EPILOGUE

Theirs was to be a mid-April wedding, hopefully beyond winter's capricious reach. The long engagement tried the patience of Mr. Darcy who wanted his bride within the month – but with the idea forwarded (and permission requested and granted) for a double wedding with Jane and Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet insisted on perfection. From wedding dresses to the entire trousseau, from wedding menu to decorations, there was nothing to be done that she would not do herself. Esther Bennet was determined to bring about the "best weddings that Meryton has ever seen!"

And so it was. The small village church was filled to overflowing, as many wanted to see not just the "jewels of Hertfordshire" get married, but also the illustrious guests of the grooms. An exalted judge from Darcy's father's side was in attendance, as well as his son, a Navy commander. On the distaff side were an Earl and countess, the viscount and his wife and a few other wealthy cousins, titled or not. Though none of the Bingley contingent could boast of family connections as the Fitzwilliams and Darcys, they were nonetheless very well-heeled and fashionable. Caroline did not attend, preferring to stay in London to work out her anger. A few university friends of both grooms added to the glitter, making it truly a congregation like no other.

Elizabeth was pleased to see Colonel David Fitzwilliam again, as he had consented to be William's best man as Stephen Hurst was to be Charles'. David had become a good friend to her and a staunch big brother to Kitty and Lydia. When the colonel first started interacting with her sisters, Elizabeth felt slightly nervous that her younger sisters' fascination with men in uniform would prove detrimental (not to mention embarrassing, she thought). But David immediately put any infatuation from the girls to rights and treated them no differently from Georgiana, even mildly rebuking them on occasion when Lydia's exuberance went beyond decorum. Soon, the giddy attention directed toward Colonel Fitzwilliam turned into respect, punctuated by a few teasing episodes typical of siblings. Elizabeth was grateful.

Elizabeth now stood by the window of the anteroom in the church, having finished the final touches to her attire. She and Jane wanted just a few minutes together alone before their lives completely changed. "I love you, Janey," whispered Elizabeth as she held her sister – to which Jane replied, touching her forehead to Lizzy's, "Bethy Grace, you will always be my dearest friend." Then they basked in that comfortable silence that straddled the bittersweet edge of the past and the hopeful threshold of the future for each of them.

Elizabeth thought of her last four months as an engaged woman. At around the Christmas week when the Darcys left for Pemberley to prepare the estate for the arrival of the Mistress, Elizabeth felt all the loneliness of William's absence. She did enjoy the visit of her dearest relatives from London (and delighted in the lavish winter ball hosted by Charles and Louisa), but separation from William was harder than she imagined. How melancholy she often was, despite – or perhaps because of - letters that flew between Longbourn and Pemberley.

The Darcys' return to Hertfordshire in mid-January, accompanied by Colonel Fitzwilliam, was therefore a high point for her. Her fiancée came bearing gifts for everyone in Longbourn. She herself received, aside from an exquisite engagement ring that belonged to William's grandmother, a daintily jeweled fan with Elizabeth Darcy embossed in pearl at the handle. So thoughtful, smiled Elizabeth.

William's gift for Mrs. Bennet piqued Elizabeth's curiosity. She heard her mother gasp, then chuckle, as she opened the package, cradling in her hands a ceramic reproduction of a famous Italian painting. Mrs. Bennet reverently whispered, La Gioconda, and from the tone of her voice, Elizabeth knew that there was a story behind that offering. The miniature now hung in her mother's bedchamber, at a place of honor. When she learned from William what the anecdote was regarding that gift, Elizabeth fell in love with William even more. I have much to know about Mama … William, you have changed my family so much ...

Elizabeth had no idea her thoughts would be proven true in a big way.


A lone rider trotted up to the church. Quickly dismounting, he heaved a tired sigh as he retrieved a packet from his satchel. I hate riding through the night, he said to himself as he wearily trudged up the steps. I hope I am not too late. This was to be delivered before the wedding.

Thankfully, the ceremony had not yet begun. As surreptitiously as he could, the rider walked up to the front and tapped Mr. Darcy's arm. Darcy gasped when he saw who it was, then without ceremony grabbed the packet the man held out. Ripping open the flap, he scanned the contents, sat down ashen-faced and breathed. A murmur rose from the crowd. "Darcy, what the dickens is going on?" David whispered furiously, and received only a blank stare from his cousin.

Mr. Bennet stepped up to him and spoke in a suspicious, almost frigid, tone. "Mr. Darcy, what is the meaning of this?" the patriarch asked in a clipped voice. Wordlessly, Mr. Darcy stood up and quietly handed Mr. Bennet the document. His heart sinking at the thought of a myriad negative possibilities, Mr. Bennet quickly read from the paper, his eyes growing bigger at each line. Towards the end, he exclaimed under his breath, "Oh, my God …" and looked up to see Mr. Darcy's ecstatic eyes.

"It is done, sir. Mr. Collins has sold his rights to the entail. Longbourn is yours."


Mary Bennet and Louisa Hurst had come to pick up the brides. "It is time," they said, bringing both brides out of their reveries. As Elizabeth stood, she faced Mary and thanked her, touching her cheek affectionately. "You look so lovely, dear sister."

Mary smiled shyly. She had been aglow ever since Elizabeth asked her to stand up for her at her wedding, since Jane had Louisa Hurst do it for hers. She had always heard herself described as the "plain one," and never let on even once how much that description hurt her. But today, she knew she was not plain, she was every bit a beautiful Bennet girl. Still, Mary allowed only a quiet smile. "Thank you, Lizzy. I am sure it is only because of the exquisite gown that Lydia designed for me."

Louisa disagreed. "Oh, Mary … you look absolutely beautiful, and the dress has little to do with it. You are lovely in your own right. Now come, everyone … your grooms must be getting anxious, but your Papa not quite." They laughed at this, and with a last smile, Jane and Elizabeth stepped out of the antechamber into their new lives.

The church hall fell silent when the music started and the vestibule door opened. Mary and Louisa stepped in, themselves glowing in the glory of the occasion. And finally the brides … Mr. Bennet had one on each arm, and he knew it was going to be the longest march of his life. After what had been revealed earlier, he had not the foggiest idea how he even made it to the halfway point. His legs were shaking, and his heart was ready to burst. Oh, Lizzy … see what your Mr. Darcy has wrought!

Years later, Elizabeth would remember Papa during that bridal march as absolutely teary - attributing it, however, solely to the emotions of the weddings of TWO of his daughters. But right now, all she could think about was the man waiting for her at the altar. I am coming.

William, too, saw no one else but his bride. Their eyes locked as she came forward in pace with the music, and his heart whispered, I would lay down my life for you, Elizabeth … I will make you happy, and I will keep you safe. I swear this before God in heaven. In the hush of the sanctuary, within the strains of the music, Elizabeth heard his voice, and knew that William's heart had spoken. I love you, William. Always.

Then there she was. Mr. Bennet handed each bride to her respective groom, lingering just a little more with Elizabeth. He leaned to whisper closely in her ear, "I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy." And tearfully, he kissed both Jane and Elizabeth and went to stand by his wife who herself had tears. "Tis a new day, Esther," he whispered, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips.

Mrs. Bennet whispered back, "More than that, Avery … tis a new life."

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today …"


My husband. Fitzwilliam Gerald Darcy.

In the wee morning hours in the elegant Darcy townhouse in London, Elizabeth Grace Darcy gazed lovingly at the man sleeping beside her, the sinewy muscles of his strong shoulders peeking from under the sheet. Elizabeth could not help but touch him again, as if trying to make sure that she did not simply dream it all. Their wedding night had been beyond beautiful –passionate and lustful, to be sure, even frenetic in some instances … but oh, the sacred union of two hearts that loved completely and utterly was sublime and simply beyond words. Elizabeth trusted William with all her heart … and he brought her to the highest joy and pleasure imaginable, and taught her to do the same.

Can any man be more generous? Elizabeth then remembered the broken entail on Longbourn, and found herself almost in tears. Papa told her about it – how William had gotten Mr. Collins to agree to surrender the entail in exchange for an estate just bordering Essex, with a small lump sum to start him off. The Essex estate, which Darcy's manager recently found for sale, was slightly smaller than Longbourn, pulling in 1800 per annum but with great potential for more. The prospect of possessing an estate now and deriving income from it rather than waiting for his inheritance was a considerable pull to Mr. Collins, and after great deliberation (doubtless with heavy input from the ever-practical Charlotte Collins), he consented. The papers were finalized and received only on the morning of the wedding – and here Mr. Bennet related with great relish the consternation caused by Mr. Darcy's shocked expression by the altar. "But it all worked out for the best," he finished with a chuckle.

"Are you not supposed to be asleep?" whispered her husband, startling Elizabeth. With one fluid motion, he gathered Lizzy in his arms, skin upon skin inflaming them both at once, but both feeling content in their intimate embrace. "I'm sorry I startled you."

Elizabeth shook her head. "I could not sleep," she confessed. There was a moment's quiet. "I want to thank you again …"

William silenced her with a kiss. "You have already thanked me enough, Lizzy. Truly."

"No, William," she protested, and straightened up in bed, "never enough. Fitzwilliam, do you not realize you have changed not just my family's future, but the future of the entire Bennet bloodline? That should resonate with you, surely!"

"Elizabeth," William sighed as he sat up as well, "that is all I thought about when I did what I did. Do you not understand it yet? Your bloodline has become my bloodline. By signing that accord with Collins, I have made sure that Longbourn stays with one of my descendants. Your family has tenancy for life, and your father can start making the improvements on the estate that he is now eager to implement - and when the time comes, which I pray will not be soon, one of our sons will take over as Master, or we can will it as we choose to anyone in the Bennet line. Truly, love, it was a sound business decision."

Elizabeth sniffed. "Well, you did not make it for the sound business decision."

"No," William said, chuckling. "I made it because I love you."

"And my mother," Elizabeth added mischievously.

"And your mother," William acquiesced as he kissed his wife's nose. "But I admit to taking advantage of a situation. Lady Catherine had just yelled horrendously at Collins for having failed to secure you, you know – that was in late January when David and I went to Kent to personally deliver my invitation to my aunt – and she truly did humiliate the poor man. I wanted to let him know that there was another option to his benefit, and that he need not suffer degradation from anybody. Mrs. Collins was easily persuaded, but I did not hear from Mr. Collins until the day of the wedding, when the final documents were delivered to me. Until then, I did not want to raise hopes."

"You are a good man, Fitzwilliam Darcy."

"You think so? I hope to be. Now," he said as he gently pushed his wife back down into the bed and nibbled on her neck, causing Lizzy to giggle, "I think we should stop talking about Collins now. He ruins the moment for me. Where should we go, Mrs. Darcy? Another trip to heaven?"

"If we must …" Lizzy sighed theatrically, and William playfully tickled her. The early morning maid walking the halls of the townhouse startled at the loud shriek that came from the mistress' chamber, followed by her happy laugh that was partnered with the deeper tones of the Master. She smiled. Laughter had long been absent around here. Thank the Lord for the coming happier times.


December 29, 1812

Dear Mother,

I thought it best to let you know before you journey to Pemberley in a fortnight for the confinement, that the next generation of Darcys have decided on their own schedule.

Last night at almost midnight, Charles David Darcy and Avery Bennet Darcy were born, both healthy and feisty and ready to take on the world. You would be proud.

I have much to thank you for, Mother, but I will wait until you come and celebrate personally with us. Until then, I only want to say that I feel very blessed, and you have a big share in why.

Elizabeth sends her regards. She is recovering nicely but is a little exhausted, so I thought I might do her this little service. Please give your husband the accompanying note. I eagerly await your coming.

I am, ever your grateful son,

William


Dear Sir,

Your new grandsons await. Charles David Darcy and Avery Bennet Darcy, born December 28 to a tired but happy Elizabeth. She is doing well.

The heir to Pemberley and the heir to Longbourn, sir. We have much to thank God for. Come as soon as you can.

Your faithful servant,

F.D.


AN: What an exciting experience this has been! Thank you, all. You have been wonderful. Maybe we'll see each other again.