My first Pride and Prejudice fic! I've been reading as much of this stuff as I could find for years, I'm pretty much obsessed with the book and the 1995 BBC film version, Mr. Darcy was quite possibly my first character crush ever, and Elizabeth is my role model, but this is the first time I've had the inspiration to write some of my own P&P fanfiction, which, oddly enough, isn't even about my favorite pairing. This will likely remain a one-shot, but I'd love to write Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as well, and as these events would obviously affect them, I'll definitely continue if the plot bunnies strike. (But I would appreciate not being pestered for updates and/or sequels in the meantime.)
I'm kind of mix and match when it comes to who I think did the better job portraying the characters in the various film versions. I like the Jane and Bingley from the 2005 version (I mean, seriously, that Bingley is so ridiculously adorable that I don't even have a word for it, especially with that hair), but I like the Lizzy and Darcy from the BBC version (Colin Firth IS Darcy, thank you very much), even though I think Elizabeth ought to be shorter and more petite than Jennifer Ehle. So yeah, despite my love for the BBC version, I definitely had the 2005 versions of Jane and Bingley in mind when I wrote this. Enjoy!
Alone in the study of his brother-in-law's townhouse, Charles Bingley was in a wretched state. He could not bear to think of how he had felt only three weeks before: blissfully happy as he danced with his angel. Oh, how he had wished that night would never end, that he would go on receiving the sweet smiles of Jane Bennet forever. Never in his life had he met a woman so kind, so gentle, or so beautiful as she.
But she did not love him. That was what Darcy had said, and how could Darcy be wrong? She was merely treating him as she treated everyone, and if he were to return and ask for her hand, as had been his original intention when he came to London, she would accept only because she was a good daughter who loved her mother and would not defy her. She would marry him for love—but of her family, not of him.
It occurred to him now that this was the first time he'd had to himself practically since his sisters, brother, and friend had joined him in London. Caroline and Louisa had gone out shopping or sightseeing or visiting or some such, and Hurst had been in his cups already and was now snoring loudly on one of the drawing room settees. Darcy would be along in an hour or two, but Bingley was going to have to be content with his own company until then. He did not enjoy being left alone with such a disappointment on his mind, for it made him miserable and his disposition was ill suited to the emotion.
His thoughts, predictably, were back on Jane before he was aware of it. He could see her in his mind's eye and let out a sigh of longing. He had been so sure she loved him. Or had he? Perhaps the truth was that he had never given it much thought. He had fallen in love with her, and she had smiled and talked and danced with him whenever he sought her out, so was it possible that he had only taken for granted that there were feelings there? Had she really only borne his company out of politeness?
He had discussed all this with Darcy, of course. Caroline's and Louisa's arguments against Jane he paid no heed. They had insisted repeatedly that Jane's connections were too inferior to consider, and that her family's behavior was intolerable. But what could he, the son of a tradesman who was frequently embarrassed by the rudeness of his own family, care about such objections as those? He would be a hypocrite of the worst order if he had allowed himself to be persuaded by them. No, it was only Darcy's conviction that Jane was indifferent that mattered to him.
Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, an errant thought drifted across his mind: How would Darcy know more of her feelings than I? Not in the habit of doubting his friend, whose good judgment and clever mind were infallible, he attempted to brush the thought aside, but it was too rational to dislodge, and now it was growing. How could Darcy know Jane's heart? When would he have had the opportunity to obtain such a complete understanding of her? Why, the two of them had barely interacted, now he came to think of it. What was more, on the occasions Darcy and Jane had been in close proximity to each other, Jane's sister, Miss Elizabeth, had almost always been present too, and Darcy's attention had been fixed on her instead, whether to stare at her endlessly or to engage her in verbal duels so rapid that they left any others attempting to participate in the dust.
Had Bingley been in better spirits, a sly grin might have stolen over his features at that point. Darcy had been in a particularly foul mood ever since they left Hertfordshire, and Bingley wondered if it mightn't be because he had a disappointment of his own to occupy his thoughts. But he would dwell on that later. What mattered most at the moment was that if he himself supposedly didn't know Jane well enough to be sure of her heart, then Darcy, whose interactions with her had been close to negligible, could not possibly claim to know what she felt. What was worse, if Darcy was wrong, then Jane must be suffering as much as Bingley, thinking hers was the unrequited love.
There was nothing for it. He was going to have to discover the truth of the matter for himself. This resolution had barely formed in his mind before he was out of his chair, dashing up the stairs to his room, and calling for his valet to bring him his riding clothes. As unnatural as it felt to question Darcy's word in anything, the only thing he was certain of was that he would go mad if he tried to move on with his life without ever knowing for sure what Jane felt. He had been miserable enough while convinced that she did not love him, but at least he had been certain—or, so he had thought. The last five minutes of not knowing were already infinitely worse, and the possibility that Jane might be feeling the same agonizing heartbreak was simply intolerable. He did not care what rules of propriety or decorum he would soon be breaking, but he would have to ask her. If she did not love him and did not believe she ever could, then the matter would be closed. He would return again to London to nurse his broken heart, but at least he would know she was not suffering a similar condition.
Within half an hour, he was on his horse and galloping out of Grosvenor Street. He rode quickly, as if at such speeds he could outrun the stirrings of doubt and guilt he felt—doubt over the wisdom of this bold course of action, of whether he could bear to have Darcy proven right (which still seemed the more likely outcome), and guilt that he was even entertaining these doubts of Darcy's word. It felt disloyal and disrespectful of the man who was as much his mentor as he was his dearest friend. After everything Darcy had done for him, now he was charging off to Hertfordshire on a whim, without having so much as left a note at Hurst's for Darcy when he arrived there in an hour. This was almost enough to turn him around, but the thought of Jane Bennet, of seeing her again—even if it was for the last time—drove the objections from his mind, and he spurred his horse on still faster.
The reply Jane had been anxiously awaiting for over a fortnight from Caroline Bingley had finally arrived. Hoping for privacy when she read it (and knowing that if her mother saw it, there was a strong possibility that she would snatch it out of her hands and read it herself first, most likely aloud), Jane took it and hastened from the house before anyone could inquire after her. Lizzy was out on one of her long walks, and Jane knew not in what direction she had gone, but she hoped she would be able to find her to discuss the letter before she returned to the house. She walked out of the garden and down the lane until she was just out of sight of Longbourn, then stopped and broke the seal.
Once she had read it, however, she had an entirely different reason to be grateful for her present solitude. She had sunk onto a fallen log beside the path after the first few lines, and by the time she reached the salutation, tears were falling thick and fast into her lap. The last of her hopes that Lizzy was right and Charles would return to her were dashed. Caroline could not have made it plainer that he was in love with Georgiana Darcy, who was perfect in every way, and that his whole family and hers eagerly anticipated an engagement between them, which seemed imminent. Jane could only wish that Georgiana would make him happier than she could have, which, if he truly did love her, seemed very possible. But even this thought was not comforting enough.
As she wept, the letter slipped from her fingers and fluttered to the ground at her feet, but she buried her face in her hands and paid it no attention.
"Miss Bennet, why do you weep?" came an out of breath, extremely familiar, and uncharacteristically forlorn voice from a few yards away. Jane started and looked up, and her heart gave a painful wrench at the sight of the rather disheveled and windswept man standing before her.
"Mr. Bingley?" she asked in disbelief. Her mind was a whirl of confusion and conflicted emotions. She saw his horse tethered to a tree a few yards away and marveled at the inattentiveness that had caused her to miss his approach. "You are here? But Caroline has written that you will come no more to Hertfordshire."
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "That has been my intention of late, but more recently, I have found I could not go on until I made certain—Miss Bennet, I have an important question to ask you. Possibly two, depending on your answer to the first. But I will not impose my own concerns on you while you are so out of spirits." With that, he offered her his handkerchief. She took it and dried her eyes, grateful for the excuse not to look at him, for she still hardly knew what to make of this. What could he have to ask her? And what did he mean when he said there might be two questions?
"What has upset you, Miss Bennet?" he said, sitting down on the log an appropriate distance from her.
The gentle solicitousness in his voice stirred up a powerful longing in Jane. Without knowing what she did, she pointed to the fallen letter in response. Mr. Bingley picked it up automatically.
"But this is from Caroline," he said in bewilderment, handing it back to her. "What could she have written to upset you?"
Jane could not answer him. She could not tell him that she was heartbroken because he did not love her and would soon be engaged to Miss Darcy. What right did she have to spoil his happiness with her own misery? No, it was better that he did not know the source of her pain. She shook her head. "What would you ask of me, Mr. Bingley?" she said in as even a voice as she could muster, hoping to bring this final encounter to an earlier end.
He did not speak immediately, but stood up again and began pacing in front of her in a very agitated fashion, running his hands repeatedly through his bright red hair. Finally, he stopped and looked at her. "Miss Bennet. The last two and a half weeks have been agony of the acutest kind for me, but left to myself for a moment, my certainty in the accuracy of what I had been told waned, and was no longer sufficient to keep me where I was. Irregular and improper though it may be, I must ask." He took a great, shuddering breath, then went on, his gaze beseeching, "Do you love me? And if you do not, do you feel there is even the smallest possibility that you could come to in time?"
Jane's eyes were round as coins, and she suddenly found it difficult to breathe. "But what of Miss Darcy?" she asked blankly.
He looked bemused. "Miss Darcy? What has she to do with anything?"
Jane held out the letter mutely. He took it, and she watched his eyes dart back and forth across it, his expression becoming increasingly incredulous and indignant with every line.
"What can Caroline have meant by writing such a letter?" he asked once he had finished. "I, an inmate of Darcy's house? Hardly! I've barely left the Hursts' these three weeks! And what's all this nonsense about Miss Darcy? A sweet, charming girl she might be, but how can Caroline describe her as engaging and confident and the like? Why, I've never met a more timid creature in my life, nor one who would be more mortified by such praise! Though perhaps she has grown out of some of that. Caroline's information is probably better; she has seen her this week, but for me it has been months."
"Then you do not intend to offer for her?" blurted Jane before she could stop herself.
"Certainly not!" said Mr. Bingley. "I cannot imagine where Caroline got such a ridiculous notion. The poor thing is only sixteen, and she's like a sister to me. Darcy would have my head if it were any other way. I pity the man who does intend to offer her, whenever he comes along."
Jane let out the breath she hadn't been aware of holding and a brilliant smile lit up her face. Mr. Bingley did not see it, however. He was still looking at the letter, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. The hand dropped, and he closed his eyes. After a moment's silence, he ventured hesitantly: "Miss Bennet, will you not answer me?"
"What?" asked Jane.
"Do you love me?" he asked again, finally forcing himself to meet her eyes.
"Oh, yes!" she cried with energy, at last giving voice to her deepest feelings. She had leapt up from her seat on the log and moved closer to him. "Can you doubt it? You must know that you are dearer to me than anything in the world." She blushed violently at producing so impassioned a declaration.
Charles Bingley's neutral state was cheer and amiability, so true happiness on him might seem a comical exaggeration to some, but Jane thought it became him wonderfully. She delighted to be the cause of it, and wished for the means and knowledge of how to produce a similar effect as often as she could. "Does this answer make me eligible to be asked the second question?" she said with a small smile, suddenly shy again.
"Indeed it does!" he cried exuberantly. He took her hand and brought it to his lips, then sank down onto one knee. "Miss Bennet, in recent years I have frequently thought myself to be in love, but only in the past few weeks have I realized how little justice I was doing to the word. Those were naught but passing fancies and infatuations, but since I met you, I have learned what it is to truly be in love. I despaired when I believed my love to be unrequited, but now that I know that is not the case, Miss Bennet—Jane, will you make my happiness complete and consent to be my wife?"
Tears streaked Jane's face once again, and for a moment she was too overcome to speak. Finally, in a small, trembling voice, she said, "Nothing could bring me greater joy."
The heartfelt pleasure her answer produced could not be expressed with a mere smile, for even he could not smile broadly enough. Instead, in one slow, smooth movement, he rose back to his feet, cupped her face in both hands, and tenderly pressed his lips to hers. Though initially startled, Jane did not object, and soon threw her arms around his neck to return the kiss.