A/N: Second to last chapter! Please do comment, your feedback means the world to me and encourages me to continue.

Would also like your ideas on a third installment. But more on that after I post the final chapter.

Without further ado:

Old Friends, Newly Wed

"Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man's son doth know."

Twelfth Night

Elizabeth found her father waiting for her in a side vestibule, looking rather bereft in light of the fact that his wife had expressly forbidden him from secreting a book on his person. Head bowed, hands crossed beneath his coattails, he paced back and forth over the polished black and white marble like a rogue chess piece, entirely unsure of what to do with himself.

Seeing her father rendered so suddenly vulnerable, Elizabeth felt a rush of love that made her recall the afternoon that Darcy had officially asked for her hand – they had written first, of course, but Darcy had insisted upon asking Mr. Bennet in person, following the Bennets' pre-wedding invasion of Pemberley.

"Well, Lizzy," Mr. Bennet had said, after Darcy instructed her to go to her father. He wore a bemused expression, furrowing his brow, steepling his fingers. "I'm afraid that I have received quite a shock this afternoon."

This was unexpected, both Elizabeth and Darcy having taken Mr. Bennet's consent for granted.

"As I'm sure you are already aware, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has asked me for your hand in marriage."

"Yes?"

"Well," Mr. Bennet said, "I was under the impression that you were already married."

"What?" Lizzy asked, although she could see now that he was teasing.

"The two of you certainly bicker like an old married couple," Mr. Bennet said, "what with that merry war always betwixt you. You complete each other's sentences. A phenomenon that I have never, of course, experienced with your mother."

That is because she never allows you to get a word in edgewise, Elizabeth thought but did not say.

"So," Mr. Bennet continued, "you can imagine my surprise to learn that you were not, in fact, already wed."

"Papa," Lizzy teasingly chided, "you do realize that marriage is a formal rite? It is not like spontaneous combustion, with a man and a woman just flaming into union."

"Well, that is most reassuring to learn," Mr. Bennet replied, "as most marital relations are combustible enough as it is, without adding further fuel to the fire. In any event, my dear," he continued, "Darcy is not the sort of fellow to whom I should ever dare refuse anything. So of course I gave him my permission."

"You make it sound as if he asked for my hand at knifepoint."

Mr. Bennet chuckled. "Seriously though, my Lizzy," he said, patting her arm affectionately, "I know your disposition. A girl of your intelligence and spirit deserves someone who challenges her. Someone who inspires her respect and esteem. And I could not have chosen anyone better than Darcy. It is a true match of equals, very rarely seen, I believe."

Elizabeth found herself coloring, knowing this was true. "You make us sound like an astronomical singularity," she said, deflecting.

"Well, perhaps you are." Clearing this throat, Mr. Bennet moved on. "In any event," he said, "I could not have parted with you to anyone less worthy. My dearest girl."

Lizzy took her father's outstretched hands and pressed a kiss to his temple. "Thanks, Pa," she said softly. He waved her off with an affectionate smile. "Or to anyone with a less substantial library," he teased. "A library, I might add, that I intend to make much use of."

"You may have any book you like," Lizzy promised. "And you have a permanent invitation to Pemberley. Come whenever you like."

"Do not tempt me," he warned. But as she turned to leave, he caught her one last time – Lizzy, his favorite daughter, the one who most resembled him, with all his peculiar, charming, whimsicality, that blend of sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice that set him so apart from others, that so often kept him safely immured in the safety of books. The only person who had ever truly tried to understand him.

"I am proud of you," he said, quite simply. "Not because you're marrying Darcy and becoming a great lady and whatnot, although," he admitted, "it will be nice to take advantage of the connection. And to have you off my own financial ledgers." He shook his head. "But no, my Lizzy, I'm proud of you because of who you are. Of you have become. I should have said this to you before. I should have said this to you more often."

Elizabeth did not know what to say. Her father had never spoken to her before in this manner.

"I know the world will tell you that you have succeeded because you managed to marry a wealthy gentleman," her father continued, "but the world is so often foolish, full of old people who think they are far wiser than they actually are. For the wisest people are the ones who never offer advice, knowing that they have none to impart."

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool," quipped Elizabeth.

"Yes, exactly," her father agreed. "But please do not distract me from my point. Which is, my Lizzy, that you are the most extraordinary girl."

Elizabeth looked down, blushing.

"Do you know why it is that I most respect and admire Darcy? Because he sees that. Because he loves you just as you are."

Elizabeth, of course, stiffed at the word love, at the idea that others could believe this, that it was possible that Darcy loved her.

"Because, like me," her father was continuing, "Darcy hopes that you will never change. That you will always remain exactly the same. No matter what this silly world requires."

Seeing her father now, waiting to escort her to the church, Elizabeth felt yet another stab of love, which she attempted to shake off by shouting at him. "Thank Heavens!" she cried. "The first sensible person I've encountered all morning."

"Is that my Lizzy?" he asked, bemusedly surveying her. "You look so…" He caught himself before he became overly effusive. "Clean. Yes, very clean. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, you know," he added, "or so the Methodists say."

"Lord, Papa, I have startled you into irrelevancies," Elizabeth teased. "What on earth do Methodists have to do with my appearance? But, yes, I have indeed been swabbed more thoroughly than any vessel in the fleet of His Majesty's Navy."

"Do please write to Admiral Cardross and let him know."

"He has already written to send me his congratulations, as well as to ask how much money I require to maintain Darcy in comfort. Apparently active British naval officers are entitled to a marital allowance."

"You remain an active member of His Majesty's Navy?"

"I have never received notice of discharge," Elizabeth replied. "Indeed, Admiral Cardross in his letter stressed that the British navy continues to remain in my debt. Although I am not entirely sure why," she hedged, "given that Sir Barnabas Smudge was not exactly a terror of the high seas. Or a particularly good smuggler."

"Well," Mr. Bennet chuckled, as she took her arm, "I am glad at the very least that you will be able to maintain your husband in some comfort."

"He has quite expensive tastes, you know," she said.

"On that note," Mr. Bennet said, fishing in his waistcoat pocket for something, "I'm meant to give you this."

"A silver sixpence?" Lizzy asked, as he pressed it into her palm. "I hardly think that shall cover it."

"For luck," her father said, "a little of which never hurt anyone. And prosperity as well. Although Lord knows that between the Darcy fortune and your naval stipend, you'll never want for money."

"None the richer then," Elizabeth teased, rucking up her skirts and shucking her foot from her left slipper in order to tuck the coin into its sole. "Please do ensure that Mama does not faint when Darcy promises to endow me with all of his worldly goods."

"It may be the happiest moment in her life," Mr. Bennet said. "Now, shall we away?"

Elizabeth could not resist a quote. "To prison?" she asked, "We two alone will sing like two birds in the cage…"

To which her father immediately replied, "And when thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down, and ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies…"

"…and hear poor rogues talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too, who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out; and take upon us the mystery of things, as if we were God's spies…"

"…and we'll wear out, in a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones, that ebb and flow by the moon."

Their shared soliloquy completed, Mr. Bennet secured his daughter's arm with the gentle dexterity one might use to assist a trapped hummingbird. "My bird," he said, squeezing it, "steady on, then?"

"Steady on."

They proceeded down the long drive, bound for Saint Swithun's, the village church. Elizabeth had insisted on walking the five miles, sending her bridesmaids ahead by carriage, despite the weather, which continued to threaten rain. A dreich day, as Mr. Darcy's Scottish undergardener would have referred to it, the dampened grey of a worsted stocking.

As they passed familiar, much-loved places – the lake that Darcy was so fond of swimming in and into which Elizabeth had so often pushed him into, the ha-ha marking the rise up the hill to the dramatic vista overlooking Pemberley, the wizened old horse-chestnut tree that she and Darcy had climbed so many times, now pricked out with white blooms as if it were a bride itself – Elizabeth felt a strange calm descend, a feeling that only strengthened as they neared the church. In some sense, one could have called it déjà vu. But it was not so much that prickling feeling that she was reliving a day that had already occurred. It was a sense that she was participating in a day that was meant to be. She felt reassured in that sense. That she was merely completing a task that had been foreordained.

The feeling persisted as they approached and entered St. Swithun's. Close friends and family filled the pews. Elizabeth, safely tucked away into the crook of her father's arm, proceeded up the aisle, guided through a sea of smiling faces. She passed Mr. Darcy's devoted senior servants, Mrs. Reynolds and Drake, the butler, among them. ("I never thought I would see the day," Mrs. Reynolds whispered to Drake, dabbing at her yes, "that the young master and Miss. Lizzy would wed. He was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world. To see him now, all grown up!" "He will certainly find himself tested by his new bride," the more cynical Drake replied. "A true firecracker, that one." "Oh, she's a lamb in wolf's clothing," Mrs. Reynolds chided. "As kind and generous as the young master himself. As I have always said, those who are good-natured as children are always good natured when they grow up.")

There was – irritatingly enough – William Collins, officiously and ingratiatingly half-bowing into his cravat, pretending that he had actually been invited. (Mr. Bennet had only written him a brief letter to inform him of the engagement and to ask him to do his best to console Lady Catherine before advising him to stand by Darcy because he had more to give, a recommendation that Mr. Collins took to heart, being no stranger to his own self-interest).

Then there was her own family. Mary, lugubrious on even this happiest of occasions, did managed to wrangle out something that bore a vague resemblance to a smile, an expression which Kitty and Lydia, too busy making eyes at Colonel Fitzwilliam, did not even attempt. Said personage stood as Darcy's best man at the altar – although not handsome, he cut a dashing figure in his red coat, which was all that was required for Lydia and Kitty. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's mother, smelling salts in hand, dissolved into proud tears as her daughter floated by.

On the right, Charles Bingley's earnest, sincere face. He claimed to have fortuitously been in the neighborhood on the date when, in fact, she was almost entirely certain that he had trekked from London expressly to see a certain bridesmaid, whose eye, she observed, he was attempting to catch now. A handful of other local landed gentry, including a few mamas who had once attempted to ensnare Darcy for their own daughters and who now, foiled, could only exact revenge through whispered petty criticisms.

The last person Elizabeth encountered before reaching the altar was Mr. Darcy. He looked as radiant as a bride himself, wreathed in smiles, looking, Elizabeth was so very pleased to see, the picture of good health, somehow miraculously restored to the Uncle Willy Ben of old. As she passed, he touched his fingers to his lips before pressing them to his heart. She could not help herself. Just before her father handed her off, she turned back to toss him a saucy wink.

Then, at last, there was Darcy. His face as familiar to her as her own. Even here, in this unfamiliar setting. The enormity of it all suddenly descended upon her. She had entered the church as Mr. Bennet's daughter. She would leave as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy's wife. Her erstwhile childhood companion would become her husband, a man that she would vow to love, honor, and obey (although Elizabeth thought, with a spark of her old self, she would most certainly cross her fingers under her bouquet when it came to vowing the latter). The time had come to put aside childish things.

But, strangely enough, Elizabeth, knowing this, did not feel frightened. She felt, instead, the serenity of certainty. This was inevitable, preordained, intended. This was right. Decided many, many years ago, when they were both so young. Indeed, her father had joked that they were already married. But was there not some truth to this? Over the years, Elizabeth and Darcy had stitched their lives together until neither knew where one began and the other ended. So many memories and experiences shared. How could they ever be parted? They had, even if inadvertently, grown up into one another. Without each other, they would never be made whole again. Any ceremony would only confirm what they both knew in their innermost hearts, the only secret places that remained to them. They were indissolubly bound together. For eternity. As one flesh.

Thanks to the strange telepathy that had so long existed between them, Elizabeth could see that the same thoughts occupied Darcy. He looked, indeed, incredibly moved. She was almost taken aback by the look that moved across his face as he lifted her veil. For once, she down, afraid to meet his eyes. Afraid that he would see the corresponding feeling there, the love. For that was, indeed, what it was, she realized. What it had always been. Out of nowhere, a line occurred to her. "And these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

The vicar cleared his throat, emitting a whiff of whiskey-tinged breath that swiftly put an end to Elizabeth's epiphany. The poor man, God love him, often relied on spirits other than the Holy Ghost to assist him with his duties, having been strongarmed into the clergy by a domineering mother despite his reservations. Not that Elizabeth judged him for it. (Indeed, hearing a particularly sanctimonious young lady once remark upon the vicar's tippling, Elizabeth had demanded of her, "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" before instructing her to observe Matthew 7:1-3). Elizabeth herself had taken a small measure of whisky that morning to aid anticipated nerves, procured from the Scottish undergardener who, encountering her returning from her early morning walk, insisted that nothing worked so well as a "wee dram."

"Dearly departed," the vicar began, before quickly correcting himself. As the victim of a mesalliance – another disaster for which he could thank his mother, who had forced an older heiress upon him – he considered weddings and funerals to be interchangeable and often confused their rites. (His mistake may also have been attributable to the whisky.) "We are gathered here together…"

And then, all at once, or so it seemed to Elizabeth, the vicar was declaring them to be man and wife. And Darcy – her husband! – was taking her arm in his, the pair of them proceeding back down the aisle, as dazed as a pair of somnambulists newly awakened. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Through the church doors and into the light. For the sun had, by some miracle, decided to make an appearance, dispersing disheveled rain clouds – rain clouds that had been lowering at the skyline since early that morning like a flock of bilious sheep – to reveal a sky of vaulted, faultless blue.

And Elizabeth suddenly realized that this was all that she had ever wanted. That Darcy was her home. Her strength and stay. The one person in the world that she knew better than herself.

And Elizabeth was happy. Elizabeth was so very happy. Stepping out into the dazzling light, holding her husband's hand.