I Believe I Thought Only of You
Elizabeth Bennet's mind rang with those words for several moments after they were spoken; the last echoes seemed to hang in the quiet air. Her breath caught audibly in her throat, her chest heaved. This was, it seemed, the moment of crisis. Calm down, she told herself firmly. That wasn't necessarily a declaration. Of course he thought only of her. In comparison with her, her family could mean little to him. He had barely met them except to observe and censure their improper behavior. Of course his first impulse must have been the guilt he had felt on the situation, according to Mrs. Gardiner, but if the Bennet family entered into his mind at all it must have been through Elizabeth herself. That was all. She would be calm. She would. Her mind almost believed her, but she had a difficult time convincing her heart rate to obey.
She did not have to attempt it for very long. A worse crisis was destined to follow the first. Mr. Darcy was speaking again.
He spoke. You are too generous to trifle with me. She heard almost nothing after that. Those words told her irrevocably that his feelings were involved, not just his reason. Only his last word struck her ear, but struck it with a force that seemed to resound through her mind. Unchanged. He had not changed his mind since that dreadful encounter in Kent. He still loves me. He still loves me! Elizabeth had to take a very deep, controlled breath to prevent herself from gasping aloud. She resisted the urge to press her fingers to her mouth to steady herself. The corner of her eye caught Mr. Darcy standing uncomfortably beside her, his eyes focused on the ground. Dear Mr. Darcy. So nervous. How could she ever have considered him too proud? Proud, indeed - a proud man would never have proposed a second time to a woman who had rejected him so energetically on his first application for her hand. A gentle smile of gratitude crept over Elizabeth's face - then her breath threatened to choke her again. She had remembered that he still required an answer.
"My feelings," she began, still looking away from him. "My feelings are so different. In fact," she looked up and met his deep eyes with a combination of nervousness and the joy of knowing that she was about to make him happy, "they are quite the opposite." The smile became a grin. Understanding flickered in his expressive face, followed by the smallest of smiles. She was suddenly embarrassed and looked away, unable to meet his gaze The crisis had passed, but the emotional exertion of having to make a declaration of her love had drained her. They began to walk again, wordlessly. She couldn't look at him, although she yearned to see how he was taking the news. He mentioned Lady Catherine's visit. She realized she had been holding her breath and forced herself to relax.
He wasn't angry. In fact, her behavior to Lady Catherine had given him hope. She joked, but not without shame or regret, about her past behavior to himself. She stole a glance. His look was open and loving. Thank you, Lady Catherine. Words she never imagined would enter her head.
He was talking still, trying to make her feel more at ease about having insulted him so viciously in Kent. Her cheeks burned. He could not have been as proud as he confessed; Mrs. Reynolds and even Georgiana adored him too much. And he actually thought he might have been proud all his life? If not for you - dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. He had never called her just Elizabeth before, nor had he ever paid her such a lovely and unstilted compliment. The moment seemed to inspire a connection of some kind. They stopped walking. She waited breathlessly, facing him on the road. Any moment he must reach out for her hand. Their eyes met in silent acknowledgement of the moment. She thought she might have seen his hand lift just a little, but then he subsided. He started to turn back to the road, and she followed his example. They continued walking, only inches apart but not touching.
Elizabeth found herself unpleasantly caught between nervousness and frustration. Was his love only rational after all? She hadn't thought it possible, but . . .
If only she could have some sort of a crisis. Her eyes glowed with the memory of that day in the inn, when she had read Jane's letters . . . setting aside the horror of the news, the fear and the near hysteria, she remembered Darcy: his hand in hers, guiding her to the chair, the way he had kept hold of her hand as she cried, the way (her face flushed with the memory) his hand had even rested momentarily on her knee as she sat. He had been tender enough at the time - and even now, his words were tender. Then why would he not . . . they were engaged, after all.
Engaged. It hadn't really sunk in until now. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were engaged. This man who walked so uncomfortably by her side, who in spite of all her affection still felt like a stranger - this man was going to be her husband. This man would be the closest person to her in all her life. Elizabeth swallowed and looked at him resolutely. If he was going to be her husband, she would have to stop being so skittish around him. In their earlier acquaintance he had not frightened her. She knew he loved her; she must not be so afraid of doing something wrong. She must act. Caroline Bingley certainly would have. The thought almost made her laugh at loud.
Oh, Lord. He had noticed. He stopped, a questioning look on his face. "Elizabeth?"
She looked up, about to apologize, when she saw something in his eyes that floored her. Is that laughter? She could hardly believe her eyes. Was the very proper Fitzwilliam Darcy teasing her? Indeed, it could be nothing else. Her resolve renewed, she smiled at him and arched her eyebrow. "Yes, Mr. Darcy?"
He smiled in response. "Is there something you would like to share with me?"
Elizabeth lifted her shoulders. "Not really." She laughed outright at the expression on his face, then held out her arm - trying to appear perfectly natural while fluttering with nervousness on the inside. To her great relief, he reached out to take it.
That first connection would never be forgotten by either. It reminded both of the odd, inexplicable flash when they had taken hands to dance at Netherfield so long ago. Their hands met with a small charge of electricity. Indeed, she suspected Mr. Darcy of enjoying the moment a great deal. He took her hand slowly, curling his fingers around hers with painstaking care and gently stroking his thumb across the back. Elizabeth had never noticed before how much feeling she had in her hands. It seemed that every inch of every finger felt his fingers sliding beside them. The sensation was quite distracting, but there was more danger yet to come. Once he had secured her hand, Mr. Darcy used it to draw her closer so that she could take his arm. Time seemed to move with a painful and wonderful slowness as he tucked her arm within the crook of his own. She had never before noticed any particular sensitivity in the inside of her elbow, but the sensation of his arm sliding over that particular area made her shiver. He drew her just a bit closer, so that their shoulders touched lightly. The warmth between them was almost unbearable. Elizabeth simultaneously wondered why she had wished this agony upon herself and enjoyed it very, very much. They resumed their walk, but the walk was rendered much more interesting by the fact that every unsynchronized step caused them to brush against each other. At one point she fell so out of step that almost the full length of her leg brushed his, and the contact made her face burn and her breath stop and started a dialogue within her mind. This is not good. What in the name of heaven are you talking about? This is quite good. She concluded that she must be going insane. After a long moment, a jerk on her arm called her attention to the fact that he had stopped.
"Elizabeth," he said in a rather stern voice.
"Yes?" she answered with great apprehension.
"It has come to my attention," he began, stepping back a pace but not releasing her arm, "that there is a certain - atmosphere - of, shall we say -" He broke off and exhaled with some determination before trying again. "This is ridiculous. For two people who have fought as we have, have gone to such lengths to achieve our present state of happiness - we are acting as if this is an arranged marriage and we have never met before! My dearest Elizabeth, this cannot continue."
She let out her breath without realizing she had been holding it. "I agree. What do you suggest?"
He detected a return of her usual playfulness and smiled in response. "Well, it seems to me that there is only one solution."
She frowned, not understanding. "And that is?"
He cleared his throat. "That is - that we are suffering from nervousness due to two things. The first is not quite knowing how to behave now that we are engaged." He had never spoken the word aloud before, and his eyes fairly glowed with the pride of it. "I suggest we remedy that immediately. You may laugh at me as much as you like. I will endeavor to remember that instead of staring wistfully at you, I may actually speak to you with some measure of freedom. We both must remember that -" here he faltered only momentarily "- that the dreadful period of wondering is ended. Do you agree?"
Elizabeth could only nod gratefully. Then she remembered something. "And the other point?"
"You said there were two reasons for our present discomfort. What was the other?"
"Ah yes." Did he just blush? "The other. I believe that, now that we have said - everything that needed to be said - and entered into a - more formal arrangement, I believe that we both have been anticipating a certain freedom - or rather, I should say, a greater degree of intimacy -" here he definitely flushed "- in our present relationship." She arched her eyebrow at him, and he was relieved that she didn't appear to be shocked or offended yet. "That is - I believe that we are suffering presently because we neither of us are sure when - or how - to . . ." He looked at her helplessly. "You understand me?"
Elizabeth flushed yet again under his gaze but managed to reply, "Perfectly."
"Good." She waited for a moment, then asked tentatively, "Did you have a suggestion for resolving this difficulty, sir?"
He seized on the opportunity to change the subject. "Can you not call me ‘William,' as my sister does?"
Elizabeth smiled. "I would like that - William. I await your wisdom on our present circumstance."
"Right." They looked at each other for a long moment before he resumed his explanation. "What I feel to be the best remedy is to - well - get it out of the way immediately."
It was Elizabeth's turn to be disconcerted again. "Sorry?"
Mr. Darcy swallowed. "I really feel that we should, er, explore the possibilities of our current relationship as soon as may be, thereby eliminating the discomfort of anticipating something but not knowing what or what to do about it." He stopped and took a deep breath, waiting anxiously for her reply.
She debated within herself for only a moment before acknowledging that his assessment of the situation was probably correct. "I agree."
His eyebrows shot up at this reply. "You do?"
"You didn't think I would?"
Color suffused his cheeks, making him all the more endearing. "Well, after all, we've never been - I mean -"
She took pity on his distress. "I know exactly what you mean."
He looked up. "Have you been -"
"Because I've been wondering whether -"
"So have I." Their eyes met and they laughed, the laugh that finally broke the growing wall of tension between them. "So, William, what do you recommend?"
He looked up and down the road and around them in all directions. "No one coming," he said meaningfully.
Elizabeth's eyes widened and she focused in mounting nervousness on his hand, which was reaching toward her face. She breathed deeply, trying to calm herself. She wanted desperately for him to kiss her, but wanting it didn't eliminate her lack of experience. His hand lovingly stroked the side of her face before sliding down to her chin and grasping it between two fingers. She stepped a tiny bit closer in a gesture that was meant to be encouraging, but her eyes were trained on the ground and he had to lift her chin himself. She met his eyes at last, and the look she found there shocked her. She knew she had never been the recipient of such a look of warmth, desire, and unabashed love in her entire life. He smiled ever so slightly - more a relaxation around the mouth - and she knew he must have seen the same look in her own eyes. His other hand slid gently around to her back and grasped her firmly below the shoulder blade. She realized that he understood her perfectly - that her nervousness demanded gentleness and patience, but also demanded that he give her a sense of security by demonstrating complete control over the situation. Such understanding stunned her beyond belief, and she felt love spread through her body as a tangible substance. She exhaled sharply, and he grinned. Fitzwilliam Darcy, grinning? He pulled her chin upward, slowly, slowly . . . she closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable. He was close, she could feel the warmth on her face. With an agonizing slowness, his lips brushed against hers. He kissed her this first time so slowly that it took several moments for their lips to make complete contact. When they did, she was so taken aback by the sensation that she grew weak at the knees and leaned against him for support. The sensation of his body pressed so completely against hers was again so electric that she gasped. Her lips parted, and their kiss deepened without either of them intending it. After a long interval, they parted softly with a series of smaller kisses and stepped back. Their eyes met, and Elizabeth did not know which shocked her more: the little crinkle of laughter around his eyes, or the tears sparkling in them. They both moved in an instant, as one, the way they would live from this moment on. Each stepped toward the other and Fitzwilliam Darcy took his lady into the tightest embrace he could manage. Elizabeth rested her head on his shoulder, and each held the other so tight that their fingers tightened on each other's clothing. Darcy thought about how close he had come to losing her, so many times, and tightened his arms fiercely around her slender frame. Elizabeth felt herself almost lifted off the ground, and held him in response with all the strength in her body. After a long time, her William set her on her feet and leaned back to look into her eyes. "There now," he said through tears of joy, "isn't that better?"
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