Author's note: This fic has actually been residing in the depths of my computer for a few months now, unearthed only because I've been reorganizing my Word documents. Anyway, it's somewhat of a novelization of the film (with K. Knightley)--a sequence of scenes that I always wanted to write just for my own amusement. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.
"I've never seen so many pretty girls in my life," Charles exclaimed, flushed with wine and dancing and his partner's sweet smiles—too eager, as usual, to give credit where no such credit was due. All the world was good and agreeable in his eyes, a conviction that Mr. Darcy had warned him against many a time.
"You were dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," he replied, voice clipped, in an attempt to rein his friend in.
"She is the most beautiful creature I have ever beheld!" Charles declared, refusing to allow Darcy's disparaging attitude to dampen his enthusiasm.
Darcy frowned. His friend was prone to the occasional fit of romantic passion, but something about his tone, his expression, made Darcy stop and reconsider what he had observed that night. Surely Charles could not possibly be in danger from a penniless country girl of no rank, even if she did smile so prettily?
Charles added, "But her sister, Elizabeth, is very agreeable."
Darcy stiffened, inspecting the other man's face for any hint of suspicion or guile. But Charles' countenance was as open and friendly as usual; he was merely commenting, diplomatic as always.
"Fairly tolerable, I daresay," Darcy responded sharply, thinking of her pink mouth and her dark hair, her dark eyes gleaming with laughter, as though the entire world amused her. Then, for good measure, just in case Charles had noticed him scanning the room for her, he asserted, "But not handsome enough to tempt me."
Delivered in such a decisive and cutting tone, the words almost sounded true.
Darcy could not help it; his gaze kept slipping back to her, Elizabeth, throughout the night.
He felt unsteady, as though he had consumed too much wine, as he wondered what about her drew him so.
Naturally she had caught his eye at first, simply because of the difference between her expression and those of the people around her—there had been no awe in her face when she straightened from her curtsy to look directly into his eyes, none of the wonderment that his party's collective rank and wealth had inspired in the rest of the townsfolk. He had not quite known what to call the emotion behind the wry twist of her mouth, but if pressed for a description he might venture a guess that she had been...amused.
Laughing at them; at him. Already edgy due to the huge crowd of strangers, Darcy had found that the notion had surprised and somewhat vexed him—he was not accustomed to being laughed at, especially by such an unremarkable slip of a girl, half his rank, if that.
But the fact that he could not force his gaze away from her! It was unaccountable.
It was seeing her dance that finally undid him: the way her dark eyes shone, vivid with life and happiness; the way the firelight flickered across her lovely, clear skin; the way she laughed, unreserved and carefree, as though no one were watching. How could he ever have thought her plain?
Darcy envied and admired her easiness, her glowing vitality, as he pushed his way through the crowd. He desired nothing more than to dance with her, but his thoughts were disordered and unruly. What would he do, what would he say when he reached her side? He grimaced, realizing that his palms were sweaty with nervousness, and attempted to think up some charming witty comment.
He was still wordless when he arrived at the little knot of conversation, but it mattered not anyway; Mrs. Bennet was speaking—something, he imagined, that happened more often than not.
"It is a pity she's not more handsome," she observed ruefully and, shocked, he realized that she was referring to Elizabeth.
"Mama," Elizabeth protested, her tone sharpened with disbelief.
"Oh, but Lizzie would never admit that she's plain," Mrs. Bennet continued with a small chuckle, ignoring her daughter's mortification. As Elizabeth struggled to find her voice, Darcy cast his eyes down, embarrassed and angered on her behalf.
"Of course, it's my Jane who is considered the beauty of the county," the woman went on, oblivious, drowning out Jane's objections. Darcy suppressed a scowl; elevating one daughter at the expense of another, especially so unfairly, was a disgraceful ploy. "When she was only fifteen, there was a gentleman so much in love with her that I was sure he would make her an offer; however, he did write her some very pretty verses."
"And that put an end to it," Elizabeth interrupted quickly. Her smile was tight and strained, and her blush had not yet completely faded from her cheeks. "I wonder who first discovered the power of poetry in driving away love?"
He recognized his opening, and took it. "I thought that poetry was the food of love," he murmured, questioning.
"Of a fine, stout love it may," she answered, and her easy manner returned. "But if it is only a vague inclination then I am convinced that one poor sonnet will kill it stone dead."
"So what do you recommend, to encourage affection?" he asked, and hoped that the edge of desperate curiosity in his voice was obvious only to him.
Her smile grew playful and sly. Once again, he could not fathom the emotion behind the dark gleam in her dark eyes; it bothered him that he could not read her.
Her expression, though unnamed, filled him with unease. No one regarded him in that manner; they did not dare.
"Dancing," she replied, pausing to inspect him. Defiance, he realized; that was the expression in her eyes. Then she finished lightly, "Even if one's partner is barely tolerable."
The blood rushed from his face as she echoed his earlier words. You misunderstood me, he wanted to insist, mortified that she had overheard. I only said that so that Charles would not suspect me.
She curtsied, mocking, and then turned on her heel and walked away.
He contained a sigh, barely, and tried to convince himself that he did not care.
This time would be different than before, Darcy vowed. He would dance with her this time, and all else—his friends' or family's reactions, his pride, his nerves—be damned.
He glimpsed her in the foyer and followed a few paces behind, determined to catch her as soon as possible, but his courage began to waver after only a few steps. She looked too lovely, unapproachable, in her elegant white dress, pearls glittering in her dark hair like stars; and he was so clumsy, inept at this sort of thing. He dreaded the laughter that might bloom in her eyes when he invited her to dance with him.
And—she seemed to be searching for someone. Perhaps only her friend, but if he called out to her now, could he bear it if she turned and was disappointed to find him and not Wickham?
Better to wait, Darcy decided, and ducked away into a different room before she noticed him.
Almost immediately, he changed his mind; he wanted so desperately to dance with her. Steeling himself, he made his way through the house, trying to find her again.
Too late—she was already among the dancers. He cursed himself for being weak and irresolute, and decided that he would catch her as soon as this dance was over. At least, he comforted himself, watching from a safe distance, she did not appear to be particularly enjoying herself with her current partner.
Darcy planted himself directly in her path as, laughing breathlessly with her friend, she came away from the ballroom. With a startled little "Oh!" she halted just before she ran into him.
Ignoring her friend, he asked gravely, "May I have the next dance, Miss Elizabeth?"
Neither laughter nor disappointment crossed her face, he observed with relief; instead, she seemed rather taken aback. He worried for a moment—perhaps he should have approached her differently—but then she murmured, "You may."
He was too shocked at his own directness and too overjoyed at her acceptance to think of anything more to say. Instead, he simply nodded and bowed, walking away to collect himself before the dance commenced.
Standing across from Elizabeth as they bowed to one another, Darcy was thankful that he had an excuse for staring at her so boldly. As always, the expression in her eyes was a mystery; he wondered what she was thinking.
And then they were dancing, spinning around each other and stepping back. When they came back together, she remarked, "I love this dance."
"Indeed," Darcy agreed, delighted, for it was one of his favorites as well. Too dazzled by her, by the fact that she had agreed to dance with him, he blurted out the first phrase that occurred to him: "Most invigorating."
He saw, or imagined that he saw, her dark eyebrows raise and tried not to grimace. Invigorating? He sounded like a fool.
But he was even more confounded when, on their next pass, Elizabeth chided, "It is your turn to say something, Mr. Darcy." They came together once again; she must have spied the confusion in his face, for she clarified, "I talked about the dance, now you ought to remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."
He frowned, unused to being rebuked and at a loss for words. What should he say? What did she want him to say?
"I'm perfectly happy to oblige," he responded, unable to disguise the note of petulance that stole into his tone. "Please advise me of what you would most like to hear."
"That reply will do for present," Elizabeth said. Darcy was uncertain whether it was amusement or annoyance that he detected in her voice. When she turned to face him again, however, he understood by the twist of her mouth that she was laughing at him. Again. She continued, "Perhaps by and by, I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones."
She stopped then, and he sensed that she expected him to reply. He glanced over at her, but she was as unreadable as always. He nearly growled with frustration; he had no idea how to proceed.
"And now we will remain silent," she remarked, and this time he was almost positive that it was annoyance in her tone. Her sigh was very small, but he heard it despite the music and cursed his lack of social graces. He was making a mistake, just like last time, and he did not know how to remedy it.
On their next pass, determined to please her, Darcy asked, "Do you talk as a rule while dancing?"
Elizabeth paused, and then that smile flashed across her face, and he recognized that she was about to tease him.
"No," she answered, staring directly into his eyes. "No, I prefer to be unsociable and taciturn." They separated, turned, came back together. "That makes it all so much more enjoyable, don't you think?"
Unsociable and taciturn—so that was her opinion of him. She did not understand, then, that not everyone had been blessed with the same talent as she, the same ease of conversing with strangers.
"Tell me, do you and your sisters very often walk to Meryton?" He asked the question that he had been burning to know the answer to, ever since he had encountered them with Wickham on the riverbank.
Elizabeth misunderstood his intent. "Yes, we often walk to Meryton," she informed him, dark eyes burning as she emphasized "walk." He almost missed the next part of her answer, stepping away from her and turning. "It's a great opportunity to meet new people. As the fact always matters," she continued pointedly as they came back together, "we just had the pleasure of falling into a new acquaintance."
Perhaps she had not misunderstood.
"Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners, he is sure of making friends," Darcy said reluctantly. An edge entered his voice as he remembered the devastation on Georgiana's face after Wickham had vanished. "Whether he is capable of retaining them is less certain."
"He's been so unfortunate as to lose your friendship," Elizabeth remarked, crossing in front of him, and he knew Wickham had told her his story. It hurt—more than he had imagined it would—to realize that she believed the other man's lies without question, that she had not and probably would not grant Darcy the chance to explain the truth.
They spun and she returned to him, asking, "And I daresay that is an irreversible event?"
"It is," he stated harshly. Wickham did not deserve her sympathy, not after all that he had done. He seized her hand and held it, ignoring the fire that burned his skin where she touched him. "Why do you ask such a question?"
"To make out your character, Mr. Darcy." Her dark eyes blazed.
"And what have you discovered?" he demanded.
"Very little," she admitted, and her eyes were perplexed now, although no less fierce. "I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
He wanted—and the desire was so sudden and violent that it took his breath away—to kiss her, there in the middle of the ballroom, spectators and all. And, in that moment, it became very clear to him: he loved her. He, Darcy, was in love with this woman, who had little rank and less money and who stood before him glaring in equal parts defiance and bewilderment.
He controlled himself with great effort and came as close to confessing this new secret as he dared. "I hope to afford you more clarity in the future," he said, voice rougher than he intended, beginning to circle her again.
For once, there was no laughter in Elizabeth's countenance, and the sudden intensity between them was staggering. There seemed no one else in the room; just the two of them, turning, turning, turning as her dark eyes smoldered every time she looked up into his face. Darcy wondered idly just how much of that last statement she understood.
And then the dance ended, the music halted, and the spell was broken, although its effects remained—he still loved her, more ardently than he had ever thought possible.
Across from him, Elizabeth watched him, unreadable.