Disclaimer: I am not zombie!Jane, so I don't own P&P. :C

- Pictures of You -

Elizabeth Bennet held her tongue between her teeth, eyebrows knitting together in concentration as she straddled a particularly thick tree branch that could take her weight. She was surrounded by picturesque countryside, but what had caught her interest was not the rolling hills of impeccably green grass or the frontline of trees erect like soldiers at the ends those fields. No, what had caught Elizabeth's eye was a minute detail, one that she was determined to get a picture of.

Resting above her head was the remnants of a bird's nest, a perfect example of a season past while surrounded by the bright green leaves dappled with the summer sun. The nest drooped in some places, trickling twigs that used to be so meticulously kept, giving Elizabeth a beautiful view of the inside of it. Little and big feathers alike were caught between tightly strung twigs, and there was even a few specs of light blue that Elizabeth assumed were little bits of egg shell from when the baby birds had hatched in early spring.

Elizabeth snapped a few shots with her brand new Nicon camera, it being the first of two categories. It was the first professional camera she'd owned (not used, actually owned), and it was also the first camera she'd been able to buy with her own money. She'd bought it as soon as her internship with the Lucas Shooting Company had ended in late spring, and ever since she'd first obtained it, the camera had become her baby. It was a rare day indeed when it wasn't either hanging from Elizabeth's neck or tucked safely into her well-worn backpack that she took everywhere.

"Lizzie, how long are you going to be up there?" A male voice called, startling Elizabeth; she'd completely forgotten about her family being present.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." Elizabeth sighed, mentally bidding farewell to the bird nest. She made sure her camera strap was secure around her neck before jumping down, landing neatly on her feet next to her uncle and aunt.

"We don't mind you taking pictures, Sweetie, but we do have a schedule to keep. The tour starts in just a few minutes; we're going to be late!" Elizabeth's aunt, Maida, clicked her tongue disapprovingly. She and her husband, Eadred, started back along the dirt path Elizabeth had abandoned in pursuit of a picture. It wasn't a very wide path; it actually probably hadn't changed since the days in which it was first made. The trio had seen a truck filled with produce slowly drive by through the middle of the path, and it took up a fair portion of the road. Eadred hazarded that it was just wide enough for the carriages to get through with two-way traffic. Hanging loftily over the path to create a canopy, providing shade and a beautiful dappling effect of the sunlight, were majestic trees that were decades old. To the left, after a couple of rows of trees, the land sloped downward to a great pond where Elizabeth guessed fish lived. She could barely make out the white of a gazebo on the other side of the expanse of water. To their right, again after just a few rows of trees, the land changed; this time a wooden fence kept grazing cows and horses in a pasture of rolling emerald grass.

"Where are we, again? I forget with all these old houses… mansions, really." Elizabeth laughed, rolling her eyes. She knew Maida had been joking when she'd said they would be late since they had come thirty minutes early fully knowing Elizabeth couldn't resist taking a picture when she saw something "perfect."

"Which one is this one, Dear? Pemberley, isn't it?" Maida looked to Eadred. While her uncle tapped his chin in contemplation, Elizabeth froze for a millisecond. Pemberley?!

"Yes, this one is Pemberley. It's the only one with a farm still running, and seeing the house just confirmed it. You can't mistake Pemberley for anything else." Eadred laughed, pointing to the house just coming into view as they took a turn, following the side of the pond. The house was really something else, sitting quite royally atop a small hill overlooking the water. It was made of stones that were probably first a pristine white but were now a worn myriad of gray speckled with the vibrant green of vine growth here and there. Pemberley stood four stories high, maybe five or six if there was an attic and basement, with windows all decorated with draping of different hues that most likely went with the color scheme of the room within. The front doors looked to be of heavy oak with fanciful carvings on it, and the steps leading up to it boasted elegant hand railings on each side of the same shade with similar markings. The driveway up to the door was a wide, large circle originally meant for carriages with numerous horses to show off levels of wealth; now, it held a few trucks and just a simple wagon loaded with tools with only one horse hooked up to it.

Even in her now hesitant state, Elizabeth couldn't help but take a few shots of the house in fascinated awe. Her aunt and uncle had gotten a few yards ahead of her by the time she was satisfied, so Elizabeth had to run to catch up to them.

"I'm so glad y'all insisted on walking up." Elizabeth breathed, appreciative of the entire splendor she was able to digest by walking instead of just glimpsing had she been in a car. Eadred and Maida smiled first at each other, then at their niece, eyes twinkling. Knowing Elizabeth as they did, Maida and Eadred had insisted on parking their minivan in to little town just outside of the beginning of the road they were walking on so they could walk up to Pemberley.

"You're very welcome, Lizzie." Maida said, pinching Elizabeth's cheek even though the young woman was far past the age at which was normal for such a move. Elizabeth playfully swatted away her aunt's hand, adjusting her wire-framed spectacles sliding down her nose. In what seemed like no time at all, the trio was amidst the hustle and bustle of groundskeepers moving tools and such.

An old woman greeted them at the base of the steps to the front door, introducing herself as Mrs. Reynolds. Elizabeth stood meekly behind her uncle, wondering if Mrs. Reynolds would recognize her name when Eadred told Mrs. Reynolds the names their party. She peeked around her uncle's side, drinking in the sight of the woman who had reared the man of Elizabeth's best dreams and worst nightmares. Mrs. Reynolds looked every bit her age of mid-sixties, but she didn't act it. Despite her salt-and-pepper hair pulled up tightly and the stern wrinkles running across her face, Mrs. Reynolds exuded an air of youthful spirit.

Mrs. Reynolds started the tour when the other family arrived in their little car. Elizabeth stayed near the back of the group, trying not to catch Mrs. Reynolds' eye too much in fear of being called out. It was, after all, quite awkward if a woman her aunt and uncle presumed she'd never met before asked, "Aren't you the girl who broke my boy's heart into a million pieces?" … Or something like that. Elizabeth figured, based off of what she knew of Darcy, that Mrs. Reynolds might be as blunt as he was. Although that could be just his quirk since he abhorred lying of any kind…

Lost in thought, Elizabeth's mind only registered something good. She jerked her head to the side, narrowing her eyes; she'd seen something, she knew it. Taking a glance to the tour group slowly leaving her behind, Elizabeth slipped silently away, ignoring her guilty conscious. She silently slid up to the door that was open a crack, gazing inside. The room had a high ceiling with a chandelier befitting of the grandeur beneath it. The walls were stark white with gold trimmings, and the flooring was a rich, creamy tile. The room was decorated not with period pieces of furniture but instruments of every kind, ranging from a maple guitar to an ebony grand piano with a bright red bow on top of it. In front of the piano was what Elizabeth had seen; it really was a picture-perfect scene.

Unconsciously, Elizabeth lifted her camera from hanging listlessly around her neck to her eye, zooming in on the faces. The girl who looked to be around seventeen or eighteen was really quite stunning; even though her face wasn't fully matured, it was already a beautiful heart-shape with delicate golden curls dancing as a frame for it. Her skin was impeccable, and it had just the hint of a glowing tan. Elizabeth could see a familiar outline on the girl's visage; she recognized the full lips, the arching brow, the long, regal nose… Elizabeth's face flushed as she moved her attention from the gorgeous girl to the man she was hugging. Even though it wasn't exactly the best word to describe him as a whole, Darcy had a beautiful face. He cut a striking figure, but it was his face that Elizabeth had always been enamored with.

From a rocky puberty bloomed a gorgeous rose. Darcy's jaw was strongly cut, giving his face a magnificent look in both his profile and portrait angles; it seemed perpetually softened by stubble or the shadow of stubble, though, that stemmed from his long sideburns. His lips were full, the same delicate rose color of the young girl's, hiding perfectly straight, white teeth. Just above his warm lips was his recognizable nose; it was large but not overly so. It was slightly crooked from a brutal fistfight the world didn't know of nor would ever find out about. Set at the sides of the top his nose were Darcy's beautiful stormy gray eyes framed by long, thick eyelashes that many women would be envious of. Elizabeth could remember how his eyes had looked, almost like clouds before a storm, and how desperately she wanted a close-up frame of them. Above his eyes set his heavy, thick eyebrows that always gave away what he was really thinking. Drooping onto his forehead and ticking the tops of his ears was Darcy's signature thick carpet of ebony curls, though currently they gleamed with sweat. Elizabeth's fingers itched to run through his locks to see if they were really as soft as they looked, sweaty or not.

Elizabeth snapped one picture, but that was all it took. Even with the flash off and no click to give it away, Darcy had perceived the presence of a camera. Through her camera, zoomed in on his face, Elizabeth witnessed Darcy's eyebrows slanting in a vexed fashion over his eyes before they rose up in shock.

Like any sane person, Elizabeth fled. Instead of rejoining the tour, she took off through the front doors, dashing down the steps dangerously two at a time; she nearly ran into a worker. Her heart was beating treacherously fast, resulting in Elizabeth panting even though she hadn't run very far. She'd bolted down the drive to the cover of the trees, pressing her back firmly into the rough bark of one as she slid down it to the crisp grass amongst its roots. Elizabeth could hardly process what had just happened.

She'd ogled Darcy, for one.

The silly thought made a giggle bubble in Elizabeth's stomach, bursting forth from her lips when she couldn't hold it down. She'd finally ogled Darcy! It was hilarious for some reason – probably the adrenaline coursing through her veins. Back when she'd first met him, her friend, Charlotte Lucas was stunned that Elizabeth hadn't ogled him. Elizabeth remembered the day like it was just the day before although it had been about ten months…

- (Ten Months Earlier) -

"So, those English models are arriving today… My dad wants both of us to take pictures. Jane has the clothes… um, Bingley is Levi's model while Darcy is Armani's." Charlotte Lucas, the senior photographer of the unit and also Elizabeth's best friend since childhood, said. Elizabeth raised a skeptical eyebrow, snatching the papers Charlotte was reading. Having just entered the modeling world – just for a short internship of taking pictures, Elizabeth always pressed - she had no idea who anyone but the current "hottest" models were. She knew Bingley (Charles Bingley III, 23, blue-eyed and strawberry blond, 6'1" and 160 pounds - twin sister Caroline was also a model), but the second one eluded her.

"It does say 'Darcy'… who the heck is this guy? I've never heard of him, and Armani wants him?" Elizabeth questioned, going over to Charlotte's filing cabinet to find his file. Pouring over the names listed in the cabinet, she soon found out that Darcy's was not there.

"He wouldn't be in there. His file would be… here." Charlotte laughed, going over to her desk and pulling out a small stack of papers from one of the top drawers. She'd had to dig through her father's files before she found anything on the mystery model. Charlotte waited in baited silence when Elizabeth took the file, holding back her laughter.

"The heck?! Armani wants… this guy?" Elizabeth asked loudly, surprised; Charlotte couldn't contain her laughter after that.

"This is the guy Armani wants? He's a pencil, and not even in the model way! I don't want to photoshop him either, but… is he even old enough to need a suit other than for weddings or funerals?" Elizabeth went on, looking at the picture with a keen eye. The kid had good hair, but that was about all he had going for him. There were several pictures of the Darcy boy, a close up of his face, a shot of him in some Ralph Lauren shirts, and a shot of him in a Ralph Lauren bathing suit as well. The close-up of his face revealed bad acne (maybe he didn't have such good hair after all?), wire braces, and a nose too large for his face that was too square for his twig-like neck. His hair was far too long, drooping in beautiful curls over his gray eyes (hey, there was a second redeeming factor for him); Elizabeth couldn't even see his forehead or eyebrows behind his thick locks. In the Ralph Lauren shirt shot, it was a full body, and one could clearly see his body was far too big for him and that he was still going through puberty. His acne had been wiped clean with the help of a computer, and his unruly hair had been slicked back with gel to reveal his dark, heavy eyebrows and his forehead. Darcy's smile, with the braces "magically" gone, seemed awkward at best.

"Seriously, who would want this guy?" Elizabeth muttered, eyes resting on the swimsuit shot. The boy was pasty white and deathly skinny; every single one of his ribs peeked out from his slender chest. The drawstring for the swim shorts, quite a bright turquoise and cerulean in contrast to his skin, seemed to be drawn the tightest it would go, but they still hung precariously on his jutting hipbones. If Elizabeth squinted, she could discern the contrast of the boy's skin and the photoshop done to his torso, stemming from the swim shorts and ending halfway to his nonexistent pectoral muscles; he must have been scared of a razor.

"Well, guess who his auntie is? Catherine de Bourgh. Poor thing was modeling from his eighth birthday until his sixteenth." Charlotte clucked when Elizabeth had calmed down, pointing to the dates on the papers beneath the pictures Elizabeth had been scrutinizing.

"Those pictures were when he was sixteen, some of his last shoots. It's been thirteen years since he's been behind a camera for modeling. Auntie needs more money or something, I guess…" Charlotte explained.

"So, he's twenty-nine? Let's hope he hasn't turned out to be an über nerd… I really hate photoshop." Elizabeth sighed, mentally preparing herself to do "little" touch-ups to an ance-scarred, big-nosed, greasy-haired chump that only got in the business because his aunt had been a big time model back in the day. Charlotte, who had turned to Google the moment she noticed the dates, knew Elizabeth was in for a shock. Darcy had matured beautifully, and his job working in architecture and farming had helped his skin-and-bones problem wonderfully.

"Bingley and Darcy should be arriving soon… be prepared for Bingley's twin, too. She seems to have missed that they're not Siamese twins conjoined at the hip." Charlotte joked. She'd worked with the Bingley twins before (more specifically, just Charles with Caroline hanging around), and she could easily remember how big of a spoilt brat Caroline was and how nice Charles had been. Elizabeth didn't notice Charlotte go abnormally still, eyes widening, as she snorted.

"So we've got Bingley, his nosy sister, and an über nerd Pixie Stick who I'm going to have to photoshop 'cause Auntie Catherine needs a little grease for her palms… yippie." She said dryly, looking up when the sniggering she expected never came. From Charlotte's facial expression, she knew one of the three she had just named (made fun of, more like it) was right behind her.

"I'm sure you realize my aunt would strangle anyone who got grease on her palms? She's picky about those sort of things." The voice was rich and deep, definitely masculine. Elizabeth wouldn't match it to Bingley's appearance, and since the man had said "my aunt," she could only assume it was the Darcy fellow. Turning around with a pinched expression, half rueful and half not, Elizabeth was stunned. With a ghost of a five o'clock shadow and his curls slicked back, not unlike the old Ralph Lauren picture she'd just been criticizing, Darcy was the picture of an elegant, Armani-worthy model even if he was in tattered blue jeans, boots, and a flannel button-up shirt. The first thing Elizabeth noticed, after just how tall the man was, was his nose; unlike in his past photographs, his nose was now crooked.

"Yes, I'd expect she would be. You, Darcy, are entirely too tall to model. Why does Armani want you over seasoned, known models? No offense, of course." The words spilled forth form Elizabeth's lips before she'd even realized it; inwardly, she flinched. Models were often times very temperamental, and the rich… well, they were a class all to themselves, too, from what she'd experienced.

"Of course." The smile that spread almost painfully across Darcy's lips didn't reach his eyes.

"I know I am; it's how I got out of it before. Charles, it seems, doesn't like wearing penguin suits and somehow convinced Armani I'd be a better fit than he." Darcy replied, ears burning when he noticed her sizing him up. Elizabeth, too preoccupied with assessing Darcy's body type, didn't notice his blush. His old pictures boasted of a boy too awkward for his long, broad body, but now he'd fully grown into his own skin. Darcy's chest, once sunken and bony, was filled out with strong muscles, and his middle was no longer rail thin but now a thick bundle of corded flesh. Peeking out from beneath his shirt collar, of which the top two buttons were undone, were a few curly black hairs that presented a slight problem if he was unwilling to shave. Moving from his torso to his arms, Elizabeth could tell he was outside quite a bit from the tanned skin of his revealed forearms contrasting beautifully with the silver of his watch.

"Charles is wrong. You'd definitely be a better fit for the Levi ad than he is. Do you think you two could maybe switch?" Elizabeth looked up to Darcy's face, nearly starting at the intensity of his eyes set beneath sturdy eyebrows that were tilted irritably over them.

"Liz, I don't think that's prudent. Armani wants Darcy, and Levi hired Charles." Charlotte spoke up softly, placing a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder.

"I'd never fit into clothes meant for Charles, anyways. Every part of me is bigger than him." Darcy shook his head, tapping out a rhythm on his thighs, only slightly hindered by the fact his hands were in his pockets.

"I was just supposed to let you know I — we are here. Mr. Lucas said he wanted a Miss Elizabeth and a Miss Charlotte to get ready for Charles' shoot." He cleared his throat, uneasily walking away. Once she was sure Darcy was out of earshot, Charlotte gave a low whistle.

"Daaa-yummm. I'd Googled him, but Darcy is definitely better in person." She giggled, fanning her face, a blush blooming on her cheeks.

"He is very photogenic. I'm sure he'd look very dashing in a tux, but I think he'd fill out the Levis better." Elizabeth commented, not catching that Charlotte wasn't talking about work anymore.

"Definitely. He almost looks better walking way." Charlotte bit her lip, unable to keep a huge grin from forming on her face.

"Yeah, that's the angle I'd take for a few shots, too." Already, Elizabeth was making a series of photographs in her mind starring Darcy clad in Levis and the flannel shirt he was currently wearing. It would look so fantastic, if she could only get Levi to want him…

"Angle? Shots? Liz, honey, I meant Darcy is one hunk of man flesh. He's sex on legs; he's got a good bum. I wasn't talking about a photo shoot. Forget work for a second and just think of how gorgeous Darcy is!" Charlotte laughed, giving Elizabeth a poke to her very sensitive, ticklish side. Jumping away, Elizabeth flushed out of irritation, shoving a few flyaway hairs out of her face and adjusting her glasses on her nose.

"Get your camera, Char. We have work, not ogling, to do." She snapped, grabbing her camera from the desk next to the old, scattered photographs of Darcy. Her fingers grazed his bare, skinny chest from the bathing suit shot, dragging the photograph a few centimeters closer to her. Elizabeth never noticed it falling off the desk, fluttering to the floor with his awkward, smiling face pointed in her direction.

It was almost two weeks later when Mr. Lucas, Charlotte's father, received a commission from Levi requesting Darcy to model their jeans. Since she'd orchestrated the deal (and because he was intimidated by the man in question), Mr. Lucas told Elizabeth she'd been the one calling Darcy. Unaware that he had gone back to England once his Armani shoot was done, Elizabeth called him with only slight trepidation. Curled up in an office chair, twirling an unsharpened pencil in her left hand, she was entirely unprepared when he answered the phone on the seventh ring.

"'Lo?" Darcy's voice held a warm burr, and his voice seemed to purr out of the receiver. Elizabeth dropped the pencil in surprise, an unconscious blush rushing to her cheeks.

"I'm sorry, you must be busy, this is a bad time, I—" She scrambled for a reason to get off the phone, assuming she'd just interrupted Darcy in an intimate moment with his girlfriend from the tone of his voice.

"No, 's… who is this?" Darcy's purr turned into a tired groan followed by a quiet click, like he'd just yawned and closed his mouth again. Elizabeth's mortification grew in her confused state.

"It's, um, it's Elizabeth Bennet – from Lucas Shooting – and I'll just hang up now if you'd like." She said meekly, not expecting the scratchy, rumbling laughter that followed her hurried words. Elizabeth hadn't seen Darcy actually genuinely smile, and she wasn't entirely sure he was able to from his holier-than-thou attitude.

"Miss 'Lizabeth Bennet, huh… give me a second to wake up… it's midnight, you realize."

She could barley process that he was teasing her.

"Yes of course, I'm so—wait, what? Midnight? It's only seven…" Elizabeth trailed off, remembering Darcy's charming accent. Right before he spoke the words himself, she realized he must have flown back to England.

"Yes, maybe where you are… I live in Derbyshire, England, remember? There are different time zones, Miss Elizabeth." He was still chuckling, and Elizabeth could hear noises, like a headboard creaking in protest to the weight leaning against it and the soft grunt coming from Darcy as he stretched, in the background. From his past cold, distant behavior, Elizabeth wondered if he'd hate her for waking him up when he had obviously been sleeping very deeply.

"I'm sorry, Darcy, I didn't know you'd gone back." Elizabeth replied stiffly, not enjoying his words. Coming from Darcy, his light teasing seemed hurtful, as if he truly believed she was dense enough not to know about the different time zones, rather than fun. She picked up the pencil she'd dropped, resuming in twirling it about her slim digits.

"No, no, it's fine. What can I do for you, Miss Elizabeth? Surely no request for me has come?" The burr was still in his voice, caught in his throat like a bug in a web. Elizabeth tried to ignore it, thinking back to how Darcy never really spoke. Although he didn't cause trouble like Bingley siblings (Charles didn't have the heart to tell his sister to leave, so Elizabeth credited him with at least half of the blame) and did what he was told, Darcy remained aloof throughout his whole shoot. Unless he was spoken to first or was asking something work-related, he didn't breath a word. If he wasn't doing something, one could find Darcy skulking around the walls and corners, alone; it was like he didn't want anything to do with anyone except Charles. Elizabeth had even heard Caroline complaining to Darcy at how the "simpletons" at Lucas Shooting were; he neither agreed or disagreed, so Elizabeth took it as a, "I agree, but I can clearly see one of those 'simpletons' right there in plain sight that can obviously hear you."

"Yes, actually. Levi wants you for a shoot." Elizabeth replied quietly, staring at the pencil betwixt her fingers. She twirled it clockwise, watching the silver bit by the eraser reflect light back into her eyes from the window. Spinning in the chair, Elizabeth realized she probably looked like a troubled girlfriend calling her boyfriend, and with the knowledge that Darcy was in his bed (with that voice) in some state of undress, it wouldn't look too far off if someone could see the both of them, like in the movies. Her cheeks colored unconsciously.

"Hnnm… am I allowed to say no? I'd rather not see my arse plastered across wherever Levi puts their ads. Didn't they just do one with Charles?" With his conversational tone, Darcy wasn't helping Elizabeth's wild imagination. If she just woke him up at midnight, wasn't he supposed to be ugly, short, and cross with her?

"It's a trial shoot. Charles, like I said, was a bit slim for their tastes. Can you just think it over? I can give you the number to our offices, and you can call us back later when you're not half asleep."

"I hadn't the slightest idea they did that. Yes, yes I remember that… 'better fit,' right? How about you call me again tomorrow – at a decent hour for England, if you'd be ever so kind – because I'm not going to go find a pen and paper when my bed is terribly warm and comfortable. It'd be murder to move." Darcy's voice was smooth, charming… and infuriating. The words 'how about no' were on the tip of Elizabeth's tongue, but she held back her snarky comment for another time. She had, after all, called him in the middle of the night.

"Only if you stop making fun of me, Darcy."

"Deal." His parting chuckle haunted Elizabeth until he finally arrived, back in the Lucas Shooting building, apathetic and misanthropic as usual. It was the complete opposite of how he'd been over the phone, but Elizabeth had expected it of Darcy. It's a truth universally acknowledged that one will make silly comments and act loopy when half asleep.

Darcy had been surprised, Elizabeth noticed, when he saw Charles still hanging around the Lucas Shooting building. Charles had been a regular interloper, coming when he could, after meeting Elizabeth's sister, Jane, as she was delivering Elizabeth's lunch to her the day after Darcy had left. It was pretty clear Charles was taken with Jane, even if one only glimpsed a few seconds of them together. It was on one of these visits that, during his break, Darcy talked with Charles and Elizabeth eavesdropped on them.

"Darce, bro, why aren't you talking to anyone but me? I heard you're being a wallflower again. Why don't you talk to some of the pretty girls?" Charles' voice was naturally loud, and it carried to where Elizabeth was standing at the refreshment table sipping on a cup of water. Her interest was piqued since it was Charles speaking about 'pretty girls' when she thought him to be interested in Jane.

"You know how I get. Also, you monopolize the only pretty girl's attention when she comes around. Her name is Jane, isn't it?" Darcy replied with a heavy sigh, like he couldn't be bothered. Elizabeth bit her lip, rolling her eyes; of course Darcy would think only Jane was pretty. The man was blind – Charlotte and her sister, Maria, were plenty pretty! And the other girls, like Mary King for instance, were also quite dashing!

"Yes, Jane is quite a ravishing angel. I think I'll ask her out next time we meet up. I'd do it over a text or call, since I do have her number and do chat with her like that, but I'd rather make a better, more sincere impression. Anyways, Liz is pretty gorgeous, too – and she's your photographer. You're spending plenty of time with her… why not give Liz a chance? Jane told me she's only doing this internship to put some experience on her resumes. She's not a model-y girl." Charles laughed merrily, slapping Darcy's shoulder. When next to his friend, Elizabeth compared, Charles looked even more cheerful. She did a mental fist pump for Jane upon hearing his intentions, and unconsciously held her breath for Darcy's reply. It wasn't like she wanted him to try and be more forward with her; Elizabeth was just curious as to what his answer would be. That's what she told herself, anyways.

"Elizabeth? Charles, she's cute, maybe, but too young and childish for my tastes. She's so small; I'm afraid, if I were to impossibly follow your advice, she'd look more like my little sister than Georgiana does." Darcy snorted, moving a hand to cover his mouth as he rubbed his jaw. Elizabeth's bright blue eyes bore into his face with defiance, watching his hand move up past his lips to rub at his crooked nose.

"Pish posh, Darce. You are Gina are almost like twins. And the height difference between you two would be adorable – you know, like one of those old time-y things!" Charles retaliated, giving Darcy's arm a punch. Darcy looked away from his friend then, and his eyes locked onto Elizabeth's. She turned her gaze quickly away, knowing how guilty she appeared in doing so, but she didn't care. The nerve of Darcy – her, just maybe cute? He didn't even know her!

"Look, Charles, here's your angel. Stop wasting your time with me and go ask her out, you wanker." Elizabeth heard Darcy say when she walked away to greet her sister, who'd just arrived.

- (Crappy Break Line) -

Elizabeth gulped in air, not able to calm herself. Once her laughter had subsided, cold terror coursed through her veins. She could hear him coming, hear his voice calling her name… Still, Elizabeth curled into a tighter ball, hoping he'd give up the chase. However, knowing what she did of Darcy, she knew that wish was futile.

Gosh, what a mess she was in. After her first, shoddy meeting with Darcy, Elizabeth had judged him harshly, not opening up her eyes to what was actually going on around her. She'd put up blinkers to block out the truth desperately trying to reach her because of her prejudice. It didn't help that that stupid ass hat Wickham spread lies she was too happy to eat up, too…

- (Nine Months Earlier) -

"You're a smart girl, Liz. How'd you get stuck doing a job like this?"

George Wickham was a breath of fresh air. He was a small-time model, only wanted by the likes of Gap currently, but he was definitely handsome. On top of that, he seemed to have a disposition like Charles Bingley, only less flighty.

Behind the lens of the camera, Elizabeth assessed George with an artists' eye for detail. He had a nice, masculine jaw that made a fairly good profile, and his hair was perfect the way he spiked it up. George claimed the dirty blond with platinum highlights was natural, but Elizabeth severely doubted it (but that didn't hinder how superb it looked on him). George was tall and had a nice build with washboard abs; he looked to be the perfect, all-American boyfriend, although his eyes were brown instead of blue.

"You're a handsome guy, George. How'd you get stuck doing menial shoots like this?" Elizabeth shot his words back at him, blushing slightly. He was good-looking, charming, smart, funny… what more could a girl ask for?

"Well, I could tell you… over dinner, perhaps? It's not a pretty tale, and there's too many people around." George replied, winking just as Elizabeth clicked the button to take a picture. It was her favorite yet since he looked the most natural.

"Over dinner would be great, George." Elizabeth smiled. The rest of the day passed in a blur to her until she left with George to walk to the Italian restaurant down the street from the Lucas Shooting building. Only after they had been seated, ordered, and given their meals did George give in to Elizabeth's pestering.

"Well, there's this guy, y'see, that I know. Well, I wouldn't say know… not anymore, at least. Our dads were great buddies, and so when I met him when I entered uni, I thought we'd get along. Both our dads had died by then, and I thought maybe there'd be someone that understood what I went through – was going through, y'know? It turns out Darcy was just a prick." George started out, not meeting Elizabeth's expectant gaze as he twirled noodles from his dinner around his fork.

"Darcy? As in William Darcy?" Elizabeth sputtered, almost doing a spit-take with her soda. Surely the world couldn't be that small, could it?

"Yeah, you know him?" George's voice became pinched then, and his shoulders tensed.

"Not really, no. He's been pretty boorish and proud, actually." Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, wondering why George had reacted as he had. Even though it was more suspicious when his shoulders fell with a sigh of relief, Elizabeth wasn't bothered. She was like a bloodhound hot on the trail and would not be deterred or sidetracked.

"Yep, you got that right. Apparently, his dad – Mr. Darcy – had left me some cash in his will. My family – I wasn't well off, y'see… My ma left when I was little, so it was just me and my dad making ends meet. So, being good friends with my dad, Mr. Darcy decided to leave me a scholarship of sorts for when I went to college. I dunno why – I guess I rubbed him the wrong way with my poor ass self – but Will found a way to keep me from that money. Modeling has been my first constant job instead of bouncing around from place to place. I'm thinking about enlisting in the army pretty soon, actually, so I can get an education – a higher form of education, I mean." George sighed, wearing a "what can you do" face as he leaned back in his chair.

"How was he able to do that?" Elizabeth cocked her head to the side, befuddled. Surely, if George had wanted to get his money, he could have pressed charges. His story didn't quite add up.

"Easily. He knew the passwords into the accounts, and I didn't – and still don't – have enough cash for a lawyer - any lawyer, good or bad. I haven't got enough for that extravagance. I'm also not going to go public 'cause of the bond our fathers had… to respect their memories." George explained, preventing Elizabeth from inquiring further by sticking his fork into his mouth. Once he was done chewing, he moved the subject onto Elizabeth, and she let him under the impression that the previous one had been too irritating and painful for him.

- (Crappy Break Line) -

Elizabeth closed her eyes, resting her head back onto the tree trunk. What a mess indeed. That story about Darcy spread like wildfire within the next few days afterwards, and any requests for him were pushed away. No one at Lucas Shooting wanted him around; they even went so far as to limit Charles' access to the building because, after all, they were friends.

Elizabeth felt sick to her stomach rehashing all of the bad memories. If she took away the poison of her prejudice, they could be nice; however, it was nearly impossible since all of her encounters with Darcy had ended up sour in the end… because of her. Well, except when Darcy confessed to her – that one was definitely at least half his fault. You just don't ask someone out like that!

- (Four Months Earlier) -

Elizabeth felt ill, staring out of the cottage window at the ocean. She'd tolerated Darcy at best whenever he popped up in her life ever since hearing George's story, but now she knew she couldn't do that anymore. No, not since his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, confided in her how he "wasn't" a bad guy. Apparently, Darcy had saved Charles from getting too serious with an unattached girl!

"Charles fancies himself in love a lot, and since Darce thought the girl looked too apathetic, he warned Charles off. Charles is always running to Darce for advice. Darce is almost like Charles' keeper!" Richard had laughed. Elizabeth had excused herself from Richard's company quickly after that, escaping to the cottage she and Charlotte shared. They were only there because Catherine de Bourgh had wanted to meet the photographers of Darcy's recent modeling shoots, and the only free time Elizabeth and Charlotte had was over spring break. Elizabeth had thought she'd be able to relax since Catherine de Bourgh lived on the California beachfront, but, no. Darcy just had to be around with his obnoxious, albeit funny and charming, cousin. On top of that, she and Charlotte had apparently done a lackluster job on picturing Darcy's "true essence," whatever that meant. Catherine had flown the girls out to California just to berate them then push this weaselly little man, William Collins, onto them to "tutor" them. He was insufferable and lacked imagination in Elizabeth's opinion.

Crossing her arms over her chest to stop from punching the nearest thing next to her, Elizabeth was hit by cold lightning when she saw Darcy hurrying up the beach to the cottage. She was half tempted to ignore him when he knocked on the front door, but it was his aunt's cottage. He could have her and Charlotte out with a snap of his fingers.

When Elizabeth opened the door to him, he was portraying a side of him she'd never seen too much before; up until their most recent meetings, he'd always been confident, if not arrogant, in the way he held himself. As of late, he'd shown off nervous habits, some minute that Elizabeth knew she could have missed before, some extremely obvious. Darcy gave Elizabeth a tight smile, running a hand through his thick curls; this act was what probably kept him hair perpetually tousled. His other hand had his thumb curled through his belt loop, long fingers extended into his shorts pocket; they seemed to be twitching, or at least constantly moving, from the way the fabric breathed.

"Richard said you didn't feel well. I thought, perhaps, you might want company." He crossed the threshold, and Elizabeth let him close the door behind him. Shrugging, Elizabeth led him into the living room in the back of the cottage, curling up into a ball in one of the poufy armchairs facing the floor-to-ceiling window and screen doors that let anyone in the den watch the ocean. Darcy tried sitting on the couch, but his jingling foot annoyed Elizabeth to the point where she glared at his leg. If he had been wearing anything but those black flip-flops, she wouldn't have heard anything; however, the bottom half kept slapping the hardwood floor erratically. Quickly noticing her vexed gaze, Darcy stood up abruptly, going over to the screen door connected to the wall-window and slid it open, going out onto the porch to lean over the railing on the back porch. At first, Darcy's back was to Elizabeth, and she didn't quite mind him so much. When he turned around to face her, everything changed.

"I, er… Elizabeth… would you like to go out with—go out to dinner with me? Alone? As in, on a date? I'm not—I mean, I like you, most ardently." Darcy started out. Elizabeth wished she had a camera on her to take a snapshot of him, not entirely paying attention to his words. He looked quite dreamy, artistically speaking, leaning on his elbows against the railing with the ocean and stormy sky behind him, a stark contrast to his lightly colored clothes and the white-sanded beach. A rough breeze pushed his curls this way and that way across his face and scalp, and one of his hands was constantly shoving his wayward bangs out of his clear gray eyes or rubbing his stubble-shadowed jaw, muffling his words. Clad in khaki shorts, a white button-up shirt with a cream sweater pulled over it, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Darcy looked like the classic rich man on his private beach. Like him, the image was pompously beautiful.

"You—I know you're not out of school yet, and it'd look awfully awkward with our age difference. On top of that, we live in two different countries and come from two different social spheres. I know for a fact Aunt Catherine would despise it if I started to date you. It—we, as a couple, would probably appear improper. To anyone. Then there's the matter of your family… I'm sure your mother would make our dating seem like an engagement, and, quite frankly, that wouldn't happen in years, if it ever did. You're not the normal type of girl – young woman I'd go after; however, I can't stop thinking of you. It's maddening. You're maddening. You have a curious case of never being able to hold your tongue, pursue what you want and nothing else, and are irrevocably stubborn.

"You seem to be always in the opinion that you are always right, as well. I assume these traits come from your gossiping mother, but that's inconsequential. Your other sisters seem quite… terrifying, really. You and Jane are the only decent people from your immediate family." Darcy gave a small, self-satisfied smile complete with set, expecting eyes.

Elizabeth had wished he'd finished the way he'd started, stumbling for words, but she supposed then his revolting confession would last even longer for her to suffer through. No, this self-confidence that came from nowhere was preferable to a bumbling fool. She chewed on her lip for a moment, sucking her top one between her teeth, not noticing the way Darcy stiffened, watching her lips acutely.

"I'm sorry, you seem to be under the impression that I like you, Darcy. If I ever led you to think I did, well, my bad; it wasn't my intention to be 'maddening,' as you so delicately put it. Dear me, you seem to have worked yourself into a nice hole, haven't you? Let me tell you straight and be brutally honest like you just were: No. I will not date you, not in a million years. In fact, I'd never even think of it in a trillion years. Despite your, ahem, romantic confession, I do believe there are some wonderful points in your… speech, for the lack of a better word, that can help you get over me. In fact, Caroline Bingley would be more than willing to help you, if you'd ask." Elizabeth sneered, almost falling to the temptation to sticking her tongue out at him petulantly. She had crossed her arms over her chest as she spoke, and her legs, which had been curled to her chest, had gone criss-cross-apple-sauce style to allow her arms room to do so. Her posture, complete with an icy glare, let Darcy know she was being quite serious.

"I… might I inquire as to why you so abhorrently reject me?" Darcy asked coolly, shoving his hands into his pockets once more. Defiantly, he leaned even more onto the railing, legs splayed apart in a classic posture of a man wanting to exude dominance in a challenge. It was an unconscious act on his part, but Elizabeth rolled her eyes, scoffing at the typically male action. She stood up, arms still crossed tightly over her chest, walking the few yards out onto the back porch with him. Elizabeth was hit, literally, by the sudden chill of the wind blowing across the ocean and the scents of salt and seaweed it brought with it. Momentarily, she closed her eyes to get caught up in the environment she'd grown to love, enjoying ever millisecond of it before she opened her eyes to a hostile-looking Darcy still awaiting an answer.

"You, Darcy, are the most arrogant, selfish, pompous, prideful, full of himself jerk I've ever met. Essentially from the first moment I met you, I knew you were a boorish brute of a man. You think yourself above everyone else, don't you? Beside my own interactions with you, I have what you've done to other people, too!" In her tirade, Elizabeth had stiffly walked between Darcy's legs to poke him, hard, in the chest at every syllable she spoke; it felt good to dish out some scathing sentences to Darcy; however, her fingertip was complaining within just a few words. Her other hand had gone from her side to rest firmly on her hip. Surprising her, Darcy took her wrist, the one connected to her smarting finger, in his hand, holding it resolutely away from his chest with a concerned look.

"You could hurt yourself, you know." He said simply, like he forgot they were in the middle of an argument. When Darcy started to raise her hand to his face, Elizabeth jerked back but was unable to free her wrist because Darcy strengthening his grip on her. Elizabeth scowled, attempting to pull her wrist free, but Darcy took her other wrist into his free hand, holding on tightly. It didn't hurt her physically, but Elizabeth felt it as a blow to her pride.

"Am I really such a bad person in your eyes, Elizabeth?" Darcy questioned softly; Elizabeth almost didn't hear him. His visage, half covered by the wind pushing his hair in his face left and right, looked pained. It was a complete turn-around from his previous expression, so it stunned Elizabeth for a second. He actually looked hurt.

"Don't you dare pretend to care, Darcy, when I know all you think and worry about is yourself. Your so-called 'confession' cemented that in without a doubt. I know what you've done to George and separated Jane and Charlie, so don't you dare try to play the pathetic victim card. Don't you dare." Elizabeth scornfully replied, tugging once more on her arms. Darcy's eyebrows lowered over his eyes, and his fingers tightened around her wrists.

"George? George bloody Wickham?" He all but snarled the name, grip still growing tighter. It was becoming unbearable, and Elizabeth's jerks became more frequent and panicked. She bit back any noises of pain, but her face contorted as he continued to hurt her. Darcy let go of Elizabeth as if he was burned when he saw her expression, straightening himself to get some space between them. He stalked away from Elizabeth, fists forming at his sides, the skin over his knuckles becoming pearly white; she watched him disdainfully, rubbing at her wrists and hoping they wouldn't bruise.

"Please, enlighten me of what I've done to George bloody Wickham, Elizabeth. Teach me something." Darcy growled when he had calmed somewhat, stiff back still to Elizabeth. He seemed more like a wild beast than a man, and he was starting to frighten Elizabeth. It wasn't Darcy's physical strength that scared her but his raw emotions. Someone who had wronged another couldn't possibly be that outraged by that person's name, and Elizabeth knew Darcy was a horrible actor. She felt cold as the thought, which she forcibly pushed from her mind, that she could be wrong about him toyed with her. For some reason, Elizabeth didn't want to be wrong about Darcy. Perhaps it was because she wouldn't have a reason to reject him, otherwise. He was decent enough when he wasn't being taciturn, and Elizabeth couldn't deny he was handsome.

"You kept his college money from him, and now he hasn't been able to find a good source of income because he doesn't have anything but a high school degree." Elizabeth's voice was strong when she spoke, but internally she was faltering. Everything within her was shattering with the influence of this new option, like Devil's Snare in sunlight. Her stomach was doing summersaults (not in the good way but in "the school principal wants to see you" way), and the sea breeze was biting into her skin harshly with every passing second. On top of all this, Elizabeth did not want to be proven wrong, especially not by Darcy. Bottling up her tumult of emotions, Elizabeth presented Darcy with an air of cool defiance spiked with loathing.

"Oh yes, how I have wronged him. I can see the error of my ways now, thank you so much. I have been such a prat, so let me start apologizing on my knees now." Darcy sneered, voice filled with more emotion (sarcasm) than Elizabeth had once thought he was capable of. With his back to her, Elizabeth missed his troubled expression that didn't match with his voice, the expression that would reveal how sickened he was. Darcy wasn't disgusted with Elizabeth, no, just himself and George Wickham. How could he have misread Elizabeth so much? How could he have given her such an offending impression of himself that she'd believe George Wickham's mendacity?

"Yes, you have been! What are you going to say about breaking Charlie and Jane up, huh? Is Jane too poor for Charlie, is that it? Is it because you hate our family – whom you've never met, I might add, and only have one asinine phone call you eavesdropped on to form an impression of them – that you couldn't stand your friend simply dating my sister? They were dating, you ass hat, not getting engaged or anything permanent! Who are you to judge if Jane was 'unattached' or not? I'd never seen her happier, but you fucking ruined that with your ego that's the size of the – the - the always-growing universe! We don't live in the age – 1800s or so, I'd guess – where that kind of status shit matters!" Elizabeth lashed out, rightfully so. This was the only subject she had solid footing on since it had come from the horse's mouth (almost… second-hand from the horse's mouth, anyways) and not some stranger she had gone on a few dates with (and who had eventually left her waiting on him for a few hours before texting her, "Sry bby, g2g, c u around – mor fish i al dat"). Frustrated tears formed in her eyes out of ire, and they nearly escaped in shock when Darcy whirled around, one finger pointing accusingly at Elizabeth's chest.

"You blinkered little – I…" He began and suddenly stopped, panting heavily as if he'd run miles. Elizabeth could see how wide his eyes were, how flushed he was becoming, and was unsure of what was about to happen. She certainly didn't expect Darcy to deflate like a balloon, quickly loosing all the hot air he'd been about to spit out. His taut shoulders drooped, and his hand wilted, uncurled and limp from its previous pointing position, by his side. An ironic smile twisted its way onto his handsome visage, and it was the first time Elizabeth saw that his mouth conveyed the same message his eyes did. She watched nervously as he looked up to the dark, cloudy sky, sighing through his nostrils. Darcy's face was gentle when he looked down at her again, bearing a simple smile that made him utterly beautiful is a melancholy way.

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth, for interrupting your day. I hope you feel better soon. Please don't stay out here for much longer – the forecast called for thunderstorms, and the sky is agreeing with it for once. Good-bye, Elizabeth."

Darcy looked positively depressed as he slouched (yes, slouched! The man who always had impeccable posture slouched!) away. Elizabeth wanted to scream at how unnervingly calm he'd become, to shout at him to come back and finish what he'd started, but instead she crumpled down to the ground in pure disbelief. How could he just… what… why… He liked her, "most ardently?" Hugging herself, Elizabeth struggled to her buckling legs to stumble back into the cottage and scream into one of the throw pillows on the couch. It still smelled faintly of Darcy from his brief contact with it, Elizabeth noted dully. She spent the rest of the time until Charlotte came back cradling the pillow to her chest, close to tears but unwilling to let them fall. Elizabeth was still in her utterly dumbfounded state when Charlotte found her gazing out at the rain that had finally started falling not too long after Elizabeth had finished screaming into the pillow. Charlotte chalked up Elizabeth's uncharacteristically mute and stiff behavior to her actually being ill and sent her friend straight to bed after making Elizabeth take some cold medicine.

The morning after, Elizabeth put on a brave face for Charlotte, still trying to digest what had exactly happened the day before. After breakfast, Elizabeth decided to take a jaunt along the beach, walking just close enough to the water that the tide washed over her feet. Sometimes she had to walk over seaweed, and it felt crunchy and uncomfortable under her sensitive bare feet. Elizabeth, watching the land, water, and algae pass beneath her, never noticed Darcy until the crown of her head bumped into his torso and her eyes saw his bare feet centimeters in front of her own. Although her initial reaction was to apologize, maybe blush, and run away, she defiantly looked up at Darcy to try to tell him through her expression alone that he should get lost before she broke his family jewels. Elizabeth immediately regretted it, though, when she saw how haggard Darcy looked. He looked a bit pale, his eyes were sunken, red, and had bags beneath them, and he seemed older than he really was. Elizabeth retracted her malicious expression, turning her head to face the sea; she only did so knowing she was the cause of his appearance.

"Sorry, Darcy, I didn't see you." Elizabeth spoke quietly, only remorseful that he appeared as he did, not because she'd bumped into him. Even then she felt torn about her emotions because she knew she had been right to attack him like she had.

"It's quite all right. Please, promise me you'll read this?" His voice cracked, and Darcy cleared his throat by coughing awkwardly. Elizabeth returned her gaze to him, searching his rueful face for reasons she knew not before taking the proffered envelope. Elizabeth was very tempted to retort, "Promises are for children, aren't they? Isn't that a bit too childish for you?" However, seeing his countenance, she figured he'd suffered enough for one twenty-four hour period.

"I promise." She swore, and for a second, Elizabeth was scared Darcy was going to lean down and kiss her. His head had started to edge lower, but he stopped himself, running his now-empty hand through his hair.

"Thank you, I… thank you. Good bye, Elizabeth." Darcy murmured, awkwardly shuffling his way down the beach. Elizabeth watched him leave, mind screaming, "Look back. Look back at me!" He didn't, however, even glance once back over his shoulder.

- (Crappy Break Line) -

Elizabeth removed her backpack from her shoulder. It was a well-worn messenger bag, not too big or too small; it carried the faded messages written in Sharpie from her sisters, Charlotte, and reminders to herself. Clearly, the bag had seen better days, but she never left it at home, clinging tightly to the memories literally woven into it (like when she got her mother to teach her how to sew so she could patch up the hole that had formed on it – that had been an adventure). Elizabeth opened the top flap, gazing at one of the small front pockets where Darcy's letter currently resided. The letter now resembled her beloved bag; it was dog-eared and the margins were filled with her scribbled comments. Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth listened for signs of Darcy following her outside; all she could hear was what she assumed was normal for Pemberley (birds and other animals talking to each other, workers joking, things like that). She was disappointed and relieved that she couldn't hear Darcy.

When she took the letter out of her bag, Elizabeth didn't notice Darcy silently coming up to the tree she was huddled below. He would have spoken up if he didn't notice what she held between her fingers: his letter. Darcy swallowed harshly, ears burning as he remembered the night he'd written that stupid letter.

- (Four Months Earlier) -

Darcy was steaming, positively fuming when he returned to his aunt's main cottage. He was so incensed that he was actually rude to Catherine when she asked where he'd gone. Poor Anne, his timid, meek cousin, almost got caught in the crossfire when she stepped into the hall. Darcy had never seen her so scared, and it infuriated him even more.

After dispensing with his aunt, Darcy had gone to his room (slamming the door behind him immaturely) and started pacing. He had to figure out a way to remove the blindfold Elizabeth had tied securely around her eyes; he just had to. He almost got physically ill thinking of what George Wickham could have done to her. Darcy knew he should have gotten that bastard when George was in his grasp.

But Georgiana would have been mortified. Like he should be now, thinking about what he'd just done. Darcy moaned, his anger dissipating once again, as he fell onto the bed in his room. He was spread-eagle over the comforter, arms and legs hanging off the edges.

What could he do? Elizabeth would never listen to him. Darcy didn't have her phone number, email, or address, so he couldn't call, text, or send her a message. He was all out of options, unless… unless he was able to see her again before she and Charlotte left in the afternoon. But how should he go about it? Darcy rolled his eyes at himself, heaving his body into a sitting position. First, he would most likely need something to write with and something to write on. He started rooting through his rarely used briefcase, finding an errant pen that was probably on its last legs and one tattered legal pad in mere seconds.

Darcy returned to the bed, popping himself up on the headboard and resting the legal pad on his thighs. He held the pen tip between his teeth, debating on what to start with.

God, he was a fool.

"Dear Elizabeth," Darcy started with, still debating if he should insert a, "Miss," in there as he started writing the first sentence. He knew he had to get her to actually read the darn thing, so the first paragraph ended up being a hurried, rushed, "This is NOT a love letter, please, please, please, please read this" paragraph, only more eloquently put. Once he was done with that, Darcy gave a self-satisfied smile, sure that Elizabeth would continue reading his letter to her.

… Or not. Doubt crawled its way into Darcy's mind; he immediately responded by ripping the sheet of paper off the pad, crumbling it up into a tight ball, and throwing the ball at the wall. Growling to himself, Darcy chewed furiously on the end of the pen, scarring the plastic.

"Dear Elizabeth," He began again, continuing on while ignoring the nagging feeling the letter would end up obsolete because she'd never read it, "This is not a love letter, I assure you, or a repetition of my feelings from last night that so deeply disgusted you. This is merely a letter defending myself against the charges you laid against my door yesterday. I would like you to know what harm could come by George Wickham's hand; plus, I'd also like to tell you that I broke Charles and Jane up for Charles' own good." Although it was shorter, this paragraph was less desperate than the first one he'd written, so Darcy kept on writing.

"I will start with Charles and Jane since Wickham," Darcy paused, scowling deeply as he attempted to formulate a decent sentence that didn't include calling Wickham various derogatory names.

"… is a highly sensitive subject for me. Charles has a penchant for finding a beautiful girl wherever he goes and calling her his 'angel.' I mean no disrespect to Jane when I write this; it's just that Charles fancies himself in love with 'angels' quite a bit. He means no harm, but generally those 'angels' are wolves in sheep's' clothing. I have continually seen Charles burned by his 'angels,' and at first, I didn't know what to make of Jane. She's quiet and genuinely nice, quite a bit different than Charles' past 'angels.' However, she acted no differently with Charles than she did with me or any other man (or person, really) from what I saw. I will not deny that I told Charles I believed her unattached when he inquired for my opinion on if he should start dating her or not. That is, however, where my direct interference ends." Darcy sighed as he stilled his hand, wondering if Elizabeth would believe him or not. Would his truthful words offend her? Swallowing his reservations, he barreled on with the paragraph.

"Caroline, Charles' twin, was the one who literally separated them by asking Charles to accompany her to Australia. Since she echoed my words about Jane, Charles readily agreed to go see 'beach babes' (his words, not mine). It was there he realized that, despite his attempts to change his feelings for Jane, they would not reverse or leave him. Charles ahs confided in me that he didn't look twice at a woman unless she resembled Jane, and even then he didn't look a third time since he knew it wasn't her. You may do what you want with this information. I did not separate them on the grounds of a conversation I admit to eavesdropping on. Your mother seemed to think them already engaged and adamant that she had to tell all of Meryton (your home town, I assume) that Jane had a rich husband. Even I could see Jane didn't agree with her sentiments. Then your sisters spoke up, and I believe I'd be terrified to meet them. They seem rambunctious, lively, and loud – none of those qualities in people that I like and dread to find. It's nothing personal and came out of my mouth completely wrong yesterday." Darcy finished, writing in the past tense when referring to The Confession (it was so horrible it deserved the caps) because he knew he'd be handing it to her the following day. Glancing at the clock sitting merrily on the bedside table, Darcy steeled himself for a long, restless night as it was already close to ten o'clock. It had taken him nearly two hours to write the easy part of his letter.

He stared out the darkened window at the rain he couldn't see, sighing. Darcy was not an overly pessimistic person (which everyone he knew would vehemently disagree with that statement), but he felt positively dreary faced with the prospect of bearing his soul to a young woman who'd stolen his heart and would never reenter his life after this to give it back.

"You told me I kept Wickham's college money from him, that I am responsible for his current inability to acquire a job with a decent salary. I'm not sure what sob story he told you, but I can assure you it is untrue. He's always been a gifted, charming liar; it is quiet easy to fall under his spell. I'll start in the beginning of our story, if it is apt to call it that.

"I grew up with Wickham (I'm sure he told you this, but I'll repeat it just in case of the impossible). His father was the landlord of my family's estate, Pemberley, and his mother was our sous-chef (cook? We don't have a chef…). George and I were about the same age (he is three years my senior), so our fathers assumed we'd become fast friends. We met their expectations and then some. Wickham became the brother I'd never had. Then, my sister was born when I was eleven and he was fourteen, and everything from then went downhill." Darcy had to stop writing then, memories flooding his eyes. He could recall the boy Wickham once was and speculated how everything had changed so fast. He rubbed at his eyes in a tired fashion, chewing on the pen some more before commencing with his letter to Elizabeth.

"My sister's birth isn't exactly the cause of all that happened, but it is a big event that was the prequel to everything. My mother died in childbirth, and my father was never the same again. I pushed everyone away, including Wickham, so we lost touch within a few months of Georgiana's entrance into the world. Mrs. Reynolds (then my nanny and the head cook/chef, now…well, the same, I suppose, just now she is the head of everything inside the house, form cleaning to tours) was the one in charge of rearing Georgiana, so she enlisted my help in raising Georgiana in hope to aid me in coping. I'm eternally grateful to her for doing that. My father became distant, not unlike I'd become, and so I didn't see Mr. Wickham, Wickham's father, or Wickham again until my father sent me to the all-boy's boarding school Wickham was attending. I was fifteen, Wickham was eighteen, and Georgiana was four.

"Having not kept correspondence with Wickham, I was surprised to see him at my school. I hadn't known my father was paying for his education. He'd changed for the worse then. Wickham was the school's star football (soccer for you) player, and he was the sister school's heartthrob. This I believed was capable by my innocent childhood friend, and I was happy for him. It wasn't until the second semester of my first year that I caught wind of his not so innocent ways. Wickham was a notorious heartbreaker and a cheater, which I believed was understandable given his current high status in the schools. I didn't commend his behavior; I just understood it. He graduated that year, and he actually did attend college after a year of absence. Wickham had always expressed a desire to backpack around Europe, so my father gave him a credit card and told him to fulfill his dreams. On my father's tab, Wickham spent errantly, and quickly ran up a six-digit bill within six months. I'm not entirely sure what conspired between them, but my father cut Wickham off after that.

"It was the last I heard of Wickham until his father died almost three years later of a heart-attack when Wickham was twenty-one. Wickham claimed he couldn't attend his own father's funeral, and it left his mother broken-hearted. He was mailed his inheritance at his then-current residence. His mother remarried within a year to a Mr. Garth Younge, on of the farm hands at Pemberley. Because of the quickness of the affair, we all, Wickham included, assumed Mrs. Wickham had been cheating on her husband. Because I wasn't there at Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds had been getting Mrs. Wickham to help raise Georgiana, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with it but said nothing. My father died of a stroke when I was twenty-three and Georgiana was twelve. With no father or mother and since I was at university, Georgiana's only parental figures were Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Wickham. My doubts about Mrs. Wickham became real just two years ago. This is where I pause in this sordid tale and beg you to keep the rest of the contents of this letter to yourself." Darcy felt severely ill as the all too fresh scar was being picked at. He almost called Georgiana just to hear her voice, to make sure she was all right, but he didn't because of the late hour. Biting his cheek, Darcy resumed writing.

"Georgiana was just sixteen, and Wickham was thirty. If you can remember yourself at sixteen, just imagine having the attention of a handsome, older man saying he loved you. Place yourself in her shoes as I continue, please. Or don't. It's painful, and I don't want to hurt you. I was not aware of their relationship because Georgiana hid it from me. Wickham approached her when she was at school (not boarding, the public one in Lambton), and once they became a 'couple,' he picked her up from school. Georgiana told me she was going out with friends, and I was exultant for her since she shares my inability to make friends. It was the first time she'd ever asked to 'hang out' at someone else's house, so I was extremely glad to give her my consent day after day, thinking her life finally was looking up. It was maybe two months along before I decided to see if I could meet some of Georgiana's 'friends' and their parents, so I called the number Georgiana supplied me with. A very irate, elderly man answered the phone, and within minutes I knew it was a wrong number. I became suspicious then and decided to take a weekend day off of my work around Pemberley to follow Georgiana around when she was supposed to go out with her 'friends.' I'm not proud of what I did, per se, but I am happy I did it.

"I saw you reading my file when we first met, the file of my stint in the modeling world. That had started out innocently enough because my mother believed I was a cute child, but as soon as she let my Aunt Catherine have reign over what I did, the job went sour. Because of this modeling job, Wickham was jealous of me, but I never knew. When I entered the same boarding school as him, I unknowingly stole his thunder. Again, he was bitter. From the beginning, he'd been envious of my position. I'd never realized any of this until two years ago when he decided to try and take everything I had left from me.

"I followed my sister to Wickham's house, unsure of what they were doing together. Because he'd been my childhood friend and wasn't a teenager anymore, I stupidly assumed he'd matured and had become a gentleman. I thought maybe he had a child; maybe he was married and had enlisted Georgiana as a babysitter. Although I did sneak around Wickham's crumbling flat, it was good I did. From my snooping, I finally got to witness what Georgiana had been doing for two months with her 'friends.' In search of the room where Wickham and Georgiana had gone into, I saw a room filled with nude hand-drawn pictures of my sister in provocative positions. The unfinished ones covered the floor, and the complete ones were framed on the walls. It was horrifyingly disgusting; I actually got sick on the side of the house." Darcy had to scramble to the nearest bathroom then, shoving the pen and legal pad aside, to dry heave into the toilet. The traumatizing images were still unfailingly fresh in his mind. Once his stomach had stopped contracting, Darcy took shaky breaths before he leaned his head under the faucet in the tub. He turned the knob for the cold water, letting it fall and wash away his burning hate. Elizabeth had to know. When he returned to his room, hair damp and cold, Darcy felt dead as he dropped listlessly onto the bed.

"I will finish this letter, and I will give it to Elizabeth." He told himself.

"From then on, I'm not sure my behavior was commendable. I broke into Wickham's flat, and that caused him to leave whatever room he had been in with my sister. He seemed shocked at first, but then he decided to bait me by asking me if I wanted to see his art gallery full of 'beautiful' Darcy models. I do not regret punching him in the face. Wickham was pretty unhealthy-looking and slim, but I'd never been in a fight before, unlike him. Neither of us noticed Georgiana poking her head around a corner to watch until I slammed him into a wall, holding him up by his shirt. By then, he'd broken my nose and bruised a couple of my ribs; I know I'd dealt more damage to him, but I remain unaware of the full extent even still. Georgiana was, thankfully, fully clothed when she ran at me and started hitting me in the back with her little fists, screeching at me to put her love down. Everything from then went horribly. It only took a check of twenty thousand pounds (about thirty thousand U.S. dollars) for Wickham to promise to leave my baby sister alone. Georgiana told me she hated me that day and that she'd get 'Nan Younge' (what she called Mrs. Wickham) to help her run away as I drove her home. Apparently, Mrs. Wickham had been helping her son with Georgiana's cover story by assuring Mrs. Reynolds that she'd spoken to Georgiana's 'friends' and their 'parents' since she had been the one to pick Georgiana up from school before her son took over that duty. Needless to say, I fired her the second I got home with Georgiana that day (Mr. Younge ended up divorcing her when he found out about what Mrs. Wickham had done).

"I didn't press charges against either of the Wickhams because of Georgiana. I had to send her to therapy to convince her neither Wickham loved her, and then she had to continue going to help her get over her mortification. Georgiana still has a once a month appointment with her psychiatrist, just in case her fears come back. We've gotten much, much closer since then, and I'm grateful for the change. I'm grateful Wickham has not been in contact with your own sisters, or else I fear something like this might have happened to you. I'm sorry for putting you through this, Elizabeth, but you had to be told."

Darcy threw the legal pad into the wall, confused and vexed. Did he have to tell Elizabeth? Could he reveal his little sister's darkest secret to Elizabeth? Did he have the right to? He almost got up to rip the letter to pieces, but he left it alone on the floor. Darcy rolled onto his side, staring out the window. It had stopped raining; he couldn't hear the pitter-patter of the droplets hitting the window anymore. He fell into an exhausted, emotionally drained sleep that resulted in nightmares he couldn't remember upon waking up in a cold sweat a scant few hours later. Not wanting to go back to sleep, Darcy left the bed and showered then, consulting his conscious beneath the scalding water as he cleansed his body.

Maybe it was the right thing to do, telling Elizabeth. Darcy had never told a soul of the story, and it was killing him internally. But was it fair to unload it onto Elizabeth? He felt better after writing the tale now, but he was unsure if he should he should give the unfinished letter to Elizabeth. Ultimately, he decided that she should know of Wickham's character before she went back into his slimy hands, so Darcy left the shower to finish the letter with just a towel on his hips.

"I will finish this letter with an apology for my poor conduct yesterday. You were underserving of my atrocious words. I hope you are feeling better and wish you the best of luck in life. If you would like to confirm these events, please don't shy away from asking Richard; he knows the story through Georgiana and can corroborate everything, if you wish.

"Sincerely, Fitzwilliam Darcy."

- (Crappy Break Line) -

Darcy could see all of Elizabeth's notes on his letter. They all amounted him to being a "big, stupid idiot" and Wickham being a "complete ass hat douche bag."

"Although the statement is a bit redundant, I am a big, stupid idiot." Darcy commented dryly, startling Elizabeth. She jumped and held a hand to her chest, looking up at him with her wide, sparkling blue eyes.

"I—I—how long have you been there?" Elizabeth asked meekly, trying to hide the letter. She had crossed out her original hateful comments quite thoroughly, but she still didn't want Darcy even trying to decipher them.

"Not long, I promise. How… how are things, Elizabeth? May I sit with you?" Darcy pointed at the patch of grass by her right side.

"Oh, um, its your property and all… um, Jane's well. She texted me earlier that Charlie came back on his knees begging for her forgiveness." Elizabeth shrugged, not meeting Darcy's stormy gaze as he sat down next to her. His knee, covered by jeans that were dirtied and frayed, brushed her bare knee. Now that she was next to him, Elizabeth could smell the scent of sweat and horses on Darcy's person.

"Yes… I told him it was wrong of me to convince him to leave Jane and that, well, she might not be as unattached as I'd believed her to be. He was on the next flight back." Darcy gave her a tight, awkward smile.

"Thank you, for that. Jane is… very happy." Elizabeth broke off, stiffening as the tension between them strengthened. A few minutes of silence passed between them before Darcy spoke.

"And how are you? Are you happy, Elizabeth?"

"I'm… honestly not. I want to apologize to you for my scathing words… I mean, you deserved it and all, but… I should have given you more credit than I did with that ass hat. So, I'm sorry. And I accept your apology – apologies, from the letter, I mean." Elizabeth responded, still not looking at Darcy's face. She scrutinized his body, feeling as if he'd lost some weight, but she wasn't sure. He still looked handsome and healthy, at any rate.

Although Darcy believed Elizabeth had nothing to apologize for, he could see it was important to her from her rueful, embarrassed mien.

"Apology accepted." They lapsed into silence again, some of the tension fading away. Neither wanted to place a name on the strain that remained, both remembering how they'd incorrectly read the other previously.

"I-I'm here with my aunt and uncle… I'm not here to… I can delete that picture, if you want." Elizabeth finally blurted out, blushing profusely. Darcy smiled, shaking his head. He grabbed her chin between his fingers, making her look at his face instead of his boot-clad feet; Elizabeth's eyes unwillingly zoomed in on his lips. They looked dry, and there was a healing cut near the bottom left corner. She wondered if it'd be uncomfortable to feel his stubble on her jaw.

"You can keep the picture if you look at me, Elizabeth. You don't have to be so shy."

Elizabeth barely heard his words. Darcy's ears were burning when he realized why her eyes were slightly south of his, and he dropped his gaze as well just in time to see her suck her upper lip into her mouth uncomfortably. He swallowed hard, wondering if it'd be prudent to try and kiss her. The tension between them had increased tenfold with shocking charge, but it was easily shattered by Elizabeth's phone vibrating and emitting a song Darcy would later learn was called "Tangled Up In Me" by Skye Sweetnam.

"Sorry, it's my aunt… Aunt Maida?" Elizabeth turned her back to Darcy, picking up her phone.

"Um, sorry I left, I, er… I'm just outside the door underneath the trees. I—what. You're where?" Elizabeth whirled around then, resting one hand on Darcy's knee to peer across the pond. He followed her gaze to see two people waving madly from the gazebo. The blood drained from Elizabeth's cheeks.

"Um, yeah, I see you, Aunt Maida… I'm with Darcy…. Yeah, as in the owner of this, erm, estate… We were not! Shut up! I'm hanging up on you!" Elizabeth yelped, the blood returning quickly to her cheeks as she hung up forcibly on her aunt.

"What was that about?" Darcy asked, glad that the ice had finally been broken. Elizabeth looked away, the hand on his knee tightening into a first.

"She, um, thought we were… yeah. And… we weren't." Elizabeth muttered, mortified beyond comprehension. Throwing caution to the wind, Darcy took a deep breath before inquiring, "What if we were?"

Elizabeth jerked her head to look at Darcy then. His eyes were downcast, locked onto her fist on his knee. Darcy took it up in both of his, gently prying her fingers from her palm and rubbing the pad of his thumb along her knuckles.

"Elizabeth, I still feel the way I did four months ago, though perhaps more ardently… if… if your feelings have changed, I… I'd like to ask you out. Properly, without al the bullocks attached." Darcy said, only looking up from Elizabeth's fingers at the end of his little confession, giving a rakish half-smile. Elizabeth was unaware that her heart was beating just as quickly as Darcy's was.

"I'd like that, very much." Elizabeth almost stammered, unable to fully appreciate the stunning grin Darcy gave her before he leaned forward and pressed it to her own, much smaller one. Elizabeth's earlier thought was answered as she realized that hi stubble didn't feel that uncomfortable at all; in fact, she could easily get used to it.

A/N: -hides from F.I. readers- So, yeah, this one-shot has been plaguing me for forever. I get random bouts of inspiration for it and finally finished it like a year-ish after first conceiving it. I know that I didn't accurately portray the modeling world and all… but I'm too lazy to look it up. o-o" Yeah, well… thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. :)

Edit: I kinda just realized I'd forgotten then disclaimer… so I just added that and italicized the letter part (because I was told it was a bit difficult to understand that part). :)

~ Tobi