He was at Pemberley when the news came.
Young Bennet Darcy (known as Ben to the family) dawdled on his knee, a glass on the table beside him, a fire roaring in the hearth. The very picture of domestic bliss. After many years on campaign, first in Spain, then Belgium and France, such settings soothed his soul. Darcy laughed that domesticity suited him very well.
He was always welcome, Darcy assured him, to share in the bliss of life at Pemberley. There would always be a room made up for him, always a warm meal and a good drink. He was welcome to stay as long as he wished, even, Darcy hesitated before adding, to stay permanently, if he chose. Truly, there was nothing he and Elizabeth wished more.
Richard demurred, of course. He was out on leave only, was sure he would be assigned a new post in the coming weeks. But as time went on, he began to fancy himself very comfortable at Pemberley, as part of the small circle intimate to the Darcy family.
If only Napoleon had stayed put on Elba.
The family gathered in the entrance hall to see him off, even his dear cousin Elizabeth, heavy with her second child and very close to her confinement made the effort of the stairs with the support of her doting husband. With shining eyes she pressed a package of vitals into his hands, before reaching for him, her dark eyes swimming with love and concern and pressing her lips against his.
“Be well, dear Richard,” she entreated. “Please do be careful.”
He carried that kiss with him, as well as the bracing clasp of Darcy’s arms about him as he entered the carriage. The memory sustained him through the channel crossing and the march from France to Belgium; he had seen war before of course, this could hardly be any different, he was a seasoned soldier, a Colonel of his Majesty’s army and the –th foot, he was prepared for whatever Napoleon could throw at the Anglo-allied army.
Later, he would reflect, nothing could have prepared him for the bloody hell that was Waterloo.
Mont-Saint-Jean would forever be burned into Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam’s psyche as the very definition of hell. Years later, he would reflect that he was no longer afraid of the Devil, as nothing could compare to the carnage that had been those long days and nights on a Godforsaken patch of Belgium soil. It was covered in mud, as night grew that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam took a ball to the chest and shoulder and was certain he had breathed his last on the bloody battlefield of Waterloo.
He dreamt fever dreams of Mont-Saint-Jean, interposed with memories of those weeks of bliss at Pemberley, alternatively lashing out and weeping like a babe on the return channel crossing at the mercy of the waves, his batman’s ministrations and the gruff care of his brother and Darcy, who had arrived to return him home to the Matlock estate, to recuperate or die. He knew nothing of the dispatch from Wellington, commandeering his bravery in the face of almost certain defeat or his recommendation that His Majesty consider that “Col. Fitzwilliam must be recognised at least, for without his bravery, and that of his troops, I know not how we might have carried the day.” All he knew was pain, and the memory of Darcy’s hand upon his shoulder and Elizabeth’s lips upon his own.
Recuperation was a long process, drawn out and agonisingly painful. He was incognizant of his mothers weeping, his sister’s prayers and his fathers command to fight this blasted infection in the same way he had fought the French. He slept more than he woke and when he was awake, he was so dazed by fever he knew not what was reality and what was not.
The fever finally left him, weak and drained, half the man he had once been, but alive. And still the world was shades of grey, still Col. Richard Fitzwilliam felt as if he were neither awake, nor asleep, but rather ghosting through the days of his recuperation, obeying his batman, his mother and father as if they were Wellington himself and still feeling nothing, except pain and confusion.
They worried that Waterloo had robbed him of his wits.
His father and brother dragged him to Whites, plied him with alcohol and good conversation. Every damned fool, every pampered, coiffed nancy who had never known the smells and sounds of battle demanded of him a recount of Waterloo, as if asking him to describe a horse race. He was a hero, they told him, Prinny himself was sure to take note.
Richard didn’t feel like a hero. Richard felt nothing at all.
So plied was he with laudanum and alcohol that, blessedly, Richard could not relieve the battle in sleep, as so many of his colleagues told of. He woke every morning drenched in sweat, his head pounding, the skin across his mending torso aching but he did not dream. And by mid morning, after several cups of coffee and perhaps, on a good day, a half a scone, Richard was once again comfortably ensconced in feeling nothing at all.
The debutantes came in droves. Ostensibly to call upon his mother or sister, though he knew it was truly to gaze upon the broken hero of Waterloo. They battered their lashes and smiled sympathetically or adoringly upon him. The brave one or two went so far as to lay a comforting hand upon his arm. He did not react, their presence meant nothing.
His mother only encouraged them. Miss Wilson has twenty thousand to her name, she would impart in casual conversation, her father is eager to see her well settled. Lady Honoria’s dowry includes a small property in Hampshire, isn’t that wonderful? Miss Wainwright’s family are from Derbyshire, within a half days journey to Pemberley I believe, Darcy speaks well of the family.
His brother dragged him to a bawdy house, convinced that even a man who professed to being unable to feel a thing, should be able to feel that. For a brief moment, as a pretty blonde writhed in his lap, Richard fancied that his brother had been right, but to his shame, when it came to it, he had been unable to rise to the occasion. Mortified, for he had never had that problem before, Richard fled into the night and to his bottle, which, as always, provided him with blissful relief.
The letter from Darcy came the next day.
Elizabeth implores me to invite you to spend Yule with us; she says she cannot be easy until she has seen with her own eyes that you are well, and as little Charlie is but eight months in this world, we are loathe to make the journey to London without him or his brother. We understand of course, that you may prefer to spend the season with your immediate family, but beg that you consider a visit to us as soon as you might contrive it. You are always welcome here coz, for as long or as short a stay as you might wish it, to us, we would wish you safe here with us always and to be ever in your company.
I am yours &c,
Richard was not lost enough to believe that his brother or father had not written to Darcy with their concerns. The idea of Darcy and Elizabeth lying abed together discussing what to do about poor cousin Richard was abhorrent. But the invitation had sparked something in him he had not felt since Waterloo, interest. The last he had seen Elizabeth she had been heavy with child, he was yet to meet his new cousin Charles, would Bennet be walking by now?
He pretended not to notice the relief on the faces of those that waved him off to Derbyshire.
Pemberley was as it ever had been, stately and imposing, but with a warmth in the family apartments that was at odds with the grandeur around them. Ben Darcy was, indeed, walking now, running actually and leading his nursery maids, his mother and on occasion, his father, on a merry chase. Charles Darcy was more inclined to quietness then his older brother and seemed to find his cousin Richard an interesting curiosity. More evenings that not little Charlie could be seen upon his cousins lap, playing with his cravat and gazing knowing eyes that Richard felt saw rather too much.
Life was quieter here at Pemberley, slower too, even with two busy toddlers and a substantial estate to be maintained. Here, on long rides around the estate and cosy evenings beside the fire, Richard felt he was returning to himself. The battlefields felt further away here in Derbyshire than they had in London.
Darcy and Elizabeth were generosity itself. He worried, at first, that he was imposing on their private time together, limited as it was, but they begrudged him nothing and invited him to participate fully in everything Pemberley had to offer. Upon first arriving he had intended only on staying a month, but then two had passed, then three and soon he had been at Pemberley for as long as he had been in London, following his repatriation from Belgium.
Early in his stay Richard had been invited to break his fast in the nursery, as the four Darcy’s did. It had quickly become his favourite part of the day. Elizabeth would greet him with a warm hand on his arm and a perfectly prepared cup of tea. Darcy, with a hand to his back. Bennet greeted his cousin with a running hug and enough sticky preserves to make his valet despair or his ever being presentable again. After eating, he and Darcy were off to their day, where, he flattered himself, he had at least earned his keep with the assistance he was able to provide to his cousin in farm and tenant matters. There was something very real, Richard had realised, in this work. The tenants liked and respected him, he had always enjoyed Darcy’s company and there was a benefit in usefulness and physical activity. Richard had never been a man inclined to indolence and had spent most of his adult life marching through various parts of the world; it was good to be active again, and in such comfortable company too.
In the evenings, the children would join their cousin and parents for an hour in a small upstairs parlour before being put to bed. Mrs Darcy would play for the gentlemen then, or they would sit together in quiet companionship, each engaged in their own activities, before eventually lapsing into conversation of everything and nothing at all. The comfort Richard found in these evenings could not be understated and while he no longer drank himself stupid, his sleep still remained, for the most part undisturbed by night terrors.
In May, a letter from Wellington himself arrived inviting Richard to the celebrations of the anniversary of Waterloo, two months hence. He understood, so claimed the leader of the allied-Anglo forces that Richard would likely wish to be anywhere but there, as he himself would and would make his excuses if this was the case.
This was the case very much indeed, and Richard wrote back with all alacrity to thank the Duke for his kindness but to decline the offer of passage to France. With that done, Richard was quite ready to forget such an anniversary was imminent.
Wellington’s message seemed to have wrought untold harm, however, as that night and every night after, Richard would wake after only a short rest, drenched in sweat, heart racing and blind with terror. He never remembered what had frightened him so, but would wake with the smell of blood and mud on his tongue, and his long ago healed wounds pulsing with pain.
The bottle seemed his easiest recourse.
The first time he had been too deeply in his cups to attend breakfast with his cousins’ family, he had claimed fatigue. The second, ill health. The third time it occurred Darcy called the apothecary from town to attend his cousin.
Richard knew not what the apothecary had told Darcy, but that night, after the children were abed, Elizabeth moved to sit beside him on the settee, Darcy beside her, and took his hand and begged her dearest Richard to confide in them.
He could not, would not, sully the goodness he had found at Pemberley with talk of war or suffering or night terrors or drink. Instead, he promised to leave.
“You will do no such thing!” Mrs. Darcy exclaimed, while Darcy beside her looked pained. “This is your home Richard.”
She pressed closer to him, her hand warm in his. Her other hand reached to brush his hair back from his forehead in a manner he had so often seen her employ with her husband and sons.
To his absolute horror, Richard dissolved almost instantly into tears at her gentle touch.
His mortification was complete and for some minutes he knew nothing more than the intense shame at having so debased himself in front of his most cherished relations. Such was his distress he was insensible to the warm hands that gently reassured him.
Slowly coming back to himself he was aware of Elizabeth, his dearest Mrs. Darcy, cradled against him, her body pressed flush against his and Darcy’s tight grip on his thigh. They were a warm, reassuring presence pressed against him as they were and Richard buried his face in Elizabeth’s hair, his breathing and tears slowing, his heart beating less rapidly, the taste of blood fading from his mouth.
As his distress faded, Richard could not help but think of how comfortable he was, here, with his two dearest relations, who had done so much for him. He had been sadly without the comfort of another’s warm weight against him, for…well, years really. And Mrs. Darcy smelled so lovely; he could not help but respond…
For a moment he knew only profound relief. That part of him had lay dormant for so long he had rather given up on it ever responding again, to feel the rush of blood and the clenching in his stomach was such intense pleasure that it took a moment to realise what he ought to have been feeling was complete horror. His dearest cousin, his best friends wife offered comfort and support and he responded by coveting her! Reprehensible in every way! He jumped to his feet. Gentlemen’s fashions were such that neither Elizabeth nor Darcy could have missed his reaction.
“Richard, wait,” Elizabeth’s voice called after him, but he was already out the door and pacing the hallway, double time, to his own rooms.
His valet dismissed, Richard paced like an animal caged. How very typical of him, after a life of intense discipline, to lose himself so completely and to such as his most dear relations who had been nothing but kindness itself to him! He would have to leave Pemberley, the only place he had found that had offered him any peace, to leave the people he loved most dearly in the world, to become a stranger to them all because he could not control himself.
He would to London first thing in the morning and seek out the services of a bawdy house. Surely he would have himself under good mastery after that. From there he would present himself at the Home office, a post must be found for him, preferably far away, where he could not debase himself before his relations again…
A knock on the door startled him out of his planning; a note, begging Col. Fitzwilliam to meet the master of the house in his chambers.
Dread filled him at the idea of facing his cousin, whom he had long considered his greatest friend. The betrayal he knew he would see writ across Darcy’s face would be as painful as the lead that had been pulled out of him in Spain. Still, he owed Darcy his apologies and promises that he would not return to Pemberley. Perhaps, if Darcy was kind, he would be allowed to apologise to Mrs. Darcy…
Straightening his frame and unconsciously reaching for the sword he no longer wore at his hip, Richard left his apartment for Darcy’s.
Richard swung the door open at Darcy’s call and strode through, for all the world feeling like a man for the gallows. Galloping into Quatre Bras had not felt so dammed.
Richard had not stepped foot into the masters chambers since Elizabeth had been installed in the adjoining room as mistress. Little had changed in the intervening years. A warm fire burned low in the hearth, the bed had already been turned down for the night and Peters, Darcy’s valet, was nowhere in sight. Darcy himself was leaning against the mantle, a glass resting in his hand and on the settee, her hair down around her shoulders and in only her nightrail and wrapper was Elizabeth.
“Excuse me Mrs. Darcy!” Richard gasped, immediately pivoting and turning his back to her. “Forgive me.” He strode for the door, his face burning in shame once again at being in such a position.
“Richard, wait,” Darcy’s voice stopped him. “Elizabeth and I wished to speak to you.”
“Will you not sit here with me, dear Richard?” Elizabeth echoed her husband’s invitation.
Confusion wared with a brief spark of hope. Their tones were warm and inviting, they had sent for him, perhaps they would forgive him his earlier impudence.
Uncertainly, his face aflame, Richard settled himself at the place Elizabeth had gestured to on the settee. He avoided her eye, embarrassed as he was to see her in such a state of dishabille and instead focused on Darcy, or rather, a spot to the left of Darcy as he began –
“Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, please allow me to beg your forgiveness for my behaviour this evening. It was beyond reprehensible. I can only beg your leave and promise that I should be gone to London before first light tomorrow. I shan’t opportune you any longer and…”
“Richard,” Darcy interrupted his tone mild. “I wish that you would stop threatening to leave, it is enough to make one think you have had enough of Pemberley’s hospitality and of ours.”
“Never,” Richard choked. “I have been more comfortable in these months at Pemberley than I have been all my adult life.”
“I am glad that is settled then,” Darcy rolled his eyes, causing Elizabeth to laugh. “For my wife and I have a proposal to make you more comfortable again.”
“We wish you with us always, dearest Richard” Elizabeth came closer then, laying an entreating hand on his arm. “We do love you and, selfishly, we could not part from you again.”
“You are kindness personified Mrs. Darcy…”
“Mrs. Darcy, who is this Mrs. Darcy you address? Have I not long been Lizzy to you Richard?”
“Lizzy, then. You are all generosity, indeed, I could not be more grateful. But I fear I am not under good regulation just now and…”
“He fails to understand Elizabeth,” Darcy interrupted.
“We shall have to make him understand,” Elizabeth moved closer still, slipping her hand from his arm, to his thigh and gently moving her fingers across the firm musculature she found there. Her face was aflame, but her movements sure. “Richard, my love, Darcy and I do not wish for you to be under good regulation.”
Richard was frozen, his face a mask, his thoughts suspended. His body stirred again, against his will, until his breeches were hiding nothing of his growing arousal. Elizabeth’s hand moved further towards it…
“You cannot mean what you are implying!” Richard vaulted to his feet. “Darcy, Elizabeth is your wife!”
“My most beloved wife,” Darcy agreed, with a smile for Elizabeth. “But you are beloved too Richard, by us both. And we would have you here with us, together with us, for always.”
His mind reeling, Richard began to pace. Nothing could have prepared him for such a situation. He had always held his cousin and his wife up as an ideal of marriage, something he had truly aspired to, in a way that made him reject all the well dowered young debutantes who were regularly presented to him for inspection. The idea of them allowing another person into their marriage, into their marriage bed….
“Have you done this before?” He demanded hoarsely.
“Never and never would we,” Darcy answered, meeting Richard’s tortured gaze. “This is neither a game nor an abnormality of preference to us Richard.”
“We do this out of love for you dearest,” Elizabeth entreated from the settee. “We wish you with us forever and the comfort and support we find in each other, we wish to extend to you.”
“I do not need your pity!” He exclaimed violently.
“Good, for you’ll find none here,” Darcy rolled his eyes again. “We are quite genuine Richard, in both our love and our desire for you. Elizabeth’s, I believe, goes back so far as that first Easter at Rosings.”
Elizabeth and Richard both flushed, remembering the attraction they had both felt, but been powerless to act upon those many years ago.
“Mine is of a different nature. Until recently, I should never have dreamt, nor presumed…” he trailed off, fighting for composure. “But I cannot think of anything I wish for more in the world, than to share the woman I love, with my most beloved friend.”
These words were his undoing, Richard surrendered with a groan, crossing to Elizabeth in three strides and snatching her into his arms.
She was pliant and warm in his embrace, her mouth eager and willing. Her breasts crushed against his chest as her head fell back, allowing him to plunder her mouth. It had been so long, so very long and it had never felt so right.
Darcy was with them then, a steady presence, propping Elizabeth against his own body and running his hands down her torso and then over Richard’s. His mouth dipped to the exposed column of Elizabeth’s neck, drawing forth the flesh there with tongue and teeth and causing a low moan to build in her throat.
Richard bit back a violent curse.
Darcy’s large palm cupped his jaw then, forcing their eyes to meet. The heat Richard saw in Darcy’s eyes caused him to act without thinking, pressing Elizabeth between them and forcing his lips to Darcy’s.
It was not the first time Richard had kissed a man, but he would never fail to marvel at the difference between the mouths of men and women. Where Elizabeth was all pliant, sweet softness, Darcy was hard angles and smoky tang. Where Elizabeth surrendered to his mouth and embrace, Darcy fought him for dominance, their mouths clashing and tongues warring. And while all these sensations battled, causing his head to swim with pleasure and his senses to reel, there was the feeling of Elizabeth’s hands moving over his torso, slipping the buttons of his dinner jacket free and pushing it down over his shoulders.
She made short work of his cravat, waistcoat and shirt in a way that spoke of intimate familiarity with men’s attire and the removal of such. When at last his chest was bare to her, she pressed her lips directly over his heart in a gesture so intensely intimate that Richard wished to weep anew.
Her mouth moved with tender slowness over the new skin of his wounds. They ached often, as the skin stretched and knit back together. The feeling of Elizabeth’s lips moved gently, reverently over them cause a throbbing unlike any other.
“Oh my dear,” she murmured, turning eyes bright with desire up to him. “My very, very dear.”
“Come,” Darcy murmured, taking Elizabeth’s hand in his and pressing the other between Richard’s shoulders. “Bed.”
Richard allowed himself to be propelled along until his legs brushed the coverlet and they paused together. His blood was humming through his veins, leaving him desperate and needy. His hands seemed to be moving of their own volition, outside of his control, divesting Darcy of his jacket, as Darcy removed Elizabeth’s wrapper, reverently pressing kisses along the column of her neck and down the exposed area of her chest.
“Wait until you see her Rich,” Darcy murmured to him, as he caught Richard’s gaze upon them. “She is Aphrodite herself.”
Elizabeth blush crept down her face and neck, spreading tantalisingly down the area still covered by her nightrail.
“I have grown and birthed two sons in the last three years,” she argued, hiding her eyes. “I am lumpy and my skin sags rather more than I wish it would. I beg you, my love, not to give Richard expectations I can only fail to meet.”
“You are all the more beautiful for it, my heart,” Darcy ran his hands over her, reaching for the ties that fastened her nightgown and beginning to loosen them. “Shall we let Richard be the judge of his own disappointment?”
Unequal to seeing the usual indomitable Lizzy shy, Richard quirked a brow at Darcy and lowered his gaze to the other man’s britches. Darcy, never one to fail to rise to a challenge immediately began to shuck his clothing and, with a laugh, Richard followed. His blood was running too hot to feel awkward about his nakedness, even as Darcy and Elizabeth both stared at him unabashedly, taking him in appreciatively.
When Darcy reached for the ties of Elizabeth’s wrapper again, her momentary bashfulness had passed and she eagerly wrapped her arms around his neck. As Darcy lowered her nightgown to the ground, Richard could not help but step forward, wrapping his arms around Elizabeth from behind and palming her breasts.
She gasped at the sensation, allowing her head to loll back to rest against his shoulder. Darcy was at her feet, patiently assisting her to step out of the fabric pooling at her feet, before running his hands up her legs, then her torso, to lace with Richard’s over her breasts, teasing her nipples into sharp relief.
The bed provided a welcome aid to Richard’s shaking legs as he warred for control over himself. Seated firmly on the edge, Richard guided Elizabeth onto his lap, her back flush against his chest, her legs falling open on either side of his own, providing a tantalising view that Darcy could not help but bury his face into.
Elizabeth whined, a high pitched noise that went straight to Richard’s groin. He was pressed up against the crevice of her rump, rutting helplessly into her, his mouth devouring her neck. His hands went to where Darcy lay prostrate and feasting, holding her open for Darcy’s lips and tongue to better explore her depths and her whines became gasping screams.
Richard’s own gasps joined hers, as Darcy lowered his head further still, taking Richard deep into his mouth. Richard’s fingers scrambled for purchase, sinking into Elizabeth’s depths as he shoved himself violently down Darcy’s throat. Darcy tore away, wrapping his hand around Richard’s violently straining prick and guiding him into Elizabeth’s blissful waiting heat.
Richard was awash with sensations; the waves of pleasure as Elizabeth’s muscles clenched and released around him, the heady sound of her desperate cries mingling with his own animalistic grunting, the feel of Darcy still between his legs, his tongue lapping at the place where Richard and Elizabeth were joined. White, hot pleasure crested and spiked, tearing a long, keening cry from his lips as he thrust desperately and released into Elizabeth’s waiting body.
He could not catch his breath, not as Darcy aided him to lie back against the coverlet, or as Elizabeth twisted in his arms, bringing her lips to his and kissing him gently, all tongue and soft lips. Her chest rose and fell as rapidly as his and she scrambled for purchase, fisting his hair as Darcy stood, before kneeling between Richard’s legs, pushing Elizabeth against Richard’s chest and pressing into her with a low groan.
Elizabeth cried her pleasure into his mouth as Darcy took her with brutal pace. She anchored herself with lips on his and hands in his hair as her husband demanded she make her pleasure known. Richard had never dreamt Darcy could behave so, his eyes were dark, his hips snapping violently and the words spewing from his mouth were the sort one heard only in the most filthy of bordellos. This was an old game between them, Richard could tell as Elizabeth’s keens and cries of pleasure only intensified, the more demanding Darcy was. She panted desperately into his mouth, her breasts crushed to his chest, her hands pulling his hair so tightly it ought to have been painful. Despite having found his own pleasure only moments ago, Richard could not help but thrust needily up against her in response to her cries. His hands moved without his permission, running down her back and then her rump, caressing her there, before slipping between them to rub tight, firm circles just above the place Darcy pounded.
“That’s it, my loves,” Darcy grunted as Elizabeth began to shake. “Watch this Rich, keep going.”
Elizabeth’s head snapped back, her body taught, her muscles shaking violently as a scream rent from her and liquid gushed from her, bathing the three of them in her pleasure. Darcy’s hips snapped forward, once, twice and then he grunted his release, his body straining with the effort of giving his wife everything he had for her, some small droplets smearing Richard’s thighs also.
They collapsed together then; the three of them, a sticky, sweaty miss of limbs and shaking muscles. Elizabeth, sandwiched between the two men, could not seem to stop her muscles seizing and twitching, so much so, that Richard was almost alarmed out of his languor. To Darcy however, this seemed nothing new as he spoke low soothing nonsense to her, running his hands firmly over her twitching muscles and encouraging her to breathe, Elizabeth.
After a moment’s hesitation, Richard followed suit, his hands reaching from behind to stroke and reassure, to calm and console. The appreciative, warm smile Darcy gave him at this was generosity itself. Their combined efforts seemed to succeed, as Elizabeth’s harsh breathing slowed, her muscles ceased their endless contractions and eventually, she went limp, still pressed between them.
She smiled languidly at them both.
“And to think, dearest Richard, you wanted to leave Pemberley.”
Startled, Richard laughed hoarsely. The love he felt radiating from Elizabeth and Darcy both was unparalleled. For the first time in months, he was awash with emotions; the world was bright and colourful again, even in this dimly lit bedroom, in a way it had not been since Waterloo. Had this, then, been the answer to his melancholy all along?
“My dear, dear Elizabeth,” he pressed a kiss to her shoulder and reached over her to cup Darcy’s jaw. “Darcy, my greatest friend. I am here for as long as the two of you wish to put up with me.”
“Forever then,” Elizabeth intoned, burrowing sleepily into the embrace of the two men she loved most of the world.
“Forever,” Darcy echoed firmly.
Forever, Richard marvelled, closing his eyes and pressing himself closer to them both.
Fifteen months later, when the extended family met the new Miss Eleanor Darcy and commented that she had the look about her of the Fitzwilliam side of the family, none noticed the fond, secretive smiles her parents shared with their dearest friend Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.