Disclaimer: Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: During their visit to Pemberley, Mr. Gardiner implies to Mr. Darcy that Elizabeth is to have an understanding with another man. Probably a three-shot. OOC, AU, HEA

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by Anton M.


August 6, 1812

Dawn had yet to break when Darcy walked in the open stable doors to find his mare missing. The fate had befallen him for the second night in a row, but today, unlike yesterday, he found that the horse could not be replaced by another. It was unlike his Eos to escape, but Darcy lacked the focus to be angry. He would have a word with the stable boy, later, to make sure that the stable doors would be securely locked for the night.

He hadn't slept. Anxious to work off his restless energy, he decided to walk in the absence of his mare. Was it not Elizabeth's favourite activity? He found selfish comfort in the thought. Untamed alders, black poplars and sessile oaks replaced the hornbeam hedges around Pemberley, and he cared little for the dewdrops on the blades of grass that dampened his clothes when he turned away from the road. He had no aim. Nothing in the world could have diverted his mind away from Mr. Gardiner's disclosure during yesterday's lunch.

In the four months it took for Darcy to work on improving his character, a gentleman under the name of Mr. Mortimer had, apparently, set his attentions on Elizabeth. Darcy had not had much hope that Elizabeth would grow to hold him dear—had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner, how the words plagued him—but seeing her again, knowing her affections to be directed at a man more worthy of her, it was too much to bear. How could he look her in the eyes, those serene, teasing, beautiful eyes that haunted him day or night, and wish her joy in her upcoming nuptials? Yet, he must. He must overcome his jealousy, wistfulness, and desire to fall on his knees before her and beg her to forgive him. He must. He must try to forget the dire future that would await him with no Elizabeth in it.

Wild grain tickled the palms of his hands when he shut his eyes on the edge of a field. In an hour, the meadow would showcase the loveliest of sunrises, and what he would give to share it with Elizabeth. But it was not to be. How could he have veered off the road so confidently? How could he have proposed to the only woman he'd ever love using the words he did? In offending her dearest relations and expressing his desire to overcome his affections rather than rejoice in them, he had thrown away his only chance at happiness. Was this to be his punishment, to work hard to be worthy of her only to see her fall in love with another? Darcy took a shuddering breath when pain gripped him. It felt gnawing, visceral. He felt he could drown in the depth of it.

He was not to marry. He must find a way to remain acquainted with the Bennet family, to always take care of Elizabeth without her knowledge. If he was not to be her husband, he could at least be the man who might have been her equal if given more time—for he was man enough to admit that he did not deserve her. He would look after Elizabeth and her family. He must find a way to influence Mr. Bennet to consider putting his two or three youngest to school, for were they to be blamed for their silliness if education had been kept from them?

He would entail his estate to Georgiana and her firstborn.

He would work harder than any man ever had to make Elizabeth see, if as a casual acquaintance, that he might have not been worthy of her, but he was a good man on his own account. He would make schools accessible and affordable to all children in Derbyshire, in Lambton and Kympton. He would build a library, for Elizabeth, for she dearly loved to read. He would pay more attention to the peasants, for were they not the heart and soul of his estate? He would learn to express the affection and passion he held for his people, and replace the politeness in his principles with actions and involvement.

Even as hurt run through his veins, Darcy could not regret having known Elizabeth for she had made him see the man he wished to become.

Would he have the heart to continue on his quest to be a better man once he learned that she was to birth a child to her husband? The thought hit him with a wave a nausea, but it would be inevitable. He must wake up, day after day, and dedicate himself to his estate, to his work, to those in need. Like the casual acquaintance he was to be to Elizabeth, he would send a word of congratulations through other people, so that she may understand that he did not wish ill on her family or children. Quite the opposite—in spite of his pain, Darcy wished that, above all else, life would treat Elizabeth well. If he was to see her once a year, when he visited Bingley and she her sister, he would admire her from afar. He would rejoice in her happiness and find a way to help her with her troubles, and he would learn to do so without being detected.

Hooves beat against soil on the hillside before a silhouette of a rider could be seen galloping on the other side of the meadow. As the horse neared, wisps of long hair became visible, flowing in the wind.

A woman sat astride a horse.

Intrigued but not fit to be seen, Darcy didn't move as the duo slowed down on the other side of the tree he was standing under. It was too dark for the stranger to see his features, or for him to see hers.

The lady hopped off the horse as if she'd been doing so for years, and pet the mare.

"Eos," she whispered, brushing her nose against the horse's face, humming. Darcy's heart beat twice as fiercely, with twice the passion and affection he thought he could feel. It mattered not that her hair, longer than he'd imagined, was left uncovered, that she had sat astride a horse, or that she had taken said horse from his stable. She could have them all for all he cared.

Elizabeth had arrived.