Darcy fussed with the manuscript on the stand after he settled his sister down at the piano. His gut clenched, anxiety rippled through him. He had never, ever put himself in this position. Exposed himself like this. He had played for others before, the night Elizabeth and the Gardiners were at Pemberley for instances, at college with his friends, but rarely his own music. His sister, who was just as reluctant to play in company, smiled in encouragement. He smiled weakly back in return.
He looked about Netherfield's drawing room. The Bennet's and their extended families, the Gardiners' and the Phillips', were in attendance. As well as some of the principle families from Meryton, including the Long's and the Lucas'. Many of Bingley's friends from London had made the journey. Several of whom Darcy claimed as friends as well. In all there was well over four and twenty families sitting about the room. They had all come to celebrate the engagement of Jane Bennet to Charles Bingley.
On a lounge in good view of the piano was Elizabeth sitting next to her sister Kitty, quietly talking. He had not been able to speak to her privately. They had only seen each other in company since his return from London with his sister. They had had no opportunity to talk beyond the general topics of a polite drawing room. It had been the frustration caused by this that had forced him to take such drastic measures.
Placing the violin under his chin he nodded to his sister and began to make minute adjustments to his violin. The noise of the room quickly rose in anticipation. Apart from those who had been at Pemberley, very few of those assembled tonight had ever known Mr Darcy to be musical. Elizabeth looked up to see Mr Darcy tuning his violin and she smiled in genuine delight. Her smile was all it took for all the tension that had been seizing him to dissipate in a breath. The babble of the guests soon died away. He took one last look at Elizabeth before he nodded to his sister to begin.
He played with his heart and soul. From the first refrain she listened, gripped by the emotions that assailed her. As he watched he could see the understanding dawn on her. She stilled, her eyes widened. She looked fervently around the room for a moment certain that every person in assembled must know exactly what had happened between them. Then she realized that no one but the two of them would know what the song was truly about. This song was for her.
Her eyes welled when she listen to the love he felt, the anguish that he had endured. She smiled in forgiveness as he admitted the arrogance of his proposal. She laughed quietly to herself as he portrayed their awkward meeting at Pemberley. So true was the music to the event that she was able to close her eyes and recall each line of their clumsily conversation. She listened as he told her of his search for her sister and Wickham. Her eyes widened as he portrayed his conversation with his aunt. Throughout it all, throughout the entire piece she heard the consistency of his devotion. Then her eyes filled with tears as she slowly heard something she had scarcely heard before in the entire piece. Hope.
In the last refrain, he looked at her. The violin played alone a questioning tune, the piano was silent. As the last note died away a tear slipped down her cheek.
When the applause had finished the siblings took their final bow and curtsy. Elizabeth watched them surreptitiously as they make their way around the room accepting their accolades. Before long the siblings came to stop at the lounge where she a Kitty were sitting. Mr Darcy assisted his sister to the chair next to the two ladies before taking a space on the lounge next to Elizabeth. They sat, politely listing to the next young lady who had been invited to entertain the guests. Elizabeth heard very little of the Scottish folksong, she had yet to recover from the emotional journey that his song had evoked in her.
Elizabeth became gradually more aware of the gentleman sitting next to her. She could sense every movement, every breath. She could smell his cologne. Feeling light headed she placed her hand on the lounge next to her and endeavored focus on the performance before her. Moments later she sensed rather than saw Mr Darcy shift himself slightly as if to focus more intently musician before them. The shield his body created hid from the room the fact that his hand was now on the lounge, not quiet touching Elizabeth's left hand.
Neither moved, neither breathed. They did not look at each other but all their focus was suddenly on the lounge between them. They could feel the rich fabric under their hands, the firm cushioning of the lounge. Nervous, Elizabeth started to trace the pattern in the fabric with her fingers. Her hand did not move but her fingers caressed that pattern under them. She felt the long and the short strands of the fabric beneath her fingers. Her left pinky traced a circle under its pad. Around and around it went until on one rotation it brushed skin lightly.
Her fingers froze, resting with there barest of space from his hand. Within a moment the hand next to hers started moving just as hers had. His fingers tracing the pattern of the lounge coming within a hairsbreadth of hers.
It was compulsion more that conscious thought that forced her to move her hand into the path of his fingers. As his fingers traced the pattern it brushed slowly over her skin, but his movement did not pause. His fingers traced around the pattern until their fingers touched again. This time the caress lingered longer, softer and with more purpose. Then his fingers traced the pattern once more. She moved her hand closer still and this time as their hands met he did not move on.
She could feel the warmth of his skin from the tips of his fingers brushing over hers. She could feel the cool metal of his signet ring. His slow movements made her heart race and her mind haze over. Then through her clouded mind she began to realise that his caress had focused on a small part of her hand. Back and forth his finger moved, caressing between the second and the third knuckle of one single finger. Her ring finger.
She looked up at him. His face was lowered, focused on the hands between them. He quietly hummed the final refrain of the song. Such longing, such love, but over all she heard the question. She eyes dropped to their hands and she gasped as she finally understood.
"Yes" she breathed. His hand paused and he looked up uncertain. "Yes" she repeated. The transformation to his countenance was spectacular as a smile lit up his face. The polite applause from the guests as the young lady musician took her bows pulled them out of their private moment.
They took advantage of the quiet chatter and movement about the room of musicians and waiters. By unspoken agreement he rose and offered her his arm. His hand rested over hers in the crook of his arm. His fingers continued to subtly caressing her hand. They slowly made their way around the perimeter of the room. There were a few eyes that glanced at them as they proceeded about the room. None paid them any mind as they moved towards an open window at the rear of the room, the lady looked a little flushed. As they stopped near the window and faced each other the guests attention was drawn back to the new performers who were taking their position at the front of the room.
He caressed her left hand with both of his. He said something too her, in a low and earnest tone that none but her could hear. Her response with nothing short of surprising, her joyous unrestrained laughter drew the eyes of the entire room for a moment.
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." he had said to her, his eyes betraying not only his humor but his nervousness. Then she laughed, that joyous sound reverberated throughout the room. He bit his lip, unsure, still uncertain about her response, regardless of the certainty that he felt moments ago on the lounge.
When the musicians started the introduction of the song the eyes of the room had turned from them. She lifted her free right hand to his face. Their eyes met and held. At the front of the room the performer begun in a clear rich voice. Softly, so only they could hear, Elizabeth sang as well "Voi che sapete che cosa e amor. Donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor."
"You who know what love is," She serenaded him softly "see if I have it in my heart".
A sigh, almost like a sob, escaped him as he leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead. They stayed like that for an eternity.