Each other's biggest ally
Polin Week Day 1: Favorite Quote
“No, his method of attack was a lazy smile, a well-timed joke. If Colin ever lost his temper...
Penelope shook her head slightly, unable even to fathom it. Colin would never lose his temper. At least not in front of her. He'd have to be really, truly—no, profoundly —upset to lose his temper. And that kind of fury could only be sparked by someone you really, truly, profoundly cared about.” - Romancing Mister Bridgerton, pg. 64
The one where Colin profoundly cared and had no choice but to lose his temper.
Type: One-shot, angst, sentimentalism, protective/mywife!Colin, protectective/myhusband!Penelope
Read on ao3! Or continue under the cut
In the late months of the year 1825, Penelope Featherington Bridgerton published her debut novel titled The Wallflower. And in the early months of the year 1826, she relished in the praise of her work and suffered in the consequences of her now-public identity.
The response to her book was generally positive. Whether or not they were willing to admit it, the members of the ton were eager to uncover the scathing details surrounding Mrs. Bridgerton’s former pen name. They devoured the secrets hidden between the lines of the pages- forming their own conclusions and theories of what was fact and what was fiction.
It seemed that after many years of Penelope appearing to be invisible, the gravity of her voice was finally truly understood.
But as in all life, there were complications as well.
One gentleman in particular was quick to make his discontent known, and it was all due to just one short excerpt.
Although Beatrice did not befriend even half of the ton, she had made the acquaintance of nearly everyone at one point. And though they never realized, she scrutinized them almost as much as they disregarded her.
Even with her close examinations, she generally liked the people she met. There were bores, many in fact, as well as those with whom conversation could rarely be carried, but most were reasonably pleasant. There were exceptions, however, as there always are. One such exception was as follows:
It is an earlier season for Beatrice, one still full of wonder and disillusioned hope. She looks at the dancefloor with wistfulness in her eyes, dreaming, praying that her prince charming will notice her from across the room and ask her to take his arm.
He does not, of course. His mind is still focused fully on the small group that surrounds him, drawn to him like a shining star amongst the thinly veiled candlelight. Although the music is certainly too loud and the conversations too many, our heroine can perfectly hear his laughter through the crowded ballroom. She can hear it because she knows it better than she knows her own.
Later that evening, he’ll ask her to dance. He’ll remember her minuscule presence in his life, likely prodded by a sharp finger to his spine and a voice carrying a gentle reminder. And even though she knows why he will do so, knows that it is due to a kind sense of duty rather than true desire, she will cherish it all the same.
Right now, however, Beatrice remains at the edge of the dancefloor, her silent woes interrupted by the familiar voice of her mother.
“Beatrice, dear, this is Mr. Wetherden. Mr. Wetherden, I present to you my daughter, Beatrice Harpenton.”
Another bachelor, this one ranking second-tier rather than third. Her mother seems to have given her more credit this evening, Beatrice thinks as she looks at the familiar face.
The introduction is an unnecessary formality, of course, as are many of their rules; they were made acquaintances during her first season. Nonetheless, society calls for her to curtsy and give a gracious smile, and she obliges.
At the same time, he assesses her similarly to how he did so a few years before. And she sees it immediately, the dismissal that passes over his eyes even before he fully bends into his low bow.
Her mother leaves them to it- the stifled conversation in an even more stifling ballroom. The unfortunate girl in the canary-colored dress stands on the sidelines, trapped in conversation with yet another uninterested bachelor who is just as much forced upon her as she is on him.
He speaks endlessly, unquestionably more for his benefit than hers. He spends fourteen minutes explaining the difference between rugby and football. She suppresses three yawns and is interrupted twenty-six times throughout the topic, clearly expected to be an audience member rather than a participant.
At this time, she thinks this is Mr. Wetherden’s worst offense. Later on, when she is years older, Beatrice discovers that she was sorely mistaken in her youth. That without the cautionary lights of London (albeit often cloudy and forgiving), he is much worse.
She later on learns about his propensity to unwilling women. To frightened young housemaids who are often not given the options that women of a higher class are granted.
Our heroine also finds out later exactly how commonplace such a tendency is. And with it, her vision of social seasons- the one with balls and picnics and musicales- begins to splinter.
Penelope hadn’t named him, of course. She hadn’t named anyone directly.
She couldn’t publish a memoir, not really. Even though she was related to a fine variation of important characters in society, she couldn’t put such a strain on her family, and particularly not on her husband. Her husband, her lovely, amazing husband who supported her through the entire process even despite the fact that so much of their own private history was laid out in the pages of her novel. Penelope had written the truth, which hadn’t been entirely pretty. But Colin had agreed with her that the truth was more important than sheltering their secrets.
But even though she couldn’t publish a direct recounting of her life and experiences with the ton, she’d been unwilling to just hide behind fabricated stories.
Penelope’s telling of that night at the ball wasn’t completely factual. She did not know how many times Phillip Cavender interrupted her during their conversation, nor whether or not Colin had even been present that evening. But the details of the matter weren’t as important to her as shedding light on the entire situation.
She’d been young and naive during her first few seasons, believing that a few nasty comments and looks were really the worst of what society had to offer. Later on, she’d found out that she had been wrong, and that there was much worse than she’d ever known. And when her sister-in-law, Sophie, had recounted the night she and Benedict had met (well, met again), Penelope knew that she had to shed light on the matter. She had to make it clear what happened outside of the fancy dresses and giggling parties.
But as mentioned, such decisions did not come without their objections.
“Thank God, they’re leaving.”
The words came from just a few feet behind them, full of indignancy and bitterness. The couple had been walking together, arm-in-arm, towards the door, quite eager to return home for the evening.
They’d been attending an intimate house party at the request of the gentleman’s mother. She’d been unable to make her attendance that evening and had asked that her son and his wife go in her stead. They hadn’t been particularly excited about the prospect, but they’d agreed for her.
The party itself hadn’t been bad. The food was good, the music was pleasant, and almost everyone in attendance had offered the woman praise for her work. Though they hadn’t exactly been excited to attend, the evening hadn’t been at all poor.
That was, until they’d been nearing the exit and heard the troublesome remark behind them.
Colin glanced down at his wife, who grimaced, her nose scrunching as her eyes closed. They’d been met with a number of sneers and snide comments in the last few weeks, but they never became easier to hear.
With a small sigh, he turned them both around, looking directly at the man holding a glass of port too large and wearing a lip too curled.
Colin gave him a smile, the familiar one he used whenever he was looking at something that both irritated and mildly amused him. “Didn’t see you there, Cavender. So nice of you to offer us a sendoff.”
The opposing man’s mouth turned downwards, a stark contrast to the grin still on Colin’s face. Penelope swallowed, quickly cutting in. “We really must be getting home.”
With a pointed look directed towards her husband, she began pulling him back towards the door. Though Penelope would have loved to see Phillip Cavender get put into his place, she knew far better than to spar with a man holding a petty vendetta.
But before they’d even fully turned around, there was a mocking bark of laughter, followed by a slight slurring of words. “You do everything she tells you then? Follow her around like a lapdog?”
This time, Colin’s brow lifted ever so slightly, the same half-smile still imprinted on his lips. Penelope felt an uncomfortable heat rising up her neck as she reluctantly turned from the door again.
“If it means getting to share my life with this incredible woman,” Colin sent her a small wink before shrugging, “Then, by all means, call me a lapdog.”
There was some tittering around them by the small audience they’d attracted. With a quick glance, Penelope could see the angry lurch in Cavender’s throat, the narrowing of his eyes, the twitching of his fingers as they tightened around his glass.
Please, just let it go. Let us just leave and go home.
But he didn’t. Of course, he didn’t.
“I know what lies she’s spread about me.”
“Oh?” Colin’s face took on a thoughtful expression, one that might have been convincing in any other circumstance. “I don’t recall ever hearing my wife mentioning you.”
Cavender’s glare deepened. “In that bloody book of hers.”
Penelope cringed inwardly as she felt the twitch of Colin’s hand in hers. Her eyes darted around the room as an overwhelming sense of dread engulfed her. The ballroom was small and the guests were bored, and a public row was certainly enough to draw a crowd- one that was full of prying eyes and listening ears.
Colin’s face remained the picture of serenity even though Penelope could sense the angry heat rising from him. It was something she could feel in him that others always missed, a secret fire that he did so well in masking.
Looking at the other man, Colin let out a sigh, one that was forcibly tired, as though he were speaking down to an overly emotional child. “I can assure you that all the characters in my wife’s novel were fabricated. And if you saw yourself in one of the less attractive personages, then I’d venture to say that such is simply a reflection of your own self-image.”
The whispers around them grew, and Cavender sputtered for a moment, clearly caught off guard by the easy taunt. But his surprise only lasted a moment before he hardened once more.
A man with a petty vendetta did not often allow himself to be diverted.
His eyes flickered to Penelope before they returned to Colin and he sneered. “You realize that she’s made you out to be an ass, don’t you? You can act high and mighty, Bridgerton, but the wife you so proudly boast has fashioned you into the biggest fool in all of London.”
It was at this jab that Penelope frowned, feeling her own prickle of anger. And for the first time in the nasty exchange, she turned directly to their shared foe, a hard, determined look set on her face. “Excuse me, Mr. Cavender, but I must ask that you don’t speak to my husband that way.”
She could almost see his eyes flash in fury as they set themselves on her. But before he could give the biting retort that was no doubt resting on his tongue-
“And I’d suggest that you consult a dictionary to properly understand the concept of fiction.” Colin’s tone was relaxed, just a sprinkle of mocking mixed into it. But Penelope could feel the tension in him, the protective edge that mirrored her own.
Cavender’s gaze shifted back to Colin, his rage appearing a bit more controlled as they listened to the snickering that surrounded them. Slowly, his mouth thinned into a tight line, and he took a step closer to the couple. By instinct, Colin angled himself in front of Penelope as her grip on his hand tightened.
He was just a few feet away from them when he finally spoke, a voice so low that it was barely audible over the murmurs. “And I’d recommend that you consider taking yourself and that bitch of a wife,” his eyes darted to Penelope for a moment, “out of town.”
And it was this comment that wiped the smile completely off of Colin’s face, along with any attempt of levity.
It was as if a chill had passed over, one that was both icy and burning at the same time. He stiffened like a board, a wave of unmistakable anger coming over him. And when his words came, they were low and even, colder than anyone had ever thought possible from Colin Bridgerton.
“You would do well to avoid threatening my family, Cavender.”
Though there was a slight tinge of red on his face, Phillip Cavender did not retreat. Instead, he took another step forward. “And why is that, Bridgerton?”
Penelope could see the muscles in Colin’s jaw moving from where she was angled, could practically feel the heat radiating off of his body. She’d seen him angry before, furious even, but this was different. This was so much more.
She wasn’t frightened, not by Colin nor by the man standing across from them. Fright was not why she wanted this to stop.
She didn’t want her husband’s anger to be made into a form of entertainment at a party. For him to have to serve the role of gallant protector whenever she upset someone. So, she attempted to silently will him to calm down, running a featherlight thumb across the surface of his hand.
But Colin wanted to finish what they’d started and instead let go of her and took his own step forward, almost shielding her completely.
“I think we all know that I have more than enough relatives to run you out of town,” he said, eyes locked on Cavender.
There was a flash of worry that crossed his face, but it was quickly forced away by a snort. “Is that meant to scare me? The threat of a duke and a viscount?”
Colin didn’t falter. Instead, his head tilted as he considered the man, considered the shaking fingers and the smell of alcohol on his breath. He’d never been a violent man by nature, even having grown up with two older brothers. He preferred words when he fought, and they almost always gave him his victories. He wasn’t opposed to physical repercussions, but he knew that a private gathering was not the place or time.
He looked Cavender directly in the eyes, speaking in a low, clear voice. “I will ensure that you are ruined, that is a promise.”
And because he couldn’t help himself, “And if that is not enough, be rest assured that we will do worse. My only qualm in doing it myself is that my brother would be disappointed he wasn’t able to help.”
There was a silence in the room that followed as Cavender glowered at him. His eyes darkened in fury as his face reddened, trying to figure out how far Colin could really go.
But there was something in Colin’s threat that didn’t allow for any consideration that he might have been exaggerating. Perhaps it was the definitive and resolute tone in his voice, or the strength behind his gaze, or the tight set of his jaw.
Or perhaps it was because Colin Bridgerton wasn’t the type to quicken to anger. Wasn’t the type to have a temper or even hint at unpleasantry.
Whatever it was, it made Cavender finally break eye contact and step back. He turned away, taking another large swig of port.
Colin could hear the pounding in his ears as he looked at the pathetic man, anger still coursing through him. But then he felt a warm hand lace through his, and the red glare of the world began melting away. Penelope was whispering something, her voice calm and soothing. He squeezed her hand in understanding but kept his gaze on Cavender.
There was a familiar casualness when Colin spoke this time, but it was threaded with venom. “Do not forget what I’ve said.”
And with that, he turned to his wife and pressed a kiss into her hair.
“Good night,” Penelope nodded to the remainder of the crowd, who finally had the decency to look away.
A few minutes later, when they were finally in a carriage returning to their home, Penelope sighed. With her eyes glued to her skirts, she whispered, “I’m so sorry, Colin.”
He looked at her thoughtfully, taking in a deep inhale of breath.
He’d been scared after the reveal of her identity, terrified even. There were evenings where he’d lie awake in bed and imagine all of the awful things that could happen to the person who was his entire world. And though they never spoke of such worries aloud, he knew that she was just as aware as he was.
Italy had been like taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. There, no one cared or knew, and the only threat they faced was the harsh sun.
And then Penelope was pregnant, and a new light was added to his life, one that shifted his fears elsewhere.
Then they became a family of three, and Colin was thrilled. He still worried, of course, but his joy outweighed everything else.
Old wounds had been reopened in the recent weeks, that was for certain. But it did not mean that he blamed Penelope for them.
So, Colin pulled her into his side and tucked her head under his chin. “You have nothing to apologize for. We both agreed that you did the right thing.”
For a few moments, she said nothing, just listened to the sound of his heartbeat and the wheels on cobblestones. And though he couldn’t see her, Colin could sense in the silence that she was crying. Wordlessly, he handed her a handkerchief.
Penelope dabbed at her eyes a few times before leaning back to look at him. “I didn’t want to force you into this position.”
He smiled and lifted a hand to stroke her cheek, feeling the familiar warmth of her skin. “I watch you every day with nothing but awe, Penelope. I love you, I’m proud of you. And I will gladly stand by you through anything.”
Her eyes moved slowly as they crossed his face, searching for any hesitance. There was none, not even a hint of resistance.
Instead, there was so much love that it overwhelmed her, struck her with the same shock that it had years before. It was a love that mirrored her own, a fierce desire to protect and support another with as much reverence as one did for themself. It was one that never faltered even in the most difficult of times.
Her eyes were glossy when her hand reached up to meet his, and the smile on her lips was weak but true. “I love you so much. And I can’t believe that I’ve become so lucky in my life to have you by my side.”
And with that, they settled into their drive home, sharing whispered conversations and watery chuckles.
They still had a long road ahead of them, of that they were sure. But they knew that they would cross it together.
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