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The Curse Chapter 22

October 22, 2017 11:18PM
Howdy folks, I left this one a week longer than I had intended, but the last several weekends have been insanely busy for one reason or another! And then my computer decided to crash, or I would have had this chapter up earlier today. Good luck with this one, it is a roller coaster!

Thanks to my betas, reeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily!



Chapter 22

Darcy was glad that his cousin was apparently courting Miss Mary, especially as the time for Bingley’s ball drew near. Unfortunately, he would be much gladder if Richard were not apparently courting Elizabeth as well.

Richard and Darcy went with Bingley to personally deliver the invitation for the ball. Darcy had the foresight to inform Elizabeth of the visit ahead of time, so that she was in human form and in attendance for the presentation. Even if she did not look forward to dancing as much as her sisters, Darcy still wanted to see her face when it was announced.

There was a minor explosion of sound when Bingley gave the invitation to Mrs. Bennet.

Good God, Richard told Darcy silently, It is as bad as a cannon blast at close range.

Across the room, Elizabeth caught Darcy’s eye and her teasing voice entered his mind. Your friend has paid us a great compliment, but it would have been a quieter affair for you at least had he simply put it in the post.

I suspect the noise would have been just as great here regardless of the delivery method, and I daresay Bingley counts it as a small price to pay to see Miss Bennet’s reaction first-hand, he replied.

Indeed, Bingley was already making his way to Miss Bennet. His friend was beaming, while Miss Bennet had a delicate blush on her face.

It was a small price for me as well, Darcy added deliberately, holding Elizabeth’s gaze.

Her eyebrows rose. I had no idea you were so keen on Jane’s response, she laughed. Does Mr. Bingley know you are a rival for her affections?

Darcy coughed to hide his own laugh, though it would not have been heard in the room. Mrs. Bennet was shrieking about the ball, alternately complaining about her nerves and exulting in the personal invitation which she appeared to regard as a great victory. Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty competed for volume, demanding new dresses and frippery for the occasion. Bingley and Richard both took the opportunity to approach their respective inamoratas, no doubt to reserve the first set with each of them. Elizabeth viewed her closest sisters with fondness, while Darcy watched her. With all of his hearts, he wished he could ask her to dance. Yet his leg would not allow it; even had he been sound of body, the knowledge that she was indifferent to the activity would have held him back.

The noise level in the room dropped slightly as Mrs. Bennet realized that two of her daughters were being singled out by eligible gentlemen. She scrutinized Richard and Bingley, then cast a shrewd eye over Darcy himself. He was careful not to meet her gaze: he was uncomfortable in her presence, not only for her vulgarity, but because she was the one that had made those foul insinuations about Elizabeth. Just thinking about it made ice gather on his fingertips, and his next breath came out in a visible cloud.

Richard clearly noticed Darcy’s reaction and created an effective distraction by loudly declaring he would dance with every Bennet sister at the ball. Much excitement greeted this announcement. Bingley was inspired, and repeated the offer. Darcy had the sudden fear that Elizabeth’s dance card would be filled before the day of the ball.

Leave her alone, he wanted to tell them. She does not even care to dance. Leave her some time, so I can sit with her for a while. It sounded petulant even in his own mind, so he refused to give voice to it.

At that point, the last person in the room, who had been ignored by one and all up until then, decided to speak. Collins stood, taking the center of the room with a loud and rather phlegmy clearing of his throat.

“I also would not be satisfied until I have danced with all my fair cousins,” he stated pretentiously.

Everyone eyed him with some measure of dismay, then all the talking broke out at once.

“I would not dance with him for anything!” Miss Lydia scoffed loudly, Miss Kitty nodding in fervent agreement.

“I wonder,” Darcy spoke up, trying to discourage the parson from his goal, “that a man of the church, who must always be a model of decorum and propriety, would accept the invitation to such a frivolous night, and that you even intend to dance so often. Do you not fear a rebuke from Lady Catherine, or even the Archbishop for such idle actions?” He cast a stern eye on Collins, silently willing him to back down.

Instead Collins drew himself up and glared spitefully at Darcy. “I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you, that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have an evil tendency.”

With that Collins preyed on Miss Mary. “I had hoped to engage you, my cousin, for the first set, but as those are taken, I shall have your supper set. Try to wear attire appropriate for your station.”

It was not a question, giving Miss Mary no chance to refuse. She shrank back from his violent insistence, while the temperature around Richard became dangerously warm. Collins immediately turned on Elizabeth, who greeted him with a stubborn lift of her chin.

“I shall have you for the first set,” he ordered, giving her a look of disguised lust that sickened Darcy to see it. Elizabeth paled, but refused to give in.

“I am already engaged for the first set,” she replied smoothly. “But I shall dance the supper set with you.”

Icy rage coalesced inside Darcy’s chest. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, drowning out all other sounds. He wanted to roar in fury, wanted to freeze Collins where the greasy rat stood. His Elizabeth, confined to that foul man not only for the supper set but for the duration of the meal afterwards? There was an expression of dimwitted hunger on Collins’ face which meant he expected more than a meal out of her company. It was not to be borne!

Elizabeth’s voice suddenly rang in his head. He cannot hurt me, gentlemen, she said, and Darcy realized she was also speaking to Richard, perhaps Bingley as well. Not like he could my sisters.

Please, Elizabeth, Darcy begged. Do not let him… He could not articulate the evils men could perpetuate on women.

I will not let him, she replied stoutly, but Darcy could sense her courage was shaken.

Swear to me you will call me, or change to a dragon before you allow it!

She took a deep breath and visibly steadied. I swear it. I shall not forget that I am a dragon. I would sooner set him on fire than let him take liberties with my person. If he makes an attempt, you are the first I will call.

Darcy was only partly reassured, but it gave him enough courage to ask. You said your first set was already taken?

She paused, then a light blush spread up her cheeks. I had hoped it was, even if I did little dancing during it. I fear I may have spoken precipitously.

His heart soared. You did not, he assured her. May I have the honor of your first dance of the evening, even if I cannot dance?

It is gladly given, she whispered, I would enjoy not dancing with you.

It was almost enough to make Darcy chuckle, but he could not forget that Collins had designs on his Elizabeth. He realized that she had not corrected the use of her Christian name; their silent conversation became more precious to him.

The gentlemen from Netherfield reluctantly parted from the ladies of Longbourn a short time later. Darcy spent the nerve-racking carriage ride back to Netherfield fretting about the problem of Collins. It was increasingly clear to him that the parson was a threat to Miss Mary, Elizabeth, and probably the other sisters as well. Mr. Bennet was too blind or too indolent to notice the danger in his house, which left Darcy to act as their guardian. Considering that Bingley and Richard also had a stake in the ladies of house, he sought their opinion on the matter.

“I do not trust that Collins fellow,” he said almost as soon as the carriage pulled away. “I fear he might do something untoward if he is not removed from the house.”

“I agree with you,” Richard said, “Though your lady has the least to fear from him.”

Bingley chuckled in agreement, but Darcy shook his head.

“If Miss Mary or Miss Bennet were the ones cursed into dragon form, would you worry less for them?” he asked sharply.

Both gentlemen frowned and shook their heads.

“Though if all three of them were dragons…” Bingley mused.

“Then I would fear most of all for us!” Richard laughed.

“Gentleman, Collins if you please,” Darcy brought them back to the subject.

“I could perhaps cast a spell to make him sicken,” Bingley suggested. “It might at least keep him in bed and away from our ladies.”

“I second that,” Richard said quickly. “Snowman?”

Darcy considered it. As lovely as it would be to give the repulsive parson some illness, there was too high a chance of the plan failing.

Reluctantly he shook his head. “Mr. Bennet is too good of a spell mage, certainly stronger than you, Bingley, no offence meant.”

“None taken,” Bingley assured him.

“Mr. Bennet could easily trace the spell back to you. Elizabeth could probably do the same, or at least she would detect your magic easy enough. In any case, her mere presence will make any spell weaken. No, I would prefer to do something less obvious, that cannot be traced back to us,” Darcy said.

“I am out then,” Richard said sourly. “I was going to suggest something with a lot of flames. I would even allow Miss Elizabeth to help.”

Darcy smiled at the image of his love breathing fire while Collins ran from her in terror.

“As charming as that image is, it is not exactly subtle,” Darcy agreed.

They fell silent. The carriage rocked over a bump in the road, causing Darcy’s heart to jump to his throat and the temperature in the carriage to plummet.

“Steady, Snowman,” Richard murmured, using his own magic to bring the temperature back to comfortable warmth.

Bingley shook his head. “Honestly, the two of you. Between fire and ice, I do not know which is worse. When it is summer I am glad of Darcy’s company, but when it is winter I prefer yours, Richard! You must have driven your families mad chasing each other around.”

Darcy took a deep breath and tried to slow his heart rate. “Indeed. Uncle Fitzwilliam, Richard’s father…” he trailed off as a thought came to him.

“I believe we drove him spare at times!” Richard crowed, to Bingley’s laughter.

“Your father, Cinder,” Darcy spoke. “Do you suppose he has enough contacts within the church to have Collins removed, or at least brought back to his living?”

Richard turned thoughtful, while Bingley looked on keenly.

“It is possible,” Richard said. “I cannot say for sure, as I have spent more time on the front line than at home these last years. You would have to speak with Mother.” He tapped his forehead. The earl of Matlock did not have magic of his own, but his wife had an unusual talent for healing mental and emotional pain when she hummed. Darcy had been more than glad of her services when Georgiana had been heart-broken after Ramsgate.

“Would it be better if you asked her?” Darcy repeated the gesture of touching his temple.

“No!” Richard scowled. “Every time I speak with her, she only wants to know when I will retire from the war and when I will marry and give her grandchildren.”

Darcy smiled, having received a similar question from his aunt several times. “Then I will t-talk to her,” he stuttered as the carriage bounced again. “Blast! After I am out of this infernal thing. If I speak with her now, she will think you have dragged me into the war with you.”

“If I brought you into the war,” Richard retorted, “It would only be to throw you at the enemy! Most of the time we are too cold as it is, we do not need more.”

“God protect our men,” Bingley said quietly, and Darcy and Richard solemnly agreed.

Several days later, Darcy had spoken to his aunt, explaining the situation, and worked with the earl to device a solution. However, it would take time to implement and it would be a couple weeks before results were seen. In the meanwhile, the gentlemen continued their frequent visits to Longbourn to hold Collins at bay.

Darcy at least had the ability to check in with Elizabeth even when he was not physically present to ensure her safety. Richard and Bingley, their respective ladies not having magic, did not have that consolation. He made sure to enquire about both Miss Mary and Miss Bennet in order to assure his friend and cousin. Darcy did not know if Elizabeth suspected the real reason behind his increased vigil, but she seemed to welcome his conversation.

A mere four days before the ball found Darcy outside, walking the lawn of Netherfield in the hopes that movement might clear his thoughts. It was a grey, drizzling sort of day. Darcy did not mind the moisture; he extended his magic around him so the water turned to snow, which prevented him from getting too wet. The weather reminded him of Elizabeth. She would love the cooler temperature, and there was enough cloud cover that she could fly during the day time. He was tempted to reach out and see if she was currently flying, but his mind was too occupied with other things.

Darcy looked up to see Richard emerging from the forest bordering the park. Like Darcy, Richard was using his magic to keep the rain away from him. In his case, there was a small bubble of steam around him from the water boiling away. Richard waved vigorously and bounded toward him. He felt amused; his cousin had a huge grin on his face and Darcy prepared himself for good news.

“Congratulate me, Snowman,” Richard called as soon as he was close enough. “I plan to be an engaged man within the next couple days, as soon as I speak with Mr. Bennet.”

Darcy felt a surge of pleasure for his cousin. “Congratulations, Cinder—” he began.

“I just finished talking to Lizzy in the forest,” Richard went on. He kept speaking, but Darcy heard none of it, his mind frozen on the first part.

Richard had called her Lizzy. Not Lady Dragon, not Miss Elizabeth. He had used the name with great familiarity, as if they were intimate. Richard expected to become engaged shortly. He had spoken to Elizabeth about marriage. It was not Miss Mary he was courting after all, but Elizabeth, all along!

“How could you do this to me?” Darcy cried out. This was the opposite of pleasure. It was a knife in his heart, twisting viciously.

Richard froze, his happy smile fading. “Snowman?”

“You know I love her!” Darcy snarled, rage and pain churning in his gut.

Richard’s eyes widened. “I thought you were courting her sister!” he exclaimed.

“Of course not!”

“I never meant to hurt you, Darcy, but I love her too much to give her up. I believe she loves me as well, and I swear I will make her happy.”

“What about me? I was happy with her, before you came along!”

“If you love her so much, why did you never say anything?” Richard demanded.

“How could I? Every time I saw her, you were there! You were always flirting with her, encouraging her. I asked you to help her, not to steal her away from me!”

“In all the times I saw you together, you hardly spoke a word to her! I could have sworn you felt nothing for her. When you saw me get close to her, you should have said something.”

“Would that have helped? What woman would ever see me when you were around?” Darcy was bitter and agonized.

“Maybe if you had actually spoken, instead of being a bloody coward, you would have known! Instead you hide away behind that stiff Darcy pride, locked away where no one can find you! I will not be sorry for you, for if that is the way you act in love, then she is better off with me! At least I can tell her how I feel without fear of being shown up by another. If I am not enough for her, so be it, but it will be her choice, not mine!”

Darcy’s fury came to a peak. With a wordless cry of pain, his magic lashed out at Richard. Hailstones the size of his fist solidified from the drizzle around them and threw themselves at Richard. The soldier ducked the first group, then brought up his fire and boiled away the second. Darcy launched more ice at his cousin, trying to make him feel even a fraction of the ache in Darcy’s heart.

“Betrayer!” he shouted.

“Coward!” Richard returned, jetting flames at Darcy.

The dark-haired man brought up a shield of ice to deflect the fire. They continued to fight, magic and steam thickening the air. As boys, they had been evenly matched. Once Richard had joined the army, rigorous training and extensive use of his magic had made him the stronger. But Darcy had spent weeks using magic around Elizabeth, the equivalent of pushing a boulder up a hill, magically speaking. Between that and the growing moisture in the air, it helped to close the gap between their respective talents.

Darcy froze the ground under Richard’s feet and the fire mage fell. Richard burned away Darcy’s cane and set fire to his sleeves before the ice mage managed to quell the flames. Darcy felt no pain of burns, just the need to defeat his opponent. There could be no true win in the battle: no matter which one was victorious, their previous close relationship was being torn apart.

Richard boiled the puddle of water around Darcy. The ice mage jumped out of the way but stumbled without his cane, falling when his bad leg faltered. Richard bore down on him, face livid and streaming with sweat, hands raised with flames leaping down at Darcy. He curled himself into a tight ball and raised a dome of ice over himself for protection. He felt the pressure on the dome, felt his ice melting away faster than he could replace it. There was a roaring in his head, a roaring in his ears.

Darcy gathered his magic, knowing his ice was going to break, knowing he would only have one chance to stand again. The heat against his ice abruptly stopped. Darcy shoved his magic outward with all his strength, lunging to his feet. He faced Richard with a snarl and froze in shock. Richard was lying on the ground, Elizabeth as a dragon crouched protectively over him. She glared at Darcy, her wings still spread from flight.

Darcy’s heart shattered. She had made her choice. Richard was the one she protected, the one she loved. Darcy would never be with her, never have a chance to express his love. All the time he had spent with her, wasted because Richard was right: he was a coward. He should have spoken up, should have said something. Because he had allowed doubt to hold him back, he had lost the woman he loved.

Darcy spun on his heels and began walking back to the house. He made a cane made of ice for himself, Richard having burned up his original.

Mr. Darcy? Elizabeth called, sounding distressed.

He ignored her, his soul aching, his pride in tatters.

Mr. Darcy, please! Are you alright?

He kept walking.

Richard let out a groan, then spoke in Darcy’s mind. Tell her you are alright so she will let me up!

Darcy cut the connection to his cousin harshly, but paused in his wounded flight. As little as he wanted to see his Elizabeth—no, never his—fawning over Richard, he turned slowly. Elizabeth still stood over Richard, but she was staring at Darcy. Her neck was stretched out toward him, palpable yearning in every line of her body. One of her hands was resting on Richard’s chest. Darcy might have thought she was sending her magic to him, but the ice mage could see that Richard was being pressed into the mud. She was holding him down?

Elizabeth was still frantically calling for him, and he reluctantly answered her.

“I am not hurt, Miss Elizabeth,” he answered her.

Instantly she leapt toward him, landing just inches away. She surveyed him at close range; he could see that she was trembling.

Please, may I touch you? she whispered.

Darcy did not understand, but he nodded. She engulfed him, coiling tightly around his body. Her wings held him tight to her side as she nuzzled him, apparently checking for injury. She hissed at some minor blisters on his wrists and whimpered in relief when she found nothing more serious. She smelled of smoke and flame, her heat threatening to melt the icy pain in Darcy’s chest.

When I saw you go down under the fire, she said shakily, my heart stopped. I thought I had lost you.

Darcy’s heart thudded hard. He was confused and lost. Had she not just accepted Richard’s suit? Then why was she curled around Darcy? He slowly raised a hand and rested it on her face. She pushed into him, holding him as close as possible. Abruptly she jerked her head away and let out a deafening roar. Richard, who had been climbing to his feet, fell back from the sheer force of sound.

“Elizabeth,” Darcy could not hear his own voice after that roar, but she immediately turned back to him, pressing her head to his chest. His entire body vibrated when she growled, and Darcy guessed Richard had tried to move again.

Speak with her, Darcy, Richard told him. I dare not stir when she is so riled up.

The last thing Darcy wanted to do was help his cousin, but he was too muddled over Elizabeth’s reaction.

“Elizabeth,” he said again, and a shudder ran through her form. “I thought—you had talked to Richard about marriage?” It hurt too much to use his mind to speak with her.

She relaxed slightly. I did, she replied.

“Then why are you here?” Why was she not with Richard, the man she would marry?

Her coils started to loosen from around him. Already he missed her tight grip.

I thought… he had hurt you, she said doubtfully.

“Yet you still said yes to him,” Darcy bitterly.

She flinched. Are you not happy for Richard and Mary?

The use of his cousin’s familiar name was not lost on Darcy, but he hesitated at her sister’s name.

“Richard and… Miss Mary?” he asked, bewildered.

He asked for my blessing to marry her, she explained. I thought it odd, but I was happy to give it.

Abruptly Darcy turned to his cousin, who was still sitting on the muddy ground with a dazed expression on his face.

You asked Elizabeth’s permission to marry her sister? Miss Mary? he demanded.

It is unorthodox, Richard said dryly, But I thought with a dragon for a sister-in-law, it would not hurt to have her approval. If I did not have it, she could eat me.

Darcy felt weak with relief and pained from his foolishness. It was a mistake. A misunderstanding. He had allowed his jealousy from Richard and Elizabeth’s closeness to override his good sense, which laid the ground for misconstruing Richard’s words. The use of their familiar names—it was from a new-found sense of family, not from a romantic connection. Still, Darcy could not help but to seek assurance. He looked to Elizabeth again.

You are not… disappointed? he asked carefully.

Why would I be? I think he and Mary will be good for each other.

But you did not have any expectations for yourself?


She gave him a blank look, not comprehending.

You are not romantically inclined toward Richard?

She reared back, her face screwed up in distaste. She looked like a cat about to cast up a hairball.

Absolutely not! she declared hotly. I care for him, would even call it love, but the sort of love I feel for my sisters. I feel as though he is my brother, raised apart from me for many years, but instantly recognizable. Did you believe I would choose him as a husband?

I… I had thought…
he stammered, uncomfortable with revealing the extent of his misunderstanding.

I could never be with Richard in that way, she said firmly. How could I choose him over you?

A jolt went through him. Was this the declaration he had longed for?

Elizabeth seemed to realize what she had said, and quickly clarified, I mean, you are my very good friend, Mr. Darcy. I would not see you hurt for anything. You have my trust and respect, surely you knew that?

Her words appeared to be a step back from her earlier statement, but the way she nuzzled at him, still curled protectively around him, belied her remark. She had often been playful with Richard, but she had never held him the way she held Darcy now. Was this it, he wondered? Was the closeness between Richard and Elizabeth nothing more than a sibling bond? He reached out for his cousin again.

You love Miss Mary?

With all my heart,
Richard said fervently.

You did not harbor a tendresse for Elizabeth?

Good God, no!
Richard shook his head vigorously. I could no more marry Lizzy than you could marry Georgiana.

Darcy wrinkled his nose at the notion.

Is that what you thought, that I would propose to your Elizabeth behind your back? You are thick, Darcy! Richard exclaimed.

Darcy looked back and forth between Elizabeth and Richard. He was coming to realize that they only had platonic love for each other, but he did not understand how it could be so deep.

I cannot explain it, Richard shrugged when Darcy asked. I only know from the first moment I met her, I felt I had known her all my life.

He feels like another dragon to me,
Elizabeth responded when Darcy put the question to her. Like an egg-mate that was born the same time as me. I think it is his fire magic; it is similar to the fire I breathe, so it feels as though we are related.

“My god, I have been an idiot,” Darcy covered his face in shame. So much misery and jealousy wasted because he would not ask about the nature of the bond between Elizabeth and Richard. Elizabeth whined in worry, edging close to him again. Her muzzle brushed his hands and her wing carefully extended over him, providing shelter and protection. Richard chuckled.

“I will not disagree with you there, but do you suppose I can get up now? I am quite wet through with this mud.”

He started to rise. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and growled in warning. She gently shouldered Darcy out of the way, firmly placing her body between them. It was so obvious now. Elizabeth had come down on his behalf, not Richard’s. He placed his hand on her side, stroking her smooth scales.

“Let him up,” he murmured softly. She turned her head and he ran his fingers over her face.

Richard climbed stiffly to his feet, wincing slightly. Darcy ducked out from behind Elizabeth and approached his cousin. Elizabeth followed until Darcy waved her back. She stopped, but continued to watch him keenly.

Darcy faced Richard. He could still feel the hurt and the betrayal from when he thought Richard had proposed to Elizabeth, but it was also tempered by the knowledge of his mistake and the guilt of allowing such to sunder them apart.

“I am sorry, Richard,” Darcy said sadly. “I was wrong, and I said hot words because of it. Can you forgive me?” He extended his hand.

Richard eyed him with resentment. I would hit you for being so stupid, but I think your lady-love would disembowel me.

Darcy bowed his head in grief. Had he irreparably damaged his relationship with the man who was like a brother to him?

Then Richard seized his hand and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.

I cannot hold it against you when you thought I had taken Lizzy from you. I was not so rational when I thought you preferred my Mary, Richard allowed. I owe you an apology as well, this fight is as much my fault as yours. Forgive me?

Darcy felt a wellspring of love and gratitude for his cousin. Of course.

“Make sure you tell this one how you feel,” Richard whispered in Darcy’s ear, then released him.

Darcy’s face grew warm as he backed toward Elizabeth. She rested her head on his shoulder, gently nudging his cheek. He could not have asked for a better indication of how she felt.

***



Who do you think would win in a fight, Richard or Darcy? Comments
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 22

Autumn DOctober 22, 2017 11:18PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 22

RoxeyNovember 21, 2017 05:50PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 22

DorisNovember 22, 2017 11:39PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 22

EvelynJeanOctober 27, 2017 01:13AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 22

KateBOctober 23, 2017 11:39PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 22

Linnea EileenOctober 23, 2017 12:36AM



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