A Bit of Advice
By DJ Clawson
Summary: Three days before his wedding, Bingley goes to the only man who can give him the advice he needs ... the poor, unfortunate Mr. Darcy.
Note: THIS STORY IS PUBLISHED AS "THE DARCYS AND THE BINGLEYS." If you have bought and read that book, you have read this story in a revised version with less typos and consistency errors. Just so you know.
Chapter 1 – The Deal
For the first time in many years, the shooting season was passing and Charles Bingley didn't give it a second thought. It did cross his mind once, but was easily dismissed by his manservant hurrying into the room to fix his cravat, because he had to look his best at all times for the numerous guests and visitors that were filling his hours. Normally hosting was something he did gladly, but other ... forces were pulling him in directions away from his abominable guests and well-wishers.
This must be how Darcy feels all the time, he mused, and allowed himself a rare smile – rare in that it was at the expense of his friend. For he had no doubt that whatever sufferings he was enduring at Netherfield by having the flux of people and priorities keep him from his beloved Jane, Darcy was probably feeling it more, because he went into the intense period of sociality with a predisposition against it. As a guest in Bingley's estate, he was normally entitled to all of the privacy he wished and could hide in his room with a pile of books for all Bingley cared, but that was not the case when one was engaged in what was looking to be a rather controversial wedding.
Perhaps controversial was not the right word, but Bingley chose it anyway, at least in his own mind. Certainly, there were those who opposed it, but none that he and Darcy were not willing to stand up to. He could never have imagined his unshakable best friend bending to the will of his aunt and marrying Anne de Bourgh, but then again, he could also never have imagined his friend falling in love with someone deemed below his station by the world at large. If anything, the master of Pemberly was more than aware of his station and the social standing that he was required to maintain, something Bingley would not wish on himself for the doubling of accounts that it would bring.
So, it seemed, life was full of surprises, because Darcy was quite possibly more in love with Elizabeth than Bingley was with Jane, even if he was being subtle about it, and apparently had been since the moment they met. Only after much teasing and a preserving interrogation did Fitzwilliam Darcy admit to falling in love with her at first sight, of all places and times, and he only did it with a passion in his eyes that indicated that if Charles Bingley were not his best friend and companion, he would be so inclined to whack him over the head with his walking stick for asking such a question.
But even all of his purported and very real hauteur and intimidating posture and grace could not save poor Mr. Darcy from the necessities of pre-nuptial social business. There were the trips to Longbourn that were not frequent enough, and the various well-wishers (and non-well-wishers) streaming into Netherfield that were all to frequent. He also had to travel to London no less than three times in a month for reasons of finance management and general legal wedding preparations. Bingley, a man of smaller fortune, only had to go once, and entrusted the rest to his accountant that all would be well.
In fact, it had gotten to such an extreme that standing in his room, waiting for the appearance of his waistcoat, Charles Bingley could not think of two or three words he had spoken to Darcy in the past day, despite living under the same roof. Not that he was totally unaccustomed to absences and not that he was helpless without the person who he would never bring himself to call – to his face, anyway – his big brother, but he could think of no better way to idle away the time where they were forced to be away from their respective fiancés by social circumstance than be talking, even if it was idle chatter that would result in Bingley quite knowingly running his mouth off and Darcy patiently rolling his eyes. That at least would be a bit relaxing in its own way – a return to normalcy in a sense.
No, there would be no return to normalcy. In three days, they would no longer be eligible bachelors who were the talk of every ball. His beloved sister would no longer be patting her eyelashes at his best friend (or at least, Bingley hoped she wouldn't) and he would not be returning the favor with dismissive witticisms. All right, Bingley admitted he was a bit oblivious at times, but he was not dim-witted, even if he had missed Darcy's obsession with Elizabeth Bennett. But then again, everyone had missed that, probably including Darcy himself. Darcy was jubilant when writing to his sister of the arrangement, and he took great pains to make his face even more unreadable than usual when he gave the grave news to Caroline Bingley. It was a masterpiece of performance, and went well with Charles' considerable relief that he didn't have to do it himself.
All cousins, sisters, distant relatives, attendants, hired planners, paperwork officials, and local guests made two matters particularly vexing for the normally un-vexible Charles Bingley. First, and most obviously, despite the many trips to Longbourn he could not get nearly enough time with Jane as he would have liked, but he was assured that he had the rest of his life to make up for it. The second matter was more pressing, if less emotionally-invested – he needed Darcy, alone.
It took him several weeks to admit it even to himself that he had questions that were better answered before the wedding, and that Darcy was the best person to answer them. He was lacking a father – though that would have been an awkward situation anyway – and Mr. Hurst was, he decided with all of his good manners and intentions, the last person he wanted to ask.
That left his friend, confidante, and ever-more-experienced at everything brother-figure, who if he could just get alone long enough to properly work up the courage to ask the appropriate questions, then all would be well. Darcy wouldn't answer, of course. He would look indignant and find some reason to stomp off, or find no reason at all and just do it. Or maybe, maybe, he would actually have some advice that could be pried out with excessive trying.
And Bingley was quite ready to try.
Now there was the apparently irremovable obstacle of getting some time along with Darcy. The halls of Netherfield were out of the question. Even if he could shoo away the servants, he would have enough trouble with Caroline and Louisa walking in and out like they owned the place. Maybe he should have put his foot down earlier, but they were his older sisters, and felt a particularly amount of respect for their wishes. "Retirement with the gentlemen" on premises would involve Mr. Hurst, and that was right out.
Longbourn was also not the answer. Aside from the obvious notion that their fiancés and future in-laws were around, even the after-dinner brandy and conversation could not be without Mr. Bennett, a man he was most eager to leave only the finest impression with.
That Bingley was a various outdoorsman and willing to admit it at the slightest temptation was about his only reasonable means of expediting the process. So was Darcy, though as with everything else, he kept silent about his own personal habits. The master of Pemberley wouldn't even admit to owning dogs, or knowing their names, or personally caring for them, before Bingley caught him red-handed actually playing with one on the grounds, when he was quite sure no one was around. When a man wouldn't be seen even playing with his animals, he was the very measure of privacy – which was precisely why Bingley knew he needed to talk to him about his concerns.
After much debating about timing and fretting about the situation, he eventually decided that the best approach was a direct one, and conspired to find Darcy when he was alone, even if it meant tromping into his dressing chamber. Fortunately it did not come to that. Darcy had been breakfasting earlier than normal, either because he had business or because he had a great desire to avoid the leisurely feast with Bingley and Caroline, as a normally awkward situation was made even more awkward by her obvious shock and disapproval, made obvious despite many layers of proposed civility. In fact, when Bingley inquired, Darcy barely sat down at all, merely pacing the chambers with a cup of coffee and glancing at the paper to see if had anything particularly scandalous about him that day.
"Darcy," Bingley said, announcing himself to his friend, who had discarded the local paper and was staring out the window with his morning liquid refreshment. "I hear it is to be a more pleasant day for the weather."
"Yes," was all Darcy answered, perhaps a bit surprised to see him so early and so eager, but offering none of that with his usual neutral expression.
"Perhaps we might go for a walk. Not to Longbourn, necessarily. I just cannot let Netherfield's fine woods be neglected any longer."
Whether Darcy believed him or not, he gave no indication. "If it is your wish."
So it was that easy. Because of the hour, they managed to escape almost everyone who could not be shooed away with a gesture. The morning sun was not at full force yet, with the mists still shrouding the estate in an eclectic sort of charm.
"So," Darcy said when they were well out of sight of the grand halls of Netherfield. He did not continue.
"Is the quiet not very pleasant -,"
"Out with it," Darcy said, not entirely harshly – for Darcy anyway. He had a whole spectrum of impatience, one that could only be discerned with careful research, and Bingley judged himself rather low on the scale – so far. "I know full well we are not making a surprise visit to Longbourn, unless you are quite mistaken as to the proper direction, and I believe you are not. And as much as I appreciate the opportunity for peace that you have afforded me in your offer, that does not mean I intend to dally the day away while you decide whether to ask me whatever you intend to ask me."
"You know me too well. I fear I am quite readable."
Darcy gave an odd sort of smile. "I would not do you the dishonor of admitting it." That he just did went unspoken between the two of them.
Now they had come to it, the moment he dreaded. "We are to marry in nearly two days – "
"It has not escaped my notice, I assure you."
" – and I find myself in need of some ... advice."
If Darcy were a tad less clever, Bingley supposed he would have asked him if he was worried about doing the right thing by marrying Jane Bennett – but Bingley knew that Darcy knew that he had no such concerns. He was quite madly in love with her, and had been for almost a year now. It was not a question for an intelligent person to raise, and he considered Darcy to be quite possibly the most intelligent person he had the pleasure of knowing.
Instead, Darcy look a moment to almost possibly ponder all of the meanings Bingley could be implying. Financial? Surely not, as that would not require such great fortifications of privacy. Merely nervousness? That was only to be expected.
Bingley was quite sure that Darcy had arrived upon the answer himself because a look of pure horror washed over his face.
"It is not what you think. I am quite aware – "
"One would hope," Darcy said. "No, no, I would never suppose you to be that naïve."
"Then you see it's not a matter of technical ... knowledge. I just -," and he did not even begin to curse himself for stuttering like a fool, because if there was ever a time when this behavior was excusable, it was now. "I-I just want to be ... what I'm saying is – "
But Darcy didn't finish his sentence for him. Damn it, he was so good at that, why couldn't he be so kind now? He merely replied with utmost calmness, "You are destroying your hat."
Because he was. Bingley was playing with his removed hat, shoving it around in his hands and wringing it out like it was a washrag. He had destroyed any number of hats this way, so it came as no great surprise. Fortunately he had been wise enough to put the one purchased for the wedding away until the appropriate time. "I am perhaps my haberdasher's favorite client," Bingley said, mainly to relieve the tension that only he seemed to feel. Darcy was an impenetrable wall. It made him very patient, but unhelpful. "Please don't torment me. You know what I mean."
"And you assume that I am somehow more experienced in this area."
"You are more experienced in most areas," Bingley freely admitted. "In fact, I cannot think of a single area where you have not bested me."
"Except in proposing marriage."
A rare admission for Darcy. Bingley was too busy to be stunned. "Only with your incessant prodding was I successful. But no matter, it is in the past. My point – "
"Yes, your point."
"My point is -," but he didn't want to say his point, and Darcy was going to torture him by making him say it out loud, even though he knew full well what they were talking about! The bastard! "I want – I want my wife to be very ... happy."
"Yes!" he said, then judged it to be too enthusiastic a response. He felt like smacking himself.
Darcy huffed a bit before answering. "Surely there are enough married men in England that you can find one to help illuminate the subject – "
"Darcy, please, don't make me beg you to resort to Mr. Hurst. Find some kindness in your heart. You may keep it hidden, but I know you have it." Bingley pleaded, "Do you want me to get on my knees? Because I will."
"I am merely affronted that you assume that I am some kind of expert on the subject," Darcy said, even though he didn't sound all that affronted. "Surely you do not categorize me with Wickham in this respect."
"No, no, of course not! You have always been very discreet – or I assume, I assume, you've been very discreet." Now he didn't want to hit himself – he wanted to kick his own teeth in. He wondered if that was possible. "I'm assuming."
Darcy raised an eyebrow. "You are assuming quite a lot."
"Don't torture me, man! I remember Juliana quite well."
"Juliana?" There was, best as Bingley could tell, no look of recognition on Darcy's face.
"Juliana. Good god man, you don't even remember her name?" Now it was Bingley's turn to laugh. He was being daring now, treading the line of inciting Darcy's anger, but it was worth it, if it helped him make any progress.
"Juliana," Darcy repeated, obviously trying to dredge up old memories. "Cambridge?"
"The faculty soirée."
"Where we met. Not very formally, as I recall," Darcy said. "I'm afraid my impressions of the evening are – well, they're a bit lost over time. I may never have learned her name."
"Oh, you knew her name." Bingley would chastise himself for this later, but at the moment, it was good to gloat and ruffle Darcy's unrufflable feathers. "You were moaning it the whole way back to your dorm."
Darcy's mouth was agape. It was such a sight, Bingley had never seen it. "How do you know?"
"Because I carried you back. You could hardly stand." Bingley reveled – this was an expected delight, plus it further put off his uncomfortable and very technical questions. "But apparently you don't remember much of that, either. Do you wish me to enlighten you?"
"No," Darcy said, returning to his cold voice. "No, what I have of my memories is quite all right, thank you very much. If I have need of your services in the future, I will let you know. But back to the matter at hand – "
"Yes, the matter at hand." He did not relish in returning to it, but it was why they were out here in the morning chill, with their clothes quite damp from the morning dew.
"Despite whatever you may have heard or seen, I will make no claims to be consummate at the arts of feminine wiles," Darcy said, as stoutly as he was capable of – which was not particularly stoutly at the moment.
"But you know something. You are – a man of the world."
"Yes." Darcy seemed annoyed at admitting it, but that was not unexpected. "Hm. I now am curious to how I unduly embarrassed myself at my alma mater."
"It was hardly the talk of the town, but it was amusing to some," Bingley said. "Having not drunk nearly as much as you, I think I may actually be a better judge of the events in this regard."
"Then I must make a deal with you. Actually, I am not required to do so, but in the interest of friendship and the success of your marriage, I will offer this to you," Darcy said. "We share our account of that certain ... evening ... and I will tell you the little that I could claim to know of the mysteries of the female disposition."
"I find those terms very agreeable," Bingley said, and offered his hand.
To his great relief, they shook on it.
To be continued.