A/N: This is an AU in which the Darcy family's history has been moved by 3 years. So Darcy would only have been 25 in 1812, when he was 28 in canon, and Georgiana would only have been 13. Mr Darcy senior would only have died in 1810, as he died when Darcy was 23. All other changes you'll figure out for yourself!

For readers of Repetitive Dreams - sorry! This story wouldn't let me go until I wrote it. I'm already back to working on the last chapters of RD now though, I swear!


Hidden Betrayal

Elizabeth realised her hands were clenched tightly in her lap, her knuckles white. She forced herself to relax her grip and take a deep breath. She never thought she would be grateful not to be the one standing up with her dearest sister as she exchanged vows with Mr Bingley. Having married first, Elizabeth had had Jane to stand up with her, instead of the other way around. Now she could only be grateful it was Mary standing next to Jane at the front of the church. If she'd seen Mr Darcy—standing there with Charles, without a care in the world—while walking down the aisle in front of Jane, she did not know how she would have kept going, with all eyes on her. Instead, she had walked in chatting with Kitty, who had been staying with her for the past three months, and had not looked up and seen him until after they were seated.

Now, for all she tried to keep her attention on Jane, her eyes were drawn to him again and again. He looked—older, she supposed, but no less handsome. His features seemed sharper, as though he'd lost some weight, and his jaw was set, his lips tight. He looked graver, perhaps, than she remembered him. But perhaps that was a natural result of coming into his inheritance so early. Of course, it had been almost two years since his father had died, but the weight of responsibility for all those people must be extreme. Not to mention caring for Georgiana. Though perhaps she had gone to live with her aunt and uncle? She must be about thirteen by now.

Then again, what did she know of him really? Maybe he left Pemberley to the steward to manage while he indulged in the pleasures of town. Maybe he was nothing like the man she had once thought she knew. She was suddenly very glad she had left her children at home, however annoyed she had been earlier by Mrs Bennet's refusal to have them at Longbourn during the wedding breakfast. He must know, or at least guess, at Janey's existence, so maybe it would not matter, but better not to tempt fate.

Elizabeth dragged her eyes back to Jane, determined not to let him distract her any more. He'd had enough of an impact on her life three years ago. She would not let him affect her now.

Longbourn was humming with conversation and laughter, the perceptible joy flowing through its rooms a stark contrast to the small celebration after her own wedding two and half years earlier. The scent of hot rolls and buttered toast made Elizabeth's mouth water even as her stomach churned.

The typically quiet chambers were now filled with scattered card tables, stretching from the dining room into the breakfast parlour and even spilling into the music room.

Elizabeth had deliberately timed her entrance for after the majority of the guests had arrived. She wouldn't miss her sister's wedding celebration, but she would keep her distance from Mr Darcy and leave as soon as she could.

"Elizabeth, I'm so sorry." Jane pulled her aside as soon as she was able to get away from Mrs Bennet for a few minutes. "Charles always just called him Darce, and said he was coming from London. He only arrived last night. It was not until Charles introduced him after the ceremony that I realised who he was."

Elizabeth shook her head, not wanting to dampen Jane's joy on this day, despite her own tumultuous feelings. "Please do not concern yourself, Jane—I understand you would have had no reason to suspect it was him."

Jane frowned. "Charles thinks so highly of him," she added, "I cannot understand..."

"I have never understood. But there is no point in worrying about it now, Jane. Today is only for joy," Elizabeth said firmly. "You should go back to your husband. But Jane—" she gripped her sister's hand. "Please don't mention Janey in front of him. I couldn't bear it if he—"

"Oh Elizabeth, you can not think he would— But of course, I won't mention her."

"Elizabeth, would you walk with me?"

She hadn't heard him approach, and had to stifle a gasp. She tried to school her face to show nothing of her racing heart, as she turned towards him.

"It is Mrs Palmer," she said.

He surprised her by flushing uncomfortably. "Of course, Mrs Palmer. I apologise."

He looked at her expectantly, and she realised he was still waiting for an answer. How she wanted to say yes. To walk with him, to spend time with him. To ask him, "Why?" To rest her hand on his arm, to lean against him. To feel him beside her. And that was why she knew must say no. Despite everything, she longed to have him beside her. She would not allow herself to be so weak again.

"I do not see that we can have anything to say to one another, Sir," she said.

"Do you not?" The words were simple, but his tone disdainful. "Do you not believe you owe me some explanation, Madam?" She stared at him in astonishment, which he seemed to take as an invitation to continue. "I just want to know why, Elizabeth? Do you not think you owe me that?"

"I—" she stopped, swallowed, started again. "How can you—?"

"I am leaving today. You will never see me again," he said. "But first—" He turned away from her. "Come," he said, "we cannot speak here. Surely you will not object to a few minutes conversation with a past acquaintance."

She found herself following him out through the door at the end of the music room and into the garden. Mrs Bennet had seemingly invited everyone she could think of, and they were not the only ones who had spilled out of the house. The day was surprisingly warm for March, and sun and fresh air were welcome. Consequently, Elizabeth found herself following Mr Darcy some distance from the house before they felt able to speak again.

Finally, Mr Darcy exclaimed, as though he could not hold it back any longer, "Why did you marry him, Elizabeth?"

"You know why!" she cried. "What else could I do, when you ignored my letters? My father's letter? Why are you even speaking to me? You cannot think I will be so credulous again!" She turned to glare at him, but he was no longer beside her. Turning around she realised he had stopped walking, and was staring at her in stupefaction.

"What letters?" he asked. "I never received any letter from you, not one!"

Now it was her turn to stare.

"What can you mean?" she asked. "I must have written you half a dozen letters, at least. I sent the first one the day after my aunt and uncle and I arrived home. Then another only days later, though I thought you might have left Pemberley before it could arrive."

"You— But I received nothing!" he said.

"And then," she continued, as though he hadn't spoken, "when you didn't come within the two weeks you promised, when another week had passed and no word came, I wrote again. How could I not? I knew—I felt sure—something terrible must have happened. But nothing. No reply. I feared you were dead—"

"What do you mean?" he broke in, "I wrote to explain my delay, I told you—"

"And then," she ploughed on, "when it became clear that there were—consequences—that something had to be done; when I wrote again and still heard nothing, I was forced to tell my father. You can imagine his feelings, when he understood that I, that his favourite daughter, had been so foolish, so wrong... but he was everything generous, he forgave me far sooner than I forgave myself. He sent you an express, and when you still were silent, he sent your father an express—"

"My father! My father could not read at that point. But we received nothing, I swear to you Elizabeth. I never had a letter from you! At first, I was so busy dealing with my father, and everything else, I could not worry too much. I wished you were there, of course. And I was surprised to receive no reply to my letter—"

"Your letter?!"

"Yes! I wrote you only four days after you left, to explain why—but when you didn't reply, I thought your father may not have allowed you to write, with no formal agreement between us..." he trailed off, staring into the distance as he remembered. "I wrote every week, to keep you updated. I thought your father would surely not withhold my letters, even if he read them first. Especially if he read them first. But I never heard anything back. I even wrote to your father directly, to apologise for not coming in person and asking that he allow us to correspond. And then! Then the announcement in the newspaper. And all hope died."

Elizabeth had to blink several times to clear her eyes. She tried to speak, but had to swallow and take several breaths before she could make her voice work.

"I do not understand," she said finally, her voice just above a whisper. "Why did you not come?" He was staring at her blankly, as though he couldn't understand her words, as she shifted back over everything he'd said. "What—what did you say about your father? Why could he not read Papa's letter?"

"He never regained his eyesight."

"What do you mean? When did he lose his eyesight?"

"The accident," he said. "The day after you left, he was thrown from his horse." Elizabeth gasped, but Mr Darcy continued, "When I wrote to you the first time, he had not regained consciousness."

"You—" her voice broke, and she had to swallow before starting again, "You truly wrote to me?" she asked.

"I swear it, Elizabeth," he said. "Even after my father regained consciousness, he never regained the use of his eyes or his legs. At first, writing to you every night was my release. The one place I could admit how devastated I was."

"Oh, Fitzwilliam." Now Elizabeth couldn't stop her tears from overflowing. She wanted to reach for him, but didn't dare. "I didn't know," she said. "I didn't know anything was wrong with him until I read about his death the next spring. Then I assumed it was a sudden illness. An apoplexy or some such. He had seemed so healthy when I was there."

"Even when I heard nothing from you for those months, I still assumed you would wait for me," he added. "When I heard of the announcement in the paper—at first I did not believe it. I thought Lady Catherine must be misreading some part of it. But when she showed it to me: there could hardly be two Miss Elizabeth Bennets of Longbourn in Hertfordshire..."

He trailed off, and they just stared at each other for more than a minute, before he exclaimed, "Lady Catherine. Oh my God. Lady Catherine showed me the announcement. 'Isn't this the young lady you and your father have spoken of?' she asked me. My God, I never saw it before. How did she know it was you? I had always been careful. I only ever referred to you as Miss Bennet, in her hearing. I knew she wanted me for Anne."

"Lady Catherine is your aunt from Kent?" Elizabeth clarified.

"Yes. She was visiting Matlock when I sent my uncle an express about my father's accident. Father had been intending to visit them. Lady Catherine arrived at Pemberley the next day..." He paused, thinking through the implications. "She must have stolen our letters," he said. "Mine to you as well as yours and your father's. I don't know how she managed it. There's no way Mrs Reynolds would have allowed... She must have a footman or maid at Pemberley in her employ, there's no other way she could have done it. Even then... But I can see no other explanation."

Elizabeth realised suddenly that they were standing in full view of many of the wedding guests, and had been doing so for some minutes.

"We should walk," she said, vaguely gesturing towards the house, while turning in the other direction.

"Of course," was all he said. They walked in silence for some minutes. She directed them towards a wilderness garden on the far side of the house. They wouldn't be completely out of view most of the time, as long as they continued to move, but they would not be so conspicuous, either.

Finally, he spoke again. "Elizabeth, you mentioned consequences. Were you—did you... Am I a father?"

The fear she'd felt when she first saw him roared back to life. "You can not take her!" she exclaimed. "Mr Palmer gave her his name. He knew the truth, but he accepted her as his daughter. You have no rights over her!" Her breath came in gasps, as though she'd been running. Thank goodness Janey and Michael had stayed at home with Nanny.

"Elizabeth, I did not mean—I would never do that to you. God, what you think of me!" He pushed his hand through his hair in a gesture so familiar, she was momentarily thrown back in time to his proposal. He'd paced back and forth in front of her, running his hands through his hair, telling her he knew she was young, only just turned eighteen, and that he had heard her tell his little sister that she felt far too young to consider marriage, despite her mother pushing her "out" at fifteen, but that he loved her. That he would wait, if she wanted him to, or if her father insisted, but that he wanted to marry her, if she would have him. He brought her back to the present. "To think of you, in that condition, all alone and unable to reach me. Oh my god, how you must have hated me!"

"I—" she paused, to fight back her tears. "I couldn't understand," she said. "I thought everything must have been a lie. That I hadn't known you at all. I didn't believe it at first. I thought something must have happened to you. But Papa wrote to your father as well. Sent him an express. I begged him, begged him to take me to you"—she was thoroughly crying now, but she couldn't stop—"but he said if neither you nor your father responded to an express, then there was no point. That I had clearly meant nothing to you. He'd found someone willing to marry me—a widower with a young son—and for my sisters' sakes, I had to marry quickly."

"Elizabeth—" his voice was anguished, as he handed her a handkerchief. She turned away, to wipe her eyes and cheeks. She wished he would take her in his arms, as he had the day before she'd left Derbyshire. She had been crying then, though she believed she would see him in only two weeks. Her aunt had kindly left them alone for a few minutes, and he'd taken her in his arms and kissed away her tears. Then, he had tenderly comforted her. Now he handed her a cloth and let her comfort herself. He may regret what had happened, but he wouldn't do anything to change it. He would not want to take on another man's son, she supposed. Or—maybe he was engaged elsewhere. Or married. The idea stabbed at her and she gasped at the real pain in her chest, but she turned back to him.

"Are you—" she couldn't finish. Couldn't say the words. Maybe it was better not to know. "Never mind," she said. "We should return to the house. Jane and Charles will be leaving soon." She turned to go.

"Elizabeth," he said again, and reaching for her, his fingertips brushing gently against her arm, halting her steps. "I know I let you down. I should never have allowed things to go so far. I took advantage of you in the worst way, but I promise I did love you." He stopped, and she turned back towards him, though she couldn't bring herself to look up. "I would never try to take her from you, and I realise she already has a father..." She took a step back, and he paused, but when she didn't speak or move again, he continued. "I would never ask you to deceive your husband, but, is there any way... do you think I could meet her? Just once?"

He didn't know, she realised.

"I was going to leave today," he continued, "but the Hursts and Miss Bingley are staying at Netherfield while your sister and Bingley take their wedding trip. I could stay another night. Perhaps if you bring her to see your mother—I could just visit; I could stop by to pay my respects before I leave..."

She stared at him. Was there hope? She swallowed, and moistened her lips. "Mr Darcy," she began, but her voice failed her. "Fitzwilliam... I thought you knew. I cannot deceive my husband—"

"I would not ask it of you," he interrupted.

"No, you do not understand. I can not deceive him, because he died. Only a few months after Janey was born."

"He—" he stared at her, voicelessly. "He died. You're a widow?" She nodded, but it was as though he did not see her. "Elizabeth, you're free? You, you are not married?"

"No," she said, "not any more."

"Oh my god!" He took a step towards her, his eyes wide with a mixture of astonishment and relief. "My god!" he said again, and then closed the remaining distance in a single stride, and swept her into his arms. "Elizabeth!" he said, his voice breaking on her name.

She clung to him, pressing her face into his chest. "Fitzwilliam," she croaked, through her tears. He held her to him for minutes, or hours, or seconds, and then pulled back and looked down at her, but without letting her go. His hands slid up to cradle her face. His thumbs wiped away her tears, though there were tears on his own cheeks as well.

"Elizabeth. My own Elizabeth. Tell me you will marry me. I know I let you down before. I should never have let things go so far before we were married. If I had but controlled myself, you would never have been forced to marry someone else. But I will spend my life making it up to you, if you will let me."

"Oh," she cried, "Oh Fitzwilliam, of course, of course I will marry you." She couldn't say any more then, because his lips were covering hers. For the longest moment, he was still against her, but then his fingers slipped into her hair, and he was sucking her bottom lip between his own. Eventually she had to pull back, gasping for breath, but he only moved to her cheeks, kissing away any evidence of her tears.

"Elizabeth," he groaned, leaning his forehead against hers. "I will not make the same mistakes again, but my god! How soon can we marry?"

She laughed and then pulled back just far enough to look at him. "I love you," she said, "and I will not let you take all the blame for our past mistakes—"

"But I was older," he said, "And—"

"And," she interrupted, "Nor can I truly regret them, when they gave me Janey and Michael."

"Michael?"

"Michael is my step-son," she explained, "but I am the only Mama he remembers—his own died when he was less than a year old. He is four now, and the best big brother Janey could hope for."

"Oh, I see."

"He misses his Papa, but I believe he will come to love you, and I hope you will be able to love him, too."

"Of course I will. If he loves you, then I must love him," he said.

"So you see," Elizabeth said, "While we did make mistakes, and I won't pretend it was anything but agonising, to believe you had betrayed me... I can't truly regret any of it. And if Lady Catherine stole our letters, only she is to blame for that, not you."

"Elizabeth." He leant down and kissed her gently again. "I love you more than I can say." He kissed her again. "But you have yet to answer my question."

"Which question?"

"How soon can we marry?"

"Oh!" She laughed. "Well, Sir, I suppose it depends how soon you can procure a licence!"


For regular readers of Regency JAFF - this is my first Regency story, please be gentle. Having said that, feel free to point out any anachronisms that stood out to you, or took you out of the story. I haven't attempted to make it perfect, and I have let some contractions though (so does JA), but hopefully not too many.

Edited very quickly to add, I can't believe I nearly forgot to say this was pre-read by the very lovely triinityz, who is the best cheerleader ever, and is also writing her own very fun story. When I finally publish the last chapters of RD it will be all due to her encouragement.