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Curse of the Cat Lady (JAOctGoHoNo)

November 02, 2016 09:10PM
Blurb: Lady Catherine initiates a diabolical plan to keep Darcy and Elizabeth from marrying.

A/N: I feel like I ought to preface this with a litany of apologies for my long absence, for occasionally lurking, for a belated post, and for a quick story that hasn’t been beta’d, proofread, or polished. But I dropped by to read the annual JAOCTOGOHONO entries, and all that wonderful, horrid creativity inspired me to this wretched piece of silliness. I do hope some of you are at least marginally entertained. Belatedly, Renee B

Curse of the Cat Lady

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park--or the Cat Lady, as she preferred--enjoyed a fearsome reputation. It was said she had drained the life from her husband and was well on the way to doing the same with her daughter. It was also said she managed her rector’s will like a marionette, but the latter assertion was discounted due to his being a man of the cloth. Mr. Collins must have come by his servile and bumbling ways naturally. Still, the parishioners crossed themselves when they repeated it.

“Have I ever told you,” the Cat Lady said to Mr. Collins as they stood before Rosings’ reflecting pool one autumn afternoon, “what I see in the water’s depths?”

He scratched his ear. One could not even see a stone. “No, your ladyship.”

She leaned so close he could almost taste her foul breath. Would it be too forward to recommend a tooth powder?

“Sometimes I see the future,” she said. “What do you think of that?”

Surely she did not refer to divination; that would be unbiblical. His brow furrowed in deep thought. Aha, he had it. “Indeed, I think you very wise, for it is as impossible to see into the future as it is to see the bottom on this pool. The mists of time are as murky as pond scum.” That had a certain ring to it. He should note the phrase down and find a means to weave it into Sunday’s sermon.

The Cat Lady uttered her strange, purring laugh. It had made his hairs stand on end at first, but he flattered himself that he had become inured to it.

“Do you not wish to inquire what I see?”

He did not, as he found the topic peculiarly disquieting, but asked anyway since it was clear she wished it.

“I see that your bride resides in Hertfordshire.”

“But I am not married.”

“Your future bride.” She scowled. “A pleasant, ladylike sort of girl who has not been brought up too high.”

Why had he not considered it before? And to think he nearly avoided the inquiry. The Cat Lady was, as always, brilliant in her deductions. “Of course, what a happy thought! I have long been wishing to mend the breach with my cousin. I am to inherit his estate, you know, and to marry one of his five daughters would be provide just the opportunity for reconciliation that is most suited to my calling.”

She started. “Five daughters, did you say?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He rocked back on his heels, temporarily distracted by the prospect of marital delights.

“And their family name?”

“Bennet, ma’am, of Longbourn.” How gratifying that his patroness should take a concern in his matrimonial estate.

“Longbourn.” She purred again and then grinned.

Collins gagged. She really ought to do something about her horribly misshapen and stained teeth. Like a cat that had recently dined.

“You will go,” she hissed.


“To Longbourn. To marry the second daughter.”

Second? Why not the first? Collins thought to inquire, but the overwhelming need to escape her suffocating odor hastened an end to their discourse. He bowed. “I am your humble servant. I will write to my cousin and request his hospitality this very day.”


Miss Elizabeth Bennet, seated in one of the chairs lining the wall at the Meryton Assembly, could not help but overhear the gentlemen’s exchange.

For all Mr. Darcy’s good looks--and there was no denying he was a tall, fine-looking man--he was arrogant and uncivil, and she was offended. Tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. Not in humor to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. Who did he think he was? She would not have danced with him if he were the Prince Regent. Actually, she would much sooner dance with Mr. Darcy than his royal highness, but that was beside the point.

She stood up, crossed her arms, and huffed. Where was Charlotte? The swiftest route to defanging an insult was to make a mockery of it. She scanned the room. Jane was dancing, and Kitty and Lydia were making a spectacle of themselves at the punch bowl. It was just as well that Mary had remained home to pursue her arcane studies.

Ah, there was Charlotte, currently in conversation with Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth sidled along the walls until she stood facing the open window, her back to her friend, and awaiting their conversation to conclude. She could not very well discuss Mr. Darcy in front of Mr. Bingley.

Pale moonlight bathed the street below, lending definition to the assorted vehicles. An owl hooted. Harnesses creaked. A pipe flared in the shadow of the draper’s shop opposite. Beyond that edifice, leafless trees swayed in the wind, drawing her eye up, up, up. White light seared her vision.

Panic burned through Elizabeth’s chest and seized her heart, but it was too late to look away. She might as well enjoy it while she could. The full moon perched like a luminescent pearl in the tree's topmost limbs. Exquisite. Pity she would never remember. She sighed, reached for the nearest chair, and the world went blank.


Elizabeth woke to sunlight streaming through her bedchamber window. She stretched and yawned. Why was she so tired, especially when she had obviously slept late? There were trees to climb and autumn foliage to collect. The wide world awaited her outside. She threw back the covers and swung her legs over the mattress edge. How was it her feet could reach the floor?

“Lizzy, you are awake.” A blonde woman turned from the closet.

Elizabeth had not seen her before, but her face was familiar and pretty as a fairy. “Who are you, and what are you doing in here?”

The woman hurried across the room, picked up a tall stack of leather volumes from a table, and brought them to Elizabeth’s bed. “I know it is confusing, but we have found it best to accomplish this at once.”

Elizabeth scuttled sideways. “I do not know you.”

“I am Jane. Your sister.”

“None of my sisters are grown.”

The would-be Jane sighed and held out a book. “Please read the journals and then I will answer your questions.”

Should she accept? She did enjoy reading. It might be a good story. Elizabeth received the volume, cast the woman a last suspicious look, and slid down to recline on the pillow.

“I will fetch you a breakfast tray,” Jane said and slipped out the door.

Elizabeth opened to the first page. It was an old book: the binding soft, the ink faded, and the handwriting her father’s. She began to read.

1 November 1802

My little Lizzy was taken ill in the night. Her screams woke me and the household, and it took our combined efforts over the course of an hour to calm her thrashings. She cannot account for what terrified her, save for some incoherent mumblings about a cat, but I suspect it is of her own making. I trust her innate good sense and good humor will prevent her from refining too much upon it and growing fearful of the dark. Lizzy’s vivid imagination is likely the culprit, as this bit of doggerel that I found on her desk implies:

Gaze upon the moon so bright
And lose your memory to its light;
Forsake the source of true love’s kiss
Then remember all you missed.

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. It did sound like something she would write, though she could not recall doing so. She turned the page and skimmed the entries. The dates jumped from month to month in her father’s handwriting and then slowed to daily entries in her own scrawl. She resumed reading. The angle of sunlight changed and crept across the bed and up the wall. Elizabeth read through volume after volume. Jane swapped out the breakfast dishes for a dinner and then tea tray.

Eventually Elizabeth closed the final journal and clutched the book to her chest.

Jane sat at the foot of the bed. “Well?”

“It is a trifle difficult to accept.”

“You always find it thus.”

“I know. My own hand testifies against me.” The memories had returned with the reading. Perhaps not memories precisely, but the knowledge of events she had faithfully recorded in her daily journal, including her frustration over the occasions she had chanced to glimpse the full moon and was forced to start again from her tenth year. These ten volumes were her life. If she lost them, she lost herself.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. “Do you really think I have been cursed?”

Jane gave a little lopsided shrug. “The full moon does appear to erase your memory.”

“But a curse can be broken.” Elizabeth returned the volume to the stack. “That is the catch, I suppose. That once I find true love, I must forsake him to restore my memory.”

“Oh, Lizzy.” Jane squeezed her leg in compassion.

“But this is no time to repine. You must tell me of last night’s assembly. What happened? Was Mr. Bingley all that you hoped?”

A lovely smile illumined Jane’s countenance. “Yes, oh yes. He is everything a young man ought to be.” She talked for some time, describing Mr. Bingley and his party, and detailing the evening.

Elizabeth mentally noted what she must record for the sake of her future memory.

“There was one occurrence that you may not like.” Jane toyed with the counterpane. “When you collapsed, Mr. Bingley was nearest to you and hailed his friend to assist. Mama’s salts did not revive you, so Mr. Darcy insisted on carrying you to our carriage himself. He begged leave to call and inquire after your welfare. Mama delayed him, knowing you would need today to recover, but you can expect him tomorrow.”

“Mr. Darcy? He was the tall, proud friend of Mr. Bingley?”

“Some people took offense at his manners, but I think he is only reserved and a little aloof. I did not find anything to offend.”

“Of course not.”

Jane’s smiled tilted at an uncharacteristically impish angle. “Mr. Darcy is very handsome, very gallant, and very rich. I would gently encourage you suppress that quick wit of yours until you have met him and properly expressed your gratitude.”


The next day found Elizabeth, her sisters, and her mother in a scuttle to clear up as the gentlemen callers dismounted their horses. Elizabeth paused to peer through the window and kept her back to her mother’s harangues. The green coat stretched across broad shoulders must be Mr. Darcy.

“Mary,” Mrs. Bennet screeched, “do put away that dreadful box.”

A telltale click testified to the closed lid.

“No gentleman wishes to hear a lady discourse on silver bullets and change--changing--”

“Changelings, Mama. Creatures that shift from one form to another.”

“Oh, do hush,” cried Lydia, “no one wants to hear your ravings.”

“But there is much to be said in defense of prayer.” Hurt resonated in Mary’s voice.

Elizabeth sighed and turned from the window. The curse had robbed more than her memory. It cut up her family’s peace as well.

Hill let the gentlemen into the parlor, Elizabeth came forward when her mother beckoned, and the usual introductions were performed. Jane had not exaggerated in Mr. Darcy’s description. Though his clothes were unpretentious up close, their fine cut and quality attested to his wealth. But it was his expression--something about his alert eyes and restrained mouth--that communicated intelligence and genuine concern.

“Oh, Mr. Darcy, what a debt we owe you for aiding Lizzy in her time of need.” Mrs. Bennet fluttered at his elbow.

“Not at all.” He took Elizabeth’s fingers and bowed over her hand. “Miss Elizabeth, I trust you are recovered.”

“Yes, quite.” Elizabeth smiled, but felt a little breathless. When had this room grown so close and oppressive? It was rather more difficult than she anticipated to thank this attractive stranger. “A walk later will no doubt dispel what remains of my fatigue.”

“By all means, if you will lead the way.” He offered his arm to Elizabeth.

She had not intended to presume upon him, but feeling rather desperate for a breath of fresh air, she bit back her protestations and accepted his arm.

Mr. Darcy looked to Mrs. Bennet. “If you will overlook this quick desertion and permit me to escort your daughter for a turn about the garden?”

“To be sure! Yes, do go for a nice, long walk That is just what Lizzy needs.” Mama could not wave them out quickly enough. “And you too, Jane, Mr. Bingley, if you like.”

Once the foursome donned their outdoor articles and exited the house, Elizabeth said to Darcy, “We might attempt the much-neglected wilderness on the other side of that wall.” It was one of her favorite haunts when she could not roam farther.

Mr. Darcy inclined his head but did not speak. The stone walk gave way to dirt, and weeds snatched at her pelisse. They passed between the walls and turned down a perimeter path that meandered through trees, overgrown shrubs, and the remains of long-dead flowers. A blushing Jane on Mr. Bingley’s arm ambled some distance behind.

Elizabeth returned her attention to Mr. Darcy. “May I express my personal gratitude for the service you rendered me?”

He grunted. “Are you much given to vapors?”

She laughed, refusing to be insulted. “I think that is akin to asking a lady her age, but, no, not much given. It only seems to occur when the moon is full.”

He nodded but did not reciprocate with humor.

“I meant that as a tease,” she prompted.

“Did you?” He searched her face long enough that she was forced to look away. It was almost as if he were aware of her condition.

She could not very well confirm she had spoken the truth. “And how do you find your visit to Netherfield? Is it much different from”--where had Jane said his estate was located?--“from where you are… from?”

“Pemberley, near Matlock.” He arched an eyebrow. “In Derbyshire.”

“Quite different then.”

He cleared his throat. “I was impressed with the musicians’ performance last evening, though surprised by there being only one fiddler.”

“Was there only one?” Their assemblies usually had two or even three, fiddling being a favored pastime among many of the tenant farmers, but Jane had not accounted for the number of musicians or who had played. “I confess I did not notice.”

“And I thought the punch rather strong for a public gathering, especially when there are young persons in attendance. What was your opinion?”

Perhaps he referred to her younger sisters. Jane had recounted their overindulgence. “Old Mr. Knox has been known to augment the punch with his special apricot liqueur. Perhaps that accounts for it.”

He nodded again, though his brow furrowed.

Elizabeth brushed at some seeds that had attached themselves to her pelisse. For anyone with a normal memory, his queries would be easy to answer. “May I ask toward what these questions tend? I confess this to be a rather odd interview.”

“Is it?” His smile softened his features, and he looked at her kindly. “I do not intend it that way, though I can understand if you are confused. If you will humor me a trifle longer, perhaps I might explain.”

“Very well.” She would admit to some curiosity about his motives.

“Was that a dispatcher’s kit I saw in your parlor?”

He had noticed Mary’s box? Very few would recognize it on sight, even with the cross. “Do you believe in such nonsense?”

Mr. Darcy stopped and turned to face her. A particularly large shrub blocked them from view of Jane and Bingley. “You do not recollect the events of the Meryton Assembly, do you?”

“I-- I--” What could she say? She folded her arms. “I confess it is something of a blur. I may have struck my head when I fell or--”

“Miss Bennet, I think you dissemble. There were three fiddlers, and the punch was weak.”

She glanced aside at the crumbling wall. Who was this man with his unnerving insight?

“You looked at the full moon.”

Her head whipped around. “What do you know about it?”

Mr. Bingley and Jane’s voices increased in volume. Mr. Darcy cast a glance over his shoulder, grabbed her gloved hand, and tugged her onto the path. She stumbled at his precipitance. When they had circumnavigated half the wilderness, he drew them to a halt.

“Are there no benches?” His gaze roved about the grounds in an agitated, almost wild, fashion. “You are pale.”

“No benches, sir,” she confirmed, “but I am quite well, I assure--”

He pulled her from the path and through the dry vegetation toward an old tree from which protruded a fairly low branch. As a girl she had spent many hours nestled in its crook and lost in her novels.

“May I?” he asked.

It took her a moment to understand what he requested, but before she could reply, he lifted her into the makeshift seat.

Of all the presumption-- “Mr. Darcy!”

He leaned against the trunk and stared up into her face. “We have not time for the normal courtesies. Will you hear me?”

If he knew something of the curse, she would overlook all manner of incivility. She nodded.

He rushed into his explanation. “I have suffered the moon curse since I came of age, and while I have learned to accommodate this weakness, it hampers my ability to carry out my many responsibilities as brother to a sister not yet out and master of a large estate. I have invested the whole of my adult life in an effort to solve this mystery and find release.”

“There was a poem…” Elizabeth’s cheeks warmed with the recollection.

“Forsaking true love’s kiss.” He smiled. “Yes, I am aware. Without belaboring my investigations, I have discovered the curse can be traced to my aunt. She has always been a manipulative and domineering woman. My uncle, thinking she was afflicted with madness, once tried to commit her to Bedlam--and nearly lost his life for his pains. I have since come to believe she suffers something far worse.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. “Hence, your interest in the dispatcher’s kit.”

“I am not yet convinced of its efficacy.” He pulled a loose strip from the tree’s bark and rolled it between his fingers. “In any case, when I was a child, my aunt and mother schemed that I should marry my cousin. However, when I was eighteen, my aunt claimed to divine my future and, not liking what she saw, she burdened me with a curse to be lifted only when I agreed to marry her daughter.” He glanced once at Elizabeth and tossed the bark aside.

“And somehow she identified me as the companion of your future life.” If she had not suffered for a decade under the same affliction, Elizabeth would have discredited such an assertion as incredible, but under the circumstances, she felt an almost intense relief that she was not alone, that here was, by all appearances, an upstanding and principled gentleman with a common goal.

“As I see it, we have three options.” He raised his fingers to count. “First, I can kiss you, we will part ways, and if my aunt was correct, the curse should break.”

It would be like kissing a perfect stranger, but really, what harm was there? Her journal already testified to a long list of young men from whom she had stolen kisses in just such a hope.

He raised a second finger. “Second, we--we--”

“Go on.”

“We enter into a private but intentional courtship with an eye toward-- toward falling in love.” He shifted his stance to face her more directly. “Forgive me. I find this extremely awkward, but I have become persuaded that it is love and not a kiss at the heart of breaking the curse.”

“Oh.” She tried to look anywhere but at his earnest face. “And if-- if we were to fall in love, then what if we no longer desire to forsake one another? Are we then destined to a half-life of borrowed memories?”

“That is the conundrum, is it not?” He sighed.

“You mentioned three options.”

“I will not impose myself on you, Miss Bennet. If you are unwilling to attempt either of the first two choices, then we will do nothing, continue in our separate lives, and trust that someday I will find an alternate means to break the curse.” He shifted closer and rested a hand on the branch beside her thigh. “The decision is in your hands. Which will it be?”

The choice was not a difficult one. If there were any chance of freedom, then it was worth the highest risk. Hope broadened her smile until she nearly laughed. “I choose the second option, Mr. Darcy, and now you have the dubious task of making me fall in love with you.”


October gave way to November--to shorter evenings, colder mornings, and fewer leaves on the trees--but Elizabeth noticed only in a detached way. The days flew by in a flurry of dinners and amusements, at most of which Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley were present and gratifying in their attentions to her and Jane.

In the four weeks that passed since her wilderness walk with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth had grown to appreciate him for the honorable and generous gentleman that he was. Had he not been burdened with a curse, his pride in his family and station might have made him intolerable, but as it was, he felt all the equality of their positions.

Between his intelligence and experience of the world, he was well-reasoned and articulate. Their initial interview notwithstanding, engaging him in conversation proved to be a rewarding endeavor. She would rather be in his presence than any other. If she happened across some insight in a book, an amusing example of human nature, a laughable absurdity, or a particularly inspiring view, her thoughts turned first to Darcy. He was an eager recipient of her effusions whenever opportunity presented. If Jane felt herself supplanted in priority, she did not complain, but then she was likewise much engaged with Mr. Bingley.

For Darcy’s part, he favored Elizabeth with a degree of openness far surpassing any he directed toward other of his acquaintance, at least so far as she could tell. When they walked out, he showered her with a thousand small attentions, nothing that would breach propriety, but no less appreciated for their moderation. Though sometimes she did wish she had chosen his first option and that he had kissed her.

Elizabeth could not say whether this was love, but she suspected it was, and though rapid, a love of the kind on which they might build a solid marriage. That they must live in the shadow of the moon, in the fear of one day waking to no memory of the other, was the only aspect to mar their quiet plans. But Darcy assured her he was keeping thorough records--as was she--and that should one or both forget, they might relive their courtship together. There was no further mention of forsaking one another in the hopes of regaining their memories.

It was about this time that her cousin, Mr. Collins, arrived from his parish in Kent and made his intentions unmistakable. With Jane and Elizabeth on the brink of betrothal, Mary was his next logical choice. Her serious reflections, studious nature, and keen devotion to prayer appealed to his clerical sensibilities, and they made a hasty match. Mr. Bennet even exerted himself so far as to aid Collins in obtaining a special license that the couple might be wed and Mary return with him to Kent at the fortnight’s close.

In the midst of Mrs. Bennet’s frantic marriage preparations, Bingley hosted a ball at Netherfield in honor of his engagement to Jane. It was at the dance, after the close of Darcy’s second set with Elizabeth--and perhaps to escape Mrs. Bennet, who was overhead to be repeating “three daughters married, I shall go distracted!”--that he led her onto the cool portico and proposed marriage beneath the full moon. They were each careful not to raise their eyes above the level of the horizon. They bound themselves to one another with tender words of love and resolve before the silver light that could evaporate their bonds. It was akin to shaking a fist at the Cat Lady.

Then Darcy backed Elizabeth against a railing out of sight from the doors and kissed her. Thoroughly. Finally.


Mr. Collins, after installing his new wife at the parsonage and seeing to her comfort, begged the first possible audience with his noble patroness. The butler ushered him into the Cat Lady’s favorite salon, though why she did not update the furniture and appointments, Collins was always hard-pressed to understand.

Drapes hung in tatters from the long windows. Stuffing spilled from chairs and chaises. Claw marks disrupted the carpet’s pattern. Nary a seat remained without shredded fabric. It was always difficult to decide where to sit.

“Do be seated, Mr. Collins.” The Cat Lady waved him toward a monstrosity of horse-hair and frayed velvet. “You make me nervous standing there with hat in hand.”

He sat, though on the foremost edge.

“And have you brought me Longbourn’s second daughter?” The Cat Lady was nothing if not direct.

“Third, my lady.”

“Third?” She fairly snarled.

“The second was lately engaged and shall be married before the year is out, but my wife, Mary--”

The Cat Lady sprang from her chair and pounced on him with such speed and agility as seemed impossible for a matron of her age and proportion.

He shrank against the backrest.

Her hands wrapped around the arms of the chair. Wood splintered and fell into his lap. Collins’s eyes widened in alarm.

“She is engaged?” Rotten breath enveloped him.

He refrained from pinching his nose. “Yes, your ladyship.”

“To whom, may I ask?”

“I assumed you would know,” he said. “To your nephew, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire.”

She roared. There was no other term for it. His hat flew from his hands and he longed to check if his hair had detached from his scalp, but he flattened himself deeper into the chair. Her teeth snapped at his eyebrows, his ears, his throat, yet some repellent force seemed to prevent her from reaching him. He had never seen her so angry.

He was about to rebuke her for her unladylike behavior, when she withdrew.

“Take me to her.” She spoke in a calm voice, though her eyes still glowed.

He coughed, patted his head--hair intact--and reached to adjust his neckcloth. It felt tight even though she had not touched him. “To whom?”

“Your wife.” She licked two fingers and swiped them across a wiry eyebrow. “I have been remiss in not calling upon her.”

“Of course, of course.” He stood and straightened his coat. “Your ladyship is most kind. If you will permit me a half hour, I shall fetch her at once.”

“I will go to her.” She grinned her awful feline grin.

“Ah.” He had described the Cat Lady to Mary, of course, and she had asked all types of odd, disconnected questions, but he was uncertain she would appreciate a surprise visit.

They walked together to the parsonage, he and the Cat Lady. She possessed a certain lithe grace and coiled energy that never failed to astonish him. He had remarked upon it once. She merely purred her laugh and said that was what came of good blood and long-lived stock.

On entering his house, Collins ordered refreshments from the gaping housekeeper who then slipped away with such haste he was uncertain she had understood his instructions. He led the Cat Lady to the small back parlor Mary had claimed as her own.

When he walked in, his wife sat at the table before her mysterious chest. Someday he would have to inquire what trinkets she kept within that so enthralled her. A silver inlaid cross glinted in the low light as she gently opened the lid.

The Cat Lady growled beside him.

“My delicate flower,” he said to Mary, “Lady Catherine de Bourgh has condescended to wait upon us and congratulate us on our nuptials.” Such an announcement was almost superfluous when her ladyship’s malodorous presence pervaded the room.

He half-turned to his patroness, who waited with fists clenched at her sides. Were those fangs she had bared? He blinked in disbelief.

Mary’s lips were moving without sound, and something metallic flashed in her hand. Her ring, perhaps?

“Your ladyship,” he said, “may I present to your most illustrious notice my wife, Mrs. Collins?”


Elizabeth strolled hand-in-hand with Darcy through the wintry woods. As usual, Jane and Bingley were some distance behind or had chosen a different trail altogether, though whether by design or happenstance mattered not. Their wedding was only three weeks distant, and the thought of greeting this Christmas as Mrs. Darcy made Elizabeth giddy.

Fallen leaves rustled beneath their booted steps, and the bright noonday sun dispelled the gloom. She loved and was loved by the best of men. The curse remained, but in shouldering the burden with her, Darcy had lifted the shadow and enriched every aspect of her life.

Elizabeth peered through the trees at the cloudless sky. Even the blue was deeper in Darcy’s presence. But then the sky began to waver and came crashing toward her. The ground spun away. She tried to call Darcy’s name, but her tongue would not obey. She staggered sideways and clutched at him for support. His face registered shock, he swayed like a felled tree, and they toppled in a jumbled heap upon a mound of leaves.

Images flashed before her mind’s eye with more rapidity than Elizabeth could identify. Words ricocheted around her brain. Too much! Her head might explode. Closing her eyes only increased the dizziness.

Darcy’s labored breath rasped from an immense distance.

It was some time before she could think coherently and gather herself enough to speak. He reposed on his side facing her, his eyes closed. A leaf on his cheek fluttered with each exhalation.

Elizabeth sat up, waited for a wave of nausea to abate, and shook his shoulder. “Fitzwilliam.”

“Hmm, what?” He muttered without opening his eyes. “You were saying?”

“My memories,” she said and plucked the leaf from his face, “I-- I think they have returned.”

That was enough to rouse him. He sat up, squeezed his eyes shut, and pressed his forehead into his hands. “Hurts.”

“The discomfort eases quickly.” She pulled one of his hands away, and he squinted at her. “But your memories--think!--can you remember?”

“If I have forgotten what I knew, how will I know when I remember?” It was a rhetorical question. He closed his eyes again, and his form stilled.

She prayed he was searching his memories. The wind whispered through the woods and lifted leaves in small eddies. A hint of Bingley’s jovial voice echoed among the trees. A bird called high above, another answered, and wings flapped.

Darcy’s eyes opened and his mouth curved upward with the same measured deliberation. “Yes. Oh, yes, I remember.” He pulled Elizabeth into an embrace, pressing her tight against his chest. “Oh, my love, we are free--free!--and we need not fear amnesia shall ever separate us.”

She pulled back a little and ran her fingers over his beloved face. She was no artist, but she had worked to capture in words the intensity that lent gravitas to his handsome features and how his smiles for her opened a door upon his soul. She had never wanted to forget these weeks of falling in love--these heady, bright moments before the flame settled into a steady glow--and now she never would. She cupped his face in her hands. “I will never forget you.”

“Nor I, you.” He leaned forward to kiss her, but she lurched back.



“How could you?”

His brow creased.

“You called me only tolerable. At the Meryton Assembly. I overheard you.” She crossed her arms, but love and mirth warmed her through and made it impossible to pretend offense. “This is precisely what you deserve--taking advantage of my memory loss--to be saddled with a not-handsome-enough wife for the rest of your days.”

Darcy chuckled and touched her cheek. “Come here, my dearest Elizabeth, and let me insult you again.”

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Curse of the Cat Lady (JAOctGoHoNo)

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