Chapter 1

Author's Note: Alright, first time to write, folks, and I'm not even sure if I'm formatting this correctly.

Blurb: Someone thoroughly unexpected gives Fitzwilliam Darcy an early Hunsford experience, and the strangest of friendships results from it. Unimaginable changes happen!

"Elizabeth Bennet, you will come back here at once! Liiiizzzzyyy!

The Longbourn mistress' frantic screech pierced through every wall in the house that morning, and was met by a groan or a grimace by all the young ladies therein as they gathered in the breakfast parlor. After all, they had just spent most of the previous night, on to the wee hours of the morning, dancing and making merry at the Netherfield Ball, and were all still rather tired. However, having already been greatly roused already by the ruckus of the morning, each tried to perk up somewhat, if only to be functional for the inevitable exchange of impressions about the ball. From elsewhere in the house, they heard a door slam, followed by footfalls scurrying away towards the general direction of the Longbourn rose patch.

And then more screeching: "Elizabeth Grace Bennet, you will be the death of me!"

The oldest of the young ladies, Jane, softly sighed, almost to herself. "It seems Lizzy is not of the same mind as Mama in this matter."

Lydia, the youngest, laughed with a nonchalant flip to her wrist. "Oh la! Even I can hardly blame her this time! To be married to such a nincompoop! Were he to even don a redcoat, it would not make him a jot more agreeable!"

"In times such as this, it would serve us well to remember that our parents are to be deferred to with the utmost …," Mary began her remark most piously, but was quickly shushed to silence by the younger Kitty, as Mary glared her disapproval. "I want to hear everything!" whined Kitty, straining her ears some more.

From way-about the bookroom of Mr. Bennet, the stringent voice of the matron pierced on. "Oh! Mr. Bennet! You must come immediately! We are all in an uproar!" The girls could barely make out the voice of their father, so encompassing was the tone of his companion. "Mr. Bennet! How can you vex me so! Of course I speak of Lizzy! She won't marry Mr. Collins, and surely you must know how advantageous this is for her! You must make her marry him!"

At this time, Elizabeth – the poor unfortunate soul who was the cause of all these vexations – had returned to the house after stomping and whacking out her temper among the wild grass in the garden just beyond her father's bookroom's window. Having heard her mother enter the venerated den, she was determined to likewise present her own case to the patriarch. She cast open the door with trepidation, steeling herself with the thought that she was, indeed, in a battle for her life.

"There! There she is, that ungrateful girl! Tell her, Mr. Bennet. She will marry Mr. Collins!" cried the matron, her eyes shooting bolts of lightning at her wayward daughter.

"Papa, please …" Elizabeth began. "I cannot …"

"Hush, Elizabeth. Come in, please," Mr. Bennet quietly replied. Then glancing up the doorway where the rest of the Bennet girls had congregated to better view all happenings, he called out, "And as for the rest of you girls, back to your own occupations, if you please. Go on now. Shut the door, Elizabeth."

So with a sense of foreboding, Elizabeth did as she was told and tried again to begin her plea. Papa stopped her with a raised hand. "Hush, Lizzie." With a sigh, he looked at the two women. "Well, it seems we have a problem here, ladies. Elizabeth, your mother tells me that she will never speak to you ever again if you don't marry Mr. Collins …" there was Mrs. Bennet's look of triumph, "and I will never see you again if you do."

Silence laid thick and oppressive. The women stood there glued – until one broke the impasse by hurling herself in the arms of her father.

"Thank you, Papa! Thank you!" she cried as she peppered Mr. Bennet's face with kisses. In turn, he laughed with delight, and held his favorite daughter in his arms. "Now, now, Lizzie, you know I cannot part with you that easily." And he laughed again.

A few feet away, forgotten by the other two, Mrs. Bennet stood stunned. Unaccountably, a feeling blossomed in her heart – a deep, abiding sadness that made her wonder how long had actually festered within her. It was not jealousy in itself – never! - but a stark recognition of being an outsider in her own home, specifically in the world of Mr. Bennet and his avowed favorite daughter. It gave her a feeling of loss, somehow. Tears suddenly pricked her eyes. She needed to escape.

In that quiet celebration by father and daughter, they did not notice one uncharacteristically melancholic woman slip away. From the hallway closet, she retrieved her wrap and left the house to trudge into the Longbourn woods where she could take her thoughts in the hollow of her hands, simply to review and make sense of the chaos of her heart.

Three miles away at Netherfield, a young gentleman had risen with the sun, all set to take his customary morning ride. "I am not certain what time I will be back, Terence," he quietly told his valet, "but if things go to plan, we shall be to London sometime today. Should Mr. Bingley wake soon, inform him that if I do not see him at the breakfast table, I would speak with him." He then muttered under his breath, "I intend this to be a really long fortifying ride first."

Terence bowed respectfully. He knew his master barely slept a wink last night, troubled as he was by something he was not sure what. Whatever it was, Terence hoped it did not have anything to do with the almost joyful smirk that he saw Miss Caroline Bingley wear last night after a small whispered conversation with Mr. Darcy just prior to retiring to his chambers. Terence shivered a little. For as long as he had known the lady, she had always behaved as though she had a special claim on Mr. Darcy, much to the gentleman's chagrin. The trusted valet shivered again.

Fitzwilliam Darcy never felt as free anywhere as when he was riding the wind atop his stallion Kublai. This morning, he particularly needed to experience that freedom – there were too many things swirling in his head, too many ghosts he wanted to exorcize.

Foremost of which was an alluring head of curls that framed the loveliest pair of eyes he had ever seen.

Elizabeth Bennet. Unconsciously, Darcy let her name be softly whispered into the wind. Elizabeth ….

Aagh. Not again. "Faster, Kublai, faster!" he egged on, as he lowered his head nearer his beast's muscled neck. "We shall be done with these blasted daydreams soon! Faster!"

And Fitzwilliam Darcy rode with both fury and exhilaration across the terrain, taxing every sinew of his fierce companion and even himself as he strained with Kublai. Over two hours they rode, back and forth along the borders of the Netherfield estate, all the way up and down and across. Finally, with muscles spent, Darcy at last willed his mind to clear, and his breathing relaxed. He dismounted then patted his friend on the side.

"Come, Kublai, I know there is a brook nearby, near the western border. Let us go there then head back, shall we?" The two companions ambled along, Darcy leading Kublai by the reins. As they neared the brook, he heard it: the sound of a woman weeping, interspersed with soft wails of "Good God, show me what to do!" Curious yet cautious, Darcy quietly broke through the bushes, and was met with the most astounding sight ever.

It was Mrs. Bennet crying.