This one-shot is a companion to my full story "Discovery".

If you haven't read "Discovery", here are the main divergences from canon that you need to know:

Things took a different turn at the Netherfield Ball, and because of that Darcy didn't cooperate with Caroline's plots to separate Bingley and Jane. Instead, he and Georgiana became friends with Jane and then with Elizabeth. This led him to some self-revelations which prevented him from making the disastrous proposal in Kent.

(This little summary makes it sound like everything was a cakewalk for our P&P friends, but there was other drama.)

The events below take place after the conclusion of "Discovery". The story ends where I want it to end; you can imagine everybody's reactions however you want.

(And yes, some of the descriptions of Pemberley are Ms. Austen's words.)

The Most Natural Thing

Elizabeth Bennet gazed out the window of the carriage she shared with her aunt and uncle. The northen tour that had occupied them for the past two weeks had been pleasing in every respect, but today she had to admit to herself that she felt a bit nervous as they traveled from Lambton, Derbyshire, to the Pemberley estate.

Though she was awaited there by the dearest of friends, her time of absence from one particular friend had brought her feelings about him into far clearer focus than she had previously understood.

As their carriage ascended up the hill, she reminisced on the time she had last spent with Fitzwilliam Darcy in Hertfordshire. During the weeks that followed their return there from Kent, she had often been in his company, taking frequent walks with him as chaperones over her sister Jane and Jane's fiancee, Charles Bingley. They had taken care, of course, to keep enough distance from the lovers as to allow them privacy in their conversations. Thus it would fall to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to make conversations of their own, which they found much more agreeable than the previous time they had both been in Hertfordshire.

On some of these occasions, Mr. Darcy had asked her questions about her personal feelings on marriage and family, about how husbands and wives should relate to each other, and about whether a wife would be happy living far away from her parents. She should have recognized the questions as being forward, but at the time she had been too blinded by their differences in situation and social standing to think anything of it. She answered to the best of her ability, thinking that he was trying to discern what Charles should expect from Jane, and whether or not the Bingleys were likely to leave Netherfield in the future.

On the night of the ball celebrating the Jane's and Charles's engagement, she and Mr. Darcy had danced the first dance together. During the dance, he asked her opinion on the qualities of an ideal husband.

"The most important quality", she had said, "would be a sincere love for his wife, a respect for her, and a commitment to always consider her needs as well as his own. Also, he should be an honorable man, responsible, and strong-minded."

As Elizabeth had been thinking of Charles and her sister as she spoke, Mr. Darcy's next statement could not have been more unexpected. He had told her that, while he could only stay in Hertfordshire for another fortnight after the wedding, he did not wish to leave without asking her if she would allow him to court her. The surprise on her face must have been evident, but he had smiled patiently. She told him that she wished to have time to consider it, and since such an announcement might also detract attention from Jane and Charles at the time of their wedding, and would be especially distracting to her mother, she thought it would be best for all if she and Mr. Darcy simply acknowledged between themselves a special friendship and waited a while to make a decision about a courtship.

The next few weeks had been so pleasurable that it seemed the time had flown past, walking and talking with Mr. Darcy as they continued to chaperone the betrothed couple, sneaking glances at each other as they stood with the bride and groom at their wedding, time spent in the library and the drawing room at Netherfield after the Bingleys left for their honeymoon trip (her visits to Netherfield were ostensibly to call on Georgiana and Mrs. Gardiner, but Mr. Darcy always joined them).

And then the Darcys had departed for Derbyshire. As much as Elizabeth had enjoyed his company, she had not realized how much she would miss him until he was gone. Every day, she thought of something interesting or amusing that she wished she could discuss with him, or something significant about which she wished to ask his opinion. When she walked the fields of Longbourn, she could not help but remember the times when he had walked by her side. When letters came from Georgiana, she hurried to read them for news of him (in this, Georgiana never disappointed). She could not deny that she was enchanted by him, and she grew ever more impatient for the summer tour that she was to take with her uncle and aunt, which would include a visit to Pemberley.

But now, as they approached the gates of Pemberley, her eagerness was turning to apprehension. It had now been two months since she had seen Mr. Darcy. Did his interest in her remain? What if his affection had decreased while hers was increasing?

As Elizabeth and the Gardiners disembarked from their carriage, they were greeted enthusiastically by Georgiana, who embraced the ladies and inquired after their families. Georgiana announced that she was going to lead them on a tour of the grounds.

Accompanied by a footman, they took a walk through the vast flower gardens. Elizabeth saw many flowers that were familiar to her, and others that she had only seen in books. The brightness and fragrance all around her were the very things that Elizabeth needed to ease her spirit. She put the soon-coming meeting with Mr. Darcy out of her mind and lost herself in the present moment, surrounded by the summer blossoms that seemed like extensions of the sun. They lingered for at least half an hour.

Next came a turn through the vegetable and herb gardens, with Georgiana pointing out some of their most prized cultivars. After this, Mrs. Gardiner began to tire, and the footman accompanied her and her husband to the manor house. Georgiana took Elizabeth by the arm. "Come, let me show you some of my favorite woods."

They entered a beautiful walk by the side of the water, and every step was bringing forward a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching. Elizabeth, holding Georgiana's arm, was quiet, closing her eyes from time to time, allowing the sounds of the water to speak their welcome and invite her to enter farther.

They entered the woods, and bidding adieu to the river for a while, ascended some of the higher grounds; when, in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the long range of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of the stream. Looking at her surroundings gave her a feeling as if she herself were a part of the land, that if she stayed in one spot she could root right into this ground and it would be the most natural thing.

They pursued a circuit which brought them again, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods, to the edge of the water. Here they encountered a servant waiting for them. At his feet was a blanket laid on the ground, and a basket which was found to contain scones and lemonade. Elizabeth looked at Georgiana and saw her smiling mischievously.

"Georgiana, you schemer!", Elizabeth cried. They sat. "Will your brother be joining us?", she asked her friend.

"We will see him later," Georgiana said simply.

"Pemberley is the most beautiful place I have ever seen," Elizabeth said as they ate. "I can understand why you would miss it so much when you are in town. If it were my home I should never wish to leave it."

When they finished their refreshments, they walked to Pemberley House, a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by the hills. Elizabeth had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.

Her blissful mood continued as she walked toward the entrance. As they crossed the threshhold and entered the hall, the housekeeper, a respectable-looking elderly woman, was waiting for them.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Reynolds," Georgiana said to the woman, smiling.

"Good afternoon, Miss Darcy," the woman replied with affection.

By the time Elizabeth turned again to look back at Georgiana, her friend had turned away and was vanishing down the hallway, leaving her alone with the housekeeper.

"Ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds, said as she curtsied, "the cook needs to see you. If you will come with me, please."

Elizabeth was confused, but followed. On arriving in the kitchen, Mrs. Reynolds took her leave and the cook approached.

"Ma'am," the cook said, "I have the menu for tonight's dinner for you to review." She held up a sheet of paper. Elizabeth perused it obediently.

"Ma'am?", the cook gave her a questioning look when she had finished reading.

"Er . . . it looks excellent."

"Thank you, ma'am. We are trying a new recipe tonight for the trifle, one with rum in it." The cook picked up a sample from a table and offered it to Elizabeth, who tasted it and found it to be absolutely delectable.

"Is it too strong, ma'am?"

"It's perfect. I love it."

"Thank you, ma'am, that was all that I needed." She curtsied.

As Elizabeth left the kitchen, she heard behind her the cook calling out to the rest of her staff, "The trifle is good!"

Elizabeth considered this to be an exceptional level of hospitality and felt assured from it that Mr. Darcy must be very eager to entertain her.

As she headed back to the entryway, another servant addressed her. "Ma'am, we need for you to look over some baskets that we've put together for some of the tenants. Is this a good time?"

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. "Yes . . . now is fine. Lead the way, please."

"Yes, ma'am." They went to a sitting room where about twenty baskets were arrayed, bearing breads, preserves, cheeses and other items.

"I presume," Elizabeth said, "that the larger baskets are for larger families, yes?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And the ones with clothing items are in response to particular needs that have come to our attention?"


"What is this?", Elizabeth pointed to a packet that was in one of the baskets.

"Slippery elm, for making tea. That family has two children who have come down with sore throats."

Elizabeth winced. "I know that slippery elm is good for such things, but I've always found the stuff repulsive."

The servant girl chuckled. "Aye, ma'am. Some of the children have the very same feeling about it as you do. You should see their faces when they have to take it."

"Do you ever use horehound tea?"

"Horehound? That's not one that we have in our gardens. Do you recommend it, ma'am?"

"My family has found it very helpful for throat ailments, and considerably more pleasant to drink."

"I will tell Mrs. Reynolds to speak with the gardener in the morning."

Lizzy started slightly at this. Had she just instigated a change to the gardens at Pemberley?

"Did you have any other suggestions for the baskets, ma'am?"

"No, everything is good."

"I believe that Mrs. Annesley wishes to see you. She is in the music room. May I take you to her?"

Elizabeth gave the girl a long look and thought that she looked like she was suppressing a smile. "Yes, thank you. You can take me to Mrs. Annesley."

In the music room, Elizabeth found Georgiana and her companion.

Mrs. Annesley curtsied. "Good afternoon. I only wished to report to you on Georgiana's activities. She has spent 2 hours practicing the pianoforte today, which makes a total of 5 hours of practice so far this week. She has also had a French lesson and worked on sewing. She would like to forgo lessons and practice tomorrow in order to spend time with you and with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Would that be permitted?"

Elizabeth looked at Georgiana, who was standing behind Mrs. Annesley with another mischievous smile on her face.

"Yes," Elizabeth said with a smirk, "that would be fine."

They remained in the music room and talked on innocuous subjects. Presently Elizabeth observed that it was time that she should find her uncle and aunt and return to the inn to prepare for dinner.

"You don't need to leave, Lizzy," Georgiana replied. "Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner have already gone to the inn and returned here again. Your dinner clothes are upstairs. Come with me."

As they walked toward the stairs, another servant approached and curtsied before Elizabeth. "Ma'am, what flowers would be good to put on the table tonight?"

Elizabeth paused to recall the flowers she had seen in the gardens earlier. She smiled serenely. "Some of the lilies and the phlox, please."

"Yes, ma'am."

Georgiana addressed the servant. "Can you fetch Jessamine, and tell her to come upstairs with us?"

"Yes, Miss Darcy."

Another maidservant soon arrived. Georgiana gestured toward her. "Jessamine will take you the rest of the way and help you prepare for dinner. We will see you downstairs."

Jessamine led her to an elegantly beautiful suite. At this point, Elizabeth was not even surprised to be taken to what were clearly the mistress's chambers. Her familiar dinner dress was laid out.

"I'll draw a bath for you, ma'am."

"Thank you. Yes."

There was a book of poetry on a small table. She tried to read, but her mind ceaselessly wandered beyond the walls of the room where she sat.

Jessamine called her in, helped her bathe and dress, and arranged her hair.

When Elizabeth emerged from the room, Mr. Darcy was standing in the hallway outside. He gave her an adoring smile and bowed.

She took his arm and looked up at him. "Is this your way of proposing to me, sir?"

"It would appear that it is, madam."

They went downstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana were already there. Everyone in the room was smiling beatifically at her.

Dinner was announced immediately. As they turned toward the dining room, Mr. Darcy released Elizabeth and gave one arm to Mrs. Gardiner and one to his sister. They positioned themselves behind Elizabeth and her uncle. Her Uncle Gardiner took her arm and led her into the dining room.

As they approached the table, Mr. Gardiner slowed his walk, came to a halt and looked at her with eyebrows raised. Everyone in the room was looking at Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy's smile had been replaced by a look of anticipation and longing.

Elizabeth realized that they were all waiting for her to choose the seat in which she would sit.

It seemed the most natural thing. She looked at Mr. Darcy and smiled, then nudged her uncle to lead her to her seat. At the head of the table.

Everyone else took their places, and the party sat down. She looked across the table to Mr. Darcy, sitting at the other end. His face glowed.

"Oh!", a voice cried out. It was Mrs. Reynolds. "Oh, Mr. Darcy!" She was smiling through tears.

Mr. Darcy stood and turned toward his housekeeper with his arms outstretched. She walked into his embrace. "Please, sir, forgive the display. I am just so happy. Your parents would be so proud."

He stood for a moment, smiling down at her, and then released her.

"I must tell the rest of the staff! I'm told that they all played their roles splendidly!"

"Indeed, they did!", Elizabeth laughed. Mrs. Reynolds scurried from the room, excited to make the announcement.

Elizabeth was so overcome with joy that she was amazed she was able to eat, yet she did so with enthusiasm. They finished dinner (everyone praised the trifle), and the ladies announced that they would be in the drawing room.

Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner looked at each other briefly. "We will join you straightway," Mr. Gardiner replied, "for there is nothing else we want but to be in the company of you ladies." He took the arms of his wife and Miss Darcy and left the dining room at a rapid pace, leaving Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy alone.

Mr. Darcy crossed the room to her and took her in his arms. She closed her eyes and pressed her head against his chest.

"Fitzwilliam," she said, using his Christian name for the first time.

"Elizabeth, my love," he replied.

"As soon as I came here, I felt the same way at Pemberley as I feel with you. I feel that I belong."

Mr. Darcy smiled, though Elizabeth couldn't see it. "When I considered the prospect of your visit, I realized that I could not see you setting foot in my house as anything other than its mistress. The house and its master were both in the same state – incomplete without you."

She looked up at him. He lowered his head to meet her in a tender kiss.

They lingered a few moments longer, then went to join their friends.