Chapter 9 : On Leaving

With the fire stoked, the lights dimmed, the group sat around the living room sipping wine, discussing the next day's activities. Tomorrow was their last day in the Hamptons; the day after that would be New Year's Eve. When they were satisfied with their plans, Elizabeth wandered to the piano which stood by a large window on the other side of the living room. Beyond the window lay the sea, dark and beautiful. She ran a hand along the smooth surface of the instrument.

"Alexander, may I?"

"Of course."

Alexander went to her and lifted the fallboard. Sitting on the piano bench, Elizabeth smiled her thanks.

"It looks very much like the pianofortes I play at home."

"This was shipped from England, it belonged to my great uncle's mother. It's been in the family for generations. Circa 1860."

"A lovely piece." Elizabeth murmured. Her fingers gently pressed on the keys, immensely happy at the knowledge that the instrument she played was from a place she knew, a time that was closer to her than anything else had been in the past few days. She played a favorite tune, one she knew Darcy liked as well. She glanced at her husband. And as she had expected, she found him watching her, eyes warm, lips softly smiling.

"I know this one, my sister always asks me to play it." Alexander smiled.

"You play!" Delight was written on Elizabeth's face. She inclined her head as an invitation for him to join her.

"Well, it has been a while, but you never really forget."

"No," Elizabeth smiled. She glanced at Evie, who in turn was watching Alexander, "you never really do."

After a few duets, Elizabeth saw how much Alexander was enjoying himself and bid him to continue without her. In truth she found herself wanting Darcy's company. She made her excuse and went to her husband.

Darcy stood by the window as he waited for her to approach him. In the pants that she so loved, Darcy watched the gentle sway of her hips, the movement of her arms as she walked.

"Do you not tire of watching me, William? I hardly change from day to the next day, you must know." She teased him.

"Perhaps on the morrow I shall, but not yet today, my Lizzy." He teased back.

Her soft laughter had him encircling his arms around her waist. He leaned down and whispered in her ear.

"I have watched you, Elizabeth, since the first, and for more than a year after that there was no one else, nothing else I wanted to behold more than your face," he inhaled her scent, "when we married, it was an answered prayer, an assurance that I could continue to do so without censure and with confidence. And so, dear wife, I beg you not to ask me to cease."

Elizabeth's heart was moved. Little did she imagine that such words, such feelings could come from the proud man she met more than a year ago at the Meryton Assembly. Little did she imagine that he could be capable of undoing her so.

"I never shall." she whispered back. "When your eyes are on me, it feels like a touch, a kiss on my skin. Why would I wish for that to cease?"

The smile he gave her had Elizabeth wishing they were alone.


Evie watched as Alexander's hands moved deftly across the instrument. He played a soft, mellow tune that she recalled having heard him play often. The music enhanced the already cozy atmosphere within the house. She took a sip of her wine, wistful in her remembrances. As one who played not one musical instrument, it was always a marvel for her to see someone play. Especially if that someone was Alexander. Firelight turned the tips of his dark hair burnished; from where she sat, she observed his profile. His head moved subtly to the music he played, his eyes intent on the keys.

Evie stood up quietly, wanting to be nearer to Alexander. She felt a current of emotion carrying her towards the one place she had thought to leave. It was as if she was being pulled to him. Not wanting to resist, she was caught, as if the music he played was an imperceptible line that brought her closer to him. Her eyes welled up inexplicably; she turned away for a moment to compose herself. When she straightened, she found Alexander looking at her even as his hands moved over the piano.


The old grandfather clock chimed two in the morning. Not that any of the four occupants of the house noticed. As the night deepened they found themselves separating into two groups.

The ladies brought out the nail polish bottles they had bought after their lunch out earlier that day. They ended up getting ten different shades. The concept of painting one's nails had intrigued Elizabeth. Like many things in this time she found herself in, it felt so wildly extravagant. The closest she and her sisters had done was buffing their nails to shine them. One time, during a stay in her uncle's house in London, her Aunt Gardiner had shown her the latest London trend of using subtly tinted balm to provide a natural shine.

As she had stood looking at the display, she had bitten her lip to keep her excitement at bay. She chose from the display rack, picking up and putting down bottle after bottle. Evie, seeing her struggles, had smiled inwardly and started choosing the ones the other woman reluctantly put back.

Now heads almost touching, Elizabeth and Evie giggled as they studied the results of their nail painting efforts. They sat on the floor, around the coffee table in the living room. The variety of nail polish bottles littered the coffee table along with a nearly empty bottle of wine and two forgotten glasses.

"You painted my fingernails immensely better than I did yours!" Elizabeth giggled again.

"Look," Evie raised a finger, "this one is nearly perfect! And this one, and this other one too, almost all of them!"

"Hardly that! But this one does remind me of chocolate!"

"You just need practice."

"That is what Lady Catherine tells me, I must practice more! I will never play really well unless I practice more."

"But you're great!" Evie answered loyally, a frown marring her face. "This Lady Catherine sounds like a horrible bully!"

"A bull? Oh no, not really, no. More like an elegant cow. Oh no! I mustn't say such things!" Elizabeth covered her mouth. "How dreadful of me! Mama shall box my ears!"

Both ladies laughed almost hysterically. From across the room, Darcy and Alexander looked at each other with amused expressions.

"Perhaps coffee might be in order?" Darcy shook his head, grinning.

When Evie fell back on the floor from laughter—or perhaps from something else—and Elizabeth decided to join her, both men stood up from the game of chess they were playing.

"Or perhaps sleep?"

Alexander exhaled, then let out a low rumble of laughter. "The last time I saw Evie drunk was in Pemberley, when Uncle Andrew shared his quadrupled whiskey during New Year's Eve. I had forgot to warn her."

"Quadrupled whiskey?"

"Yes, quadruple distilling. It's been around since the Victorian era. It's made in Islay."

"Victor–" Darcy took a sharp breath and slowly let it go. Mentally shaking his head he continued, "Do you–"

"No, I do not have a bottle here," Grinning, Alexander added, "I have one in the other house."

"Oh, Evie, I've ruined the polish on this one!" Elizabeth whined. When she saw the men approaching them, she raised her hand to Darcy, showing her problem.

"William, it pains me, the nail polish is ruined. Will you not kiss it better? You never fail to make things better! You always make me happy! I am immensely glad I chose you and not that horrid Mr. Collins! Never leave me, Fitzwilliam!"

"You know, I never shall." Darcy said in a soothing voice. He had never seen Elizabeth inebriated before. He should have known she would be an exuberant drunk. Smiling fondly at his wife, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed the problematic bright pink fingernail. "Shall we retire for the night, my love?"


Alexander pushed the door open to Evie's room with one hand. With the other, he assisted a giggling Evie.

"There we go, almost there." He led her to the bed, and sat her down gently.

"Aren't your cousins the sweetest? They positively reek of love. They're so cute together I could squeeze them."

Alexander agreed that they were as he knelt on the floor to take her shoes off. He looked up when he was finished to find Evie smiling down at him with mischievous eyes.

"You think I'm gorgeous... You want to kiss me... You want to hug me... You want to love me... You want to smooch me... You want to hug me." she wriggled in a small, silly half dance as she grinned at him.

Alexander stood up and laughed soundlessly. Miss Congeniality had always been one of her favorite movies.

Lying back on the bed, Evie closed her eyes. Mere seconds later, her breathing evened out. Alexander looked at her. Indeed, he thought her gorgeous, indeed, he wanted to kiss her, hug her. Love her. If she only knew how much.

He carefully shifted her sleeping form, pulling the blanket from underneath her and then finally covering her with it. Studying her face, Alexander smoothed the hair from her forehead.

"Good night, Evie." He whispered.

He turned down the lights and silently made his way towards the door.

"Alex."

Surprised, he turned around.

"You're leaving?"

"Just for the night, and just to the other room."

"Oh, good," Evie smiled sleepily. "I thought you'd go away again."

"No."

"Lizzy asked Fitz to never leave her," Evie closed her eyes, smile still in place. "So silly. I don't think he even could."

"No."

"And you?"

"Me?"

"Will you leave again?"

"I–" for a moment, words failed Alexander. He closed his eyes and searched for his truth, "Evie, I never really left, I never even wanted to."

When he opened his eyes, he saw Evie asleep, all cares, all questions forgotten.


The morning wind blew against Alexander's face, it swept through the beach grass then continued on inland to either invigorate or drive others back indoors. Alexander headed back to the house from his morning jog. Despite their late night, he had awoken early. He had felt energized, had craved physical exertion. He slowed down to a walk, stopping to pick up a few pebbles which he threw, one after the other, into the water.

And you? Will you leave again?

He had felt his heart drum in his chest. The simple truth was that he had always just wanted to be with her, just to be with her. And now he had a chance to be deserving of her.

Checking his watch, he debated whether to have breakfast delivered for them or if he had skill enough to heat what was left of Miranda's offerings. As he climbed the boardwalk that led to the house, he saw her on the sun deck. Wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a deck chair, a cup of coffee in hand, Evie watched the waves.

She ran a hand through her hair when she saw him. For a person who had been inebriated just a few hours ago, he thought Evie looked remarkably well.

"Good morning." She smiled at him.

"I'm quite confused. If I recall correctly, you don't do well with hangovers."

Evie blushed. "Maybe I wasn't nearly as drunk as you thought." she mumbled smiling.

The implications of such a statement left Alexander at a loss for words. Did she recall their conversation last night? He walked to the chair beside her and wordlessly sat down, elbows resting on his knees. His body radiated heat from his exercise, but he felt a shiver run through him as he chose the words he wanted to express. After a heartbeat, he spoke.

"I never left, Evie," the crashing of the waves in the distance seemed to still. He looked at her as he repeated the words he had uttered the previous night. The eyes that looked back at him were clear, "but maybe you had to, for me to see the kind of man I was, the kind of man I ought to have been, and what I am trying to be now."

Evie stood up, she walked to the rail and watched the sea. When she turned, she found Alexander standing behind her. Her hand reached up, tentative in its caress. A whisper of a touch against his jaw, just as she had wanted to do since that night they stood next to each other on top of the Empire State Building. It had felt as if they stood alone, just the two of them, that night. And now with the immense sea, the miles of empty beach before them, did it again feel so.

She studied his face. "You're the same Alexander I knew—but also so different. I was–I was staggered when I saw you again, when I discovered you again."

There were moments in his life which, in retrospect, Alexander could call pivotal. The day his sister was born, the day he lost his grandmother, when he left for university, his first visit to his great uncle—indeed, the day he received news of the gentleman's passing, the day he relinquished his duties to Pemberley. And, he knew, this moment. Whatever might happen to his relationship with Evie, Alexander knew her acknowledgment of him, of his efforts, would be part of the map that would be his life.

He gently brushed at a wisp of stray hair from Evie's cheek. When the wind blew it back, he tucked it behind her ear, his own fingers lingering.

"I couldn't believe you were there that day at the house. I thought I must've been dreaming. That I'd somehow conjured you up."

Evie chuckled. "I wished I could vanish when I saw you were home. I was so mortified. And then there was this vibrant woman wearing my clothes."

Alexander felt his face heat. He looked down, embarrassed. "I can explain that."

Evie laughed, shaking her head. "You know how much I adore your cousins, I didn't mind, really." Then looking slyly at him, she added, "Well, to be honest, I did mind a bit during those first few moments."

Alexander was delighted. Evie had been jealous! Grinning, he took her hand, and shifted closer to her. Not close enough, he thought. But closer than I ever thought possible again. Suddenly serious, his eyes caught hers.

"When I saw you again I–I…" bringing her hand to his cheek, Alexander closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "I love you, Evie. I saw a life without you and it's not a life I want. I took for granted what I had, I took you for granted when you were all I ever really wanted."

"Alex."

"I love you." He repeated. "I will strive to be better, this I promise."

A tear silently ran down Evie's cheek. "I see it, I feel it." She gripped the hand that held hers. "I can't stop loving you. I don't think I ever could."

It was as if a light had swept inside Alexander's heart, clearing out all the darkness that had gathered there. He leaned closer to Evie until his lips met hers. A soft sigh escaped her as she melted against him. Alexander held her tightly, never meaning to let go.


A/N:

So many rewrites for this one, but I'm happy with the way it turned out. I hope you like it too. Please leave a comment for your thoughts on the story so far. Maybe two more chapters and we'll be done. Hopefully, I get to finish this story in time for the Holidays again! I'm kidding! (Well, maybe not ;D)

Thank you for staying with both of our couples. They have been a joy to write about. Stay safe, everyone!