Disclaimer: I do not own anything involving any of the characters or plots of Lost In Austen. I do not mean any infringement or to cast aspersions on something I love so dearly, I'm just playing with Amanda and Wickham. Please don't sue me.
This is rated M for later chapters. If that bothers you, please do not proceed further. Thank you!
I hadn't meant to tell Wickham anything about my marriage, and certainly nothing regarding problems that Darcy and I might have had regarding certain matters. I had meant to merely spend an evening talking with him, walking through the grounds of the vicarage (egads- Wickham finally installed as vicar of Pemberley, and, no one had seen it coming, but he was actually good at it). We'd spent much time doing just those things, ever since he and Caroline had returned from their honeymoon in Italy. She'd be off, cleverly arranging to see one inamorata after another, having been well-schooled in the art of arranging secret assignations by her husband, who could not care less. Darcy would be gallivanting around running the estate; George and I had every chance in the world to keep company, and no one ever seemed to regard it as suspicious. Of course, before that night, it wasn't.
Sure, Wickham was Wickham, and there was no changing him- marriage and taking the cloth notwithstanding. Our conversation was frequently laced with flirtatious comments, coming from both of us, but that never seemed noteworthy- it was just the way we talked, how we communicated. It would have seemed more odd if we never said anything inappropriate during those times spent in the company of no one but ourselves. I relished the chance to return to some of my older modes of speaking, and I think he relished the chance to once more don the mantle of the irrepressible rake. He somehow reveled in the offering of this persona to one of the few people on Earth who knew how false it was.
Amidst the dry desert of my marriage bed, I was susceptible to George in a way I doubt he'd ever imagined. In light of Darcy's affectionate yet platonic treatment of me, George's persistent allusions to my attractions turned my head. I knew he was just full of it, still I couldn't help but blush and be pleased by each word from his smirking lips.
Before I knew it, I had a crush of the hardest kind, the stupidest kind, and seeing him was the highlight of any day. I was like an idiot thirteen year old girl (remember when you were thirteen and read Wuthering Heights and swooned over the undying passion of Cathy and Heathcliff, instead of being appalled that they were so despicable? It was that brand of thirteen year old stupidity). I was like a sunflower, willing the sun to appear so that I could open. I hated myself for it, but I couldn't stop- which means only that I didn't actually want to, and the thought that I ought to hate myself was stronger than any any actual thought toward restraint. It was worth it to feel that rush, to feel the calmness mixing with excitement that happened whenever he looked at me. Does it make one less of a prat if one acknowledges one's one prat-ness?
Did he mean any of it? Of course not. He was merely a practiced flirt who didn't want to see his flirting muscle atrophy- who better to exercise it on than me?
That evening, he greeted me at the door himself, already offering a beverage- fine brandy from the south of France, courtesy of Bingley as a thank you for George recently christening his and Jane's first child (the dutifully-named Amanda). I began to sip it, but George encouraged me to knock it back. I did, just to prove that I could (turns out, my ability to belt back liquor had deteriorated a bit, and he was vastly amused at my spluttering).
"How fares Lady Darcy this fine evening? Aside from what I can see with my own eyes- that she's lovelier than ever, somehow surpassing herself at every turn."
"Oh, Good God- am I a Lady?"
"Last time I checked."
"I keep forgetting. Ought a lady to be getting in her cups with a vicar?"
"So long as he is the vicar of her own parsonage, all is as it should be. And should he be a devastatingly handsome and charming fellow, all the better."
"In the absence of such a man, I suppose you'll do, George."
"And I see that when Lady Darcy imbibes, the result is a cutting tongue. I shall make a note of it."
"See that you do! You know what to do with a cutting tongue?"
"Direct it against a place which I've a surfeit of blood? I happen to have such a place, and very nearby, but cutting it was not what I had in mind. Perhaps your tongue would like to do something else with this place of mine?"
"George! That's the nastiest thing you've said to me in ages- I DO rather miss you being completely rude. Sometimes. No, I was going to suggest that the tongue softens when more liquor is added to it."
"Aha! Which falls more readily in mind with what I mentioned before. Another drink, milady."
He poured more into my glass and then sat beside me on the sofa. I happily sipped this one and let my body relax into a posture more like what I'd displayed before being in this particular here and now.
"Gods above, I miss slouching!"
"Slouch away, then. I promise to tell no one, least of all Swellerando."
"I told you not to call him that! He really isn't so bad, you know."
"True. I greatly appreciate him offering me this living. Imagine having to find an actual vocation with which to fund my dogged pursuit of the finest lady in the land! There is no dignity in such a thing."
"I believe you are paid for your services as a holy man, George. Payment in exchange for services would be many people's definition of a vocation, would it not?"
"And what fine lady are you seducing now? I shall be very upset if you leave me all on my own out here."
"You've your husband. Is he not a sufficient mate?"
"No, of course I have him. He is lovely, you know. Loving and doting and devoted and intelligent and generous. Probably part of me always dreamed of being a woman of leisure, being taken care of financially. I know that's awful to say, but it's true."
"Why should it be awful?"
"Where I'm from, a woman is expected to make her own way, financially as well as in every other way, and to be beyond the lowly need for a man."
"Sounds an unpleasant combination of tedious and dreary, this place you describe. Why should you not rely upon a man, if there is a man who wanting you to rely upon him?"
I remembered a line of dialogue from one of my mother's favorite films and giggled so hard that it turned into a snort. At his quizzical look, I burst forth with, "I've read The Cinderalla Complex, I've read The Second Sex! I am responsible for my own orgasm!"
He stared. I calmed my semi-hysterical giggles, then raised my glass. "Here's to Teri Garr- one hulluva dame!"
"To Teri Garr!"
He readily toasted and we clinked glasses.
"I have no idea what that was about."
"Someone else said it, a long time ago- or a long time from now, depending on how you view it. It's a joke."
"I said it's seen as lowly and degrading for a woman to need a man financially. Groveling before men in order to beg love and sex is also seen as degrading. A woman is supposed to make herself happy in this way- a man is secondary. 'I'm responsible for my own orgasm!' It loses something in the translation."
"Certainly this is utter foolishness. In matters of love-making it is the responsibility of the man to please the woman, not for her to please herself."
"That is slightly advanced of you, George, given that we are in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and twelve. But in my experience, it is always the work of the woman to see to her own pleasure. I've been bloody responsible for my own orgasm for my whole damned life- particularly in the last thirteen months."
See? I hadn't meant to say that. It's so simple to forget that when I talk about my sex life, I'm also talking about my husband's. But having no one to discuss these things with, I'd forgotten the rules for exposure of sexual secrets. Bollocks.
"Thirteen months would be..."
"The length of time that I've been married, minus a month. That first month was a little more hands-on."
"Do you mean to say that your husband has not pleased you in thirteen months?"
"I mean to say that he hasn't even tried in twelve."
He looked at me with complete shock- his jaw actually dropped.
"A year? One whole, entire year? You have not... He has not- you mean it's been a year since-"
"Darcy and I last f- that is, enjoyed coitus, over a year ago. One year, one week, and three days. But who's counting?"
"Surely he finds other ways of affording you pleasure. Just looking at you as we sit here, I can think of at least thirteen ways that I could make you a very happy woman. That's not even really dedicating myself to the idea- that is just what I think whenever I see you. How could your husband feel differently when he looks at you?"
I was taken aback at this, and there was a pause as I wondered about him coming up with such a specific number so quickly. But then I shook my head and responded to first part of his assertion, not the second.
"Pleasure, certainly. We took a very nice trip to Bath. We've been to London six times. I have everything I could want so far as books, physical comfort, and many other things. I am satisfied and pleasured in many ways."
"Not in your boudoir, though."
"Nope. Well, I take matters into my own hands on a regular basis. Which is fine. Aside from worrying about contracting carpal tunnel syndrome." He raised his eyebrows. "Persistent pain in the hands and arms caused by repetitive fine motor movements."
He continued to look agog, and I found myself feeling defensive. The best defense being a good offense, I began to deflect.
"Come on, George! You married a lesbian- when was the last time you had sex?"
"I'm not the topic at hand-"
"I'm making you the topic at hand! When did you have sex last?"
"I am in a completely different position from you! Unlike you, I did not marry for love."
"Dammit! So, I spend the rest of my born days with a shitty, non-existent sex life for the the crime of assuming that one of the greatest romantic heroes in the Western canon would be a fantastic shag because he's perfect at everything else? Because it turns out, Jane didn't write him with the capacity to be good in bed- I can't train him to be better, because he is what he was written to be, and it never occurred to her that he was lacking anything because she never put 'bedroom skills' into his nature? I can't fight against what he is, and so much of what he is really is perfect, really is exactly what I want. It's that one thing...
"I think that he's never been able to truly forget that I was with other men before him. He says that he finds sex to be demeaning, for both of us. And that might be true- but I think he still can't handle the fact that I have experience in an area where he doesn't, and he can't forgive me for it.
"And I can't do anything about it- I can't change his mind. Most of the time, I just don't think about it. It's not the most important thing in the world, so many other things matter. I've known girls who put up with right shits in order to have good sex, and I am happy that I don't have to do that. I have it very, very lucky in the love department. He adores me. Fitzwilliam Darcy adores me- Amanda Price. It's perfect- except for that one... little... goddamned thing..."
I hadn't intended to rant, I had certainly not meant to cry, but there I was- a soppy drunk. I covered my face with my hand, ashamed to be, well, such a girl about this whole thing. Getting drunk, ranting about my sex life, and dissolving into sobs (not merely tears- big, ugly, noisy, wet, sobs). I might as well be in Sex and the City- and not the television show, the movie; that awful, hideous, parody of itself. Which is what I felt like just then: a parody of myself. Who in the hell marries Darcy and then complains about it?
George took my drink from my hand, and I heard him put it on the nearby end-table. With my hands free, I could put them both over my face, pretending that it meant I wasn't really there and that none of this was happening. Seeing him was always the best part of my day, and I never meant to lay my heavy crap of a burden on him. It wasn't his problem, it was mine, and we all know what happens when girls go all mushy and heavy with men like Wickham. They bolt. True, he hadn't bolted yet- he'd actually rescued me a couple of times. But that was when, I think, part of him was still trying to pin me down and classify my genus and species- now that I was no longer Amanda Price: Unknown Quantity, and instead Amanda Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley, what was to keep him from discarding me?
That thought not only failed to slow my tears; it made them come faster and harder. Because the truth was that I needed George Wickham, and here I was, doing one of the things that I was certain would separate us. I had no illusions that he needed me half so much as I needed him, but I think I fulfilled a slight role for him. I was the unavailable married woman on whom he could hone his racket, keep him reminded that he used to be a player. I was frivolous fun for him, not a soul mate. I was someone he thought about when I was physically present, but not when I was away. If he ever scented how important he'd become to me, he'd be shocked and he would flee, not needing the burden another dependent female in his life.
I'd always kept this foremost in my mind when dealing with him. I never prated on about dull household matters, or forced him into discussions he didn't want. I was capricious, I was chatty, I was a light-hearted flirt who placed no demands upon him. And this, this messy show of something or other, was likely to be the end of us, and where would I be without him? Trudging through a dull life with no entertainment. All of those swooning butterflies that Darcy had inspired in me had been replaced by a happy contentment, and I did love him. But George made my skin hum and my blood race, and I would desperately miss our little interplay of (on his side) pretend affections if it were to disappear.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, George."
"What on earth have you to be sorry for?"
He pulled me to him, and I let him, thrilling, as always, to his touch. He pressed my face to his chest and smoothed my hair again and again.
"This is not lady-like."
"Sod it. My wife is lady-like. If I wanted lady-like behavior, I'd be somewhere with her right now. I am with you and I have no regrets."
"Yes, you do. You don't need some stupid, drunk, sobbing woman bemoaning her sex life on your sofa."
"What do you know? Perhaps I invited you here tonight with the express purpose of getting you drunk so that you could end up sobbing in my arms. This is all just part of the plot."
"Yes- crying women being oh, so attractive."
"Crying or not, you're in my arms, are you not? Triumph for George Wickham! In my arms is halfway to my bed. I see no way that this is not a good thing for me."
"I don't, for a moment, believe that you brought me here to seduce me into falling into your arms or your bed. You're just trying to make me laugh."
"I guess it did at that. Oh, hell, I'll be back."
I stood up and left the room, attempting a veneer of dignity, but stumbling about due to the combination of drink and eyes that were blurry with tears. I finally ended up in the water closet, and washed my face in the icy cold water from the pitcher there. It felt fantastic, and I hoped it'd calm the swelling in my face that I could feel underneath the flush that suffused my face anytime I cried.
I returned, feeling childish and silly. I lingered in the doorway with arms crossed, trying to warm my hands by pressing them to my sides.
"You came back." He sounded surprised, but pleased.
"What else was I going to do?"
"Flee home through the back door."
"Would you rather that?"
"Gods, no. I worried that you'd feel foolish and be too embarrassed to return."
"The only reason I didn't is because I'm too drunk to remember that you have a back door."
"Why do you stand there? Afraid to get closer? Worried that you'll fall into my eager clutches once more?"
"No. Just... feeling foolish."
"Nonsense." He gestured beside him, indicating that I ought to return. I crossed to him once more, sitting primly beside him.
"You look like a chastised child."
"I feel like one."
"Gods, Amanda, you are foolish. Here, lay you down, put your head onto Father George's lap, and confess all that ails you. You'll feel better for it."
He somehow managed to push me around, gently, and arrange me so that I was laying with my head on his leg. I laid on my side, facing the room. I moved a hand underneath his thigh as if it really were a pillow, and he jumped.
"Sorry! Was that too inappropriate, even for the great George Wickham?"
"Not a bit. It's just freezing, your little hand."
I giggled. "In about eighty years, that's going to be a song."
"Ah, you pretend once more to be a time-traveler! I like this version of you. Tell me more."
"It's in an opera. La Boheme, by a man named Puccini. It's about a bunch of starving artists. The two lovers meet in the cold and he sings a song about how cold her hands are."
"Sing it for me."
"Not bloody likely. Besides, I can't remember how it goes; I only remember the remake."
"In the 1990's the opera gets remade into a musical. I almost remember that one..."
"So sing that. I'm not particular."
"I'm going to pretend this is because I'm still drunk, and not because I am always ready to sing show tunes, okay?" And so I launched into Rent. And I got into it, too, which was embarrassing. I closed my eyes, I belted it out, and at a certain point there was definitely some shimmying taking place as I lay on the sofa.
"And so it, goes, Wickham. A whole lifetime spent cleverly hiding the fact that I'm a musical theater nerd, and I am undone... here... at your hand."
I moved back, head still on his leg, so I could look up at him. With one hand still tucked beneath his thigh, I used my free hand to take his, and just like that, I was holding his hand.
"Sing something else for me."
"Why? Not enough for you to have a drunk girl talk about her disappointing sex life and burst into tears- you need drunken singing in order to complete the cliched picture?"
"No, because when you sing you close your eyes, and can't see me inching my hand ever closer toward caressing your face. If you become entirely transported, I might be able to have all of my wicked way with you without you noticing and reproaching me for it later. Or, perhaps, I like the sound of your voice. Or perhaps your chest moves most becomingly when you breathe from your midsection like that..."
"Silly George. Well, what do you want me to sing?"
"I want you to sing something that is just for me."
I thought of something racy, I thought of something inviting, but I gave in and and began to sing the first song that came to mind. In for a penny, in for a pound- I might as well continue the vein of honesty.
"You give your hand to me, and you say hello. And I can hardly speak, my heart is beating so. And anyone can tell, you think you know me well, but you don't know me. No, you don't know the one who dreams of you at night; longs to kiss your lips, longs to hold you tight. I am just a friend, that's all I've ever been, 'cause you don't know me."
If I really was just living in a strange version of Austen's world, this all made sense. There's always the scene where the hero sees and hears the heroine playing the pianoforte and he falls for her, he sees her clearly for the first time, and everything that can ever be possible between the two of them crystallizes in the sound the music she makes. I figured that was an avenue not available to me, as I could not play a single note.
But as I finished singing and opened my eyes, it was to find George looking at me intently. Instead of indulgent amusement, I saw something else written across his face, darkening his eyes. His face had a Col. Brandon sort of expression- and it punched me somewhere in my gut, I couldn't breathe- my lungs were closing beneath the weight of his gaze, leaving me afraid to break the spell by so much as blinking.
A/N- I keep not feeling entirely satisfied with this chapter, and updating it a bit here and there, without really changing much. I might just call it a day and move on at this point...