"This is for the best." Darcy told himself again, though it seemed the more he wished this to be true, the less he believed it possible. It had been half an hour since he started patrolling her favorite part of the park. He took long, methodical strides and repeated the same course over again. He was determined to not think of Eliz- no, Miss Bennet. She would always be Miss Bennet to him now. Never Elizabeth and never Mrs. Darcy. He tried unsuccessfully to push away the thought that one day she may be called another name, a Mrs._.

An unbidden image of her walking cheerfully, her hand on the arm of some faceless man, came to mind. They were laughing cruelly, and she used every ounce of her inspired wit to tell the story of a dreadful proposal she once had the displeasure of receiving. Darcy tried to clear himself of the image, but the faceless man became suddenly clearer and transformed into a smirking George Wickham.

Darcy firmly shook his head and strode more purposefully in another direction. This was the reason he needed to see her, why he had stayed up for most of the night to write the letter carefully tucked in his breast coat pocket. He had to warn her about Wickham. Those other matters of defending himself against her accusations and having a reason to see her again naturally were secondary to this more noble purpose. He reminded himself that it was his gentlemanlike duty to warn her about the despicable rake she now considered her favorite. What Miss Elizabeth would do with that information should be of no consequence to him. This rationalization was of course insufficient to stop his imagination from playing out every possible response of hers to the letter. These ranged from her refusing to read it, or laughing at his misery, to her writing back, declaring her affection for him and begging forgiveness. Even in his imagination the latter seemed ridiculous.

He told himself again that this was best for him and for God's sake to stop these mad imaginings. How long had it been since he had properly been in control of his mind? How long since he had been able to spend an hour without imagining Eliz-Miss Bennet by his side, without wondering which witticisms she would use to counter the Bingley sisters or at which of his aunt's comments she might silently smirk, perhaps bringing him into her secret joke with a conspiratorial glance and arched brow. He often wondered which of Pemberly's gardens she would make her favorite, how he might take her to . . . This is for the best.

She had been more gracious to him than he had been to himself, really, by not allowing him to marry so below his station when his own weakness had betrayed him. He reminded himself of all the formerly formidable reasons why Miss Bennet, no, rather Miss Bennet's situation, was insufficient to make her Mistress of Pemberley. Even these, which had seemed so important he thought them necessary to list yesterday during his disaster of a proposal, felt weak and shallow excuses. But it was no matter. He would move past this just as he had every other hardship of his life.

He stopped in his tracks as he heard a rustling near the gate, took a breath to steel himself for the task of facing her again, and strode towards it. Seeing her caused him more discomfort than he could have prepared for; it was one thing to imagine he would one day be free from her while he was alone, but in her presence, he felt even more attached than he had been before. Such a range of emotions flared within him upon seeing her face that it took all his effort to maintain the appearance of composure. He handed her the letter, heard himself say something, in what he could only hope was a level voice, and felt himself escape.

He did not travel far before he stopped and attempted to collect himself. It would not do for him to be seen in this state, exhausted and emotional, what emotion he did not even know. He leaned against a tree for support and breathed deeply, trying to console himself to the idea that he would never see her again. He who had experienced so much loss in his young life wondered at his own inability to accept this new sorrow. He reminded himself of who he was, of his duties to his family name, to his estate, to Georgiana. He would move on, he had no other choice. He resolved to rid himself of Elizabeth Bennet's influence. He even told himself that he did not love her, not truly, that this was merely a very strong infatuation from which he would soon recover, and just as his breath was returning to a regular pace he heard a sound, a distant scream, which proved him very wrong indeed.

With no expectation of pleasure but with the strongest curiosity, Elizabeth opened the letter. She eagerly read, scarcely making sense of the words, and paid no attention whatsoever to her surroundings. Fully absorbed in the pages before her, she did not notice the quickness of her pace; her feet seemed to move of their own volition in accordance with her tumult of emotions. She could not, in her perturbed state of mind, have perceived when she left her familiar path. In her fury over Mr. Darcy's arrogant, self-righteous accounting of his separation of her dear sister and Mr. Bingley, in her heated desire to read the rest of the odious letter, to find that man guilty on all counts, she could not have noticed how uneven the terrain had become, nor that she was nearing the top of a steep, rocky little hill. She was just letting out an exclamation over Mr. Darcy's inability to "condemn" himself for his actions against her Jane, when she felt her foot slip, and barely had time to scream before her world went dark.