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The Other Miss Bennett

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Note: Chronic coughing can be a mild variant of asthma, which I have decided is Kitty's diagnosis, being preferable to most other diseases that would give you a character note in the early 19th century of 'coughs a lot'

- - -

Kitty was never anyone’s anything.

Not her mother’s favourite, not her father’s. Not eldest or youngest or wittiest or prettiest.

Not troublesome, not helpful – she tried both, and failed intermittently in equal directions.

She was not the one people asked for, or asked after, or asked to marry them. No one even needed her to play the piano.

People forgot her, sometimes. Forgot amongst the cavalcade of Miss Bennetts who had stirred so much gossip at home and abroad, that there was that other one, no, not the plain, strange girl with that voice, the other one.

Once Lydia had left, many of those who Kitty had thought were their friends left too.

Kitty meant very little, it seemed, and days could pass with her only instruction from her parents being an injunction to curb her coughing, which tickled and strangled out of her with growing urgency the more frantically she tried to restrain it, her one feature.

- - -
“It is so awful to have people looking at you,” Georgiana said softly, and Kitty, looking up, still trying to ease the spasm of her throat, realised she had been followed in her flight from the Drawing Room.

Staying with her sister at Pemberley a mere three days so far, and Kitty felt she had distinguished herself little and most poorly. Georgiana could play and sing, could paint and embroider, and besides all that it was only her, one sister, one girl – such a life to have.

And yet Georgiana was quiet, when not called upon. Georgiana drew herself into chairs, small and scared, whenever anyone but the family was about, and though people took notice of her well enough, it was all too clear she hated and feared it.

But now she approached, carrying a small glass of wine.

“This might ease you a little, perhaps? Drink it slowly.”

Kitty took it from her hand, and swallowed the burning fluid and tried to breathe the vapours deep, to penetrate her recalcitrant lungs.

“I thank you,” she managed, at last, aware that her face was flushed and her eyes watering. “And indeed, I have wished too often to be looked at, and this is what it brings me. I am foolish, as it is often said.”

Slowly, Georgiana raised her hand and placed it gently on Kitty’s back, which was warm with exertion. “Your breathing is not easy. Perhaps the physician...”

“No, I beg you,” Kitty licked her lips, trying to regain control of the heaving of her chest. “This is nothing. It will pass presently. Sometimes in winter... but I am well, now, you need not trouble yourself.”

Rapidly, the hand was withdrawn, and Georgiana looking at the ground, stepping backwards, murmuring apologies.

“If you do not wish to go back to the party,” Kitty heard herself say, quite suddenly, “as I shall not, cannot indeed, now, you could sit with me. I do not like to be...” She took another gulp of air, slowing her speech. “It is frightening, to be alone when one cannot breathe.”

Turning, Georgiana smiled at her; as she moved, she came to stand directly before a candle, and seemed quite radiant.

- - -
“He is being most fixed in his attentions, Kitty; I do not think I can stand it.”

Kitty walked over to the window, following Georgiana’s gaze. “That makes three days this week he has ridden over. I pity the horse that must drag him about.”

She studied Georgiana’s expression, the fearful pallor of her complexion.

“Come then, we shall hide away. In a house this large it will be easy enough, and I am past master at the art.”

No gentlemen called on Kitty Bennett, not since the last soldier sighed at the ring on Lydia’s finger. But Kitty had never discovered herself to miss it, besides the simple ache for notice, which in itself disappeared, when Georgiana found her.

She slipped her hand into Georgiana’s, and as she lead her away and up the stairs, Georgiana stifled a giggle, a sound Kitty had but seldom heard from her.

“If you make me more proper, I shall make you more improper, until we meet at some place in the middle scarcely proper at all!” Kitty had observed the previous evening, teasing.

“If you are there, then I shall be at your side,” Georgiana had replied, quite seriously.

- - -
A seldom-used bedroom, draped in dust-cloths, that was where Kitty found for them to hide.

That was where it began to happen.

At the time, it might have passed for nothing – the hours they had allotted to make good their evasion dragged, and some diversion had to be supplied, and the drawers in the room yielded an old dressing set, and Georgiana had made the offer to tend to Kitty’s hair, which she had often lamented needed to be brushed twice daily to have any life at all.

The brush, and then Georgiana’s fingers, ran over her scalp, and Kitty felt as if she had never till that moment been in her body, as if she had been overlooked because there was nothing to see, nothing like the life that suddenly, then, began an insistent pulsing at her core, soft and secret, in the dark room, with only Georgiana to see her, and that seeing more than all that had ever been allotted her before added together.

- - -
“If I have done something to offend you, let me know my fault.” There was a crack in Georgiana’s voice, a deep-reaching pain Kitty could scarcely bear to hear. “You will not look at me; you will scarcely speak to me. Have I angered you in some way? Because I will make any recompense, Kitty, I will do anything you ask of me.”

Kitty turned to her, trying to blink back the tears from her own eyes, and was seized with coughing, a spasm that forced her to sit upon her bed and bend double, struggling through the mess of her own despair.

Coming near, Georgiana’s hands were on her back, cautious at first, then in their usual pattern; stroking, soothing, and Kitty turned, burying her head into Georgiana’s embrace, reaching out to hold her in return, to keep her close through all her shuddering.

Finally, after water and the administration of a handkerchief, she tried to speak, her voice thick with crying.

“I would never have you leave me. You have taught me who I am; I would never be parted from you. But I fear you will think I pay you too much attention, which is something you do not like.”

And Georgiana frowned, seemingly confused, as well she might be, for how could anyone guess what lay in Kitty’s mind?

So Kitty leaned towards her, thinking of wedding days and long walks and those for whom this might mean something joyful, and kissed Georgiana on the mouth, just as once a soldier with a cup too much inside him had kissed her. Only in no manner the same, because this, for all the salt tears in both their mouths, was sweet and rich and glorious.

Georgiana gasped; they both did, eventually.

“You are my Kitty,” she said, and though her words trembled, she was smiling, and catching up Kitty’s hands and pressing their foreheads together. “You are my Kitty, my one, my perfect, my own. You could not do anything I did not like.”

- - -
Kitty was never anyone’s anything, but she became Georgiana’s, in every way that ever really mattered to anyone.

They twisted into each other’s secrets, and gasped delighted together over what they discovered. They kept each other close, and hidden, and safe, and took the world as they found it, and found it well enough. They had names for each other, voices for each other, known to no one else.

And if gradually, over time, people noticed Georgiana a little less, because she was growing past thirty, and thought of marriage, especially in a girl independently wealthy, must have receded, and noticed Kitty a little more, because for all she was nobody and had nothing to recommend her, she seemed to have blossomed, and, once one had taken the trouble to address her, she emerged as charming company, well then, in that too, they were together.

- - -