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Sense and Fascination

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           Colonel Brandon sat in his armchair, in front of the fire. His waistcoat was unbuttoned, his cufflinks undone, his sleeves pulled up to his elbows. He opened a book in an attempt to read, for he could not sleep, but it was useless. The book was left on his lap, his hands to his temples.

            It had been a week since he left the Dashwoods at Barton Cottage. After Miss Marianne first opened her eyes, a few days' wait was needed until she was strong enough to be moved, in order for them to quit Cleveland. On the first day, Miss Dashwood came into the parlor to call him.

            “Colonel, Marianne wishes to see you.”

            “Pardon?” He must have misunderstood, he thought.

            “Marianne wishes to see you. She still is very tired and needs her rest, but is very adamant about seeing you. I believe she wishes to thank you properly.”

            He got up stiffly, though his heart swelled at the thought of her wishing to speak to him, and followed Miss Dashwood to Marianne's room.

            She was sitting up, a mountain of pillows behind her, but she looked very tired and pale. The spark in her eyes that was so endearing to the Colonel was not there. Still, the sight of her made his heart thud harder in his chest.

            Elinor ran out to fetch more water for the basin in the room, and the Colonel and Marianne were left alone.

            “Colonel Brandon, I'd like to thank you for going out to find me in the rain. If it weren't for you, I might... I might be dead.”

            His heart went cold for a moment at the thought of such a horrible possibility.

            “I also would like to thank you for bringing Mama. You are such a good friend. More than I deserve.”

            “It was no trouble, Miss Marianne. I am just glad to be of service. And I am glad you are on your way to recovery.”

            He stood at the foot of the bed for a moment, with his hands behind his back, as if restraining himself, for what he really wished to do was to hold her, love her back to health. As there was an awkward silence, he started:

            “I should take my leave then, let you rest.”

            “Colonel… could you do me one more favor? If it's not too much to ask.”

            She could not let him leave like that. She felt horrible about all the rudeness she had displayed towards him in the past, and nonetheless he was so kind to her, even if she was so undeserving. She wanted to be able to be friendlier.

            “Anything, Miss Marianne.”

            “Could... could you read to me? A bit. I am... my eyes, they get tired and I cannot read myself yet, but I am very tired of sitting here, having nothing to do.”

            She picked up a book on the bedside table with some difficulty, and made an effort to stretch out her arm and hand it to him, but he met her halfway.

            “It would be my pleasure,” he said, taking the book from her hand.

            He pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down. As he opened the book, a pocket book, he noticed it had belonged to Willoughby. She still carried it. Of course. Despite his heart breaking in yet another piece, if that was still possible, he held his composure. His armor, which he built over the years and now so easily carried. Falling in love with her opened a path to tearing it down, but as he saw it was no use, he carried it still. His pain remained on the inside, unshown.

            “Miss Marianne, do you have a specific sonnet you wish me to read? Perhaps… a favorite?”

            “I seek to find a new favorite, Colonel. You can read whichever one you choose. Perhaps one of your favorites” she said, eyes half closed.

            Colonel Brandon flipped through the pages. After some thought, he opened to sonnet 47.

 

Betwix mine eye and heart a league is took,

And each doth good turns now unto the other:

When that mine eye is famish'd for a look,

Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,

 

            His voice was sweet as chocolate, smooth as velvet. She, though ashamed of it, had still held the thought shared with Willoughby that Colonel Brandon was a dull man.

 

With my love's picture then my eye doth feast

And to the painted banquet bids my heart;

Another time mine eye is my heart's guest

And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:

 

            The emotion with which he read surprised her, for it was appropriate. It was up to her standards of how a poem should be read. He too was passionate about literature. It was a pleasant surprise.

 

So, either by thy picture or my love,

Thyself away art resent still with me;

For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,

And I am still with them and they with thee;

 

            She had thought for a moment she would have to endure a dull reading, only to be polite and friendly. However, she very much enjoyed this.

           

Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight

Awakes my heart to heart's and eye's delight.

 

            His choice of sonnet went unnoticed by her, who was now in a slumber. He placed to book on the table beside her and took his leave for her to rest, and was surprised when, on the next morning, Miss Dashwood once again came to call upon him, saying Marianne should like to hear him read again, if it were no trouble to him. He took the liberty of going to Mr. Palmer's library and choosing another book, as not to have to read from a token of Willoughby's and Marianne's affections again. Luckily, she was open to the suggestion.

            And so it went on until it was safe for the Palmers to return to their home and for the Colonel to accompany the Dashwoods to Barton.

 

            He could not sleep now for his thoughts went back to those days, merely a week past. He missed having contact with her every day, the closest they had ever been. Now he had to endure all this time with no word.

            He could not sleep for in his thoughts also weighed all types of doubts and uncertainties.

            Could she ever love him? She did not believe in second attachments, and probably believed her heart was wasted on Willoughby. Colonel Brandon did not have that obvious sort of charm Willoughby did, but then again that was necessary for a seducer such as that cad. And of course, there was the age difference. Seventeen to five-and-thirty. Eighteen years. My goodness, he was old enough to be her father, almost. She certainly would not ever regard him as a proper suitor. Perhaps that was for the best. He should content himself with her friendship.

            But what should he do with all the love he felt swelling in his chest for her? He had never felt quite like this before. He could not get her out of his mind, and when he was around her, it was so very hard to hide his regard. His love. So much so that her sister had noticed, he suspected. And in the carriage ride to Cleveland her mother had also come to perceive it. She had given him her blessing to court her daughter, but what good would that do if the girl had no interest whatsoever? He would learn to live with his love hidden. He had been through much worse hardships... Or had he? Eighteen years... eighteen.

            His maid, Ruth came in and informed a letter had just arrived. He lifted his head from his hands and she gave him the letter.

            “Thank you, Ruth.”

            It was from Barton Cottage, from Mrs. Dashwood.

His heart stopped beating, cold in his chest. Had something happened to Marianne? Had her health regressed? He almost asked to have his horse saddled immediately, even not having read the letter. He would ride at night, not minding the dangers, to get to her.

Colonel Brandon took deep breaths to try and calm himself and opened the letter.

 

            Colonel Brandon,

           

                        It has been long, too long, since we last saw or heard from you. Have any of us done something to offend you? If so, pray forgive us, it was not our intention. Your friendship is much appreciated in our household. Marianne is well, recovering slowly, though her eyes still pain her when reading. We have all tried reading to her, but no one seems to meet her standards quite like you do, and she turns into a rather nervous patient. We do expect your visit, anytime you like, although the sooner the better.

 

            Your friend,

                        Amelia Dashwood.

 

           

            Though he could not take Mrs. Dashwood's word for it, for she might be flattering him just as part of a plan to get him and Marianne together, he did enjoy the notion that Marianne might have found some joy in their time together. That thought soothed him.

            He would ride to Barton in the morning, for Mrs. Dashwood  and Miss Dashwood were also dear friends, and the former had asked for his visit. But he would not allow his heart to hope for anything from Marianne.

            His mind told him so, but his heart was soothed with hope, and he could finally go to sleep.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon rose early in the morning despite having taken long to go to bed. He dressed and went about his morning routine calmly, but in his chest, his heart thudded at the prospect of laying eyes on Marianne Dashwood once again, after a week of having her in his every thought.

He had not been able to go about his days without wondering how her health was, without conjuring up her picture in his mind’s eye, without remembering the mix of emotions he had felt when fetching her in the rain – excitement, for finally being able to embrace her, to hold her in his arms, to feel her body against his, but fear of the situation in which it happened, wondering if he’d ever see her bright smile again, if he would see her full of life again.

Once he was ready, he went down to his library and selected a couple of books to take with him, and proceeded to the hothouse to gather some flowers to make her a bouquet.

As he was ridding to Barton, he second guessed his decision to take flowers. She could shy away from him, as she had done before. But wouldn’t it be rude to show up empty-handed?

 

After what seemed like too long a ride, he came up to the cottage. As he dismounted, Margaret was already running up to him.

“Hello, Colonel!” She curtsied.

“Captain Margaret,” he saluted her, as he often did, a jest between them.

“Why haven’t you come visit us?”

“I did not wish to intrude… your sister needs her rest and…”

Elinor came out of the house and the Colonel’s words were cut off. Margaret went inside to warn her mother of the visitor who had just arrived.

“Colonel! Pray, do come in.”

“Miss Dashwood”. He bowed.

“I am so glad to see you.”

 

After exchanging pleasantries and hearing all about Marianne’s progress during breakfast, which she did not attend, he heard about how she still could not get out of bed for long periods of time, and he figured he would not be able to see her after all. He pondered whether he should let it be and only wish her well, or if he should at least offer the bouquet he had brought. It seemed like a waste, to take the flowers back with him to Delaford, only to be thrown away. Besides, since her sister or mother would be the ones presenting it to her, he had nothing to fear. He would not see her disappointment or disinterest, should they occur. After a few more moments of conversation, he decided to go to his riding bag, which rested on a chair in the corner, and fetch the bouquet he had brought.

“I hope you will give Miss Marianne my wishes of a speedy recovery, along with these flowers. They were much prettier when I picked them out. I should have presented them as soon as I got here.”

“Nonsense, Colonel! They are very beautiful. And you may give them to her yourself. She will want to see you,” Miss Dashwood said, leading him to the bottom of the stairs.

“Yes,” Margaret’s voice arose from behind them. “She has been in a foul mood all week, perhaps you can cheer her up!” Mrs. Dashwood tugged on her arm and gave her a stern look. “What? It’s true,” Margaret muttered.

“Colonel, I’ll go up and warn her you are here” and Mrs. Dashwood hurried up the stais.

Elinor walked the Colonel up. She was saying something to him, but he could not hear, for his heart was thumping in his ear, it seemed. He could not let his hopes get the best of him. The only thing that was growing, perhaps, was their friendship. That was all.

He was at the door of her room and hadn’t even noticed he had gotten there.

“Colonel Brandon, do come in.” Marianne’s voice was still weak, but there was some cheer. “Forgive me for not being able to receive your visit in better conditions, but the doctor and my nurses won’t let me get out of bed.” She looked at her mother and her elder sister with something of a smile on her face.

“It’s quite alright, Miss Marianne. Your health should come first.” He gave a shy little smile. Then, he remembered the bouquet in his hand. “These… are for you,” he said rather nervously, handing them over to her.

“Oh, they’re beautiful!” She lifted them to her nostrils and breathed in. “Thank you, Colonel. Mama, would you please put these in a vase and place them here by my bed? They shall cheer me up.”

Colonel Brandon felt relief, and it came with the hopefulness he wished to keep in check but could not quite manage to. She hadn’t given nearly as much attention to his last – and only – bouquet.

“Colonel, pray, do sit down.” She pointed at a chair in the corner behind him.

Mrs. Dashwood came back in the room with the flowers in a vase and placed them on the small table beside Marianne’s bed. She looked over at them and gave a little smile. Her mother and sister left the room. There followed an awkward silence.

“How have you been, Colonel?”

“I’ve… been well, Miss Marianne, thank you for asking. I see you’ve been making a speedy recovery.”

She was propped on several pillows, sitting up in bed. Her complexion was not back to its usual pink that made her so lively and beautiful, and her eyes still carried a tired look, but overall, she looked better than the week before. She was still the most beautiful creature Colonel Brandon had ever seen.

“Not as speedy as I wished.”

Another awkward pause.

“Miss Marianne, I took the liberty of bringing a book, if you would wish me to read to you again,” he managed the courage to say.

“That would be lovely, Colonel.”

He took the book he had placed in his coat pocket, and opened it. He was about to start reading when she said:

“Colonel, pull your chair closer, please. So I can hear you better.”

He was a little startled. It was unusual to be in a lady’s bedchamber like this, and her asking him to come closer surprised him. He stiffly got up and carried the chair to the foot of her bed. She secretly wished he would have gotten closer, but dared say no more.

His reading to her, now that she felt a little stronger, led them to interesting conversations. Before, she would just hear him and be soothed, for she had not the strength to discuss anything.

She was amazed at how in such a short period of time, she got to see glimpses of a truly interesting man. A man she had written off as uninteresting and boring, a man whose friendship she had snubbed. But the notion of being his friend was warmer and warmer in her heart.

 

Time passed rather quickly and Colonel Brandon had to be off. He closed the book that had been forgotten on his lap for quite some time now due to their conversation and got up.

“Miss Marianne, it was delightful to have spent this day with you.”

He was very happy indeed. Never had he spent so much time with her. She did not have the time for him before. He was delighted he had gotten to know her a little more that day, though his observation of her even when she was not paying him any mind made him know her quite well. And love her more. He would cherish the memories made today. It was funny how, in the time he had known the Dashwoods, he had had more conversations with Marianne’s sisters than with herself, and yet he loved her truly nonetheless. Love at first sight. As if he were still a boy. He smiled at that thought.

Any and every new piece of information he learned of her only contributed to the growth of his love. But he could not show it. He would cherish the memories of what he lived today, for he did not know when she would wish to see him again, when his presence would not be a burden, when it would be desired, if ever again.

He was at the door, ready to bid her farewell.

“Colonel Brandon, may I expect you again tomorrow?”

He gave that timid smile that showed no teeth, even as inside, his heart swelled so much he felt as if it would not fit in his chest any longer. She did wish to see him again. And soon.

“Yes” he said, with the timid smile on his face. “Till tomorrow then.”

“Till tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Marianne Dashwood sat in the parlor, a blanket over her legs, as she stared out the window. It was the first time her mother had allowed her to leave her room. That wish was granted only after fierce requests. Though what she really wished to do was leave the house, sitting downstairs in the parlor was better than nothing. Her mother feared the fever would return, and going outside was unimaginable. She had even closed the window to the parlor, afraid of the chill that would come in.

            Beyond that window, she watched Colonel Brandon. She had not known that in the past couple of days, before he came up to see her or after he had taken his leave, he had been just outside, building Margaret a tree house.

            Though he had borrowed one of sir John’s servants (possibly because Delaford was too far to bring along one of his own servants – perhaps even the Colonel himself had been staying at Barton park), he himself was very hands on with the work. His sleeves were pulled up, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his cravat slightly undone. His coat and his riding hat sat on the armchair next to her. She could smell him on them. He had a pleasant smell.

            He directed Sir John’s servant as to what should be done and while he did as he was told, the Colonel occupied himself with other tasks. Nailing boards and such.

            It was really very nice of him. Margaret had had a tree house at Norland and it was one of the things she missed the most. So much so that she was outside, overseeing their work, and when she was not jumping up and down in excitement, saying something that made the Colonel smile (a real smile, baring teeth, not the shy ones he gave Marianne), she ran around in pure joy. He was a good friend to her family. A very good friend. And Marianne felt ashamed she hadn’t appreciated him sooner and had treated him so unfairly. Watching him filled her heart with warmth.         

            But she must remember that he was a friend, nothing more. It is true that at first, when her fever first broke away, she had only called upon him after being told he was the one who fetched her. She was required to thank him, of course, and she would try to be pleasant and friendly. Once he was in her presence and started to read a sonnet to her, she realized perhaps he was not as boring as she had thought. His velvet voice was pleasant and soothing, and he read with the passion and emotion the literature required. She had never imagined he had that in him. Sadly, her exhaustion overcame her, and she was in a slumber before anything else could be said or learnt.

            During the next visits, in addition to reading to her, some conversation was shared and she learned he was more interesting than first impressions allowed to notice. With the passing days, she became fully and completely ashamed of her prior assessment of him, granting to herself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was in fact delightful company she could have enjoyed, like her sister had, hadn’t she been so petty and foolish.

            During the brief period she was back at Barton Cottage, she had gotten better and could remember for herself when the Colonel had found her lying in the rain, how he swept her up and walked oh so many miles with her in his arms, cradling her tight. His rescue had been more dramatic and more significant than Willoughby’s, and her romantic side began to flourish again with that thought. But she must restrain herself. She caught herself wondering what it would feel like to be wrapped in his embrace.

            She had even begun making comparisons between Willoughby and the Colonel. Though she had enjoyed when Willoughby read to her, somehow she enjoyed the Colonel’s reading better. Maybe it was the lack of choice at the moment. But where Willoughby had ill intended comments about the Colonel for no apparent reason, Colonel Brandon never had a rude word to say about Willoughby, even though he had enough reasons to. But then again the subject hadn’t come up. Where Willoughby was selfish and thought only of himself, the Colonel was generous, something he was proving yet again at that very moment. Willoughby caused hurt to a young woman, seduced her and left her alone without a second thought. Colonel Brandon would never do such a thing. He had taken in a girl who was not even his daughter by blood, disregarding any distasteful comments that could be made of him, and had taken her in yet again – and her child – again not giving mind to whatever shame that might cause. The Colonel was a true gentleman. Willoughby had caused her sorrow, insinuating he loved her and then leaving her with no explanation. But she had her share of blame in that, for she was foolish and let him deceive her.

            No, she would not be foolish again. Though she firmly believed the Colonel would never deceive her, that did not mean she could not make a fool of herself. She was beginning to see the Colonel differently, and if that grew, if she let it grow… No, Colonel Brandon did not feel that way. How could he? A mature gentleman, intelligent, kind… feel such things, towards a girl like her? Who had treated him so unfairly? She could not let herself get caught in such emotions for she would be mistaking his friendship, perhaps friendship that was more inclined towards her family than to her, and make a fool of herself again.

            Besides, what would it say about her if she formed an attachment? A second attachment, and so soon? Love could not be copied like that. Love, once lost, could not be found again. Not true love. Not so soon. Perhaps not ever.

            She had to restrain herself. Be proper. Have sense, like her sister. Not give in to her foolishness.

            The tree house was done. As Colonel Brandon’s helper went off, taking the tools back to Barton Park, and Margaret went up her tree house in delight, Colonel Brandon walked towards the Cottage, lowering his sleeves and buttoning up his waistcoat. A breeze ruffled his voluminous blond hair. She wondered if he would read to her, or stay a while to talk, or if he had to be on his way.

            He was already inside.

            “Miss Marianne.” He bowed and gave that polite smile, almost undetectable.

            Her heart filled with warmth again.

Chapter Text

Marianne had been confined to her house for days. Her most constant company other than her family, Colonel Brandon, was the one who convinced Mrs. Dashwood to allow them to go to the garden for their almost daily routine of reading and talking, and she was grateful for it.  To be outside, see the trees and leaves, feel the fresh spring air. And for a couple of days, that was enough for her. But not today. Today she fancied a walk. She felt she was strong enough for it, and proposed one to the Colonel. He had been reading to her, and when he paused to turn the page, she quietly started:

            “Colonel Brandon, would you be so kind as to accompany me on a walk?”

            “But, Miss Marianne, are you… can you…”

            “I believe I can. I might need to take your arm, for support, if you don’t mind of course. But I miss having my walks. I think if I remain here seated one more day, I might forget how to use my legs,” she smiled, that twinkle in her eyes that Willoughby and the fever had stolen away slowly showing itself again. He smiled back, his lips curving in that same timid, almost imperceptible way.

            “Well then, I think we must.”

            He got up from his little stool, which was positioned beside her chair, and went around to stand in front of her. He reached out both his hands, palms up, while he said:

            “Allow me to help you up?”

            She smiled and placed her hands in his.

            For one moment, the world stopped turning. Colonel Brandon could feel her warm, gentle touch on his bare hands, and he needed nothing else to be happy. She pulled herself up, awakening him from his brief reverie, and let go of his hands to straighten out her dress. He stood beside her, arms now on his back, one hand gripping the other fist.

            When she was ready, they began to walk, both forgetting to let someone in the house know of their plans, but surely Elinor was watching from the window. After a few steps, he felt her hand grip his right arm, and he got startled.

            “May I?” she said, placing her hand firmly in the fold between his arm and forearm. He brought his hand forward to lean against his stomach, to give her proper support.

            “Of course. But are you feeling well?”

            “Yes, yes. Just a bit lightheaded, but nothing to be alarmed over.”

            Had she been on his left side, she would certainly feel his heart thumping in his chest with her hand poisoned where it was, for it leapt so hard he felt as if his ribcage could not hold it in his body for much longer. But he needed to remind himself that it was only a necessity, for she had been ill. He must not read anything into it.

            They walked in silence for a while.

            “Colonel Brandon, may I ask you a question?” she said, breaking the silence.

            “You may.”

            “If I’m being too forward, pray excuse me, you don’t have to answer. It’s just that I’ve felt so comfortable in the time we’ve spent together, I might begin to overstep.”

            “I don’t believe you would ever do that, Miss Marianne. I too have enjoyed our time together and couldn’t be bothered by any inquiries you may have” he said, though his throat was dry, worried of what was to come.

            Another moment of silence.

            “I’ve… I’ve of course heard through my sister, for you told her, about your… your past.”

            He remained silent.

            Marianne gathered courage and went on.

            “Did you truly love Eliza?”

            He did not expect this. Though he was nervous, he answered “I did.”

            “And do you believe that after having one’s heart broken in such a way, one can find love again?”

            He was suddenly very aware once again of her hand wedged in between his arm and his torso and the sheer joy that it brought him.

            “I do,” he answered.

            “You do!? As strongly as the first time?”

            “Yes, I believe that is possible.”

            Another moment of silence.

            “And have you?”

            He feared what would result of that question. Would he be forced to confess his feelings right there and then, under such circumstances? It was not how he thought of doing it, if he ever would do it at all.

            “I have.”

            He braced himself for the question he thought was to come, but it didn’t. Instead, the conversation went in an opposite direction.

            “Do you think I ever could? Not that I would compare what you went through to what… what Willoughby did.”

            There it was. Somehow, somewhere along the way, he had let his guard down, though he was always attentive not to let that happen. She had not mentioned the subject ever since they started their readings together, and seemed more cheerful each day, so he stopped expecting it, to say the least. And now, to hear that name bursting through her lips again, it felt like a punch to his stomach.

            “I hope so,” he looked at her longingly. His heart felt as if it was being crushed by and invisible hand. She watched the ground.

            “I’m not even sure I want to. Maybe it’s best I dedicate myself to my studies, and to taking care of Mama.”

            He said nothing. The hope that had crept into his heart these past few weeks, unbeknownst to him, washed away in an instant. It was useless. She still had Willoughby on her mind. Maybe she would never forget him. He himself had taken a long time to move past Eliza. But had he met someone like Marianne Dashwood sooner… Though there was no one quite like her.

            “Colonel, could you… please, tell me about… about your confrontation with Willoughby?”

            His heart froze. He never wanted to approach this subject with her.

            “What… what do you mean?”

            “Elinor said you… you challenged him to a duel.”

            He swallowed though his mouth was dry.

            “Miss Marianne, I do not wish you to think I am barbaric for taking such actions… but due to the options that were left to me by…by Willoughby, it was necessary. I had to do something to defend Eliza’s honor.”

            “I understand, Colonel. And I do not think you are barbaric. Though the thought of the possible outcome does horrify me.”

            The light in her eyes went out for a moment when she thought of Willoughby dying. A lonely tear ran down her face, but before more could follow, she controlled herself. But it wasn’t fast enough for the Colonel not to notice. His aching heart, for having to speak of this, for having her say she wouldn’t want to find love again, for being so bare, with his heart almost exposed, ached deeper when he saw that tear. Would she have preferred that Willoughby bested him and that he died? That thought broke yet another piece of his heart.

            “So, what happened, Colonel? How did both of you come out unscathed?”

            He did not wish to, he could not, tell her the whole truth. He could not tell her that he spared Willoughby’s life because he did not want to forever be the cause of such sorrow to her, and lose for certain the chance of having at least her friendship, of being a part of her life in some way, though that chance, at the time, was very slim anyway. But he could not deny her an answer either. He had never been an authoritarian, nor would he start now. He was very distressed, but he hid it as best he could.

            “He… I bested him.”

            “That was expected, you being an army man.”

            “And he pleaded for his life. I could not… Despite all he did, Eliza was still, maybe still is, infatuated by him, and she was most distressed when I left her and informed her of my intentions. I could not bear to have her hate me so. And taking the life of a man on his knees…”

            A half-truth. Though Eliza was distressed and probably would hate him, that did not weigh on his decision. He was a father figure to Eliza, and fathers need to do what is best for their child. She would grow to see that what that scoundrel did to her required no less. Perhaps when her daughter was grown. And then she would come to forgive him. But the thought of causing sorrow to Marianne, undeserved sorrow, and killing a man that, to the best of his knowledge at the time, was engaged to her… he couldn’t.

            “Oh. Thank you, Colonel, for being honest with me.”

            He only managed to nod his head once.

            By this time, they had turned around and were by the Cottage fence, where he had tied his horse. Colonel Brandon was very distressed, and couldn’t bear being there anymore. He needed to calm himself, or he might show his emotions.

            “Miss Marianne, I’m afraid it is time for me to take my leave. Do pass on my goodbye to your mother and sisters, if you could. It is late and I really must be on my way.”

            “Won’t you come in for some tea?”

            “I really must go.”

            “Have I offended you in some way?”

            “Not at all. It’s just late and I have some letters I must write before I lose sunlight.”

            “Will we see you tomorrow then?”

            “I’m afraid not.” The Colonel was very agitated; he could barely hide it anymore. “I have some business at Delaford to tend to. But I might call back the day after, if you would have me.”

            “Of course!”

            “Are you alright to go back inside on your own, Miss Marianne?”

            “I am, thank you.”

            He mounted his horse and whilst he did so, he bid her farewell.

            He hurriedly rode away, and as he did, the tears could finally roll down his face.

Chapter Text

 

It was a dinner party at Barton Park. One of Marianne’s first – if not the first – times out of the Cottage and its surroundings. The first time also that she was in the company of many people, and not just her family members and her constant friend, Colonel Brandon.

            He wished for nothing more than to sit by her all night, but he couldn’t. He shouldn’t. He mustn’t. He could give the wrong impression. Or worse – the right one. So he let her be, let her mingle, get reacquainted with the others, who hadn’t visited her as often and for as long a time as he had.

            It wasn’t a large party, mostly the usual faces. But there were a couple of young men there, sons of a friend, a neighbor – what difference made it? – of Sir John’s. Mrs. Jennings, with all the events of late, seemed to have forgotten of her interest in seeing Marianne coupled with Colonel Brandon. But never of her obsession of marrying off every single lady in her reach. So she introduced these young men to Marianne and Elinor. They were at a pleasant age; the correct age for the sisters. Not at the wrong side of five-and-thirty like certain other gentlemen.

            Colonel Brandon stood on one side of the room, brandy in hand, with Sir John, Mr. Palmer, and another gentleman. They talked about politics, hunting, or something other. Colonel Brandon couldn’t really say, for his eyes and attention were fixed on the corner of the room where Miss Marianne, her sister, and the two young men talked and smiled.

            He watched from afar. His mix of emotions was considerable. Love, as he always felt with just the thought of her, let alone the sight of her, her presence; sadness and desperation, for not having her close, not being able to touch her. But today, mostly, an emotion he hadn’t felt in a while… jealousy.

            He would again watch as another swept her off her feet, watch as they laughed and played together, watch by the sidelines as his friendship – at least in its current form – was forgotten and cast aside. He could only hope that this fine gentleman would indeed deserve her, unlike the last.

            His eyes disengaged from the scene for a moment, so he could sip his brandy. In that brief moment, he met Mrs. Jennings’ gaze, who was sitting at the card table with Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Palmer. He could see in her eyes that she had perceived what she had done and remembered the Colonel’s interest in Marianne. Spending all that time with Miss Marianne was making his armor, built in so many years of hard work, crack, and people could see through him more easily. He, knowing Mrs. Jennings for as long as he did, could tell she was about to do something, perhaps go to him and apologize for her insensitivity, so he excused himself from the gentlemen while there was still time, and escaped the room altogether.

            He went to a room in the back of the manor, which led to a garden. He stepped out, trailing the stepping stones that were spaced on the green grass until he reached a wooden bench. There were flowers all about him, a trellis along the wall of the house with plants growing over it, a gazebo straight ahead and beyond that, a pond. Above him, the night sky was clear and starry, the moon full, shining its light upon him. It was a beautiful night. If only a shooting star came along, he could make a wish. Would it come true?

            He sat on the bench facing the garden, the door which he came from to his back, brandy still in his hand, and took a sip from his glass. The cool night air was refreshing and soothed him.

 

            He heard footsteps behind him. At first he feared it was Mrs. Jennings, come to disturb his moment of peace, but he realized the footsteps were too soft and gentle to be hers. He did not turn around and remained looking up at the stars, feeling the cool night air wash over his cheeks.

            Someone sat beside him.

            “Colonel Brandon. Am I intruding?”

            That voice was music to his ears, and he smiled. It was Miss Marianne.

            “Not at all” he said, with his velvet, soothing voice, his eyes closed, still facing the stars.

            He opened them and looked at her, smile still on his face.

            “I had never been out here. It is very lovely,” she said.

            “It is. A good spot for thinking.”

            “And may I ask what you were thinking of?”

            “You may not,” he said, in a tone that suggested a jest. He smiled, a wide smile. Maybe he had had too much brandy. She smiled back. “Where is your companion?” he asked. A hint of jealousy came through to his voice. “Grew tired of him?”

            “I am afraid it was he who grew tired of me.”

            “I am quite sure that is impossible.”

            She looked at him a bit startled, but then smiled at the compliment.

            “You are very kind, Colonel, but I’m afraid it is. My interest in him did not, nor will it ever, go beyond friendship, and I might have made that a bit too clear. Perhaps in a not so polite manner.”

            He chuckled. He couldn’t deny he was pleased with that.

            “Anyway, now he and his brother are disputing Elinor’s attention. They won’t succeed there either, I’m afraid, after what she has been through.”

            He looked at her, baffled. She realized what she had done.

            “Oh dear, I might have said too much. I drink a bit of wine and turn into Mrs. Jennings, apparently.” She smiled. “This habit of mine, of speaking my mind. I must restrain myself. Someone once told me that I wouldn’t find a husband if I didn’t change my ways. Not that I would want a husband that did not accept me as I am. But I’m sure it is a bit annoying and unladylike, this habit of mine.”

            “I myself find it quite charming,” he said, still smiling. She realized she had never seen him smile so uninhibitedly, showing teeth, before. Not to her at least. He had a beautiful, contagious smile.

He did not inquire anything, though he was curious. Miss Dashwood was a dear friend and he worried for her well being, even more so because any harm to her would mean heartache to Miss Marianne.

            Marianne continued anyway, though she did not quite understand why she felt the need to open up to him. So she blamed the wine.

            “You are a dear friend, and a true gentleman, I’m sure there would be no harm in telling you.”

            “Miss Marianne, if you ever feel the need to talk to someone, you can confide in me. I promise to do my best to soothe your worries.”

            “Well, Colonel, while we were at Norland still, Elinor formed and attachment to Mr. Edward Ferrars, and I’m sure he to her as well. She was unaware of his prior engagement and only learned of it through Miss Steele herself. She does not talk about it or express any emotion, but I worry for her. I truly cannot decide if it is better to be sensible like she is and not talk to a soul, or if perhaps my ways… my old ways have some benefit after all.”

            Colonel Brandon was happy to see a glimpse of the old Marianne coming back. She had been very restrained and not much like herself of late, though she was charming all the same. But at the same time, he was shocked. He sat there with his free hand on the bench between them, the brandy in the other. He took another sip.

            “Colonel, are you well? Have I said something to upset you? Forgive me.”

            “No, Miss Marianne, there is nothing to forgive. It’s just… I wasn’t aware of this… these events, and I offered the Parish at Delaford to Mr. Ferrars… which will enable him to marry Miss Steele. Therefore, even if unwillingly, I have contributed to your sister’s sorrow.”

            “Oh no, Colonel, do not feel bad. My sister does not think less of you, nor do any of us. If anything, we think more of you. You are truly a great man and have the kindest of hearts.”

She placed her hand on his and caressed it, without much thought to what she was doing. When she came to her senses, she quickly removed her hand.

            For those few seconds, the colonel felt as if he were in heaven. Maybe a shooting star had gone by after all. His heart beat as if it were in his throat, and he couldn’t say anything for a couple of minutes.

            He broke the silence. “Well, I wish your sister happiness. I do hope all this can be overcome somehow.”

            “Colonel Brandon, pray forgive me. I shouldn’t have told you such things. Whatever must you think of me! A lady who betrays her sister’s trust. I do not know what came over me.” She seemed exasperated.

            “Miss Marianne, I could never think less of you. Ever. You are worried for your sister’s well being and needed someone to open up to. And I do not know what you think of me, but I do consider myself your friend.” He smiled, but there was something like longing in his eyes. “You can be open and honest with me always. I… appreciate you just as you are. And you can trust me.”

            She looked up at him, a bit flushed, and smiled.

 “Now, I do believe that if we are any longer, people will start to miss us,” he said after a moment of silence. “And we wouldn’t want everyone to discover this little piece of heaven, would we?”

            “Indeed not!”

Chapter Text

Sir John had invited everyone to Barton Park. Marianne was well on her feet already, and Sir John, always delighted with company, thought it merry to have a great lunch. The Dashwoods, Mrs. Jennings, and, of course, Colonel Brandon were all there, having stimulating conversations after they had eaten, when Margaret asked the Colonel to go riding.

            Margaret was accustomed to going riding with the Colonel every time they were at Barton Park. Due to the long standing friendship between him and Sir John, Colonel Brandon had many liberties, and thus knew his way around the stables pretty well. Margaret, friendly as she was, expressed the wish to ride on their first meeting, and with her mother’s permission, Colonel Brandon took her. She took the opportunity to learn more of the East Indies. Everything she could, actually.

            Since then, it had become a sort of ritual for them. She would inquire about his travels and improve her riding skills under his watchful and experienced eye, and he was happy to have such innocent and cheerful company. Marianne hadn’t taken much notice of this arrangement, for she was, more often than not, absorbed in Willoughby. She was out on his barouche with him, or drawing him, just breathing him. That was also a reason why the Colonel enjoyed his outings with Margaret so much. He wouldn’t have to endure such sights that made his heart so heavy with pain.

 

            Colonel Brandon opened the front door and Margaret ran out ahead of him. He was about to follow her when a voice coming from behind stopped him.

            “Colonel Brandon!”

            He turned around and there was Miss Marianne, standing midway from the drawing room door.

            “I shall like to accompany you, if it is not too much trouble.”

            Colonel Brandon was surprised and very pleased she wanted his company. They had spent quite a lot of time together, but he was not sure if she enjoyed his company that much. He thought maybe since she hadn’t been able to get away from the cottage many times, she would endure whatever company she got there – mainly him. Now that she was around different people, he thought she would rejoice in spending time with someone else.

            “It would be a pleasure, Miss Marianne. But are you certain you are well enough for it?”

            “I am, Colonel. I cannot be treated like an invalid for the rest of my life!” She smiled up at him, quietly thankful that he worried about her.

            He held the door open for her and gave a slight bow, with a smile. She passed and waited for him outside, so they could walk side by side.

            They exchanged polite conversation about how lovely the weather was and about the food they had just eaten. A bit shallow, considering the time they had spent together and the conversations they had had. By the time they got to the stables, Margaret was already impatient.

            “What took you so long?”

            “Margaret, don’t be rude!” Marianne warned.

            “Forgive us, Captain Margaret, we’ll be off soon enough” Colonel Brandon said, in a playful tone and saluting Margaret.

            He went into the stables and came out with one horse, while the stable hand came out with two more, one of which was his own stallion he rode from Delaford. The Colonel saddled the horse he brought out while the stable hand prepared the other two. As soon as the Colonel was done, an eager Margaret was already climbing on the horse, not requiring much help from the Colonel.

            “Be careful, Captain Margaret.”

            “I will, Colonel.” And she was off, riding close by, waiting for them.

            Marianne was amused at how good the Colonel was with Margaret. Playful, not so formal and stiff as he usually was around everyone else. They had spent time together lately, and though he sometimes did let his guard down and she got glimpses of a more open and charming man, it was as though he was always reminded of something that made him pull away, back into his armor after a while.

            The stable hand was done with the two horses and went back to his duties with a thank you from Colonel Brandon. He tied his horse nearby and held the other for Miss Marianne.

            “It seems that John does not have a stool in his stables to help young ladies mount their horses. Do you… may I… Do I have permission to help you, Miss Marianne?” He looked timid, but firm.

            “Would you please, Colonel? I am not as used to riding as Margaret, it seems.” She smiled.

            He came close to her, so close they were almost in an embrace. She had never noticed how much taller he was than her. He placed his hands on her waist and she took support on his shoulders. As she did so, she noticed how broad and strong they were. She also could smell his cologne, a pleasant smell that made her drift away in reveries of how good it would feel to be embraced by him. He then lifted her up to the horse as if it were nothing. As if… as if she weighed no more than a leaf. She flushed red and what seemed to be butterflies fluttered around in her stomach for a while.

            It was true, he was strong. She suddenly remembered he had carried her swiftly in the rain for God knows how many miles when he had saved her from certain death. It seems there was a lot about the Colonel – a lot more than she initially thought –she had misjudged based solely on a few encounters and his age, and then with the influence of Willoughby. Or a lot she, for some reason, had refused to see.

            The Colonel was flushed too, seeing as he, deep in his heart, longed to hold her every day, but couldn’t. This was the first time he had come close to holding her since he carried her to Cleveland in the rain, and the fear for her life at that time had prevented him from fully realizing that he held her, he finally held her. It had been a bittersweet feeling. Marianne did not notice his flush, for he was quick to turn and retrieve his horse.

            As he mounted, Marianne, now more aware of him, noticed how elegantly he held himself, how his strong legs pulled him up, how his hat was slightly tilted and how beneath it, his blond, full hair waved with the breeze and his eyes narrowed as the sunlight hit them slightly.

            He looked at her and smiled. “Shall we? Margaret is impatient.” He motioned to where Margaret rode in circles, awaiting them and biding them to hurry. Marianne laughed at the sight of her sister and off they went.

            Margaret rode in front of them through the trails and they were left a little behind. Colonel Brandon engaged Miss Marianne in conversation, being careful to not take his eyes off Margaret for long periods of time, for fear she might need aid and he not perceive it.

            “Miss Marianne, you said you are not used to riding. Did you not like to ride at Norland?”

            “I rode occasionally, but Elinor was the one who most liked to. I preferred to spend my time at the pianoforte. Or reading.”

            He nodded as they rode on.

            “Of course I never had such pleasant company. I believe now I shall take to riding more often.” She smiled a broad smile. She did not know why she said that, but she suddenly felt the need to. It was true. She guessed there was no harm in flattering a friend. No improprieties.

            The colonel looked at her startled and though he smiled one of his timid and discrete smiles, in his chest his heart pounded and filled with warmth. The pounding increased when his horse changed its course slightly and his leg came to graze hers. He secretly wished there weren’t such layers of clothes and his boots in the way of him feeling her soft, warm skin, but he quickly nudged his horse back into course.

            “Tell me, Colonel, what do you do for leisure?”

            “Of late I’ve been reading and sharing stimulating conversation with a sickly young lady.” His smile now showed teeth.

            “Oh, poor Colonel, I’ve been taking up all of your time when I’m sure you have better things to do.”

            “Nothing brings me more joy than to spend time with you, Miss Marianne. I’m afraid you are the one who will have to put an end to these interactions, when you finally grow tired of me and healthy enough to run away.” Again he gave a smile, a timid one, for his heart was heavy with fear he, even if meant in jest, spoke the truth, that she would grow tired of him.

            “Then we shall have a long friendship, for I don’t see how I could ever grow tired of your company. If I ever do run away, please fetch me again and bring me back to my senses.”

            He did not know how to react to such compliments. He was afraid he might read too much into them and make a fool of himself, thinking she might feel for him something similar to what he felt for her. So he avoided action and tried to hold his composure as they rode on.

Chapter Text

 

Ever since her fever subsided, Marianne had had a few visits from Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, but Colonel Brandon was the most constant presence at Barton Cottage. When he wasn’t away on business or wasn’t held back to tend to his estate, he would be by Marianne’s side. In the name of propriety, he would say he was visiting all of the Dashwood ladies, who had become his very good friends, but it was obvious – maybe not to all – that his greatest interest was Marianne Dashwood. Mrs. Dashwood, who was aware of the Colonel’s feelings towards Marianne and approved of the match, would often let them sit alone after a short visit, always with the excuse that Elinor and herself had some errand to tend to and that Marianne couldn’t be left in more able hands.

            Marianne, who had long felt shame for having been so rude to Colonel Brandon – such a good friend to her family and most dependable in times of need – and for going along with Willoughby’s taunting of him, was resolute on somehow making it up to him and showing her appreciation and gratitude towards him, so she would sit with him for hours. However, very early on she already did not feel like it was a duty or a matter of being polite. The Colonel, after given the chance, made for very interesting company. He had many common interests with her, and more experience, so something was always to be learned from him. Besides that, he had a very good reading voice – soothing yet passionate – and would read to her. At first because her eyes grew tired very quickly, but later, just because she liked hearing his deep yet tender voice. He was also very well traveled, so sometimes he would tell her some interesting anecdote about the places he had visited. Marianne enjoyed his presence and even – dare she think it? – missed him when he wasn’t able to show.

            In one of their most recent talks, she confided to him that though his company was lovely and made her days incomparably better, she was a bit tired of sitting in her house or the garden all day, having been away only twice, to Barton Park. She yearned for the day when she could go for a long walk, go out more often, or even go to a ball. The last ball she had gone to hadn’t been a pleasant experience, and she would like to change that and make new memories.

            “Well, Miss Marianne, all of that could be arranged.”

            “Oh Colonel, I’m sure a man of your stature and influence can very well arrange for anything, but you’ve already done too much for me. I would be very content in simply having you escort me on a long walk.” And that he did, right away.

            But the Colonel also let the idea of a ball slip to Sir. John, for he knew Sir John loved parties and having company, and would definitely arrange one Miss Marianne could attend.

            And so here she was, sitting in a carriage, heading to Barton Park. She certainly wouldn’t know many people there, but she knew enough people to be comfortable. And the Colonel would also be there.

            What was this? This feeling that was coming up inside her? It wasn’t like anything she had felt before. Nonetheless it felt good. It felt right. She just knew she looked forward to seeing the Colonel. How dashing would he look in his ball attire?

 

            “Marianne, are you well? You are awfully quiet,” Elinor said, cutting off her thoughts.

            “I’m quite alright, dear sister.”

            “I know you, Marianne. You are probably mulling over the last ball we went to. I know you are dreading this, but please try to be civil to everybody.”

            “Well sister, it seems you do NOT know me as well as you think, for I very much look forward to this ball, to make new and pleasant memories. And as for being civil, you hurt me, dearest. No need to bring up my mistakes every time we are to meet with those I’ve done wrong by. I remind myself of it every day and suffer over my foolishness. Especially towards Colonel Brandon.”

            Elinor and her mother exchanged glances and small smiles.

            They arrived.

            The room was ample and full of people, very few familiar faces. The Dashwoods made their way around, saying hello to the ones they knew, and being introduced to new people. Marianne made conversation with everyone, very civil, as requested by her sister, but all the while her eyes were scanning the room, looking for the Colonel.

            When she finally saw him, he was engaged in conversation with a young lady. She seemed very pleased with the conversation. Of course she was. Why wouldn’t she be? The Colonel was a very charming man. But at the sight of that, her heart sank to her stomach. Could she be… jealous?

            The Colonel’s eyes met hers, and he smiled and nodded. She reciprocated. He excused himself from the young lady and was making his way toward her. Her heart now was beating in her throat, it seemed.

            “Mrs. Dashwood, Miss Dashwood, Miss Marianne,” he bowed.

            “Colonel, how nice to see you here!” Mrs. Dashwood started. Elinor and her mother were soon engaged in conversation with him, but Marianne wasn’t paying much attention. She was busy noticing every detail of the Colonel’s attire, admiring how handsome he looked, how well fitted his clothes were. Suddenly, sir John pulled her away to introduce her to a young lady he thought would be a good friend for her. Marianne greeted her and made small conversation, but soon excused herself, for she wanted to get back to Colonel Brandon. But he was nowhere to be found.

            Marianne scanned the room once more, for a long while, until she caught a glimpse of the Colonel walking to an adjacent room. She followed.

            This room was very quiet in comparison to the former, and Colonel Brandon was alone, leaning against the wall in a corner, with a glass in his hand.

            “Colonel! I thought I would find you engaged in conversation with that lovely young lady again. She seemed very absorbed in what you were saying.” She tried to say it without any resentment, but could not tell if she had succeeded. “Why are you out here hiding?” she added, trying to amend any ill impression she may have caused.

            “I’m not the most comfortable in large crowds, Miss Marianne, so I find myself requiring small breaks from all the people. And though John means well, introducing me to every respectable single lady in the party does not help.”

            Marianne was about to take her leave so the Colonel could have his break in peace, when he added “Honestly, the only respectable young lady I wouldn’t mind talking to is you, Miss Marianne.” Marianne flushed red and smiled timidly.

            “Then I shall keep you company until you find that your break was long enough.”

            “It will definitely need to be extended, now that I have found such lovely company.”

            “You flatter me, Colonel, but I believe soon enough you’ll grow tired of me.”

            Colonel Brandon did not answer. He just gazed at her and his eyes clearly stated that would never happen.

            “You know, Miss Marianne,” he said, still leaning on the wall and holding his glass, but looking down at her gown, his eyes making their way up to hers, slowly, “if you do allow me to say so, you always look very lovely, and I thought you couldn’t possibly look more beautiful, but tonight you have proven me wrong. You have outdone yourself.” He was being too bold, he knew, but he didn’t seem to be able to restrain himself.

            She looked away, shy, and after a moment her eyes found his again.

            “Thank you, Colonel. You are very kind. And I must say, very handsome yourself.” He looked surprised that she would think of him as handsome in anyway. She continued. “Colonel, I’d like to thank you. I suspect you have something to do with this party, after I mentioned I was growing tired of sitting at home.”

            “No thanks are needed. John loves parties and to surround himself with crowds, I simply planted a little seed…” He smiled at her and gave a very quick, playful wink.

            She blushed. She liked this side of him, this side probably only very close friends saw. She liked to think she was considered a close friend. But little did she know that this side of Christopher Brandon wasn’t seen by anyone, not even the closest of friends, in a long time. All the hardships he had been through in life had made him more guarded. She was the one that brought that out in him. The one that made him… happy.

            Colonel Brandon took a sip of his drink and started:

            “Well then, Miss Marianne, you should go and enjoy your time out of the house. You shouldn’t waste such a good opportunity standing here in the corner talking to an old boring man such as myself.”

            She felt ashamed. She herself had said that about him, and it was the furthest thing from the truth. But she could make him see she wasn’t like that anymore, that it wasn’t how she really felt. She could try, at least.

            “I waste nothing. Quite the contrary, Colonel, I’m seizing a wonderful opportunity of getting to know a most interesting gentleman better.”

            Colonel Brandon looked puzzled and a little shy, yet he smiled.

            “Colonel, why don’t you ask me to dance? That way we can go enjoy the party and I can still benefit from the pleasure of your company.”

            “Miss Marianne… I… I don’t…” He was nervous. What would everyone think upon seeing him dance with such a young and beautiful lady? Why would she want to be seen with him? His heart beat heavy in his chest. He was nervous, yet excited. He felt as if he were a boy again.

            “What is the matter, Colonel? Surely a charming gentleman like yourself knows how to dance.”

            “You might not feel well, Miss Marianne. It was not long ago you still had strong headaches…” He tried to justify himself.

            “Oh, that won’t be a problem. If by chance I feel unwell, we already know you are strong enough to catch me.” She smiled up at him though she was blushing furiously.

            How could he say no to her? He did not want to say no. But he was always so worried about being proper. To hell with propriety.

            He placed his drink on the mantelpiece next to them and held out his hand. “Miss Marianne, will you do me the honor?”

            She placed her hand in his. “Gladly, Colonel Brandon.”

            He escorted her out on to the dance floor where a few couples were already dancing. When they had found a spot for them, he turned her so that she was facing him, and with his free hand, pulled her closer by the waist. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks, hot. She meant to place her hand on his shoulder, but he was much taller than she realized, so her hand rested on his chest before she could slide it up to his shoulder. In that brief moment she felt his heart pounding. Maybe Mrs. Jennings’ comments weren’t simply in jest. Maybe he did feel something more than friendship for her. Could it be? She smiled at the thought.

            They danced, and with each swirl both their stomachs seemed to fly up to their throats in happiness, nervousness and confusion.

            After Marianne’s head took all the swirling it could, they went back to their little corner, unaware of the rest of the world, and talked for a good portion of the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

It had been almost a fortnight since he last visited. He had sat outside on a sunny pleasant day and read her Edmund Spencer. When he stopped, she asked:

            “Shall we continue tomorrow?”

            “No, for I must away.”

            And then, unbeknownst to her, the words came out of her mouth with a kind of longing that showed she might miss him.

            “Away? Where?”

            “That I cannot tell you. It is a secret.”

            She smiled. “You will not stay away long?”

            She was a bit startled at her own reaction. He didn’t owe her any explanation, he was but a friend, and yet she seemed very interested in him, in his every move.

            Marianne thought about it for some time, but then dismissed it as just being used to his company. He had been there almost every day during her recovery. She liked his reading to her. His voiced was filled with passion when he read, and so were his eyes. It was a side of him she had never seen prior to her fever, so her admiration for him as a friend grew, that was all there was to it.

            But a couple of days had passed and he hadn’t shown. She started to worry, for he said he wouldn’t be long. Could something have happened to him?

            Three more days and then a parcel came for them at Barton Cottage. It was a pianoforte, sent by Colonel Brandon. He sent also a song for her to learn. That was so thoughtful of him. Ever since she had left Norland, Marianne hadn’t had a pianoforte she could practice on every day. She played at Sir John’s home occasionally, but that was it. She had missed being able to play daily, and Colonel Brandon had taken notice.

            After having more time to think upon it than she had anticipated, Marianne came to the conclusion that she did indeed miss Colonel Brandon. She still didn’t quite understand why one could feel such deep things for merely a friend, but all she knew is that she looked forward to his arrival, which, the letter stated, was to be in two days. Until then, she had the song to learn and keep her head occupied.

            But it was only four days later that a letter came. By such time, Marianne was in angst wondering what was taking him so long, and not understanding –or refusing to acknowledge – her own feelings. The letter invited the Dashwoods and Mr. Ferrars to Delaford.

            Having heard of what had transpired in his absence – the good news of Miss Dashwood’s and Mr. Ferrars’ engagement – Colonel Brandon thought it would be a good idea for them to go have a look at what was to become their home, so he could order the improvements that were needed. It would also be an opportunity to make up for the picnic that never was all those months ago. He had stayed behind to make arrangements for the event, and apologized for not paying them the visit he had promised. He informed he would send a carriage for them, for Sir John and Mrs. Jennings could not fit them all in theirs.

           

            Marianne rode with Elinor and Edward, while Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret traveled with Sir John and Mrs. Jennings. Elinor was worried, for Marianne was very quiet, contemplating the view outside. The last time she had been this secretive, she had fallen ill due to a broken heart. Elinor thought Willoughby was in the past, to be left further and further behind, but maybe he wasn’t out of Marianne’s thoughts after all.  Or her heart. She had to ask.

            “Marianne, are you quite alright, my dear?”

            “Why do you ask?” she said, turning her empty gaze from the window to her sister.

            “You are awfully quiet and seem rather sad.”

            “Dear sister, I’m not sad. Maybe a bit confused. Trying to figure out what I want from life, and what it demands of me.”

            “Well, that’s rather deep for such early ours in the morning” Edward said, trying to bring her cheer.

            “Dearest, you can always talk to me” Elinor said. “I would rather you not fall ill again, mulling things over. Whatever brought on such feelings? You seemed to be doing well but have been changed for a few days now.”

            “Do not concern yourself with me, dear sister. I’m just trying to be more prudent, more like yourself. Openly showing my emotions did not work out too well for me last time.  I embarrassed myself and my family and came out with a heart broken to pieces. I shall now try to think things through with care, whatever the matter may be. But do not worry, I will come to you when I need.” She smiled.

            “I just hope this new found introspectiveness does not bring back your rude behavior towards our friends, who have been very kind to you. Especially Colonel Brandon. I believe he is very fond of your company.”

            Since Edward seemed to have misunderstood Colonel Brandon’s kindness toward himself as a fondness towards Elinor, their only common link, Elinor had explained to him how the Colonel’s affections were really towards her sister, and she herself was but a friend. Of course all of the passengers in the other carriage, save perhaps Margaret, also knew the Colonel was far more than fond of Marianne. Elinor feared, however, that the knowledge of that would scare Marianne away from his friendship and break his heart. Maybe the pianoforte he sent was too big a gesture and that was why she became quieter in the last few days. But upon seeing Marianne blush with her comment on Colonel Brandon enjoying her company, she felt a tad easier.

            Upon arriving at Delaford, Marianne’s heart skipped a beat. The Colonel was waiting at the sweep, and she found herself hoping he would come help her out of the carriage, to feel his hand take hers, but Mr. Ferrars was quick to do that, right after he helped his betrothed. Pleasantries were exchanged by all, and after a brief tour of the grounds and the downstairs of the manor, everyone was invited outside for the picnic. Marianne Dashwood observed the Colonel play his role of host, his graciousness and charm, and at that moment, some of the confusion she was feeling cleared.  Maybe she was regarding him as more than a friend. Could it be? But how could she, if she believed love to be a onetime phenomenon? And if she was forming an attachment to him, would he feel the same about her? She knew that he too had suffered a broken heart, in some ways much more grievous than her own experience. Why would he attach himself again? And to her! A young girl who was foolishly lead by her emotions and had made a fool of herself numerous times, even in his presence. And had been rude to him on many occasions. No, it couldn’t be. He certainly only regarded her as a friend, and she would make a fool out of herself yet again if she allowed her heart to go down the path it seemed to want to take.

 

            After everyone was fed and talked out – all but Marianne, who deep in her heart wished greatly to speak to the Colonel, like they did back at the Cottage, but couldn’t, for he as host could not spare all his time on her alone – the Colonel invited Miss Dashwood and Mr. Ferrars to accompany him to their future home, so they could weigh in on what needed to be done.  A servant of the Colonel was to go with them, probably to take notes on what was to be done. Before they left, the Colonel invited all who remained to feel at home, and turned to her.

            “Miss Marianne, should you feel so inclined, there are many new books I acquired on my last trip in my library. You are free to have a look.”

            Marianne smiled. “Thank you, Colonel. That is most kind.”

            He smiled and bowed, and took his leave with Elinor and Edward.

            After spending a quarter of an hour still in the garden with the rest of the party, Marianne excused herself and decided to go explore the Colonel’s library after all. It was a magnificent room, with shelves that stretched up towards the high ceiling. There were more books than she could count. He truly did share her love for literature. By the fireplace was a pair of high back chairs with a small table in between them. On the table was a book. Probably what he had been reading. She stepped closer to take a look. It was the book he had been reading to her before he went away. On the marked page were the exact lines he had read her last, before her little outburst of true emotion where she hinted he might be missed. “For whatsoever from one place doth fall, is with the tide unto another brought… For there is nothing lost, but may be found, if sought…”  She did not take the fact that the page was marked to mean what in fact it meant, and wandered off the next room.

            There sat a pianoforte, his Broadwood Grand, next to the window. Rays of sun shone in on it and made it simply irresistible to her. She sat at it and began to play the song the Colonel had sent to her along with the pianoforte. She had learned it by heart already.

            It did not take very long for the Colonel to come in. The rest of the party, always willing to let them be, was chatting outside. Margaret flew kites with Sir John. The Colonel stood at the doorway, much like the first time he ever saw her, taking in her sweet voice and how lovely a sight it was to see her play. The sunlight reflecting off her hair made her shine even more. His heart swelled inside of him, full of love he wished to pour out on her, but could not. She did not notice he was there until she finished the song.

            “Forgive my intrusion, Colonel. I was just playing the song you sent me” she said, blushing, not quite sure how to act around him anymore, for she had such mixed feelings and was afraid to let them show.

            “It’s no intrusion at all, Miss Marianne. You are welcome to play the pianoforte anytime you wish. You play it beautifully. And your voice… is that of an angel. I’m glad you found the song I sent you to your liking.”

            “It is a very beautiful song. It was very thoughtful of you to remember me, even when you were absorbed by business.”

            He smiled in the timid way he was accustomed to. Little did she know that she took up most of his thoughts at all times, so much so that he bought the pianoforte. He would later rue the decision, thinking it was too bold a gesture, not sure if he could, or if he should even, try to win her affections and risk ruining the friendship he had obtained. All because it had seemed she was going to miss him when he stated he would be going away. A seasoned man, acting on his emotions like a boy again.

            Her voice cut away his thoughts.

            “I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to thank you for the pianoforte as well. It was the most generous gift! I don’t even know how I could repay you.”

            “Just allowing me to enjoy your friendship is payment enough. And of course, giving me the pleasure of hearing you play.”

            She blushed and smiled. The room fell silent for a moment. She then broke the silence.

            “Colonel Brandon, I do believe I recall Mrs. Jennings saying you were an excellent player, but I have never heard you play. I would like to, very much.”

            The Colonel blushed and felt nervous as a boy at the thought of playing something for her ears, and her ears alone. “Miss Marianne, I’m afraid Mrs. Jennings exaggerates in her flattery. You are a far superior player. I would even… be… embarrassed… to play for you.”

            “Nonsense” she said, getting up and walking to him.”I would be delighted to hear you play.” She took his hand, as if beckoning him to the pianoforte. “Won’t you please allow me to hear one of your performances?” She smiled.

            He could not say no to her, not when she took his hand so freely and looked at him so… affectionately. If she could feel how his heart beat now…

            “Very well. But please, do not be too harsh of a judge.”

            “Towards you, never.”

            He took a deep breath and sat down at the pianoforte. After a moment’s consideration, he decided to play The Tempest by Beethoven, a song he was very familiar with and likely would not play incorrectly. He came to love that song, for it expressed his most inner feelings for a long time. Maybe even now, with all the joy and uncertainties in his heart, it was a good choice. And furthermore, it had no words to it. So he at least would be spared of singing.

            He started to play and Marianne took a seat on a sofa nearby. She listened attentively and yet managed to observe his every move. He played very well, for like her, he played with his soul. She could see the passion in his eyes, in his movements. How she could have considered such a man to be boring, passionless, when he had such passion, such love for music, for literature, and shared so many of her interests with the same intensity she felt?

            She had thought Willoughby was the type of man who was lively, who showed emotion for everything, like her, but in truth, he had no passion for anything. He only used all around him to achieve his own selfish purposes, without any regard for anyone. Or anything. Whereas Colonel Brandon, albeit quiet in his ways, felt a passion deep inside. She had already seen it while he read, and now his musical skills proved the point further.

            When he finished, she had tears in her eyes. He quickly got up and handed her his handkerchief.

            “Forgive me if I have caused you any pain.”

            “No, Colonel! Never. It’s just that you played so beautifully” she said, drying her eyes. She did not hand him his handkerchief back, but instead kept it with her. Maybe subconsciously, it was on purpose. He had his hands on her free hand, and would never take the handkerchief back anyway. It pleased him to think that she would have a piece of him with her somehow, for a while at least.

            “I have had the most joyous idea!” She said. “Maybe you can teach me a duet, so we can play together.”

            “Miss Marianne, I don’t really know any duets either.

            She cringed when she remembered how extremely rude she had been when Mrs. Jennings suggested they play a duet. She squeezed his hand, as if in a reflex, and his heart leapt in his chest.

            “Forgive me, Colonel” she said, looking down at their hands.

            “Perhaps,” he said, dismissing whatever apology she was trying to make, “if you are patient with me, we can… learn one together. I happen to have one around somewhere.” He smiled. A real smile, not a shy one. He looked in her eyes, and tried to cheer her up.

            “I would be delighted” she said, happy that the opportunity of mending her former rudeness had presented itself. And although she did not fully recognize it, happy for the opportunity of being closer to him.

            He got up, reluctantly, for he did not wish to let go of her hand and stop feeling the warmth of her skin, and set off to retrieve the duet.

            He had bought it in his most recent trip, along with the song he had sent her, thinking precisely of playing it with her. But he had not the courage of sending it, of implying what he wished. He then sat with it in his hands, angry at himself for being so hopeful, for acting like a foolish boy who didn’t know better. He thought he would never have the opportunity to play it, and it would just sit there in his drawer, reminding him of the fool he had been.

            How delighted he was that he would after all, learn the duet. And with Miss Marianne. He came back with the sheet music in hand and placed it on the pianoforte. Then, he stood behind the bench, looking at her, not quite knowing how to proceed. They would have to sit very close together, for the bench could fit two, but not with the distance propriety perhaps demanded. He felt a knot in his throat, afraid she had not foreseen that situation and now, upon realizing it, would change her mind.

            But before he could muster the courage to say something, she got up from the sofa she was sitting on and smiled, saying “Shall we?”

            There they sat, facing the Broadwood Grand. He to the left, she to the right. Their thighs touched ever so slightly and that was enough to make his heart pound in his chest. Were she to his left side, she would certainly feel it, even hear it.

            When they timidly began to try and find their way around the duet, their hands often touched. They giggled with the mistakes they made, and in a few minutes, they felt more at ease with the situation. Amidst the playing and giggling that was going on, Marianne felt the need to express her feelings, for the sake of her health. If she didn’t say it, she would surely suffer, endlessly mulling it over. She wanted so to be restrained like her sister, but in this moment, right now, she couldn’t.

            She hadn’t realized she had stopped playing, and the Colonel was looking at her rather nervously, about to ask if it had been something he did. Before he could though, she took a deep breath, as if she was taking in courage, and said

            “You know, Colonel, I have greatly missed your company for this past fortnight. If you must stay away for such long periods, you’ll have to stop spoiling me with the pleasure of your company so often.” She smiled, blushing.

            Before he could process what was said and respond in any way, the party that was outside came in one by one, curious as to what had kept them. The Colonel got up from the bench and offered Marianne a hand to get up as well. And though Mrs. Jennings insisted she must hear whatever they were playing, the Colonel said it was not ready yet. There was much practicing to be done still.

Chapter Text

 

Colonel Brandon approached Barton Cottage on his horse. It had been two days since he had last seen his beloved Marianne. The Dashwoods were at Delaford and Marianne had expressed that she had missed him for the fortnight he had been away. Those words filled his chest with a warm serenity and with hope, something that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel, though unbeknownst to him, his heart had allowed the feeling in long before.

            He pondered what could come of this all. He could continue to hide what he felt, wear his armor, and learn to live with only Marianne’s friendship, which was already more than he had hoped to obtain after her initial rejection of him. If she persisted in her idea that no second attachments should ever be formed, and that she would dedicate herself to studies and helping her mother, it could even be a pleasurable arrangement. However, eventually, a gentleman could come and make her change her mind. Could he live with that pain? Why should he not be that gentleman?

            On the other hand, he had already had a brief attempt at courting her, which was promptly refused. If he had another try, he could risk their friendship and have to learn to live without her altogether. It was a matter of which pain was more endurable.

            His heart had decided, not in agreement with his mind, to attempt, at least modestly, to court her. This is why he rode to Barton Cottage with a bouquet, something he had only offered her with the excuse of wishing her health restored.

            He dismounted his horse and tied it on the fence. His nerves were getting the best of him, so he took a moment to calm himself before he walked up to the house. When he finally felt he could act calmly, he climbed the small hill up to the cottage. Marianne was at the door, waiting to receive him.

            “Miss Marianne,” he smiled and bowed, taking off his hat.

            “Colonel Brandon,” she curtsied. “How lovely to see you!”

            “These are for you,” he said, handing over the bouquet he held, after a moment of building up courage. She smiled and reached out for the flowers. In a bold moment, his heart overthrowing his mind once more, Colonel Brandon took her hand before it reached the bouquet and pressed it against his lips. Almost instantly, he regretted it, fearing he had been too bold and would upset her, or scare her away from him. He was relieved to see her smiling and blushing. He handed her the flowers and she thanked him. She lifted them to her nose to smell them.

            Mrs. Dashwood appeared in the hallway and welcomed Colonel Brandon. They exchanged the usual pleasantries and upon seeing the flowers in her daughter’s hand, Mrs.Dashwood smiled. Marianne asked her mother to put the flowers in a vase, and while Mrs. Dashwood went to the kitchen, Marianne escorted Colonel Brandon to the parlor. Mrs. Dashwood returned and handed her daughter the vase, and Marianne placed it on the pianoforte with a smile. She then sat down, joining her mother and the Colonel in conversation.

            After a while, Mrs. Dashwood excused herself, a very well thought out plan to help Colonel Brandon’s cause, as usual, and sat outside with her sewing, to watch Margaret as she played and wait for Elinor and Mr. Ferrars to return from their walk.

            “Colonel Brandon, I thought we might continue to practice that duet. I hope you remembered to bring it.”

            “I did,” he smiled, pleased that she took real interest in playing with him.

            Marianne pulled two chairs up to the pianoforte and opened it. The flowers he brought sat on top of the piano, behind the support for sheet music.

            They sat down. Colonel Brandon took out the duet and placed it in front of them. They began to review what they had learned two days prior. Though they were not sitting as closely as they were on his Broadwood Grand, for it had its own bench while there they sat on separate chairs,  their arms and legs still brushed against each others, and occasionally their hands did so too. Colonel Brandon felt his heart beat faster every time he felt her touch. He longed for it, and the thought took his mind almost completely, so much so that he did not play as well as he was capable of. In the spirit of being bolder, he moved his knee to touch hers, expecting her to retreat instantly. However, she did not. And there they sat, knees touching, as they learned the whole duet.

            The sound of her singing soothed him so that he did not notice time pass by, and soon Barton Cottage was filled with its inhabitants once more. His boldness had to be controlled now, but the day’s events had installed a bit more of hope in his heart, and he feared that could be unwise.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon arrived at the Cottage. He expected to be met by Marianne sitting outside with a book ready in hand, which had been the case lately. Instead, he was met by Mrs. Dashwood and lead into the dining room, where Marianne sat with some books on the table.

            It was a hectic household of late, with Miss Dashwood’s and Mr. Ferrars’ wedding plans and Mr. Ferrars’ staying with them, since the house in Delaford meant for him and his future wife was not yet ready. He stayed out of insistence of Mrs. Dashwood’s part, for Colonel Brandon had offered him a room at Delaford manor. Miss Dashwood also did not like the idea of having her betrothed so far away, even though the Colonel rode out almost every day and would have been happy to ride with Mr. Ferrars.

            Marianne Dashwood was sitting over her books, reading, writing, and did not perceive the Colonel’s presence. He watched her for a few moments, how concentrated and beautiful she looked, wishing he could bend over her and kiss her head, imagining how she would look up at him and then he could kiss her lips. He snapped out of his reverie and cleared his throat so he would be noticed. She turned around.

            “Colonel Brandon!” she smiled.

            He came bearing gifts, as he usually had of late, particularly since she expressed she had missed him. It was a promise he had made to himself, to be a little more obvious in his pursuits and his courting.  This time, he brought her a box of chocolates.

            “These are for you, Miss Marianne.” He handed them over.

            “Oh, Colonel, thank you! You do know that you do not need to bring something every time you come to visit? Your friendship is more than enough.”

            “But I enjoy bringing you gifts. Let an old man have some joy.” He smiled.

            She reached out to take the box and he pulled it back from her reach. She seemed confused, but not long after, he took her outstretched hand in his and bowed down to kiss it. She blushed red as he placed the box of chocolates in her hand.

            “I thought perhaps today, Colonel, instead of reading or practicing duets on the pianoforte, you could help me a bit with my French. I was a terrible student and now I wish to learn it properly.  At least attempt to. And I do remember you saying something about being fluent in it.”

            “I might have declared I know some French, but being fluent sounds like an exaggeration Mrs. Jennings would make.”

            “Mrs. Jennings has yet to be wrong about a compliment she has paid you,” she smiled.

            “Very well,” he said, not resisting her smile, “let us see if I can be helpful in any way.”

            They sat down at the table, next to each other, but at a safe, proper distance.

            “I found a poem, Colonel, that I would like you to read to me, so I can hear how certain words are properly pronounced. If it’s not too much trouble.”

            She opened a book and flipped through some pages. When she found the right one, she handed it to him. He blushed at the sight of the poem. He knew it. He proceeded to read it.

 

Amour me tue, et si je ne veux dire

Le plaisant mal que ce m’est de mourir :

Tant j’ai grand peur, qu’on veuille secourir

Le mal, par qui doucement je soupire.

 

Il est bein vrai, que ma langueur désire

Qu’avec le temps je me puisse guérir :

Mais je ne veu ma dame requérir

Pour ma santé : tant me plaît mon martyre.

 

Tais-toi langueur je sens venir le jour,

Que ma maîtresse, aprés si long séjour,

Voyant le soin qui ronge ma pensée,

 

Toute nuit, folâtrement m’ayant

Entre ses bras, prodigue, ira payant

Les intérets de ma peine avancée.*

 

            His sweet voice caught her attention and she could hear nothing else, nothing from the chaos that was the Dashwood household. Though she did not understand every word, she could feel what he was saying, and in her heart understood the intent of the poem.

            She lingered for a moment with her eyes still closed after he had finished reading. When she woke from her reverie, he was admiring her, looking at her fixedly, and soon broke his gaze in embarrassment. He had just read his feelings, yet again, whether she realized it or not.

            “Well then, I guess I should try and see if my pronunciation is acceptable.”

            She began to read and at first, he listened attentively to correct any mistakes she made. But soon, he got lost in her voice, the words, and had some reveries of his own.

            “How was I?” The sudden change in language brought him back.

            “That was perfect.”

            “Colonel, I doubt that was perfect. Be truthful!”

            “Well, perhaps you could improve your pronunciation of the letter u. Like in tue.”

            She tried to repeat the word but it did not sound the same.

            “Tue” he said again. And again she failed.

            He smiled. “You must pout a bit, as if…” he was reaching out to gently squeeze her cheeks, but he stopped himself.

            “As if?” she asked.

            “As if you were about to be kissed.” He blushed.

            She repeated the word and it came out perfectly.

            “That is it,” he smiled.

            “Now, Colonel, I did understand the general idea of the poem, but I would love it if you could… translate it for me?” She smiled timidly.

            “Right now? Translating a poem takes time. I cannot just… translate it literally here, now. It would lose its charm.”

            She smiled and handed him a quill and a paper. She was so glad he respected great works of art as she did. Oh how wrong she had been about him before!

            “Colonel, I have nowhere to be. If you are not in a hurry to be somewhere, you can take as long as you like. And it need not be perfect; I just wish to understand it fully.” She smiled as if she were begging with her eyes. In a hurry to be somewhere. The only place he would rather be than right there was closer to her, in her arms. He took the quill and the paper and began.

            While he was working, she opened the box of chocolates and ate one. She gave a little moan, indicating it was to her liking, and it disconcerted him a little. He looked up smiling, glad she liked the chocolates he had brought and she offered him one. “They are delicious,” she said. He took one. “They are.” She giggled, he chuckled.

            Translating the poem did not take as long as he had anticipated. Her presence inspired him. When he showed her his complete work, she asked him to read it out to her.

            “You have such a nice voice, Colonel.”

            He happily obliged.

 

Love is slaying me, but even so I don’t want to say

How pleasant an evil it is for me to die,

So much I fear that someone might try to save me

From the sweet torture under which I sigh.

 

It is indeed true that my pining still hopes

That I may be cured with time:

But I don’t want my Lady to ask after

My health; my suffering is too divine.

 

Be quiet, my pining!  I feel the day is coming

When my mistress, after so long a time,

Will see the care which gnaws away at my thoughts  

 

And, for a whole night, madly lavishing herself

On me, within her arms, will pay

The interest on my borrowed pain. **

 

 

            “That is beautiful. Mrs. Jennings will have to add ‘superb translator’ to your list of qualities.” She smiled and he blushed, giving one of his timid smiles.

            Margaret came in suddenly.

            “Hello, Colonel Brandon!”

            “Captain Margaret,” he bowed his head lightly.

            “What are you doing?”

            “The Colonel is helping me with my French, Margaret.”

            “I need help with my French as well!”

            Marianne and the Colonel laughed. While Margaret sat down with her books, the piece of paper on which the Colonel translated the poem was forgotten on the table. Marianne took it and saved it in one of her books.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon could see her clear as day. Marianne was walking down the aisle, a white dress made of lace with long sleeves. It had golden details which highlighted the color of her hair. On her perfectly arranged curls, a diamond tiara which held her veil in place, and behind her, a train that seemed to go on for miles.

            On her face was a smile that made his knees weak and his heart ache with sheer joy. That smile was for him. It was because of him. He could wish for nothing more. She looked like an angel, floating down the aisle. An angel sent from above; to cure his heart of all its sorrows, fill his life with joy, save him from loneliness and despair. His angel.

            She was at the altar, beside him. The priest had them face each other, and they joined hands, his stomach churning at the rush of excitement her touch provided, his heart melting in the warmth of her smile and her gaze. They exchanged vows of eternal love and companionship; his heart beat at his throat, making it hard for him to speak. Not that it would make any difference, for no amount of words in the English language, or any language for that matter, could express the extent of his undying love, and anything he said would not be suitable enough.

            He heard the words “I will” come out of her lips, in her soft, angelical voice and he knew it was done. She was his and he was hers, though he had already been wholly hers from the moment he laid eyes on her all those months ago. They kissed to bind the contract, and he fought with restraint to keep the kiss gentle and acceptable to other’s eyes, for all the love he felt and could not properly express wished to come forward in that kiss and make it a passionate and breathtaking one. Her lips were as soft and sweet as he had always imagined.

He heard church bells and felt her hand squeeze his arm, and he awoke from his reverie.

It was Elinor’s and Edward’s wedding. The Colonel’s friendship to the Dashwoods and his growing friendship towards Edward, who was heading the Parish at Delaford, earned him an invite to be a groomsman. Fate would have it that he was to usher Miss Marianne, a bridesmaid to her sister, down the aisle. It was time for them to proceed.

They were walking towards the altar. Her hand on his arm, his heart beating fast. Every surrounding face was smiling at them. He wore his army uniform, she held a bouquet. She was smiling. She seemed very happy. That made him happy.

As they walked down the aisle, he imagined what it would be like to do so in another capacity; as husband and wife, leaving the church to start their lives together. Like the day dream he had just had. He wondered if that could ever happen, if she would be smiling like she was now, like she was moments before, in his mind’s eye. Her smile lit up the whole church, and it warmed his heart. She was truly happy for her sister.

As they took their place and watched the aisle, waiting for the bride, he saw how Edward smiled nervously, anxiously awaiting to see Elinor, and oddly, he could relate. When she walked in, a calmness seemed to overcome Edward, and Colonel Brandon could imagine how he felt there also.

Colonel Brandon and Marianne sat very closely together as the ceremony went on, and he took in every moment of it. He didn’t remember ever feeling so much of her body pressed against his. Blessed be how small the pews were. Thank heavens for small mercies. He had to restrain himself from looking at her too often, too fixedly. Someone might notice. But she was so beautiful, and her hair smelled divine. He wished to drown himself in it. He looked back at the altar, at the bride and groom. While he was doing so, he caught, through the corner of his eye, Marianne looking up at him for a while, and smiling. He wondered if there was something wrong with his appearance.

Church bells rang again, and it was over. Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars were walking out of the church, and all stood up. The bridesmaids and groomsmen were required to follow. Marianne put her hand trough his arm once more.

“Shall we?” she asked with a smile.

Yes, we shall. May God allow it he thought, but only smiled back, that shy, small smile of his, and escorted her down the aisle.

Chapter Text

It had been a little over a week since Elinor’s wedding. The Dashwoods had not seen the eldest sister since, for obvious reasons, but Colonel Brandon had not been heard of as well.

            It was a midsummer’s day, very pleasant out, and Sir John and Mrs. Jennings had invited Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne, and Margaret to dine at the Park and spend the day. It had been long indeed since they had gone, due to the wedding preparations and the consequential havoc at the cottage, but now the Dashwoods had no excuses.

            Sir John sent the carriage for them, and up to the Park they rode. After only being there for a few minutes, Mrs. Jennings recalled some mail had come for them earlier, and she had not bothered sending a servant to deliver them, since the recipients were to come anyway. She hurried to retrieve their mail.

            This was nothing extraordinary, since most of their mail always did go through Barton Park first. What was out of the ordinary was the fact that there was a letter from Elinor. Marianne, eager to have news from her sister – or perhaps, if she were to be honest with herself, news from Delaford in general – opened it right away. She was surprised to see it was dated from five days past. The post had been delayed for some reason.

            The letter stated that since they did not have the means to make a wedding trip, the Ferrars had spent the most wonderful week at their new home, and Colonel Brandon was kind enough to give Edward another week to get established before commencing his duties at the Parish. In light of this, they had decided to go to Barton and spend three or four days, seeing as after Edward took up his duties, it would be difficult for them to travel, and they would probably only be able to see their family whenever the Dashwoods could go to Delaford and visit. Elinor expected they would arrive on Tuesday, which was precisely the day Marianne was reading this letter. Colonel Brandon had lent them a carriage and they would leave early in the morning, being able to arrive at around midday.

            Marianne was very excited at the prospect, announcing this to her mother and all of the party. She was determined to go back to Barton Cottage and wait for them, promising to bring them up as soon as they arrived. She refused to take the carriage back to the Cottage, for it was a pleasant day for a walk. And besides, the Ferrars would arrive in a carriage of their own which could bring her back, seeing as it would have to be left at the Park anyway.

            Out she went. She started walking, but soon her pace was hastened, and she found herself running, excited and longing to meet them soon. She told herself this was solely because she missed her sister dearly, but that was not the whole truth. She missed Colonel Brandon as well, and hoped maybe he was to accompany the Ferrars to Barton. She hoped the “we” Elinor wrote of did not comprise only her and her husband.

            As she scampered across the fields, she silently wondered why the Colonel had not called since the wedding. He had no business trip to make, at least none he made known to her, which he usually did. She searched in her mind for some instance in which she might have been rude to him, during the wedding or the celebration afterwards. It was very like her to be disagreeable and not notice, though she had been consciously trying to change that since her illness. Perhaps he had simply grown tired of her. She was no longer ill, and hadn’t been for quite some time now. Thus, there was no need for him to show so much friendship towards her family and sit with her for so long. Suffer her for so long. She could read for herself, and walk fine on her own. She hadn’t felt dizziness or faintness, so she no longer needed someone to escort her. But she quite enjoyed having him read to her and walk with her, and she had perceived his attentions to have grown lately, not fade away… Perhaps, though, it was all in her mind. Wishful thinking.

            She hurried along the green fields, her heart thumping with the exertion, but also with the prospect of seeing the Colonel after such a period of absence. However, to this last feeling, she did not submit. Nor did she completely acknowledge it.  

            She arrived at the cottage winded, and immediately asked Betsy if no one had called, if Elinor had not arrived. Betsy’s negative made her walk back outside and lean on the fence, still trying to catch her breath. She watched the road which one coming from Delaford would take. The road that had led Colonel Brandon on horseback to her so many times. This is why she was taken by surprise when a voice called softly from behind.

            “Miss Dashwood.”

            It was a familiar voice. She turned and the wind was knocked from her once more. It was Colonel Brandon, on his horse, smiling his timid, restrained smile down at her. He nodded and tipped his hat, always so chivalrous.

            “Colonel Brandon!” She smiled. “I was waiting for my sister and brother to arrive. I did not know we could expect the pleasure of your company as well.”

            Though I had hoped it.

            He had come on his own horse to give the newlywed couple some privacy in the carriage, and also because his stay would not be as lengthy as theirs.

            “We have just arrived. Your sister is at the Park with her husband as we speak. I spotted you running the fields and took it upon myself to come warn you.”

            She blushed at the thought of him watching her run as if she were mad. He had rather enjoyed the sight, thinking her spirit and vivacity were two of the many qualities which made him love her. A force to be reckoned with.

            “Shall we head back?” He asked smiling, while he held the reins of his horse.

            “I must confess I am still a bit winded from the walk down. I must take a few minutes before I can make the walk back.”

            “If you wish to, you may ride back with me. It might be a bit… uncomfortable, with two on the saddle, but it shan’t take long. And it will save you the extra exertion.”

            He stretched down his gloved hand.

            After a very brief moment’s hesitation, she took his hand as she said “Thank you.”

            He let his hand slide further up her arm, so his grip could be more secure. She was not sure what he was doing and, at his touch gliding over her arm, her body quivered with reluctance. And perhaps something more. With a firm grip on her arm, he proceeded to pull her up to the horse, and he sat her in front of him, for ridding sidesaddle behind him would be quite unsafe.

            She was astonished at his strength, being able to pull her up with only one arm, and was embarrassed – yet excited – by his closeness. He held the reins with his arms on either side of her, one supporting the half of her back which was not slightly touching his torso, the other in front of her, forming a sort of respectful embrace. She avoided eye contact so he would not notice how furiously she blushed, and her hands rested on her lap.

            “Miss Marianne,” he let her Christian name slip, but did not correct himself. “You should…try to hold on as best you can, for I will make some haste so that you are not kept from your sister much longer,” he said rather nervously.

            She could feel his breath as the words came out of his lips. As her name slipped his lips. That, along with his tender voice so close to her ear made her hairs stand on end. She paid no heed to what her body was telling her, and attributed the shiver to a breeze, thought it was a warm summer’s day.

            There was nowhere to hold on to. Only him. Shyly, she put her arms around his waist, still trying to avoid eye contact, but now her body leaned fully against his. She grew hotter, and her cheeks were so crimson they might permanently be burned this way.

            He nudged the horse into movement and soon it was in a mild gallop. His heart thumped in his chest as hard and as frequently as the hooves hit the ground. He did not go faster, he said, for fear of her falling off. A half-truth. He secretly wished for this to last as long as possible, for she was in his arms. If he could find an excuse to go slower still… perhaps he could say the horse was tired. It had ridden from Delaford.

            Her head rested on his shoulder and he could feel her breath close to his neck. He had the slight impression she breathed heavily, and he wondered if it was excitement or nerves. He wished to let go of the reins and wrap his arms around her. And for the first time in his life, he feared he would not be master of himself and that his body would betray his feelings, his excitement, leaving him in an awkward and delicate situation.

            But they soon arrived. She let go of him as soon as the horse slowed down, much to his displeasure, and he lend her a hand as she slipped down from the horse. Elinor came out as Marianne was still arranging her dress. She looked up at the Colonel, still blushing, and expressed her gratitude with a smile as she untied her bonnet. He only nodded, and moved to dismount the horse himself, so the stable hand could take it to rest. When he turned, the sisters were already inside.

 

********

 

Marianne got every bit of information she could from her sister, but her attentions needed to be shared with the whole of the party, and Mrs. Jennings especially was full of questions and gossip, as usual. Marianne was not upset, however, for the Ferrars were to sleep at the Cottage, and there would be plenty of time to talk during the next few days. Colonel Brandon, however, would not stay as long and would not stay as close. And she missed his company just as much as her sister’s, maybe even more. But this time, for some inexplicable reason, she did not feel so brave and bold as to proclaim it. She did not understand why. It was an innocent feeling, really, one often felt among friends. Was it not?

He sat across from her while they all chatted, but kept to himself, since most of the conversation was about how the Ferrars were adapting to Delaford, and many compliments were being made to his estate. Marianne heard the description of her sister’s new home and its surroundings with a smile on her face, uniting what she heard with what she had seen when she visited Delaford, slowly completing her mental picture.

Colonel Brandon wished to be closer to Marianne, but feared he would intrude in much wanted time with her sister. She wanted to converse privately with him, as she had in his previous visits, but she still was slightly embarrassed due to their closeness earlier. And still intrigued as to why he had not come to visit in such a long time. She might have been the reason, though she could not for the life of her remember being rude or doing something she mustn’t.

She went to the pianoforte. She had the liberty of doing so when the party was so small, for she knew no one else would provide them with music. Most were unable, one was unwilling. She went to it in hopes of calling his attention to her, for he often enjoyed listening to her play, as she recently found she enjoyed listening to him.

She began a piece, and as expected, no one paid her any mind, as they continued in earnest conversation. He, however, shifted his attention from the conversation and fixed his eyes on her, as he listened attentively to her song. His elbow rested on the arm of the sofa on which he sat, and his chin rested on his hand. She looked up and saw her objective had been achieved, and built up the courage to smile at him. As he watched her attentively, he smiled back, timidly. The song ended and she went into another, and he got up and took a seat closer to the pianoforte, for the conversation was loud and hindering him from listening properly to her playing.

She wished him to be closer still, so before she started yet another song, she called to him.

“Colonel Brandon,” she whispered just loud enough for him to hear, but not to arouse the curiosity of the rest of the party. He, who had been listening to her play with his eyes closed, opened them and went to her.

“Can I persuade you to play a song?” She asked.

“Oh no no, Miss Dashwood. The instrument is in much better hands as it is.”

“You are very modest, Colonel” He only smiled and shook his head. “Why do you not venture to play for more people than only myself? You are a very talented player. I would much like to hear you. It has been some time.” She wished for some explanation as to why he hadn’t called sooner, but could not bring herself to ask directly.

“If you will have me call on you tomorrow before I leave for Delaford, I will happily play something for you. But not right now.” He looked at the group, busy in conversation.

She was happy to verify that he wished to call on her still and that nothing seemed to be amiss between them.

“They won’t even know you are playing. They have no proper regard for music,” she said, with a little contempt.

“Still, I much rather hear you play.” He smiled.

“Then would you be so kind as to turn the pages for me?” It was a way for him to stay closer to her.

“Gladly,” he answered.

He was still agitated because of the closeness of the ride earlier, though he could conceal it well. He had built up half the courage he needed to pour his heart out. He could not bring himself to, though, and would probably not have the chance this evening. But he very much wished to tell her how much he loved her. However, the fact that their closeness did not seem to affect her and the friendly manner in which she treated him gave him doubts. He still could not see if she acted in such a way because she only regarded him as a dear friend – something he did not wish to lose – and therefore their closeness did not bother her, or if she had grown fonder of him of late. As he could not convince himself to declare his feelings, he sat and turned the pages for her as he watched her fingers touch the keys and wished to take her hand in his. She sat and played while she suppressed what she felt, though with not as much success as she had been doing for these last few months.

Chapter Text

On the following day, as agreed upon, the Colonel called on the Dashwoods before journeying back to Delaford.  It was a nice warm day. The skies were blue. A great day for a walk. Certainly Marianne Dashwood would not waste it cooped up in her house. So she asked Colonel Brandon to escort her.

            They walked and talked, so immersed in each other, yet so unknowing of the other’s feelings – and even their own – that time went by rather quickly and they did not notice. They found themselves in a location they had never explored before, for none of their walks had been quite as lengthy as this one. They looked up and saw that the clear day had turned into a gray one, and the blue skies were now heavy with clouds pregnant with rain that would burst at any moment.

            “We should head back, Miss Dashwood. We wouldn’t want you to get caught in the rain again.”

            “Yes,” she gave a shy, ashamed smile. “Mama would be worried.”

            They attempted to find their way back quickly, but nature did not care for their worries. The heavy rain started to fall when they were still a long way from Barton Cottage. Fortunately, there was an abandoned structure nearby. It seemed Sir John had begun a project on his estate and never got around to finishing it. Perhaps it was to be another cottage, though it did seem too small. Colonel Brandon quickly took off his coat and held it open over their heads, more hers than his, as they ran for shelter.

            They had gotten a bit wet, but it was of no consequence compared to what could have been due to the storm that fell outside. He noticed Miss Dashwood had gotten pale and was slightly chilly. Without a word, he placed his coat over her shoulders. She looked at him appreciatively. The coat had gotten wet on the outside due to its usage for cover, but the inside was still dry, for it was a good, thick coat.

            Lightning struck somewhere not far, and Marianne, startled by the loud noise of thunder, stepped closer to Colonel Brandon, placing a cheek and her opposite hand on his chest, in a sort of embrace. As a reaction, though a bit delayed due to his surprise, the Colonel put an arm around her shoulders.

            Marianne enjoyed the feel of him, of his embrace. She felt calm, safe. It was as if time stopped for a moment. But she mustn’t do such things, it was not proper. Colonel Brandon was about to rest his chin on her head and give in completely to the embrace when she pulled away.

            “Forgive me, Colonel,” she said, not looking directly at him and with some color returning to her cheeks. The Colonel said nothing, his hands finding their way to his back and holding one another in place there.

            The bright day, fit for a walk, had become so dark with the heavy clouds which filled the sky that it looked like nighttime. The situation was not made better by the fact they were in some sort of shed, with no candlelight.

            Marianne found a place to sit. As she did, she pulled his coat into place on her back, making it cozier. She could smell his cologne on it, that same delicious smell she had felt moments ago much stronger, on his skin. She cupped her hands together, breathing hot air into them, trying to make them warm.

            In an impulse, Colonel Brandon sat beside her and took her hands in between his. This time, there was no thunder outside, but it was as if a jolt of electricity ran through their bodies. They both flushed red, and suddenly Marianne felt warm around her neck and on her face. It didn’t even seem like she had gotten wet with rain. At the same time, her hands went colder as her heart sank to the pit of her stomach.

            The Colonel gently rubbed her hands with his to warm them, and blew his hot breath into them, not aware of anything else. When he came to his senses, he realized how bold he had been, and feared his efforts would be unwelcomed. But then he realized they had been going on long enough for her to pull away, if she so desired, and she hadn’t.

            The storm raged outside. As the gray heavy clouds hastily let go of their burden, light slowly came back to the day, though it was not as bright as when the day had started. As her eyes adjusted to the little light that came in through the door and window, she could notice how the Colonel’s white linen shirt, wet from the rain, stuck to his strong arms. His hair, also damp, had been pulled back by a slow slick movement of a hand, and made him appear somehow more charming.

            He still caressed her hands in between his, and she did not feel the urge to stop him. Ever. She was already warm, very warm actually, and it was as if every caress sent a wave of electricity through her limbs, and they all met in her stomach, in a knot.

            What was this? She had never felt quite like this before. Not even… not even with Willoughby. Not that she could remember.

            “Thank you, Colonel.” She stopped it, in fear of what she was feeling.

            He let go of her hands, feeling a mixture of delight that it had gone on for so long, and hurt that his touch had become a burden to her. He sat back and rested his hands on his thighs.

            They remained in silence, but it was not an awkward one. It was comforting, as if they felt so at ease with each other, in some way, in the ways that propriety allowed, that even in silence they were in understanding. Even if unknowingly.

            The storm started to quiet down.

            “Mama must be worried sick, thinking we are walking in the rain somewhere, afraid my fever will come back,” she broke the silence.

            The mention of her fever made him uneasy as his mind went back to the anguish it was to see her at death’s door.

            “Are you well, Miss Dashwood? Are you warm enough?” he asked, worried.

            “I am quite well, thank you,” she smiled.

            One more thunder, and a startled Marianne quickly grabbed Colonel Brandon’s hand on his thigh and squeezed. Again that spark when they touched, but the Colonel did not react in anyway, fearing he had already been too bold for one day. He should not abuse his luck. She, as quickly as she had grabbed, let go of his hand.

            “Forgive me, Colonel.”

            “There is nothing to forgive, Miss Dashwood.”

            She suddenly realized she missed the sound of his voice saying her Christian name, now that her sister was married and propriety demanded she be Miss Dashwood.

The rain stopped and off they went, to make their journey back to the Cottage. The ground was muddy and slippery, so the Colonel offered his arm, his strength to support her so she would not fall. They came across a rivulet. The small wooden bridge they had crossed when they were doing the opposite path had been damaged by the rain. They stood on the riverbank for a moment before the Colonel started:

            “Miss Dashwood, if I may…” He leaned down a bit. “Put your arms around my neck.”

            She obeyed. With one hand on her back and the other on the bend of her knees, he lifted her up with ease, and again, her stomach was in knots. She blushed, but he did not notice, for his mind was preoccupied with the worry she would feel his heart thumping hard in his chest.

            He crossed the stream carrying her. While he watched the ground and his footing, she watched his face and inadvertedly smiled, just to be looking at him. She felt the urge to caress his cheek and run her fingers through his damp blond hair, but she dared not.

            When they were safely on the other side, he slowly lowered her to the ground. She was thankful he did not let the arm that was around her back pull away so quickly, for her knees were weak with excitement and she needed the support.

            They commenced walking once more and he lent his arm for support, for her to escape the traps of the slippery ground beneath them. She somehow felt different around him all of a sudden. It was a feeling that had been creeping on her for some time now, but she had always kept it at bay. Today it had forced itself in. She knew nothing of it, she just realized it was there right now. She did not know what it was, only that she felt excited and scared all at once, all in one big ball that moved from her stomach to her chest and to her throat.

            They came up to the Cottage. Mrs. Dashwood watched through the window for them and rushed to the door upon seeing them.

            “We are well, Mama,” she said, before her mother could express any concern.

            “Forgive me, Mrs. Dashwood, I did not realize how far we had gone and that it was to rain. But we found shelter. I believe Miss Dashwood is in no danger.”

            “Well come in and make yourselves warm. I’ll have Betsy bring out some tea”.

            “I thank you for your kind invitation but I must be off. The ride will be longer with the muddy roads.”

            “So soon?” Marianne asked, with sweet, almost undetectable despair. He smiled that contained smile he mastered and nodded once. She reluctantly took his coat off her back. She liked the smell of it. She wished to keep it with her at all times. She handed it to him. “Thank you, Colonel.”

            He bowed and said his goodbyes. As he rode off, Marianne entered her house, pondering on the events of the day and what they meant and what it was she felt deep inside.

Chapter Text

It hadn’t been very long – a fortnight – since Edward and Elinor had been married, and they had been constant guests for dinner at Delaford manor ever since, a kindness of Colonel Brandon’s part in an attempt to make their newly changed lives a bit easier and more comfortable. Mr. Ferrars and Colonel Brandon had begun to develop a friendship from the time he and the former Miss Dashwood became engaged, a friendship which grew in the following weeks. They had to deal with business concerning the Parish and the house that was to be the Ferrars home, so they spent much time conversing and getting to know one another.  Even when they were not tending to such matters, they were always around each other, for Colonel Brandon visited Marianne at Barton Cottage often, and Edward practically lived there up until the wedding, spending only a few nights away at Delaford. Of course Colonel Brandon’s friendship to Mrs. Ferrars began well before that. So the Colonel was delighted to have them over for dinner, and was very thankful for the company. He had eaten alone far too many times in his life.

            Due to this, it was not a strange sight when, one late afternoon, Edward Ferrars approached Delaford manor. Colonel Brandon was on his front lawn, a pack of about eight dogs – his dogs, used for hunting and also for company – surrounding him while one of them tried to wrestle a stick out of his hand. He laughed and threw the stick far, the pack running off after it. He saw Edward coming up to him and figured it was a bit early for dinner, but they could always have a drink first. He thought it strange, though, that Elinor was not with him.

            “Brandon!” Edward greeted him, a little nervously.

            “Edward! Let us go inside. It is a bit early for dinner, but nothing stops us from having a drink first. I just need to wash up. Will Mrs. Ferrars not be joining us this evening?”

            Edward stooped walking, his nervousness becoming more evident. Colonel Brandon became worried.

            “Ah, yes, well, Elinor went to Barton early this morning, and since it is getting to be a bit late for her to journey back alone, she sent word that she will be staying the night there and will return tomorrow morning.”

            “She went to Barton? Is something the matter?”

            “It appears that Miss Dashwood collapsed this past night, so Elinor is there to visit her sister.”

            Colonel Brandon’s eyes widened as his heart sank to his stomach. For a brief moment, his legs felt weak, as if he were to collapse himself. He remembered that only a few days prior, in one of their walks, they had been caught in a storm. That was probably the reason for Marianne’s illness.

            “Marianne is ill? I must go to her, immediately.” He started towards the stables, in a hurried step. Edward had to run to catch his arm.

            “Brandon, calm down. There is no need to go there now, mate. She is well.”

            “Of course I must, she is ill, you said so yourself.”

            “In the letter I’ve received just now, Elinor explains that Miss Dashwood was only weak from not eating properly, that is why she collapsed. She hasn’t had much of an appetite these past couple of days. But now she has been fed and has rested and is good as new. I even brought the letter, in case you do not believe me,” Edward said, trying to put the Colonel’s worries to rest.

            “She hasn’t eaten? Why?”

            “Apparently she has had something weighing on her mind. Elinor has not kept me up to speed with their sisterly conversations.”

            “I must go all the same, she might need something.”

“Aren’t you to go there tomorrow? You can see her then. No need to rush over in the dark. Besides, her mother and sisters are there, and they did call a doctor. She is well.”

The slight insinuation that she had her family and therefore would not need him hurt Colonel Brandon. But he could not fault Edward. It was true. He was nothing to her. He was not needed. He might not even be wanted there at such a time. Colonel Brandon became grave and thoughtful. He was still worried for Marianne, despite his friend’s attempts to calm him. He also felt desperation, for he always longed for her, but moments like these made him feel a deeper need to embrace her, to protect her. But would she want that now? Would she ever?

“You really do love her, don’t you?” Edward asked, cutting off Colonel Brandon’s thoughts.

“I… what do you…” Colonel Brandon didn’t even have the strength to deny it any longer. He loved her so deeply and intensely, he wanted to shout it from the rooftops. He had never known love like this before, not in his own experience nor what he could observe from other’s. And he needed to keep it all inside, hide it from the world at all times. It was exhausting. But Edward was a friend. He could trust him. Maybe if he said it once, admitted to it, even if it wasn’t to her, he would feel some kind of relief.

“Am I so transparent? Is it so obvious?”

“To most people with eyes, yes,” Edward said. Colonel Brandon chuckled. “Though I had not noticed how deep your feelings were until just now. When I said she was ill. It was written all over your countenance. I had never seen that expression on any man’s face before.”

“I never knew one could feel so strongly about someone in this world, it is true.”

“Then you must tell her. I believe she is one of those few people with eyes who do not see it. Or refuse to, for some reason.”

“I cannot. The thought of losing her friendship, of not being part of her life in any way… I could not bear it.”

“And why would it come to that?”

“She wouldn’t want to maintain our friendship when she doesn’t feel the same way towards me.”

“How do you know that to be true if you have never told her?”

“I am much older than her. Not as charming as…as the type that seems to peak her interest. And she has stated on more than one occasion that she does not believe in second attachments.”

“Can you really live your life wondering if you are right, wondering what could have been?”

Colonel Brandon pondered for a moment. It was a new aspect, a new form of pain he had not considered. “Logic does not seem to be on my side.”

“Since when is love logical, Brandon old man? I, for one, went to Elinor to declare my love expecting nothing in return. I had deceived her, though not willingly and only out of awkwardness from my part. And what’s more, I thought you had been courting her, so I would clearly lose there.” Colonel Brandon was surprised to know that Edward had thought his interest lied with the eldest of the Daswood sisters. “I just wished to unburden my heart and hoped she could forgive me. But fate had reserved me a surprise. I think you might have a surprise yourself.”

Colonel Brandon reflected upon that.

“Now, I do believe some drinks were offered?” Edward said, walking towards the house.

Chapter Text

Marianne Dashwood sat on a bench beneath the window, staring out her bedroom window at the trees that danced in the gentle breeze outside. Her eyes were not focused on anything in particular, and she held her knees under her chin, gently rocking herself.

            Elinor sat on her bed and attempted to have a conversation with her, but it was fruitless. Even though Elinor had only been married for almost two weeks and had already been to Barton to visit, she took the day to visit her mother and sisters, especially because Marianne hadn’t been feeling well.

            “Marianne, darling, I’m feeling a bit lonely here.”

            Marianne awoke from her daze.“Forgive me, Elinor. What were you saying?”

            “Never mind that. You seem to be preoccupied. Is there something you would like to talk about?”

            “No, I am alright.”

            “I can see you are not! I will worry about you. Pray, talk to me, dearest.”

            “How could I if I don’t understand it myself?” Marianne had despair in her eyes. Elinor’s concern grew. “I… I have been… feeling differently lately. About Colonel Brandon. Around him. I think it is about him, I am not sure.”

            “Oh, I see.” Elinor held her smile. “Different how, dear?”

            “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I feel knots in my stomach, and my hands turn cold, but at the same time I feel flushed and hot. It’s like I’m scared of something. But I also feel calm and safe around him. It’s all very confusing. I must be getting sick again. The fever, it is coming back.”

            Elinor chuckled as she moved next to her and brushed a curl off her face.

            “Dearest! You know, I am not the most qualified person to analyze this, for as you so often point out to me, I am too contained in my emotions, but I do believe that what you’ve described is the rush one gets when in love.”

            “No! It can’t be. It is nothing like what I felt with Willoughby. It was never this despairing. No, it is not love.”

            Elinor just watched her. If she wouldn’t accept she was in love for herself, Elinor could not push her to see. Though she could point out all the time they spent together and how Marianne clearly missed him when he was not to pay a visit, she knew how stubborn her sister could be. She would find excuses and push herself further away from the truth. Marianne would have to see the light on her own.

            “Besides, what would it say about me, being in love again? And so soon! Love does not copy itself as such. One can’t get over one’s true and first love so quickly and form a second attachment. Not a true, meaningful one. And I have vowed to not take interest in such things again. I am to dedicate myself to my studies, and to taking care of Mama now that you are gone.”

            “Marianne, in my humble opinion, it would only make you a sane person. Getting over something – someone – who hurt you deeply and moving on. To something better. It is natural and expected.” She hoped her sister would let the hint sink in.

            “Oh, Elinor, I would only be setting myself up for regret again. And this time I would have no one to blame but myself. Colonel Brandon would never be interested in a foolish girl like me.”

            Elinor smiled at her sister’s lack of perception. “Dearest, the man has been in love with you from the moment he laid eyes on you! You are only a fool for not noticing it.”

            “Elinor! You’ve let Mrs. Jennings insinuations go up to your head.”

            “I assure you she bases her insinuations on something. They are not formed out of thin air.”

            “No, Colonel Brandon is merely a friend. And he is probably more your friend than mine.”

            “Oh yes, dearest, it is due to his friendship towards me that he takes so much time off his schedule and duties at Delaford and other business to come and sit with you, read to you even though you are very well now and can read for yourself, and takes you on long walks and on rides. It is also because he is such a good friend that he has brought you flowers almost every day.” She looked around Marianne’s room, which had no place for another vase. She didn’t even think there were anymore vases in the house. She was amused to see that many of the flowers had withered already, still Marianne refused to get rid of them. “And he even bought you a pianoforte! When have you ever known such a good friend? Colonel Brandon is a great man and a valuable friend to have, but I do not see him treating Sir John with this much courtesy.” Elinor laughed. “And he has been his friend for much longer than any of us.”

            Marianne looked at her, puzzled. “Do you really think so?”

            “My goodness, that fever must have made you blind. Dearest, I know so. You might never have noticed, but I saw the pain in his eyes when he saw you with Willoughby. That was the pain of someone in love. He loves you, I’m sure.”

            Marianne’s eyes filled with tears. When she couldn’t hold them any longer, they ran down her face like raindrops on the window pane on a stormy night.

            “Oh Elinor! I never meant to cause him any pain,” she sobbed.

            “I know dearest. He must know too.” Elinor wiped away some of the tears and was amused to find that Marianne pulled a handkerchief out to dry her tears. It was Colonel Brandon’s. Marianne must catch on soon, she thought.

            “If that is true, Elinor, it is only the more reason for him to have no more interest.”

            “I think you’ll find love can be more forgiving than that.” There was nothing else Elinor could say.  Marianne would either see it or wouldn’t. Elinor hoped for Marianne’s sake and the Colonel’s that she would.

            “He is to come tomorrow. I think I must talk to him. I need to not feel this despair any longer.”

            “And what will you do if he declares his feelings?”

            “I… I don’t know.”

            “Oh dearest, if you are to reject the poor Colonel, pray, just let it be. Don’t say anything to him at all.”

            “But I cannot live like this, Elinor. I must say something. I have to know.”

Chapter Text

            It was a cool afternoon, one that had promise of rain. The sun was still out, but clouds were steadily filling the skies, preparing themselves to burst as soon as they were all assembled. Colonel Brandon had arrived at Barton Cottage early, to try to make the most of the day before the rain fell, and to, of course, check to see if his beloved was indeed feeling better. Edward’s news the night before had kept him worried all night long, even though Edward had assured him all was well. Though the Colonel arrived early, he still missed Mrs. Ferrars, who had gone home to her husband earlier still. He had left home in such a hurry to be with Marianne that he had forgotten to go to his greenhouse and make her a bouquet. He did, however, take with him a new book they could read even if it did rain.

            They sat out on the lawn, he on his little stool, she on her chair, and they began their routine. But Marianne was distracted that day. He noticed she watched him, but did not pay attention to his reading, and that the words slipped her mind as she was preoccupied with something else. He wondered what it was. Edward did mention she had not been well due to something weighing on her mind. He imagined it could have something to do with the weather. Marianne Dashwood was fond of walks in the rain. And it was how she met that scoundrel Willoughby. It was also how she caught a fever that almost killed her. Walking in the rain with a broken heart.

            It was useless. She wasn’t paying him any mind. He was reading the poem he carefully selected for her to the wind. His insecurities, always creeping up on him, made him think that even though the cad was not present in their lives anymore, it appeared he still could not compete with Willoughby. He closed the book. She took notice of that, hurriedly looking up at him, eyes wide with surprise.

            “Miss Dashwood.” Ever since her elder sister got married, propriety demanded he address her as that. He resented the slight loss of intimacy, the possibility of calling her Christian name. “It seems something is troubling you today. I do not wish to burden you further.” He got up to leave, but Marianne reached for his hand and held it. Her touch made his heart skip a beat, but she quickly let go, realizing the impropriety of what she had done.

            “Colonel, please stay. Forgive me. Would you accompany me on a walk?”

            “But Miss Dashwood, it will rain.”

            “No it won’t,” she said getting up. “Not right now”. She smiled and walked off.

            He trailed after her, grabbing her shawl, which fell off one shoulder, and putting it in place. Upon feeling his hand on her shoulder, she blushed and smiled at him, as if she were saying a shy ‘thank you’, while feeling those knots in her stomach which had become quite frequent during the last few days. The mere thought of him caused them. To feel his touch only amplified the sensation. They walked for a while in silence, and she always stole glances back at the cottage, as to assure herself that they weren’t being followed by Margaret. When they had gained a safe distance, she started.

            “Colonel. May I… would you… help me with something?”

            “Of course, Miss Dashwood, if I am able to.”

            “And would you… do you promise to be honest and forthcoming with me, despite my gender and whatever cautions you think ought to be taken because of it?”

            “Miss Dashwood, I have always been honest with you, I thought you might have noticed.” Colonel Brandon started to become nervous and a bit rigid, walking with his hands behind his back. What could she be getting at?

            “It is true, Colonel, forgive me. It’s just… I’ve had some troubles, troubles sorting out some things I’ve been feeling.”

            He remained a silent listener, walking beside her, not sure what she meant.

            “Ever since… ever since I shamed myself and my family with how I acted towards Willoughby, I have tried to be… more like my sister. Not to let my emotions rule me like they once did.”

            Hearing that name pour out of her sweet lips again made him feel uneasy. “Miss Dashwood, none of that was your doing. Willoughby” – he uttered the name with hate – “was ill intended, at least at first, and played his game. A game he knew how to play very well, a game he had played before.” He remembered what was done to Eliza and how Willoughby would have disgraced Miss Dashwood in the same way, if allowed, disregarding all the friendship her family offered and all the love she herself did. Love which Colonel Brandon would have cherished every day, were it ever directed at him.

            “I know. And I thank goodness that he did not have the chance… that I did not have the same fate your dear Eliza had.” She looked at him with some embarrassment. He smiled, that timid smile, not baring any teeth. “But had I not been so emotional and open, it might have been… different. Maybe he would not have seen how his tricks worked on me… and… I don’t know. It just seems more prudent not to be like my nature compels me to be.”

            He continued in silence, in angst of where this was leading. He was also saddened by the fact she felt she could no longer be herself completely, as he had begun to love her so many months ago. She found a large rock under a tree and sat down. He stood, for he was too nervous to sit.

            “Lately I’ve been feeling… compelled to return to my old ways. I fight it back, but it is anguishing me so. I’ve been having trouble figuring out what it is I am feeling. Maybe suppressing my emotions for so long has led them to be an undecipherable mess… this is where I need your candor, Colonel.”

            “Whatever I may do to help,” he said with knots in his stomach.

            “I had decided to dedicate myself to my studies, devote myself to Mama, so that I would never go through what I went through again. I have successfully managed to discourage the few gentlemen who have tried to court me” – Brandon’s heart sank to his stomach – “and I was happy for it, for how could one love again after what I’ve been through? I could never be devoted, completely, to a husband after…”

            Colonel Brandon was feeling so overwhelmed. He felt for her, who seemed in great distress, confused. He wished he could pick her up in his arms and make it all go away. But he also felt for him, his heart aching with the prospect of never having more than her friendship. His heart wanted him to turn and leave, but his feet did not obey. They were heavier than the rock she sat upon. He clenched his fists in anger, thinking of how many ways had Willoughby ruined his life, his hopes for happiness and how he himself had allowed his heart to hope. Had he not learned anything at all in his life?

            “Throughout all of this”, she was saying when he journeyed back to her words “you have been a most wonderful friend, someone who I always felt I could be myself around, who would not judge me. Someone I can always count on.” She looked up at him.

            “I am, Miss Dashwood. I am happy to be,” he managed.

            “I have been… I do not know if it is just something I feel or if it is reality.” She sighed. She then took a long breath, as to build the courage to blurt it all out at once and be done with it. “Colonel, I have been under the impression of late that you have been courting me. And I do not wish to be hurt again. I do not think or in any way wish to imply that a kind gentleman such as yourself would behave as Willoughby. You wouldn’t. That I know in my heart to be true.”

Despair began to fill his heart. She had seen through him. Edward did mention it was very noticeable. She had seen through him and she was about to reject him. He began to try and master himself, so he could hold his composure in front of her as she broke his heart into a million pieces.

“I’ve had this impression, and despite all I had sworn, I seem to rather like it. But I think it might be only my imagination getting the best of me, that all you offer is friendship, for how could you wish to court me after all that happened? I have been an embarrassment to myself and my family, I treated you with such undeserved rudeness… But I’m afraid that if my confusion goes on any longer and my emotions take the best of me, I might hurt myself and you. So I need to know, Colonel, the truth. Your truth. The truth of your heart.”

            At first, Colonel Brandon just stood still, looking down at her in total disbelief. Of all the things going through his mind, he certainly did not expect this to happen. Then, he finally took a breath and nerves filled his whole body. He would have to tell her how he felt. He had promised candor. But he hadn’t planned to have to do it now, like this, if he ever really would do it. And to think that perhaps she was warm to his attempts…But she was confused, she said so herself. It might lead to nothing.

            He ran his hand through his hair in despair. Miss Dashwood stood up. He must have taken too long, for she said

            “Colonel, forgive me for my boldness. I do hope this does not interfere with your friendship towards me, which is greatly appreciated.” She did not look him in the eyes when she said it, but at a spot on the grass next to his feet. And off she was, heading back to the cottage.

            “Miss Dashwood”, he said, but she was still moving. “Marianne!” He let out, managing to grab hold of her hand and pull her back to him. She looked up at him startled, a tear rolling down her cheek, following the track of the one that had preceded it.

            “Please, Miss Dashwood, take a seat” and he helped her back down to the rock she had sat upon. He remained standing and nervously paced from side to side, his paces restrained, to not go too far from that rock, from her.

            He finally sat down next to her. He took one of her hands in his and she looked up at him, waiting for his explanations.

            “Miss Dashwood. Marianne. My sweet Marianne” he said, a finger from his free hand running down her cheek, drying up the trail her tears had left. “It is true that though I have greatly enjoyed your friendship, it has been my wish, my intent, to court you. I tried at first, but those attempts were not welcome and… well, I was cast aside. Then, after all that had transpired, I thought it best to keep to myself, for I would only open myself up for heartache. But I could not keep away from you, or your family’s friendship. After a while, after you… you proclaimed to have missed me when I had been away, I thought, perhaps foolishly, I might have a chance after all. So yes, Miss Dashwood. Though my attempts were clumsy, for I have never really done this before, and I… your presence makes me feel very insecure, they were that. Attempts at wooing you. Miss Dashwood, when I first saw you I felt as if it weren’t the first time, as if I already knew you from past lives. Whenever I am close to you, my heart sings in joy. I love you, with all my heart and all my soul. I have loved you ever since I first laid eyes on you, playing the pianoforte at Barton Park and heard your angelic singing, all those months ago.”

            Her eyes widened, surprised. Confused.

He couldn’t just leave now. Just say what he had said, pour his heart out and leave. Nor could he be silent awaiting a response. One cannot tell a lady he loves her and just leave it at that.

            “Miss Dashwood, though I had thought, planned, to do this in another manner, it was my hope to do it eventually.” He took both her hands in his. His heart leapt in his chest. She was still looking up at him, her hands squeezing his.

            “Miss Dashwood, I would be the happiest man in the world if you would do me the honor of… of marrying me.”

            She gasped and took one of her hands to her lips. She still looked very confused. She looked down at her lap.

            “I realize you… you need time to sort out… your feelings. I will not rush you into a decision. Forgive me, Miss Dashwood, that my clumsiness was the source of such confusion and exasperation to you.”

            He stood and bowed, turning to take his leave.

            She sat there absolutely stunned. She didn’t know what to expect when she started this conversation. She just wanted to learn how to deal with her feelings and stop all the confusion inside her. She certainly did not expect this. Elinor was right, he did love her, he said so himself. All these months, all those visits. He was walking away. Suddenly, for all the confusion she was feeling, a rush of emotion took over her. She knew, she just knew in her heart that she could not, she should not, let him walk away.

            “Colonel Brandon!” she called out. He stopped walking but could not muster the courage to turn around.

            “Miss Dashwood, you should go home. It’s going to rain.” He started walking again.

            “Christopher!” Her use of his Christian name made him stop dead in his tracks. A warm flow of love filled his heart as he turned around. She was running to him, and he took her in his arms. She looked up at him, deep into his eyes, and ran her hands up from his shoulders to the back of his neck. Pulling herself closer to him, she pressed her lips against his.

            His heart thudded in his chest so hard, it felt as if it were going to break through his rib cage. As his heart overflowed with love, he got bolder and pulled her closer, pressing his lips on hers more firmly, then taking her face in between his hands and doing it over and over. Warm raindrops began to fall upon them and get in between their ever touching lips. Marianne stepped away from him, smiling.

            “It’s raining. We better run.” And off she went, laughing and pulling his hand behind her. He happily obliged, laughing himself, something none of the Colonel’s acquaintances had seen in a long while.

When they arrived at the fences of the cottage, she stopped, before anyone could see them, and kissed him once more. With her hands on the back of his neck, a feeling he so recently had discovered but already loved, rain soaking their hairs and clothes, she pulled herself up to his ear and whispered

“And Christopher, my answer is yes.”

Smiling, she ran towards the house.

**************

 

“Marianne! Have you learned nothing?! Going out in the rain like that. And making the poor Colonel get wet too. Yet again! Forgive my daughter’s foolishness, Colonel.”

“It’s nothing, Mama. We came back as soon as it started. We are well, isn’t that so, Colonel?”

“We are indeed,” he smiled, still not believing what had just transpired.

Mrs. Dashwood sat them down on the sofa by the fire and gave them each a blanket with which to warm themselves.    

“I’ll fetch some tea with Betsy. Honestly, Marianne! You must stop with these walks in the rain.”

“Oh Mama, I believe I’ve grown fonder of them.” She giggled and stole a glance at the Colonel. He smiled quite timidly.

Mrs. Dashwood didn’t fully understand what was going on, but she could only imagine and hope the Colonel’s love had finally affected Marianne. There could be no better match. She would be happy with him, and Mrs. Dashwood would be happy in turn, for there was no greater joy for a mother than the happiness of a child. She let them be and went to fetch some tea with Betsy.

The Colonel grazed his fingers on Marianne’s hand, fearing their time alone was short and any other display of affection would be seen. Marianne looked at him and smiled, blushing.

“Are you sure, Miss Dashwood?” he found the courage to ask.

“Miss Dashwood? I thought we were past such formalities, dear Colonel.”

Warmth filled his heart.

“Are you sure, Marianne?”

“I am, Christopher.” She put her hand in his, smiling all the while.

Mrs. Dashwood came back in with Betsy and the Colonel quickly let Marianne’s hand go.

“Here is the tea, so you can warm yourselves and not come down with something.”

As they sipped their tea, Colonel Brandon glanced at Marianne, yet again, as looking for reassurance. Marianne understood and nodded smiling.

“Margaret, do come up with me and help me into some dry clothes.” Margaret, who had been in the next room studying, went upstairs with her, thus leaving the Colonel and their mother alone, so he could ask for her permission.

Chapter Text

After asking for Mrs. Dashwood’s permission and securing her blessing (which in truth was already secure since the carriage ride to Cleveland), happiness was all about at the Dashwood household. Margaret jumped up and down in joy of having a wonderful man such as the Colonel for a brother while Mrs. Dashwood hugged Marianne and they both, wearing their hearts on their sleeves as they’d always done, sobbed happy tears in each other’s arms.

            Mrs. Dashwood insisted the Colonel stay the night. Betsy had prepared supper for them, and it rained, which would make the ride back to Delaford perilous. Colonel Brandon, in turn, invited the Daswoods to Delaford, so they could give Elinor the good news in person. The Colonel wrote letters to Delaford, so arrangements could be made and a carriage sent to pick them up in the morning.

            When the time came for them to go to sleep, Colonel Brandon lay in bed – Marianne’s bed, for she had gone to share Margaret’s as to accommodate him – and could not bring himself to fall asleep. Just the knowledge that a few doors down lay Marianne was enough to keep him up all night. And he was lying in her bed. The very bed that nestled her every night, something he had been wishing to do for a long time now. Moreover, he still could not believe she had really agreed to marry him. Could he be dreaming?

            A note was slipped under his door.

           

         Goodnight, my dear. Sweet dreams.

                                                          Marianne.

 

            That note warmed his heart. The rest of the evening had been so busy and festive that they had not had another moment alone. They hadn’t even bid each other goodnight. He felt excited, and so awake, it was as if he were a teenage boy again. He hadn’t felt like that in a long time, ever since he left home to go to war.

            He went to the desk in the room, picked up a quill and wrote on a piece of paper:

 

Goodnight, my love. I’ll be dreaming of kisses in the rain.

                                                        Forever yours,

                                                                       Christopher.

 

He slipped it under her door, careful as to not awake Mrs. Dashwood or Margaret on his way down the hall, and hoping Margaret would not intercept his note.

At some point he was able to go to sleep, and when he woke up the next day, it was, to his surprise – for he usually was an early riser – to an already active household. Things moved quickly and before he knew it, they were on their way to Delaford. They sent word to Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, for it would have been rude not to, and they were to join them at the Colonel’s estate. It was due to their mutual friendship to Sir John, after all, that Colonel Brandon and Marianne ever met. Marianne was hesitant, for she wished to keep the joy all to herself and the Colonel for a while, but agreed when faced with his and her mother’s argument.

Their first stop was at the Ferrars’ house, with intentions of sharing the good news and bringing them up to the manor for the celebrations. It was killing Marianne that Mrs. Jennings and Sir John got the news before her dear sister, but it was better to come and tell her personally than to have sent a letter the previous day. But alas, they weren’t home. Their maid informed the travelers that Mr. Ferrars had gone on parish business and Mrs. Ferrars accompanied him, taking baked goods to some sickly parishioner in need, and that they were to be gone for better part of the day. Marianne was exasperated, but there was nothing to do, so they went up to the manor to enjoy lunch.

After everyone was nourished and engaged in conversation, Colonel Brandon went up to his room unnoticed. He went into his dressing room and rummaged through a drawer of his armoire for a while. He finally found what he was looking for, and sat down on an armchair in the corner with the little red box in his hand. He looked at it thoughtfully, running his fingers through his hair. When he opened it, he saw the ring that sat in the box. It had a double rose gold band with a sensible sized square diamond. It had been his mother’s wedding ring. She had left it to him upon her death when he was young. He had thought he would end up giving it to Eliza, when he dreamed of taking her as a wife, but destiny did not hold that in its cards. His time in the East Indies taught him to move on and live with the deep hurt he felt bottled up in a corner of his soul, but he had thought he would die soon in the war, and wouldn’t use his mother’s ring anyway, even if he did manage to love another someday. When he came back and learned what had happened to Eliza, he thought that maybe he could find her and finally be happy, though he had his doubts Eliza would wish do have anything to do with another Brandon again, especially since he had not fought hard enough for her. Upon finding her on her deathbed, he saw that destiny once again had dealt him a cruel hand.

He learned to believe in second attachments in time, but even though he was introduced to many formidable young ladies, he never felt the urge to pursue any of them, and he never did want a marriage for the sake of having a marriage and producing an heir. At least joining the army got him away from his father’s influence in that aspect. And all others. And since he had died, he did not have a say in it when the Colonel came back from the war either.

So Colonel Brandon learned to manage Delaford without a mistress, and was quite good at it. Better than his father or brother ever were. He did not need or want a wife. Until that day he walked into Barton Park and heard the voice and then rejoiced in the sight of an angel singing.

Now he could be truly happy, finally. At least he hoped so. He was glad his mother had left him and not his brother the ring, for now it would go to deserving hands and wouldn’t be wasted on woman after woman or sold to pay for debts. He wondered if his mother would like and approve of Marianne. He decided she would.

Colonel Brandon got up, closing the tiny box and placing it in his pocket. He went downstairs and asked Marianne if she would fancy a ride on the grounds and she readily accepted. Margaret, who did not pass up a chance to go riding, offered to go as well. Though Mrs. Dashwood did not find it necessary for them to have a chaperone, for the Colonel was a respectful gentleman, and now they had an agreement, she did not object to Margaret going, for propriety’s sake in front of others.

While the Colonel saddled Margaret’s horse, Margaret was all compliments for him.

“I am very glad you are to be my brother, Colonel. I’ve always liked you very much.”

“Why, thank you Captain Margaret,” he said with a smile. “I’ve always been very fond of you and your whole family as well. I’m very happy I can be a part of it now.”

“Can I come and visit and ride often?”

“Anytime you like,” he said, after a good hearty laugh.

“And can I choose a horse to be the one I ride every time I come?”

“Well, every great rider does have a favorite horse” he responded, still chuckling.

“I’ll have to ride them all, to pick my favorite.”

“They are all at your disposal. And they could use the exercise. I alone do not have the time to take them all out, as much as I would like. There you go, Captain, all ready to go.”

Margaret, eager as ever, climbed on with some help from the Colonel.

“I will be waiting up ahead then!” she said riding off.

“Let me know how you like that mare. Her name is Daisy, by the way.” He smiled as she rode further. He then proceeded to saddling his and Marianne’s horses.

When he was finished, he went to Marianne and placed his hands around her waist. She looked up at him smiling and he smiled back, both grateful they would have time alone together, at least in some capacity. He wanted to kiss her lips so badly, but he dared not. They were too close to the house still, and though he had not required the stable hand’s help, for the Colonel enjoyed saddling the horses himself, he was still nearby tending to the other horses. Colonel Brandon simply touched his forehead to Marianne’s briefly, before lifting her up to her horse.

He mounted his own horse and they rode off, catching up to Margaret. Since Margaret was ever impatient, she inquired where they were going. The Colonel did not reveal, for he did not want to ruin the surprise. Her impatience also led her to ride a little further ahead, which allowed the betrothed some privacy to converse.

“Where are we going, dear Colonel?” Marianne did not use his Christian name for fear Margaret would hear.

“You will be there soon enough, Miss Dashwood. Do inspect the grounds of which you are to be mistress. See what changes you would like made” he said, with a wide smile. She giggled.

 “I’m sure everything is in order, sir,” she smiled. “How was it, when you inherited it? How did it feel, coming home after such a long time away?”

“It was hard. Getting used to tending to all the responsibilities that came with it. Especially since my brother did not care for them and did not perform them to the expected standard. Add to that the fact that I never much considered it home after my mother died…”

“When did you start considering it a home?”

“I probably will when I have a beautiful wife to come home to.” They both flushed red.

“But how could you live here all these years and not…”

“One gets used to it,” he said, in a sad tone.

Even though they had shared many conversations since her fever and she had gotten to know sides of him she believed not many people knew, she never quite understood why he was so closed off to the world. She now began to understand better. She guessed she would have grown to be like that, at least to some degree, if he hadn’t been there to slowly and unexpectedly mend her heart. She wanted to fully mend his too. She made a silent vow right then and there to try to make him laugh as often as possible.

They came up to a structure on top of a hill. It had stone pillars and stone benches. A trellis served as a sort of roof, with several vines and climbing plants growing on it, and yet it was all neatly trimmed.

“Colonel, this is a lovely spot!”

“It really is,” Margaret agreed, while they all dismounted.

“My mother had it built. She liked to come here because you can see all of the grounds, down to the manor on this side, and better part of the village on this side” he showed. “I thought you could have a good look at all of Delaford here.” He smiled at Marianne as she blushed.

“Let’s see if Elinor is home! We must tell her the good news!” Margaret said after a while, hurrying back to her horse. Marianne was about to follow when Colonel Brandon took her hand.

“I shall like to speak to you in private for a bit,” he said.

She smiled at him and told Margaret, who had already mounted “Margaret, do not go too far. We will join you in a moment.” She turned back to Colonel Brandon and he started:

“Marianne, my love. Yesterday you took me by surprise with your inquiries, and, to fulfill my promise of candor, I had to confess my love for you. And after doing so, any true, well intended gentleman could not leave without proposing some sort of arrangement, so I was forced to propose marriage to you in a way I had not imagined.”

“Are you… having second thoughts?”

“Oh no, my love!” he said taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. “Never, never. I just wish to do it properly.”

He took the ring box from his pocket, getting down on one knee before her. He opened the box and as she saw the ring inside, she gasped.

“Marianne Dashwood, would you do me the honor of being my wife?”

Tears rolled down her face. She first could only nod her answer, but after a moment her voice came to her throat and she said “Yes, yes. Of course. A thousand times yes.”

He placed the ring on her finger and proceeded to kiss her hand, every finger, every knuckle. He got up to his feet.

“If you do not like the ring, we can get a new one. That one was my mother’s.”

“It is a lovely ring, I shall have no other.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she smiled, her tears drying up.

“Are you sure… about everything?”

“Absolutely. Why on earth should I not be? I am the most fortunate woman in all the Empire.”

“I am the one who is fortunate. I still do not understand why would a lady such as yourself take me as a husband.”

For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move, and I am still with them and they with thee.” *

He rejoiced as she recited those lines of poetry to him. She had, after all, paid attention to that first poem he had ever read to her. He had been bold and regretted it half way through, but was relieved when he saw that in her recovery from the fever, she had returned to her slumber and the poem had fallen on deaf ears. Or so he thought.

He placed a hand on her cheek, and closed in for a kiss. At first it was a chaste kiss, like the ones they had shared the previous day, lips gently pressing against each other’s. But soon their lips interlocked, he, the more experienced, taking the lead. A heat came up from a place from which Marianne had never felt before and rested on her face and neck, making her milky complexion turn scarlet. She enjoyed that feeling, his lips gently sucking on hers. He soon, yet reluctantly, stopped.

“Marianne, my sweetheart. Would you be so kind as to bestow upon me a lock of your hair?” He ran his hand down to her neck and then up to her golden hair. She started crying again.

“Have I offended you?”

“No, no. Of course you can take a lock of my hair. I just… I just wished I had never given one to anyone else, so it could be special… like… like the kisses we share.”

He was relieved to know for certain that Willoughby had not taken advantage of her innocence in anyway. Though that would in no way change the profound love he felt for her.

“My love, that does not make it any less special or meaningful to me.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief for her. She smiled and took from her own pocket a handkerchief of his he had once offered her. His heart swelled, not the first time this day, to know she had kept it, and he smiled. He then got his pocket knife and ran his fingers on some of her curls.

“May I?”

“You may.”

He gently lifted a curl from her neck. He wished to kiss her neck, but restrained himself. His breath so close to it made the tiny hairs down Marianne’s back stand on end. And once again she felt that heat in places she had never felt before.

He cut off a lock of her hair and stored it in his pocket watch for safe keeping. He then took her by the waist as they began to kiss again.

It would have gone on for a while, had they not heard the hooves of a horse approaching. They quickly disentangled, both very flushed, as Margaret came into sight.

“I just saw Elinor arriving at her house. Let’s go tell her the good news!”

They smiled as they followed her to the horses, and then rode off to Elinor’s house.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon had visited with Sir John for a while one late afternoon after having spent the better part of the day with Marianne at Barton Cottage. As he mounted his horse, preparing to leave Barton Park, a messenger came to his encounter. He was handed a letter and, at once, Colonel Brandon recognized Marianne’s handwriting.

 

Dear Christopher,

         I expect this letter will be delivered after we have already had more news, therefore a second one should soon follow, but I had the uncontrollable urge to write to you right away.

         Margaret had an accident shortly after you left us this afternoon. The doctor has been called, but she remains unconscious as we wait for him to arrive. Mama and I are worried sick! I guess the idea of writing to you calmed me down a bit. I will not ask you to return, for I know it is a relatively tiresome and long ride to make thrice in one day, but I do hope you can come tomorrow. God willing all will be well and I know your visit would cheer Margaret – and I – up.

         I will write again as soon as the doctor gives us news.

 

                                                                                     M.

 

            Colonel Brandon rushed back to the Cottage, and since he had luckily been so close, he arrived even before the doctor did. As he came through the door unannounced, both Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood looked surprised to see him, though the latter was the first to speak.

            “Colonel Brandon, how thoughtful of you to come back. You did not need to go through the trouble.”

            “It was no trouble at all, I was taking my leave of Barton Park when Miss Dashwood’s letter was delivered to me. What has happened?”

            As the look of surprise faded from their faces when he explained himself, worry slipped back to their countenance. Mrs. Dashwood seemed on the brink of tears even. Marianne spoke.

            “Margaret was coming down from the tree house, and she must have tripped on her dress, for she fell midway down the ladder. She did not get up. Tom helped us take her to her room, but she remains unconscious.”

            Marianne looked desperately concerned. He wished to hold her and comfort her, but he dared not, even if he only stood a few feet away from her. He would not dare to be so bold in front of her mother, but he was also still insecure towards Marianne on certain occasions. She still had not said those words he so longed to hear, or proclaimed love with any other gesture, even though he had done so on quite a few occasions in the few days since their betrothal. He should be content with the mere fact she had agreed to marry him, which was much more he could ever hope for, but it seemed his heart had grown greedy, always wishing for more. He supposed that her sending him a letter was sign enough she wanted him there, or even needed him to console her, but still, he rather wait for her to take a first step or say something, for fear of scaring her away with all the love he had to offer, and making this dream he was living end abruptly. Oh how he wished to hold her in this time of need, take care of her, kiss her forehead, and assure her everything would be alright.

            “Is there anything I can do?” he asked.

            “Your presence and friendship are more than enough, Colonel, thank you so much,” Mrs. Dashwood said. She then added “I suppose all we can do now is wait for the doctor.”

            At almost that exact moment, the doctor rushed through the door.

            “Doctor Abbot, come, she is upstairs,” Mrs. Dashwood led the doctor to Margaret’s room.

            They had barely gone out of sight when Marianne threw herself on Colonel Brandon, her arms going around his waist, underneath his coat, her cheek pressed to his chest. She held him tight.

            “I am so glad you are here, Christopher. Thank you so much for coming back. Being with you makes me calmer.”

            His heart swelled with a mix of love and relief, and sheer happiness that she held him so. It beat harder and louder in his chest and she could certainly hear and feel it. He wrapped his arms around her, one of his hands gently stroking her back, and rested his head on top of hers.

            “It will be alright, you’ll see. She probably collapsed out of shock, that’s all. Or she might have broken some bone and fainted due to the pain. Either way, it’s nothing very serious.” He kissed her head and did not let her go.

            “I hope so.” She did not let him go either. “Thank you again for coming. You didn’t have to but I’m glad you did.”

            “Of course I did. I would have come even if I had already gotten to Delaford.”

            “You would have been exhausted!”

            “I would gladly ride all day and all night to get to you, to hold you so.”

            She smiled and though he could not see it, he felt her face move against his chest.

 “I am honored to be the object of such acts of chivalry.”

            “Have you eaten?” He suddenly asked, after a moment of silence.

            “No. I am not hungry. How could I be?”

            “But you must eat something. We cannot have you collapsing every time you are worried,” he said, remembering the last time she went without eating. “I’ll ask Betsy to prepare something for you.”

            She smiled again, finding it sweet how he worried about her. “All right, but not right now” she said, refusing to let him go.

            As they heard footsteps coming down the stairs, they were forced to part.

            Mrs. Dashwood looked much more relieved. Doctor Abbot explained Margaret had broken her arm and had fainted due to the pain. He had set her arm back and immobilized it with a splint, and gave her something for the pain. She should be up again tomorrow morning. Marianne looked at Colonel Brandon in admiration, wondering if he knew everything about all subjects or if it just seemed that way because she was seeing him in yet another light.

            As all was well, he was preparing to leave again, following the doctor. Mrs. Dashwood insisted he stay, for it was too late for him to ride back to Delaford, and he had already ridden enough for one day.

Chapter Text

 

They sat around the table in the dining room. Books were open upon it. They sat close together, and he could smell her hair, her perfume, without needing to lean in to touch her curls with his nose. Her right hand shyly touched his under the table, in fear they might be seen. Her left, rested on one of the books. On her finger, the double band diamond ring he had given her. Was he dreaming? He must be, for he did not even recall the last time he had been this happy and had had the urge to smile all the time.

            “What was that you told me? I was to pout as if I were about to be kissed?” Her voice parted him from his thoughts.

            She read a line of her French lesson and every time the word required her to pout, he stole a kiss. She giggled each time, and read on, hoping for more of his kisses. Such kisses could be stolen, for Mrs. Dashwood sat outside with her sewing, watching Margaret, who in spite of having her arm in a splint, refused to sit inside quietly. She was up on the tree house, the fear of falling again not troubling her heart, only her mother’s. Fortunately, one could not have a clear view of the dining room from the tree house, nor from where Mrs. Dashwood sat.

            “I do dare say my French has improved quite significantly.” She giggled. “If only I had had lessons such as these before…”

            “I am most glad you didn’t, for I had not made your acquaintance when last you studied French.” He smiled and kissed her again. “Now, I have something to read to you, to test your understanding of the French language.” He pulled out a poem and started to read, that deep voice of his making the words feel like melting chocolate in her ears.

 

Ô toi, qui passes la plus belle

En attraits, en regards touchants ;

En esprit, en savoir, la plus spirituelle,

Et la plus vertueuse en généraux penchants !

Sais-tu quel sentiments d’une espèce nouvelle

Cet assemblage merveilleux

Fait naître dans mon coeur tendre autant que fidèle ?

La vénération que l’on a pour les Dieux,

Et tout l’amour qu’inspire une beauté mortelle[1].

 

            She was smiling. She leaned over to him, cupped his face in her hands and kissed his lips more deeply and passionately than the kisses that had been stolen before.

            “I understood it perfectly.”

            “I love you”, he said, and she kissed him again.

            She had yet to profess her love with clear words such as his. She seemed very happy, and responded to his kisses and caresses. He felt passion in her kisses, and she did agree to marry him. He believed she would not have done so merely out of convenience or lack of hope of someone else proposing, someone who she could truly love. If she had agreed, she probably felt something for him. It could be only fondness, however. How many marriages were built solely on that? He hoped it would not be their case. He hoped her feelings could grow and blossom into something more.

            He broke out of his thoughts when he realized Marianne had pulled away from him and pushed her chair back ever so slightly. His heart filled in despair as to what had happened, what had he done wrong? Was he too eager in his declarations of love? Had he scared her?

            But almost instantly, Margaret ran in, and he breathed in relief. He looked over to his betrothed and she smiled.

            “Shall we continue, Colonel?” Marianne said as Margaret joined them at the table.

 

Chapter Text

Marianne was coming down the stairs. Mrs. Dashwood had called for her when he arrived. She had a book in her hand, the one they had been reading last, and he noticed that on the milky skin of her cleavage lay a gold locket, strapped to her neck. He had never seen her wearing it before. She gazed upon him with a smile and as soon as she reached him, took his arm to lead him outside.

            “Excuse me, Mrs.Dashwood,” he turned to say while Marianne pulled him outside. Her mother just smiled and turned to her chores.

            They had preferred to sit outside of late, beyond the fences of the cottage, away from prying eyes and interruptions. As they walked, she caressed his arm. After they had walked down the small hill on which the Cottage sat and were by his horse, past the fences, out of sight, she stopped walking and stood on the tips of her toes to press her lips against his. Her locket twinkled in the sunlight. It bothered him a bit, the locket. Such jewelry usually was a gift from the heart, intended to hold the portrait of a loved one, or perhaps a lock of hair or some other token. Had someone gifted it to her? He hadn’t, though he did think about it. But he did not dare. It was presumptuous of him to assume she would wish to wear a token of him around her neck. He had bought one for himself instead, to hold the lock of hair she had granted him. He always had it with him, in his pocket, wherever he went. In the back of his mind, the fear it might have been a gift from Willoughby harassed him, along with all the implications of her still wearing it if it indeed had been a gift from him. But he shouldn’t think such things. It was foolish of him to. Was it not? He tried to push those thoughts away.

            They reached the tree under which they were accustomed to sitting and sat very close to each other, their backs resting against the trunk of the tree. She handed him the book, and as he fumbled through the pages, looking for where they had stopped last, he looked up at her every so often, the locket glimmering in his eyes.

            “Do you not remember our place?” She smiled as she took the book from his hands, to look for the page herself.

            “I have never seen you wearing that” he said, after gathering some courage. He couldn’t help but to ask. He was afraid of what he might find out, though. “It becomes you.”

            He looked fixedly at her chest and she took her hand to the locket.

            “Oh, I forgot to take it off.” Her words did not soothe him. Quite the contrary, they made him more uneasy. Why would she wear it only when not in his presence? She saw the worry in his eyes and smiled, though shyly. She took her hand up to his cheek and caressed it, then it traveled upward and brushed his hair off his forehead.

            “You may open it, if you wish.” He looked her in the eyes and they warmly confirmed what she had said.

            His hand went to the locket and his heart raced with this new-found closeness. His hand brushing on her chest, so close to her heart. So close to her breasts. She flushed and felt hot in the face, while her heart also beat fast. She smiled nervously. He opened the locket and what he saw inside surprised him in ways he did not expect. It was a drawing of him. His smiling face.

            “My father gave me this locket. I wished to have one for some reason when I was a child and he gifted it to me. But I never did wear it. I remembered I had it only recently, and found a good use for it,” she smiled. “Forgive me, I asked Elinor to sketch you for me without asking your permission,” she added apprehensively, worried he might not appreciate such an intrusion.

            He smiled widely, so happy he was. “You may have me sketched as often as you please. I’m just surprised my countenance pleases you so.”

            “I wear it whenever you are away for too long. This way you are always close to my heart.” She took her hand to the left side of her chest.

            “Away for too long? But you last saw me only two days ago,” he said chuckling.

            “That is too long for me.”

            He cupped his hands on her cheeks, his fingers sinking in her hair.

            “I…” he kissed one cheek. “Love…” he kissed the other. “You”. He pressed his lips against hers and quickly deepened the kissed, as he gently sucked on one lip and she did the same in turn.

            At that game, they switched back and forth. Their hearts beat fast, in unison, as their breathing took a more heavy rhythm. Their faces burned hot and red. The Colonel felt it best to stop before stronger, inappropriate and uncontrollable urges took over. Marianne let out a low whimper as their lips parted. She wished to kiss him all day long. Her hand slipped down from his neck to his chest and came down back to her lap. He still caressed her cheeks and played with her curls, twirling one in his finger.

            “Now, it does seem rather unfair that you have a sketch of me and I do not have a single portrait of your beautiful, angelical face to look upon when I cannot contemplate it personally,” he smiled.

            “Do you mean to say, sir” she said in feigned outrage, “that a gentleman such as yourself does not have the ability to sketch your lady? How absurd!” She laughed.

            His lady. He laughed as well.

            “Unfortunately that is an ability I do lack.”

            “Well you must master it at once! But since I am in good cheer I will ask my sister to draw one for you, if you so wish.”

            “I do wish it. Not only one, several, to gaze upon at night so I may sleep easier.”

            She smiled and touched her lips to his. She then picked the book up from her lap and said, as she searched for the correct page:

            “Now, will you do me the honor of reading me some poetry? That is an ability I am certain you have mastered.”

 

Chapter Text

 

It had been a hectic couple of weeks. There had been so many wedding details to arrange, Marianne was feeling overwhelmed even with her mother’s constant help and with Elinor visiting more often than usual to aid as well. Marianne didn’t remember there being so much to do when Elinor got married. Perhaps because Elinor’s wedding did not have as many guests, or perhaps because Marianne wasn’t as involved as she could have been, since she had always been waiting for Colonel Brandon’s visits.

            What eased her mind a bit was that he was to come the next day, after a few days’ absence, for he also had details to arrange and their future home to prepare. Elinor and Edward reported he was very much preoccupied in making Delaford manor as comfortable as possible for her, and was buying new furniture and reopening many rooms that had been closed off for years, since a bachelor had no use for so much space. He had assured her though, that he would leave most of the decorating to her, whose taste for such things was undoubtedly superior to his. Marianne thought that he was being very sweet and doing more than he should, especially since the only comfort she would ever need was being in his arms.

            In the late afternoon, a letter came from him.

 

                My Sweet Marianne,

 

            I have been called to London on urgent business, and though I looked forward to finally contemplating your angelic countenance in person again, I will not be able to go to you. I shall be back in three days’ time and go straight to your encounter. You remain, as always, with my heart.

                                                                                                         Love,

                                                                                                            Christopher.

 

            My dearest Christopher,

 

        I miss you terribly already, I almost cannot bear it. In three days’ time I will probably have walked halfway to London, hoping to meet you sooner.

 

                                               Forever yours,

                                                       Marianne.

 

            Colonel Brandon took her letter with him and read it every chance he got, holding it to his chest and sighing, like a foolish lovesick boy. Forever yours. That had been the closest she had ever come to declaring love for him in words. He thought her actions towards him could express love, but they could also be just affection, fondness, especially since she was prone to feeling more intensely than others. Her mere fondness could be mistaken for love. One could never be sure until one hears the words being said to them. He was, however, happy all the same, hopeful now that she would someday come to love him truly, maybe even as deeply and passionately as he loved her. He began to feel more confident to express his love as frequently as he wished to and as profusely as he felt it without fearing it would scare her away.

           

            The business he had in London could be taken care of in one day, but he remained an extra day to meet with his attorney and take care of everything having to do with his estate. He wished Marianne to be provided for should something happen to him before they had children, or should they never have children or lack a male heir.

            When he walked back to the inn at which he was staying – it did not seem worth the trouble to open his London home for staying only two days – he stopped in front of a store window. It was a jewelry shop. The tiara displayed on the window was exactly like the one he had seen Marianne wearing many times in his mind’s eye, in his reveries of their wedding at Elinor’s wedding, and every night ever since, in his dreams. The diamonds were arranged so that the tiara looked like a string of flowers that would bloom out of her curls and hold her veil in place.

            He had wished to pay for everything concerning the wedding, but Marianne was adamant on taking care of at least the dress. She would not spend all of his money before they even got married, she had said. He had secretly wished to find a wedding gown like the one he saw in his dreams and that she would approve of it, but even if he were to pay for everything, he would not be able to shop for the gown with her. Grooms should not see their bride’s dress before the wedding. That didn’t bother him much though; she would look beautiful no matter what.

            But the tiara. It was right there, in front of him. He could not just leave it there, pretend he hadn’t seen it. It would make her look like a queen, like the queen she was. Queen of his heart. He stepped into the store and had it wrapped for him to take.

            That night he dreamt the same dream, of her in the wedding gown, walking towards the altar, smiling. Only this time she got further down the aisle, closer to him, before he woke. He woke early, for he wanted to leave London as soon as possible, and get to her.

 

***********

 

            He rode down the path that led to Barton Cottage. He still had a good distance to cover, but he saw as she exited the house and ran down to the fence where he usually tied his horse. It prompted him to push the stirrups so his horse would go faster, into a nice lope. When he approached her, he dismounted swiftly, before the horse had even come to a full stop.

            “Christopher! Be careful! You could get hurt!”

            He held the reins in one hand while his other went around her waist, slightly lifting her from the ground towards his lips. Her hand slipped around the back of his neck and into his hair while they shared a kiss.

            “Hello, my lady.” He put her down and turned to tie his horse.

            She smiled. “You are in a cheerful mood today.”

            “Why shouldn’t I be when I have the fairest damsel in all the land waiting for me?”

            He turned to her. She stepped forward to hug him.

            “How are you?” he asked, holding her close to him.

            “Much better now that you are here. Though I am still very tired. Can we not just get married tomorrow? Only you and I, Edward could officiate. I would not be so tired, and would be your wife sooner. I declare there are no downsides to this idea of mine.”

            He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “And have all of England think I kidnapped and forced you into marriage? I think not,” he said in jest.

            “Why would anyone think that?!”

            “Why else would such a lovely young lady agree to marry a man such as myself? They might think it even if they all see you walking to the altar at your own accord,” he smiled.

            “Nonsense. I am very fortunate to be marrying such a kind, generous, intelligent, charming man,” she smiled back.

            Hearing her sing his praises as such made him giddy. He smiled to know she thought such things of him. He hoped he could continue to be like that in her eyes for all eternity. He brought his lips to hers once more.

            “Besides” he said as he took her hand and interlaced his fingers with hers to escort her back to the cottage, “if we were to marry in secret, no one would see the gift I have brought for you.”

            “Gift?” She tightened her pace to accompany his. “Why did you buy me a gift?”

            “Because I love you and I wish to spoil you and make you happy.”

            She wished to kiss him again, but now they were in view of anyone who could be watching from the Cottage, so she refrained. She only smiled and squeezed his hand tighter.

            They got to the parlor and Mrs. Dashwood came to greet him. They both inquired about his trip and he told them how it went, pointing out that the most interesting part was when he found this, taking out the black velvet covered box from his riding bag and handing it to Marianne.

            Her eyes and her smile widened.

            “Thank you. But there was no need for it,” she said before she had even opened it.

            “I wished to buy it.” She started to open the box and Colonel Brandon went on. “I know nothing of the gown you chose; still, I thought you might wear this on our wedding day, if you are so inclined. If you do not wish to, there is no trouble. All I wish for is to see you pleased.”

            “Why would I not want to wear it?” She said as she removed her hands from her lips, which they covered because she was in awe. “It is beautiful! Thank you so much, Colonel,” she let out, remembering her mother was present.

            “Indeed, it is gorgeous! And so very generous of you, Colonel. I must fetch Margaret to see it.” Mrs. Dashwood left the room.

            He was sitting beside Marianne, and she hurried to kiss his lips.

            “Christopher! Wasn’t this too costly? You did not need to do this.”

            “Being wed to you is priceless and more than makes up for it.”

            She took one of his hands in both of hers and kissed it numerous times.

            “But you are to wed me no matter what,” she smiled. “There is no need to give me nothing material in return. All I ask is for your love and companionship.”

            “That you shall always have,” he grinned, feeling giddy again.

Chapter Text

 

The cottage was full and hectic. Everyone was still chatting around the house and excited, and even though it was still late afternoon, Marianne though it best to retire early. She had a big day on the morrow. However, she still sat in bed, unable to rest.

            She had begun remembering how her father and mother’s relationship was like. Though Henry Dashwood was always very loving and caring towards her mother, and showed her the utmost respect, she did not remember there ever being any passion, any spark. Any romance. That could very well be because they did not let it show in front of their children, but what if it was not? And even if it was, what kind of passion could be so restrained and moderate as to choose when and where it could be shown? Was that any passion at all? Marianne wondered if there would be any excitement and romance in her marriage. She truly wished there would, for she thought she could not live happily, truly happily if there wasn’t. What if the lack of romance in her parents’ marriage was due to their age and time together? Colonel Brandon was already much older than she was, though lately she had no longer seen that as an impediment. So would he be too calm and passionless?

            Then she began to recall when she was just a child, the neighbors and friends her mother would have over for tea. She was old enough to understand good portions of the conversations, but young enough to remain in the room and not be noticed as an intruder. She remembered the women talking about their routines, and how boring their lives seemed to her, and how their husbands were sometimes plainly and simply indifferent towards them. They would not share events of their day or have any sort of stimulating debate or conversation with them. She did not hear of romantic gestures or words. Those seemed to stop once you were wed, if they ever did occur. Men seemed to close themselves off as the years went by. She became very agitated and anxious with such thoughts and memories.

            Her mind then brought forth the image of Willoughby. She remembered the wonderful times she had shared with him. They were always exciting, never dull. She recalled their rides on his carriage and the rush of excitement she always felt with him, just waiting for him. That was what she wanted, that was what she needed every day of her life.

            … until she didn’t. Until it was all pain and tears and sorrow. That she never wished to feel again, ever. She felt very confused, very nervous. What if marrying was not the right thing to do after all? She had fantasized and romanticized it all her life, but now, analyzing all she had heard and seen and been through, she saw that it was extremely difficult to have something like that. Only in the books and poems she read did that ever happen. And most of the time, all the characters died before ever being truly happy. Take Romeo and Juliet, for instance. Dying for love did not seem so romantic to her anymore.

            But it all faded away as her mind conjured up the Colonel’s image. Christopher. She took her locket from her neck and opened it to gaze at his portrait. She smiled. She remembered all the times they had shared, ever since her illness. She remembered even before her illness, that he was always very cordial and sweet, even though she did not make the smallest effort to treat him well. Still he remained a loyal friend to her family, and in love with her, and helped her in her time of need. She was sure in her heart he would never harm her. He was a gentleman, and she was always calm around him, although that was not what she thought she wished to feel, but was always very content. She even used to think him too old and boring to ever feel anything similar to love and excitement.

            But the excitement arrived, eventually. Given the time and attention he deserved, he began to open up. He was only ever so grave because of his hardships in life, and as she showed kindness, he showed himself, his true self, more. He was passionate and sensible, as well as reasonable. The perfect mix of both, which she though could never exist. She was happier during his visits than she ever was doing anything else, though she would deny it. When she finally gave in completely, he showed even more of that side, became more open, more exciting, more romantic, and her heart would throb and her body would quiver with just the touch of him. The very thought of him.

            He did not need to take her on wild carriage rides to make her feel that rush and excitement. He alone did that. Even lately, as they were engaged and so close to the wedding, when he already had her, his excitement and romance, his passionate kisses, only grew. Her heart filled with love, joy, excitement to think of him. Sweet Christhoper. Her doubts began to dissipate.

            She did not believe he would grow indifferent and grave, like her mother’s old neighbors’ husbands did. All indicated he would be romantic as he was now, maybe more once they were bonded by marriage. He had always respected her and her opinions, always had intelligent conversations with her. Why should that ever change?

            Her doubts were being washed away fast as she remembered the passionate kiss he had left her with the night before and the sweet words he had said before he rode off back to Delaford. “I cannot wait to be wed to you. I shall make it my sole purpose in this life to always make you happy.” Her heart swelled and her whole body tingled.

            But she wished to see his face before her, or at least hear from him immediately. That would certainly soothe her and rid her mind of all these crazy doubts. Colonel Brandon was a wonderful man. She knew this in her heart to be true. She would not feel as she did or accept to marry him if he weren’t. He was perfect.

            She decided to write to him. What, she did not yet know. But she needed to speak to him, to calm her heart.

            There was a knock on the door and it opened immediately. It was her mother.

            “Dear, there is a letter for you. It is from Colonel Brandon.”

Chapter Text

They were to be married at Barton Parish. Sir John offered to hold the celebratory breakfast at Barton Park so that Delaford manor wouldn’t be disturbed and would remain ready to receive its master and mistress. Therefore, having the ceremony at Barton was more agreeable. Furthermore, that would allow Edward to be a groomsman instead of the one to officiate the ceremony.

            All were at Barton but Colonel Brandon, who stayed at Delaford due to the tradition of not seeing the bride twenty-four hours prior to the wedding. He thought it was a rather silly tradition, but he did not want to take any chances. Bad fortune was not something he wished to have on this day. Or ever again in his lifetime. He could have stayed at Barton Park, but he thought his sleep would be a bit less troubled without the racket of the final preparations for the celebration, and without Mrs. Jennings’ anxious chatter. He was anxious enough on his own.

            Edward also stayed behind so that Colonel Brandon would not ride alone to Barton in the morning. They were having a drink in the drawing room after supper, but Colonel Brandon was awfully quiet.

            “Are you having second thoughts, Brandon old man? Afraid to give up the freedom a bachelor’s life offers?” Edward said in jest.

            Brandon looked up from the crackling fire at him and chuckled. “I happily give up all such freedoms, which I never really did indulge in, to be rid of the loneliness and emptiness which are constant. Were… constant.” He took a sip from his drink.

            “Then what it is that troubles you, friend?” Edward asked. Colonel Brandon stirred his drink in his hand, watching it. “You do know I am head of you parish. I might be of some help,” Edward smiled, always aiming to cheer. “I believe it is my job to give counsel and such things.”

            “I am… afraid she might have second thoughts. That this all is just a dream and I will awake up cruelly soon.”

            “I assure you this is not a dream. I sit here in the flesh.”

            “It just seems like it is too good to be true. Given all that has happened in my life… This, happiness, is not the norm. Not for too long at least.”

            “Has she given you any sign that she regrets anything? Has she not been happy and shown you love?”

            “Yes, but…” She had yet to profess her love, if she indeed felt it. It still bothered him more than it should. If she did not love him truly, she could come to her senses at any moment. Regret her decision. Back away. She could leave him standing at the altar and never show. Break his heart in a million pieces. The very heart she had put back together, slowly nursed back into life. His insecurities were at play once again.

            “Allow yourself to be happy, Brandon. You deserve it,” Edward said, cutting off his thoughts.

            In came Ruth with a letter addressed to Colonel Brandon. It was from Marianne.

            “Ah, there now then, that should calm you nerves. I will retire and leave you to it then. Do not hesitate to call should you need me. Goodnight, Brandon.” Edward got up from the high back chair on which he sat.

            “Goodnight, Edward.”

            Colonel Brandon looked down at the letter in his hand, not having the courage to open it. He had written her a letter earlier that day.

 

 

            Love of my life, light of my existence,

 

                I can hardly wait for tomorrow, to finally be joined to you in matrimony, my sweet Marianne. When you accepted to be my wife you made me happier than I ever thought possible. Are you absolutely sure about your decision? It all seems like a sweet dream, too good to be true. If it is, I do not ever wish to wake up.

                                                                                              With all my heart,

                                                                                                               Christopher.

 

            Colonel Brandon was afraid of her response. What if she wasn’t sure? What if he had opened her eyes to something that had been kept deep inside her? What if now was when he awoke from his dream? In the dreams he had been having, she walked down the aisle towards him, but never made it to his arms before he woke. Was it a sign?

            He took a deep breath and opened the letter.

 

My sweetest Christopher,

 

         Of course I am sure! Absolutely and completely, with all my heart. What must I do to make you believe it? I will spend the rest of my days proving it to you. It is a dream, a dream come true. I cannot sleep with all the excitement I feel within me.

                                                                  Yours for always,

                                                                           Marianne.

 

            He breathed in relief and his heart beat easier in his chest. It really was foolish, all his insecurity. But he couldn’t help it; the love he felt made him feel as a boy again, and these insecurities came with being young.

            He gathered himself and went to his room to sleep his last night alone, or so he hoped. She could wish to have separate chambers. Or something could happen to make her not show tomorrow. He read her letter again, and fell asleep with it pressed to his chest.

 

            Morning came and Colonel Brandon was up before the sun. He ordered some water to be heated for his bathtub and took his warm bath, hoping it could calm his nerves. It did not. He dressed slowly, making sure he forgot nothing. He pulled up his white trousers and buttoned the gold buttons on his red army jacket. He put on his boots and took his gloves. He walked down the hall to the staircase and met Edward on the way.

            “So then, breakfast before we go?”

            “I couldn’t eat. But do feel free to ask the kitchen to prepare whatever you like.”

            “No, I think I’ll forgo breakfast also. I heard the feast at Barton Park shall be grand, I wouldn’t want to spoil my appetite,” he smiled.

            Colonel Brandon let out a small laugh, and Edward was pleased he could alleviate some of the graveness on his face.

 

            The ride in the carriage was rather silent. Colonel Brandon pulled on his white gloves and tinkered with them for what seemed to be hours.

            “Brandon, don’t worry yourself to death. I’ve been where you are now, and I think it makes things easier to think about the after. When you get to take her home. That should calm you down.”

            “Or it can make me more nervous, thinking about if I will be able to keep her happy.” He smiled, rather nervously.

            “Well aren’t you difficult to cheer up. Don’t think so little of yourself, Brandon. And Miss Dashwood – or shall I say Mrs. Brandon? – does not strike me as the type of woman who would do something she didn’t absolutely want to. All of the Dashwoods might be like that, actually. I should know.” He smiled, referring to Elinor. “If she agreed to marriage it is because she wants to marry you and loves you.”

            Does she, though? Colonel Brandon just smiled and focused on the good, not to make himself mad, nor Edward.

 

***********

 

            They had been waiting for a while. The guests were already seated inside the church. Edward assured him brides always run a little late, but he was starting to go mad with worry again. He pulled out his pocket watch to look at the time, and with it came the locket in which he kept the lock of hair she had bestowed upon him, along with a portrait of her Elinor had drawn at her request, to give to him. He opened it and smiled. What could be delaying her so? The image of her crying with regret in her room while Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor banged on the door pleading with her to come out sprang up in his mind. He tried to push it away, but despair was slowly filling his being.

            Elinor appeared suddenly as if out of nowhere and gave her husband a kiss on the cheek. Margaret and the other bridesmaids quickly followed.

            “Well, go on then, let us start. You have to be inside before Marianne comes,” she said to Colonel Brandon.

 

********

 

            He stood at the altar, nervously twiddling his fingers. The band changed the song they played and suddenly the double doors at the end of the long red carpet opened. At first he could see only the brightness of the sunlight, but within seconds, Marianne stepped forward, as if out of the sunburst. As she came closer, he noticed every detail of her. She was just as he had dreamed, every detail down to the tiara he had given her. He made great effort not to shed tears of joy. His heart was suddenly calm, soothed at her sight. She smiled, and it was brighter than the sunshine in his eyes. She came to the steps of the altar and he offered his hand for support. She took it as she climbed and faced him after handing her bouquet to Elinor, so she could take both his hands.

            “Dearly beloved” the priest began. “We are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony…”

            She had made it to the altar at last. Her hands were in his, he felt them, it was real. She smiled divinely, looking into his eyes and he couldn’t help but to smile back. The priest went on with his words and he looked at her, his heart filling with love. Her gown was white with gold details, which along with her smile made her shine even brighter.

            “Christopher Brandon” he heard the priest say. “Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”

            “I will” he said, hardly containing himself with so much happiness.

            “Marianne Dashwood” the priest began, as Marianne looked into his beautiful hazel-green eyes. She took notice in how dashing and elegant he was in his uniform. Her heart was at peace, filled with warmth, filled with… love for him. She contemplated how fortunate she was to have a man like him love her so.

            “…both shall live?”

            “I will” she said, more sure of it than anything else in her life so far.

            Colonel Brandon took the ring from the priest. He was controlling himself to not tremble with happiness, for hearing her say I will made him giddy. He placed the ring back on her finger, where it had been for the past month or so, and as he did, he said

            “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

            “I now pronounce you man and wife.”

            The priest went on with the service, but Colonel Brandon had ears for no further words and eyes only for her. It was done. A dream come true.