Fitzwilliam Darcy lowered himself to the settee by the fireplace, stifling a groan as his weary bones protested the harsh Derbyshire winter.
The work of maintaining an estate is never finished, even at Christmas, he mused. The impending holiday had not halted business, merely slowing it for a time.
He was fortunate to have the able assistance of his eldest sons George and Charles and that of his remarkably efficient steward, Mr Davis. With their help, the morning's work had been quickly completed, allowing him to join in the revelry now.
It was his 80th Christmas, and he had the distinct impression it would be one of his last. The notion did nothing to dampen his pleasure, however, and his dark eyes sparkled as he observed the chaos surrounding him.
Pemberley was filled to bursting with family and friends, its gaily decorated rooms ringing with music and conversation and laughter, and it all brought him such joy that he blinked rapidly before he was unmanned.
His beloved Elizabeth had given him six strong sons and three beautiful daughters, and he had nearly too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to count. He had lived to see the birth of his first great-great-grandson, a strapping lad with his great-great-grandmother’s laughing eyes, as well as two magnificent great-great-granddaughters. He did not know if he would live to see another Darcy born, but he took solace -- and great pride -- in the certainty that the name would live on for countless generations, spreading farther than he could ever have dared to imagine.
It was nearly impossible to believe that at one time, he and his young sister had been the only two left to bear the name of Darcy. His heart ached within his breast as he recalled that horrible, endless spring and summer, when – angry and desolate and heartbroken -- he had despaired at the knowledge that he must marry soon, though it would now be solely to produce an heir.
The mere thought had disgusted him, but he had known it must be so, for without an heir, his legacy, the work and trust of centuries, would crumble to dust. His dearest hopes and dreams had been destroyed by his abominable pride, and he had known that he could not allow his shameful failings to endanger Pemberley and his family name as well.
The bleak future he had begun to imagine for himself had never come to pass. Instead, Providence had somehow deemed him worthy of redemption. He marvelled anew at the miracle of the second chance he had been given. His life, his legacy, and his very name, teetering on the brink of destruction, had been restored by the love, the grace, and the forgiving nature of the remarkable woman who rested beside him. Love and gratitude overwhelmed him as he gazed into her shining eyes.
“What a family we have created, my beautiful Elizabeth.”
She laughed, and the sound bewitched him no less than it had the first time he had heard it, half a century before. “Family? It is an army!”
“An army of Darcys,” he countered happily, and she laughed again.
He wrapped an arm around her as she rested her head on his shoulder, and they sat quietly together, an island of tranquil calm in a sea of happy pandemonium.