Love and Obligation

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of Jane Austen's characters or themes.

Chapter 1: Netherfield Park

Caroline Bingley was in one of her moods, again. She had been ranting all morning about the inconvenience of having "Poor, Sweet, Jane Bennet" falling ill while visiting with her and her sister Louisa Hurst. Caroline was convinced that it was by design that Jane had come the previous day by horseback, instead of in a carriage like a proper lady. "After all" she said, speaking mainly to Mr. Darcy "any fool could see it was going to rain, and I am convinced that Mrs. Bennet refused Jane the carriage by design so that she would be forced to stay the night. This of course would undoubtedly give her a better chance to trap my brother into spending time with her. Now she is ill and we will be forced to host her until she is well enough to be removed back to Longbourn where she belongs."

Mr. Darcy had only been half listening, lost in his own thoughts of how Miss Bingley could abuse her friend so cruelly while she was ill and under Miss Bingley's care. He was also contemplating the distinct character similarities between Miss Bingley and Mrs. Bennet. It seemed that both women were ruthless when it came to securing their futures to men of fortune. The only difference was that Caroline was trying to secure her own rich man of the Ton (namely Mr. Darcy) and Mrs. Bennet was trying to make sure her five daughter's futures were secure.

Therefore when Mr. Darcy's attention was once again captured by Miss Bingley asking his opinion on what she had been saying, he answered with "indeed" and left it at that. Mr. Darcy had never been known as a man of many words, so he thought this was an appropriate response even though he had no idea what he was agreeing with. He was only trying to stop Miss Bingley for continuing to carry on about whatever nonsense she had been talking about.

The sharp look he got from his friend Mr. Bingley, told him that he should have been paying attention before answering. It was not until Mr. Bingley spoke, however that Darcy realized just how monumental his error had been. "Miss Bennet" Bingley began, "would NEVER knowingly put herself in a compromising position." Mr. Darcy immediately silently reprimanded himself for being inattentive. 'How' he thought 'could I fail my friend in this way?' Sure, Mrs. Bennet could be a bit much to handle (even in small doses) but he held the eldest Miss Bennets' in the highest regard. Surely Bingley would understand if he went to him later in private and explained… he had never before seen such clear disapproval written across Bingley's usually cheery countenance. There must be a way to make amends for such a huge error…

Just then, the door to the breakfast parlor was opened, and all of Darcy's thoughts of his friend ceased. For before him stood Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy could vaguely make out the voices around him, the servant introducing her, the polite inquiries, and usual pleasantries being exchanged, but could not hear or even think clearly over the resounding thud of his heartbeat in his ears.

It was of course not just her mere presence that threw him into such a state, but the picture before him… for she still stood in the doorway, her light and pleasing form presented a heavenly appearance with the bight morning sun upon her. The golden rays of the sun was streaming in from the large windows behind her, giving her skin a beautiful glow, her chestnut hair shining as the sun highlighted the different colors found there. The sunlight also caught her dark brown eyes and brought out the green and gold highlights in them, to give her eyes the appearance of dancing. All of this combined to give her a mystical appearance, but it was not a picture that was foreign to him. For many nights now, this is how she appeared in his dreams. She was like a pixie dancing and laughing her way through his subconscious and wreaking havoc on his self-control. It took every ounce of self-control that he retained not to rush to her, take her in his arms, and kiss her quite soundly and thoroughly.

While all this was passing through Mr. Darcy's mind, Elizabeth had asked after everyone, and was more than just a little intimidated when Mr. Darcy did not even respond. He just continued staring at her 'Is my presence that intolerable to him?' she asked herself. A brief frown crossed her lips at this thought, but she quickly recovered, asking after her sister, and was promptly shown upstairs by a servant to make her own assessment of Jane's health.

Before Mr. Darcy could reclaim his wayward thoughts, he saw a brief frown cross Elizabeth's beautiful lips; she curtsied and was being led away by a servant, without so much as a backward glance. 'Damn it,' he thought, 'I offended her again! How am I ever to make amends if I cannot stop day dreaming about her long enough to speak… I am a STUPID FOOL!'

Mr. Darcy was once again pulled from his private thoughts by the whining voice of Miss Bingley and one of her insipid remarks about how Miss Elizabeth's wild appearance must have an effect on how he viewed her "fine eyes". He privately cursed himself for ever making that comment to Miss Bingley, knowing she would never let it rest, before answering. When he did answer it was not what Miss Bingley hoped for. "Yes" Darcy said, "in fact I find them to be even finer, no doubt brightened by her exercise." With that he quit the room, paying no mind to the look of serious distaste that Miss Bingley shot him.

All of the morning's strange happenings did not escape Mr. Bingley's notice. He knew that he was not considered to be especially perceptive, and in most cases he also knew that to be true of himself. He was however uncannily perceptive to the subtle changes in mood of those he held dear, and those of his close acquaintance. Bingley had not seen Darcy this distracted since that nasty Ramsgate incident, and yet this was different. After Ramsgate Darcy struggled to keep his temper at bay, and distract his sister Georgiana, but this side of Darcy was one he had never seen before. Bingley was used to the signs of Darcy trying to keep his temper under good regulation, but Darcy seemed to be struggling to keep emotions of an entirely different color at bay. Based on what he had just witnessed, Bingley expected that Miss Elizabeth had something to do with Darcy's recent behavior. Bingley intended to have a full accounting from Darcy about his recent behavior and actions, and soon.