—carrying a blanket everywhere was a bit of a problem.
Mr. Darcy had the idea of cutting the blanket into cloths about half the size of a lady's handkerchief so that it could be concealed. William could continue to be comforted by having a portion of the blanket in his pocket but it would lessen the risk of his being ridiculed for it. His lady agreed that this was a wonderful plan and immediately began work on finishing the edges of the pieces of blanket so it would not fray, while Mr. Darcy went to speak to his son about the scheme. To William, the blanket then became a physical representation of not only the love of his grandmother, but his mother and father as well.
William's parents assumed he would eventually give up the practice of carrying the blanket when he was a little older, but he never did. Being an extremely shy person, as he grew older, and especially when he went away to school, William found the increased social demands quite difficult to cope with. He knew the need to carry it would be considered silly by others and was embarrassed by it, so he spoke of it to no one through the years, not even to his sister—though Mrs. Reynolds and William's valet knew of this behavior continuing. William attempted to substitute fidgeting with his ring, but the calming effect that brought was not as complete and he found that knowing it was on his person would allow him to survive most situations relatively unscathed.
At times of great stress, such as his mother's death when William was twelve and his father's death when he was two and twenty, he would keep it in a more accessible pocket where he could discretely touch it to further calm him if necessary.
At the age of seven and twenty, he met Miss Elizabeth Bennet…the lady who had completely bewitched him…the lady whose presence put him in an utter state of confusion and robbed him of the ability to think rationally…the lady who was absolutely perfect for him in every way—except forher inferior social status, connections, and practically nonexistent dowry. He felt his family, and society in general, would never approve the match.
Additionally, he could not possibly marry for love! Living separate lives in a marriage of convenience he could keep his secret, but he could not keep this mortifying need of it from a woman he loved!
Deeply disturbed by the conflict between his head and the yearnings of his heart, he found the need to keep it in a convenient location at all times since he had first laid eyes on her weeks ago. During her stay at Netherfield, just knowing she was nearby was a torture to him and spending so much time in her presence even worse, so he heavily relied on it.
This is how it got into the pocket that William Darcy usually reserved for an extra handkerchief to offer to a lady when needed, as he was taught a gentleman should, on the day he handed it to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth Bennet had spent the previous day and night nursing her sister, Jane, who had fallen ill when visiting the mistress of Netherfield Park, Miss Caroline Bingley, and her sister, Mrs. Louisa Hurst. When a maid had offered to sit with her sister for a while, Elizabeth decided to take a walk around the grounds to clear her mind of all that had happened since her arrival.
Mr. Charles Bingley had been a gracious, amiable host, obviously besotted with Jane and asking after her at every opportunity. Mr. Bingley's sisters continued to treat Elizabeth with contempt and Jane with false affection. Mr. Hurst was indifferent toward both Bennet sisters—though the fact that he treated everybody this way raised her opinion of him slightly above his wife and sister-in-law.
A frown appeared on her face as she thought of the other occupant of the house. Mr. Darcy was continuing to act in his usual arrogant, disagreeable way. Elizabeth was confused as to why her internal reactions to his words and actions were always so…extreme. Caroline Bingley was more insulting towards herself and her family than Mr. Darcy ever was and yet she found it quite easy to ignore Miss Bingley's remarks without a second thought. Why was it that Mr. Darcy's opinions and behavior bothered her so deeply? Was it possible that Mr. Darcy's opinions actually mattered to her but she would not admit it to herself?
She thought back to the first time they had met, at the Assembly in Meryton. When she had first seen him, she thought him very handsome—but there was something else about him that attracted her attention. As he walked into the room, for the briefest of moments she had seen a look in his eyes that was very different than the cold, blank expression he wore on a regular basis whenever he was in company. What had happened to change his expression? Ah, now she remembered…the entire room had quieted with curiosity and turned to look upon the party from Netherfield. A flicker of something she could not quite define had passed over his countenance, and only then did the glacial mask fall over his features. It was so confusing!
Elizabeth's ruminations were interrupted by the sight of the man himself walking in her direction.
They greeted each other and then, as he stepped closer, Darcy asked, "May I join you, Miss Bennet, or would I be interrupting? You seemed lost in thought as I approached."
She turned and began to walk, Darcy followed. "Actually, Mr. Darcy, the interruption is not unwelcome. Walking with you might further my purpose. You see, I take amusement in studying characters and I have just been contemplating the enigma of you."
He was visibly affected, a mixture of elation and discomfort flooded through him at this disclosure, "I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," after a hesitation he asked, "And what is your success?"
"I do not get on well at all. You puzzle me exceedingly."
Darcy began to fidget with his ring, confused as to what he wished her opinion of him to be. A gust of wind threw some loose dirt in their direction and Elizabeth stopped and let out an exclamation of pain.
"Miss Bennet, are you well?"
"I seem to have gotten dust in my eye, sir." Elizabeth tried to blink the offending dirt away and her eye was tearing heavily.
Flustered by seeing Elizabethin pain, which was deepened by the appearance of tears upon her cheek, Darcy reached into his pocket without thinking and handed her what should have been a clean handkerchief…but was not.
As Elizabeth thanked him and brought the cloth to her cheek to blot the tears, Darcy froze. He had handed her the blanket! How could he have been so careless? What would she think of him?
Once recovered, she looked up at Darcy and, seeing his pallor and a look of pure terror on his face, she became frightened and concerned. Placing her hand on his arm, she cried, "Mr. Darcy! What is the matter?"
Following his line of sight, she looked to the cloth in her hand…and blinked. The cloth looked like a miniature version of the baby blanket she had sewn for her godson upon his birth. Was this a sort of "security blanket" for Mr. Darcy?
Looking back to Mr. Darcy, she realized he must have seen recognition of what this was in her eyes. His expression changed, bringing to mind the brief emotion that had displayed itself on his features as he walked into the Assembly room a month earlier, and something in her mind clicked into place.
Elizabeth's hand covered her mouth as she gasped, "You are shy!" As she watched his color rise, she thought, "Could he have been too embarrassed of his shyness to say as much to Mr. Bingley when he pressured Mr. Darcy to dance with a stranger? Was Mr. Darcy's comment about me only said out of annoyance with Mr. Bingley—to get Mr. Bingley to leave him alone—and not really about me at all?"
Elizabeth's eyes opened wide as she realized most of his actions could be seen in a completely different light if she admitted that Mr. Darcy was shy…and if she was no longer looking at him through a veil of prejudice. If this impression of him was wrong, were all her opinions of him wrong as well? These thoughts were confusing because, for some strange reason, they filled her with joy.
Lost in the distraction of her thoughts she had missed the change in Mr. Darcy's color, and now realized it had risen to what looked like a very unhealthy shade of red and his breath was coming much too quickly. Elizabeth took his hand in hers and pressed the cloth into it, closing his fingers around it with her other hand.
Eyes moving to the ground, Darcy slowly pulled his hand from hers, and turned to walk away from her as quickly as possible.
"Mr. Darcy, wait! Please?" Elizabeth ran after him, but her legs were so much shorter than his and could not catch up. As he began to slow, she retrieved an object from the pocket of her skirt and called out, "Mr. Darcy, please catch this! Do not let it fall!" As soon as he turned toward her, she threw the object at him.
While Elizabeth caught up to Darcy, he looked at the object he had caught. It was a well-worn, stuffed bear, so small it could fit into one of Elizabeth's hands.
After she caught her breath she said, "I will tell you a secret in exchange for the one I discovered in error, sir. Only my sister Jane knows that I usually carry Amelia in my pocket. She was made for me by my beloved Grandmother Bennet and having her with me always helps me through difficult situations. Have you ever noticed my habit of smoothing my skirts?" At his nod, she continued, "That is my way of checking to make sure that she is still there. When I was a little girl I would imagine that I was Amelia's mama-bear to help my courage rise whenever I felt intimidated." She could see Darcy slowly relax a bit during her speech.
Darcy's eyes locked with Elizabeth's. "But you always seem so…self assured. You handle yourself well under all circumstances."
"Ah, you see! It works!" She gifted him with a smile so brilliant he felt it light up his soul and calm him further.
"Yes—oh pardon me, I will make the introductions. It has been years since Amelia has met someone new." And, to Darcy's surprise and amusement, Elizabeth made formal introductions between himself and Amelia, the stuffed bear, before placing Amelia back in her pocket. "So you see, Mr. Darcy, there is nothing to fear from me. We shall keep each other's secrets, shall we not?"
"Yes, we shall!" he smiled, displaying his dimples to her for the first time, dazing her momentarily.
The couple took their time walking back to the house, conversing pleasantly with a newfound ease and understanding between them. Elizabeth found that once she had discarded her former prejudices, Mr. Darcy was not arrogant or disagreeable at all.
Just before dinner, Darcy was sitting in the drawing room alone with a book on his lap, but his mind was not on reading. Instead he held it in his hand and was thinking about all that had passed during his early morning walk with Elizabeth. Since Elizabeth already knew his secret and had not rejected him in any way, how could he possibly pass up the opportunity to marry for love—no matter her social standing or connections? He suddenly felt confident his family would not fail to recognize Elizabeth's superior character and approve of her…eventually. He would request the honor of courting her as soon as possible!
Just then, Caroline Bingley burst into the room searching for him, as always, and he carelessly put it away in his pocket. Not wishing to be alone in a room with Miss Bingley, wary that she might claim she had been compromised trying to force him to marry her as other mercenary ladies had attempted in the past, he put down his book and headed for the dining room…not realizing in his haste that it had fallen out of his pocket onto the cushions of the chair in which he had been sitting. Afraid of soiling it, Darcy would never touch it during a meal, and so it would not be until after dinner that he discovered it was gone.
When dinner was done, the gentlemen remained for brandy before joining the ladies, Caroline and Louisa removed to the drawing room, while Elizabeth excused herself to check on Jane.
Darcy gasped when he reached into his pocket and found it empty. He began to search his other pockets, but it was nowhere to be found!
"Excuse me…I seem to have lost…something" Darcy said in an agitated tone of voice as he lowered himself to the floor to search for it. Laughing at the novelty of seeing Darcy crawling around his dining room floor Bingley offered to help him look, but Darcy told them to go on without him.
By the time he had searched the entire dining room, a panic had gripped Darcy. He would have to send an express to Mrs. Reynolds and have one of the last three pieces left of the blanket sent to him immediately, but it would be at least six days before he got it! What would he do until then? And what would happen if someone here found it?
Suddenly remembering where he had seen it last, he rushed to the drawing room, praying nobody had sat in the chair he had been occupying before dinner.
After finding Jane sleeping peacefully Elizabeth had rejoined Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst at the same time that Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst entered the room. Elizabeth searched for a book among a pile on one of the tables when something on the nearest chair caught her eye. It was Mr. Darcy's security blanket! She quickly moved to the chair to retrieve it before anyone else noticed it, but at the same time Miss Bingley had spied the blue cloth and got there before her. Just as Miss Bingley had asked what it was, Mr. Darcy entered the room. Elizabeth glanced at him noticing he had turned quite pale and his gaze was fixed upon the cloth in Miss Bingley's hand.
"It is nothing, Miss Bingley… do not give it another thought. It is only something I was working on earlier in the day. I must have left behind by mistake." Elizabeth answered and reached to take it from her. Miss Bingley seemed reluctant to give it up, but Elizabeth met her eyes with a cold stare and an arched brow. A bit frightened by Elizabeth's look, Miss Bingley released it. While placing the cloth safely in the pocket that held Amelia, Elizabeth could hear Mr. Darcy let out a long breath that he must have been holding. A few minutes later, Elizabeth excused herself for the night, meeting Mr. Darcy's gaze with a smile and holding his eyes longer than necessary. She headed upstairs, trying to conceive of a way to return Mr. Darcy's property without attracting undue attention.
While refreshing herself in her room before going to Jane, Elizabeth did not anticipate the need for Amelia's presence and gently placed the bear in the drawer of her bedside table keeping Mr. Darcy's cloth safely in her pocket.
Once Elizabeth left the drawing room, Darcy wished to follow but for the sake of appearances he remained a few minutes longer. Knocking quietly on Elizabeth's door he heard no answer. Imagining her in Miss Bennet's room by this time, he quietly slipped inside to search for it.
At first he was consumed by the idea of being in her bedroom. Seduced by the unique scent of Elizabeth lingering in the room, his eyes became glued to her bed. He fought back an almost overwhelming impulse to disrobe, slip into her bed and await her return.
Shaking the thought from his head, he tried to concentrate on the task that led him to the drastic breach of propriety in which he was currently engaged. He looked all around on table tops and the like, but did not find it. The temptation to look through the dresser drawers overruled his usual gentleman-like manners, but when the first drawer opened to reveal a nightgown he found he could not continue without the risk of his undoing. He felt much safer checking the drawer of the bedside table. Though being closer to her bed affected him, at least he anticipated no intimate apparel in there. There he found Amelia.
Smiling, Darcy came up with a plan. He slipped Amelia into his pocket and retreated to his own room, sitting down at the writing table immediately upon entering.
Late that night, Jane had finally fallen back to sleep and Elizabeth quietly left the room and entered her own. She had just finished changing into her nightgown when she heard the creak of floorboards in the hall outside her room and saw a paper being pushed under the door. The note read:
Your friend, Amelia, has been taken from your possession. I am certain you know the ransom for her return.
If you wish to see her again, you must make your way to the library immediately to make the exchange.
The Dreaded Derbyshire Bearnapper
Darcy had to admit to himself that entering her bedchambers had been a mistake. Since he had left her room two hours ago he could not escape his imaginings of what did…and what could…go on in that room. In his thoughts Elizabeth sat at the mirror brushing her hair; Elizabeth undressed; Elizabeth bathed; and Elizabeth was in bed…and before long he had joined her there—in his imagination at least.
Bearnapping Amelia had also been a mistake for Amelia smelled like Elizabeth, and her scent certainly was not helping his endeavor to put these increasingly amorous thoughts aside.
Later as he thought back over the encounter, he would realize another mistake he had made this evening had been drinking so much of Bingley's brandy while he waited for everyone to go to bed before delivering the message for her to meet him here. It was not enough for him to become inebriated, but it was enough to cause his self-control to slip once he saw her standing but a few feet away from him.
"Were they mistakes?" he thought, smiling widely, "No, certainly not! I should never think of anything that happened as a mistake…"
By the time Elizabeth had made her way to the library, his ardor was quite high…and the last thing he expected was that she would be clad in the nightgown he had seen earlier in her drawer. But there she was standing near the doorway in the low light of a dying fire; the robe she wore could not hide that she was wearing that very nightgown, and she was more beautiful than even he could have imagined.
He got up from the chair, not bothering to put on the coat and neck cloth he had discarded earlier, and he crossed the room, ending up much closer to her than propriety demanded. Elizabeth did not back away from him nor did she divert her eyes from his, and so he moved closer still.
"I received your note, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth said softly.
Leaning in closer, he whispered, "Elizabeth" She wavered a little and he gently placed his hands on her shoulders to steady her.
"I have Amelia" he breathed close to her ear, then inhaled her scent deeply, almost driving him to distraction.
"Yes" she whispered.
"Do you have the ransom?" his lips grazed her ear as he spoke.
She breathed, "Yes" and placed her hands on his chest.
He moved so he could look into her eyes, his lips almost touching hers. "Elizabeth?"
"May I kiss you?"
She answered by touching her lips to his. It did not matter who moved in for the kisses that followed as both were willing participants. He deepened the kisses gradually, and she learned quickly. Neither was able to get enough of the other, crushing their bodies ever closer; their hands traced each other's forms through the thin material of their clothing and teased through the other's hair.
A bit of Darcy's conscience was still engaged and it nagged at him, forcing him to pull away from Elizabeth before it was too late. He pulled her into an embrace, giving them both a chance to catch their breath. When he had calmed enough to speak, he moved away enough to look into her eyes. His fingers traced the line of her cheek as he said huskily, "I have loved you since the first moment I laid my eyes upon you. Please make me the happiest of men and marry me, Elizabeth?"
The smile Elizabeth displayed took his breath away. "Yes, I will, Mr. Darcy!"
He displayed his dimples for her once again before saying, "William…please call me William, Elizabeth."
"I realized just today that I love you, too, William" she said with a look in her eye that made him gasp. He kissed her again, but gently this time.
"I cannot stay with you any longer tonight, my love. I am convinced I will do something I will regret if you stay with me."
With a gentle parting kiss, she returned upstairs while he paced the library to compose himself before venturing into the halls where he might be seen.
As he passed Elizabeth's door, he realized they had not exchanged Amelia for his blanket. With a smile, Darcy went to his room to write another note.