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Flat 73

Chapter Text

It was cold and rainy the day that Elizabeth Bennet moved away from home. The anticipation of her move had been building for months, but when the day finally arrived, she couldn't bring herself to feel the excitement that she had been saving up. In a particularly inconvenient turn of events, her move had coincided with her younger sister, Kitty suffering a rather nasty case of appendicitis, and with her mother, father, and two of her four sisters preoccupied with taking care of Kitty, Elizabeth was left to move with the assistance of just one companion, her sister and closest friend, Jane Bennet.

Of course, it could have been much worse. It could have been Jane that required constant bed-rest and Elizabeth would’ve had to move in all on her own, as Jane was the only Bennet sister (save Elizabeth) that didn’t look tirelessly for excuses to get out of doing things that they didn’t want to.
The girls worked quickly to get all of Elizabeth’s cardboard boxes into the apartment building, the rain was relentless and Elizabeth hadn’t yet been assigned a parking space, forcing her to park her car in the only available spot that wasn't reserved, one at almost the very back of the lot. The cardboard boxes were quickly turning into mush despite Elizabeth and Jane’s best attempts.

They were about halfway through bringing the boxes inside when a black car with its windows tinted pulled into the parking space directly in front of the building that Elizabeth eyed so longingly every time she passed it carrying a rapidly deteriorating box of her belongings. A young man stepped out of the car, Elizabeth guessed that he was about her age, maybe a bit older. He had ginger hair that had been very successfully styled into a rather impressive pompadour.

As he shut the car door, his gaze caught Elizabeth’s. She imagined how ridiculous she must have looked, brown hair pasted to her face from the rain, and clothing sticking to her body in a decidedly unsexy way. He gave her a sympathetic look and pulled the hood of his jacket over his hair as he walked over to her.

“I assume you’re moving in,” he said cheerfully, the rain obviously having no effect on his mood.

Elizabeth nodded, struggling with the burden of the cardboard box. “Yes, I am. I’m Elizabeth Bennet.” She shifted the box to her hip with some difficulty so that she could hold out her hand for him to shake.

“I’m Charles Bingley.” The grin on his face only grew wider. His gaze floated away from Elizabeth’s face to see Jane walking towards them from the car. Elizabeth watched his face as Jane approached and saw the look of awe that crossed his features.

“Lizzie?” Jane asked, seeking an introduction to the freckle-faced young man before her.

“Ah, Jane. This is Charles Bingley.” She smiled as she looked from her sister to their new acquaintance. She sensed a spark between the two of them and walked away, partly to avoid being a third wheel, but mostly to get her box out of the rain. Based on the weight, she assumed it was books, and she couldn't stand to see her precious novels damaged.

She set the box down beside all of the other boxes they had brought in. Maybe it would be best if we just brought them all in now and carry them upstairs later, Jane had suggested. Lizzie made her way back out to the parking lot. Jane and Charles were both completely engrossed in the other’s company. Elizabeth’s reappearance pulled Charles out of his trance.

“Oh, I’m so rude!” He exclaimed. “Let me move my car so you don’t have to walk so far!”

Before either of the girls could protest, he was dashing back to his car. Elizabeth turned to Jane and shrugged. “I guess I’ll go move the car,” Elizabeth chuckled. “You go stand inside, you’re shivering.” Elizabeth jogged over to her car, shutting the trunk and climbing into the driver’s seat. She noticed Charles’ waiting to pull into the spot that she was about to leave vacant.

As she backed into Charles’ parking spot, she silently thanked him, grateful for the fact that no more of her belongings would be entirely drenched. She got out of the car and began carrying the rest of her things in, Jane and Charles joining shortly after. The three of them made quick work of the task, and after they’d finished they stood in the lobby of the apartment building chatting.

“So what floor are you on?” Charles enquired.

Elizabeth pulled out the copy of the email she’d printed out that morning. “Seventh,” she said. “Flat 76.”

Charles looked disappointed. “That’s a shame, I’m on the third floor,” he glanced down at the floor, fiddling with his keys. He perked up, “But, my friend Will Darcy lives on the seventh floor. Flat number 73! I’m sure you’ll enjoy his company. Pleasant fellow, Will is.”

Jane smiled at Elizabeth. Over the past twenty-three years together, the sisters had perfected the art of communicating without words, which came in handy in the Bennet household where their three younger sisters lived, all of them being very good listeners and incredibly terrible secret keepers. There’s one for you, too, Jane’s eyes said.

Elizabeth rolled hers. I can’t be bothered with one, Janie, she soundlessly retorted. Charles didn't seem to have picked up on their conversation, as he was still going on about his friend. Elizabeth glanced over to the pile of boxes. It was getting late and there was nothing she wanted more than to crawl into bed with a good novel.

“Do you want to start taking things upstairs, Jane?” She asked, gesturing towards boxes, some of which were beginning to cave in after so long in the rain.

Jane snapped out of her daze, and began to pick up a box. Elizabeth followed suit, and unsurprisingly, so did Charles. The three of them crammed about six or seven boxes into the lift, and Charles declared that he should stay with Elizabeth’s remaining boxes while she and Jane took the rest up to the seventh floor.

As soon as the lift doors closed, Jane turned to her sister. The look on her face very evidently displayed the thoughts that were racing through her mind. She sighed wistfully, “I really don't think that I have ever felt as happy as I do right now.”

Elizabeth looked over at her sister, shaking her head and chuckling at her sister’s sudden change in behaviour. “I don't know. You were quite happy when mum let you keep that kitten you found on the side of the road.”

Jane giggled and hid her face in her hands. “He’s so lovely, Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth nodded in agreement as the doors opened on the seventh floor. Her gaze immediately landed on a man, standing in the hallway and waiting for the lift. He stared back at her, his dark green eyes gliding over every inch of her. His eyes landed on their boxes and realizing that their exit from the lift would take longer than he expected, he huffed and headed for the stairs, his curly dark brown hair bouncing slightly as he strode towards the heavy door at the end of the hall.

Elizabeth scoffed, miffed at the handsome stranger’s rudeness. “What an unpleasant man,” she said as she bent to pick up a box.

“He may be having a bad day, Elizabeth,” Jane chided. “Just ignore him, we have more pressing matters to attend to.”

She reached for the closest box and began emptying the lift of her sister’s belongings. When all of the boxes had been placed carefully in the hallway, Elizabeth walked quickly down the hallway to find flat 76.

Her eyes landed on the door and reached for the key in her pocket. As she unlocked the door she heard Jane picking up a box and beginning to walk towards where Lizzie was pushing open the door.

Her eyes darted around the flat. It was more than she had ever imagined. The flat, paid for in part by her aunt and uncle, was fully furnished and Elizabeth struggled to keep her jaw from dropping open. The front opened onto a small entryway and beyond than an open space, the living room to the left and the kitchen to the right. There was a door directly to her right that she imagined led to the bedroom.

She heard Jane’s footsteps behind her and moved into the flat to allow her sister room to pass. She jogged back to the lift, letting out a soft laugh when she heard he sister’s gasp. As she approached the lift, she heard it ding, and the doors slide open. Charles’ had come up with the rest of her boxes. His smile seemed to have gotten wider since she had left him. She wondered if he ever stopped smiling.

“Elizabeth, I just saw Will down in the lobby!” She paled. That awfully rude man couldn't have been him, she thought. “Did you happen to run into him?”

“Dark, curly hair, green eyes, ridiculously tall?” She enquired, praying that the answer would be no.

“Yeah! That’s him!”

Elizabeth smiled and nodded. Pleasant fellow, my arse, she thought as she bent to pick up another box.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth closed her eyes as the hot water from the shower head washed over her hair and face. The incident with Will Darcy had rattled her a bit. She had hoped, after seeing the spark of mutual infatuation between Jane and Charles, that something similar was in store for her. How fitting it would have been, a new city, a new life, a new man (not that there had ever been an old one), in her life. She had felt the glimmer of possibility deep in the pit of her stomach, and she had felt it die.

It died with an unceremonious huff and a roll of the eyes that didn’t go unnoticed. Elizabeth turned the shower head off, but remained standing in the shower for just a moment, arms crossed, not quite ready to re-enter the buzzing environment that her lovestruck sister had created.

Elizabeth could never be jealous of Jane. Jane was too kind, and too compassionate, and too sincere for Elizabeth to ever be jealous of her. Jane had had just as little success in the matters of love as Elizabeth had. They’d both spent their teenage years with few romantic interactions. What spark did survive the first conversation was
usually suffocated by the undeniable disconnect between the two sisters and the boys that chased after them.

She wrapped a towel around herself and wrung the excess water out of her hair. She could hear her sister singing love songs from the kitchen. She’d never seen Jane like this, but it made her happy. Jane’s past heartache warranted a happy ending.

Elizabeth dressed quickly and followed the light sounds of her sister’s rendition of ‘La Vie En Rose’ to the kitchen. A steaming cup of tea awaited her on the counter and she thanked her sister for her thoughtfulness. She sat down on the soft leather couch and tucked her legs up. Jane sat down on the opposite end of the couch and smiled down at her tea.

Elizabeth sipped her tea and looked expectantly at her sister. “Okay, Janie. Tell me everything.”

Jane looked up with a grin, as if she’d been waiting for Lizzie to ask. After all of the boxes had been brought into the flat, Elizabeth had left Jane and Charles alone in the hallway for a moment of privacy while she showered.

“Well, he asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him, obviously. We talked for a little bit, just about his job- he’s a curator at the art museum downtown, but his family’s quite wealthy,” Jane paused. Elizabeth would never believe that this would be the sole reason for her sister’s attraction to the young man, although others might be harder to convince. Jane continued, “He asked me to go for coffee with him. He said we could go to the museum after and he could show me around.”

Elizabeth could hear the glee in her sister’s voice. “So when are you going out?” Elizabeth asked.

“He suggested Sunday morning,” she answered, her smile resurfacing again.

“How about we go out tomorrow, then? See a bit of the city?” Jane nodded. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when you go back home.”

“You can keep an eye on Charles for me,” Jane suggested, bursting into a fit of laughter with her sister.

“Come on, Janie,” Lizzie sighed. “It’s getting late, let’s head to bed.”

The following morning was one of ease. With nothing to do all day, Jane and Elizabeth spent their morning quietly. They unpacked the stereo first, so that they could listen to music while they emptied out the boxes that littered the apartment. You might as well unpack everything while I’m here, Jane had said, heaven knows you won’t do it once I’ve left. Elizabeth knew that her sister was right, so she didn’t bother to protest when Jane handed her a box of books.

Elizabeth found it very calming, organizing all of her precious books. The walls had shelving built in and in just under a half an hour, they were full of books, and picture frames, and memories from home. When she looked around the apartment she realized that Jane had already emptied four of the ten boxes. All of Elizabeth’s kitchenware had been put away, her towels neatly folded and stowed away under the bathroom sink, and her bed had been made with a great deal of care.

Elizabeth hugged her sister. “I don’t know what I would do without you, Janie.” Jane smiled at her. Elizabeth had often thought how grateful she was to have been blessed with such a caring and selfless sister. She truly didn't know how she was going to cope when Jane left.

Later that day, Jane and Elizabeth headed out to see the town. They stopped into several shops, a quaint boutique, a soap store, and a small bookshop. Jane picked up a novel and sat down in an armchair while Elizabeth wandered through the bookshelves. She was amazed at how many books fit in such a small shop. She turned around a corner and began running her finger along the spines of the books when the sound of someone clearing their throat broke her away from her thoughts.

She looked up to see Will Darcy standing before her. He held three novels in his hand, all three of which looked to be vintage and leather-bound. He stood very still as if he was regretting calling her attention.

“I have been informed that you are a new tenant of the building,” he said stiffly. She nodded and he continued, “My name is Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He extended his hand and she took it tentatively. There wasn’t another word shared between them, he walked away before she could say anything.

What a peculiar man, she thought to herself. He was so tall that as he paid for his books and left the shop, she could see his mop of dark curls over the bookshelves. It took her several minutes to comprehend the encounter that she had just had, and still she barely had a grasp on what happened.

She wandered back over to Jane, who seemed to have noticed Darcy as well. “Was that Lift Darcy?” She asked, leaning forward in her chair.

Elizabeth nodded, “Undoubtedly.”

It was around seven o’clock when the perplexing Mr. Darcy once again came up in conversation. Elizabeth and Jane had rooted through every article of clothing that they had between them searching for something for Jane to wear to see Charles the next day.

“How about this?” Elizabeth suggested, holding up a dark green wrap dress.

Jane furrowed her brow and looked at the dress thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” she mused. “It might be a bit too formal for coffee and a trip to the museum.”

Elizabeth hung the dress in the closet. She pulled out a simple, denim shirt dress and held it up. “Thoughts?” She enquired.

“That might be it,” Jane smiled. She began pulling off her jeans and tugging her sweater over her head, slightly tousling her blonde waves in the process. Elizabeth held the dress out to her sister and she eagerly grabbed it and pulled it over her head. It suited her quite well, and Elizabeth stepped back to watch her sister as she examined herself in the mirror.

She turned to Elizabeth, “Yup. This is it,” she giggled, turning back to the mirror.

Elizabeth smiled as she watched her sister. There was something very potent about Jane’s happiness. Her laughter was so bubbly that anyone who heard it couldn't help but laugh along with her. To see Jane so full of joy was refreshing and made her wish that her sister didn't have to leave her alone in that lonely apartment.

Jane turned to her, with a rather serious look on her face. “So,” she started, “now that we’ve got one thing settled, we must discuss another.”

“Oh, what is it?” Elizabeth grumbled. “Is this about that thing Mum caught Lydia doing when she though we were all out?”

Jane shook her head, “Goodness, no. I’d rather not relive that.”

“Then what is it?” Elizabeth asked, flopping onto her bed.

“Mr. Darcy,” Jane smirked. “We have to discuss it.”

Elizabeth sighed, “What even is there to discuss, Janie?” She rolled over onto her stomach and propped a pillow beneath her chin. “He’s an exceedingly unpleasant man, and if I should never speak to him again, I’d be rather pleased.”

“Lizzie, you really should watch your tongue.” She had pulled the dress off and put her pyjamas on. As she hung the dress up, she continued, “Maybe he was just having a bad day when we first saw him. What did he say to you today?”

Elizabeth’s smile dropped away and she imitated Darcy’s almost blank look. “I have been informed that you are a new tenant of the building,” she said, mocking his deep voice, “My name is Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Jane giggled, “His name is Fitzwilliam? That’s rather,” she paused, trying to find a word that wouldn't sound too cruel, “…unique.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, “That’s for sure.” She sat up on her bed and looked away from Jane. She shook her head, “You know it really is rather unfortunate, that such an attractive man would have such an unattractive personality.”

“Perhaps you should get to know him before you make such a quick judgement on his character,” Jane said, yawning. Elizabeth sat quietly for a moment.

“Perhaps I should, but I won’t.” She smiled. “For I have vowed to loathe him for all of eternity.” The sisters lapsed back into giggles as Elizabeth changed into her pyjamas.
They settled in for the night with an old movie and steaming cups of tea. As she sat beside her, Elizabeth could feel Jane’s excitement bubbling beneath the surface, and she was content.

Chapter Text

“Here, let me fix your eyeliner.” Jane leaned forward to allow Elizabeth to touch up the dark line the ran across her eyelid. They were sitting on the edge of Elizabeth’s bathtub, frantically trying to get Jane ready for her date.

“Lizzie,” Jane said quietly.

“Yes, Jane?”

“I’m nervous.” Elizabeth pulled away. She looked at her sister’s face, the corners of her delicately painted mouth were turned downward in worry. Elizabeth stroked her sister’s face with her hand and brushed away a stray lock of hair, attempting to comfort her.

“There’s no need to be nervous, Janie,” she said softly. “You and Charles are so alike, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I really hope so, Lizzie.” She perked up. “I feel that there is something so rare between us. Something I can’t quite name, but something that is so special.” She paused, and looked down at her hands. “I am so terrified that I’ll lose it, that I’ll say something ridiculous and he’ll never speak to me again.”

Elizabeth sighed, “Jane, you are perhaps the most singular young woman that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I imagine that Charles feels exactly the same way and that fears just as much that he will lose you.”

Jane pulled her sister close to her, hugging her tightly. Elizabeth struggled to get her arms out to wrap them around her sister.

“I love you, Lizzie,” Jane said softly.

“I love you, too, Janie.” Elizabeth pulled herself out of Jane’s arms. She glanced at her phone. “It’s nearly eleven, when did you say he was picking you up?”

“Quarter past eleven,” Jane confirmed.

“Then we’d better get you ready.”

When Jane had left for her date, Lizzie flopped onto the couch. It had been quite a task calming her sister’s nerves, but after several cups of tea and a good amount of kind words, she’d succeeded, and Jane was almost shaking with excitement.

Elizabeth sat up and grabbed a book from the coffee table, glanced at the title and cracked it open, eager to escape the stress that moving had caused her.

Elizabeth started her new job on Monday. After graduating from university, she had been offered a job as the assistant to the publishing editor at de Bourgh Publishing. The publishing house was one of the most esteemed in the country and Elizabeth still could hardly believe that she’d been offered a job there.

Her family and friends had assured her time and time again that she was perhaps the most deserving of the job out of all of the various applicants. And she was. Elizabeth had worked hard throughout the entirety of her university career. She was the head of the English department’s assistant, she had maintained a stellar grade point average for four straight years, and she had devoted herself entirely to her studies.

When she was reading, Elizabeth often lost track of time. Before she knew it, it had turned six o’clock. Jane still hadn’t come back, but she had texted Lizzie.

Elizabeth picked up her phone and read the message, Lizzie, Charles and I lost track of time and he suggested we all go out to dinner.

Lizzie typed her reply, Sounds great! Where shall I meet you?

She watched as three small dots appeared on her screen, Don’t worry about the address, Charles’ friend, Fitzwilliam will drive you.

Elizabeth groaned. She dreaded spending time with the abrasive Mr. Darcy, but she had already told Jane she’d go. Elizabeth’s first encounter with Fitzwilliam had been wholly unpleasant, but their meeting in the bookstore had softened her already wavering opinion of him, because although his manner was stiff, he seemed genuine.

It was already suppertime, so Elizabeth figured that her escort would be arriving soon. She tossed her phone aside and went to her bedroom to find something to wear.

She reached for the green dress Jane had rejected earlier, holding it up to herself. She admired the dress in the mirror, cocking her head to the side quizzically. She tossed the dress on the bed and began attempting to tame her hair.

She brushed it through quickly and then pulled back a few pieces from the front and pinned them at the back of her head. She looked in the mirror and nodded to herself, “Good enough.”

All of her makeup was strewn haphazardly around the bathroom in the wake of her and Jane’s preparation for the date that morning. Elizabeth walked around the bathroom, picking up the things she knew she’d need and leaving the rest to be cleaned up later. She had gathered her eyeliner, mascara, and pressed powder before she sat down on the edge of the bath and began applying her makeup.

After a speedy five minute application, she changed into the dress and slipped on a pair of nude heels. She slumped onto the sofa and waited for Mr. Darcy to arrive. She picked up the book she had been reading earlier and cracked it open, estimating the page she’d last read.

She sat for a few minutes before a sharp knock at the door pulled her from the pages of her novel. She tossed it onto the coffee table and walked slowly to the door, happy for any opportunity to slightly inconvenience the unpleasant Mr. Darcy. She opened the door to reveal Fitzwilliam Darcy, standing a few steps back in the hallway. When he saw her, there was a visible change in his demeanour. He looked her over, his eyes momentarily resting on her bare arms and chest.

He was wearing a perfectly tailored suit and Elizabeth couldn't help but admire how well the blue material showed off his strong shoulders and lean build. His dark hair still appeared slightly tousled, but Elizabeth could tell that some effort had been put into its appearance. As Elizabeth’s eyes glided over his frame, she noticed a pair of tortoise shell glasses were peeking out from within his pocket.

He wrung his hands nervously and cleared his throat. “We should get going.” He glanced at his watch. “Charles is expecting us for seven.” He turned and walked away and Elizabeth scrambled to keep up. She grabbed her keys, purse, and cell phone, hoping that she hadn’t forgotten anything. She locked her front door and caught up to him at the lift.

“You know, you didn’t have to rush me.”

He didn't say anything and the awkward silence between them was broken by the ding of the elevator arriving at their floor. He gestured for her to step into the lift and followed after her. He pressed the button for the ground floor and Elizabeth edged into the opposite corner of the lift. The entire ride was silent, and Elizabeth wanted desperately for him to say something, if only to prove that he wasn't as awful as she had originally thought. But he said nothing, and neither did she, and the opportunity vanished as soon as it had appeared.

They walked out to his car together. The sun was just beginning to set and had dipped below the top of the apartment building. Elizabeth was just about to reach for the car door handle when Fitzwilliam’s hand grasped the handle and pulled it open for her. He laid his hand on her shoulder and gently ushered her into the front seat of the car. Elizabeth’s skin burned where he had touched her, despite the layers of clothing that had separated her skin from his. Perhaps I have misjudged him, she thought, what if Jane was right?

The restaurant was small, and as Lizzie entered she could see Jane and Charles sitting towards the back of the dining room. He was saying something into her ear, and Elizabeth couldn't help but hold back a small smile as her sister laughed softly. She looked towards Fitzwilliam, standing beside her, and was taken slightly aback by the gentle smile that occupied his features as he looked down on her. Elizabeth turned away and began to walk towards Jane and Charles.

Elizabeth Bennet was the possessor of a plethora of admirable qualities. She was kind, and well-read, and perhaps one of the cleverest young women of the decade. But despite all of these redeeming qualities, and regardless of her accomplishments, Elizabeth was incredibly judgemental. She was quick to prejudice, and this combined with her underlying pride, made it nearly impossible for her to admit that she had misjudged a person’s character.

She could not bring herself to acknowledge the thought that she had been wrong about Fitzwilliam Darcy, so she turned away from him and ignored the feeling of guilt that was growing inside of her mind.

Chapter Text

The conversation had started pleasantly, if not a bit boring. They discussed the usual topics, the weather, recent politics, and such. Elizabeth found herself contributing more to the conversation than she ever thought she could in the presence of Mr. Darcy. She had promised herself that she would remain civil with Fitzwilliam Darcy for Jane’s sake, even if that meant keeping silent. But Mr. Darcy had remained courteous and Lizzie enjoyed their conversation.

Halfway through dinner, Elizabeth noticed that the majority of the conversation was held between Darcy and herself, with Jane or Bingley interjecting the occasional statement or question, but mostly just chattering softly to themselves. One of these interjections, however, completely altered the course of the conversation.

“Will, how is your sister?” His enquiry had ended a rather entertaining back and forth between Elizabeth and Darcy about their literary preferences.

“She is quite well,” he said simply. Charles eyes stayed on him, expecting him to elaborate. He went on, “She is still attending school at Rosings, but this is her final year.”

“And how is she getting on with her studies?” Charles leaned forward, listening intently for Darcy’s answers. His focus was broken by a sudden realization that Darcy’s manner had stiffened. “I apologize if I make you uncomfortable, Will. It’s just that when I last spoke to Caroline she was quite eager to learn of Georgiana’s latest achievements.”

“She’s become quite proficient at the piano,” Darcy answered. “She’s been offered a scholarship to study music in London.”

“I’m sure Caroline will be glad to hear that!” Charles smiled. “She has always been rather invested in the affairs of your sister and yourself.”

“Yes,” Fitzwilliam answered. “I’ve always found it quite strange.”

Charles turned back to Jane, and Fitzwilliam took a long drink from his wine glass. When he had finished, Elizabeth turned to him slightly and propped her elbows up on the table, resting her chin on her folded hands.

“How old is your sister, Fitzwilliam?” She enquired.

“Georgiana has just turned seventeen,” he answered. It was obvious to Elizabeth that Darcy did not enjoy small talk, even though their present situation required it.

Elizabeth smiled at him. “I have a sister of that age. My sister Kitty is seventeen, as well.” Darcy made no reply, and Elizabeth, sufficiently put out by his coldness, straightened in her seat and tried to keep him out of her line of sight. She had noticed a very distinct shift in Darcy’s demeanour when his sister was mentioned. She concluded that the subject of Georgiana Darcy was one that Fitzwilliam preferred to discuss privately with intimate friends, which Jane and Elizabeth were not.

She was quiet the rest of the night, trying desperately to focus her attention on the stories that Jane and Bingley were telling her. But she couldn’t. Elizabeth wanted so desperately to hate Fitzwilliam and to put him out of her mind, but she couldn’t. She was wrong in assuming that because of his manner and his unpleasantness, that it would be easy for her to label him a self-important and impolite man, and to disregard the impression that he thought very little of her.

As plates were cleared and glasses of wine emptied, Elizabeth was at last forced to face the reality that she would again have to endure a silent and painfully awkward car ride back to the flat. As the party stood to leave, Elizabeth wobbled slightly, due in part to her out of the ordinary consumption of alcohol, and the shoes that were growing more painful by the second. She felt a strong hand on the small of her back, steadying her, and she knew that it was Mr. Darcy. His touch was just as it had been earlier, soft and gentle, but with a reassuring firmness.

Jane and Bingley walked ahead of them, still so absorbed in their own conversation and barely taking notice of the two that followed them. Elizabeth’s head felt a little hazy, and her legs felt as if they were made of jelly. She had never been much of a drinker, it had never really appealed to her. She hated the taste and she hated the effects, which affected her much more severely than anyone she had ever known. But sitting there next to Mr. Darcy had made her nervous, and the glass of wine that had been poured out for her seemed to be the best option to quell her anxieties.

She allowed his hand to guide her out of the restaurant and towards his car. The door was opened for her and she ducked in, immediately buckling her seatbelt and wiping the sweat from her palms on her dress. Her heart jumped when she heard the other car door open. Fitzwilliam sat down and his hands fumbled with the key. Elizabeth watched him and he felt a hot flush bloom on his cheeks under her gaze. Finally he managed to fit the key into the ignition, solving his immediate problem, but doing nothing to stop the shaking of his hands.

An uncomfortable silence hung between them. Fitzwilliam reached out and turned on the radio, hoping to relieve some of the tension. Lizzie, acutely aware of every sound in the car, relaxed with the addition of the radio, letting out a held breath when the first few notes of an unfamiliar symphony streamed gently from the car’s stereo system.

She sensed Mr. Darcy relax slightly, as much as someone like him can, she thought to herself. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, and Elizabeth, finally giving up the hope that he may try and say something, began rooting through her bag for her cell phone. She looked up in a mixture of shock and satisfaction when Mr. Darcy finally said something.

“Miss Bennet,” he began. “I hope you’ve had an agreeable evening.”

Why does he have to be so damn formal?, Elizabeth thought to herself with more than a twinge of frustration. “I have,” she said, smiling at him. “I’ve had a wonderful time.” She couldn't bear to see conversation die again, so she kept talking, trying to push him into saying something that she could work with. “I hope that you can say the same, Mr. Darcy.”

He cleared his throat, trying to find words. “I believe that I can,” he said, not entirely satisfied with his choice of words, however simple they may have been. He didn’t want to let too much of himself show just yet. He wanted to remain reserved while he unraveled the tangles of emotions in his mind. It might take him awhile, but he was determined to sort out his feelings.

Elizabeth hadn't seen another soul as she followed Mr. Darcy through the lobby, into the elevator, and to her front door. The hallway seemed to be almost colder than it was outside, and she rubbed her hands over her upper arms as goose bumps began to dot her skin. They were standing in front of the door of her flat. Darcy was standing quite near to her, as close as Lizzie had ever been to him. She could hear the soft sounds of his breath, quiet and steady. As she stood across from him, she could feel the heat from his body radiating towards her and all she wanted was to have him draw her towards her and warm her.

Elizabeth was almost sure of the fact that he was leaning towards her. Maybe she was imagining it, but she wanted so badly for it to be real. In her want and in her mild intoxication she found herself rising up onto her toes, fluttering her eyes closed, and puckering her lips slightly.

A pair of strong hands positioned themselves firmly on her shoulders, stopping her from moving any closer. A gentle press from Mr. Darcy planted her feet firmly back on the ground. Her eyes opened to Fitzwilliam looking at her with a look of astonishment and bewilderment.
“Goodnight, Miss Bennet.” He turned away, and Elizabeth’s chest felt heavy with dejection, disappointment, and an intense feeling of anger and indignation.

Elizabeth turned quickly to her door, frantically trying to pull her key out of her pocket. She would not allow herself to cry in front of Mr. Darcy. But he had already disappeared into his flat, and Elizabeth felt no need to hide her tears as she slipped into the refuge of her flat.

Darcy was leaning against the inside of his front door, unable to move with shock and regret. He slid down the door, sitting down and sheltering his face in the palms of his hands. He was unable to believe how stupid he had been. He had his chance, and he had thrown it away. She would never want to see him again, considering how severely he had humiliated her. He breathed a deep sigh of resignation, accepting the fact that Elizabeth Bennet would never think of him as anything but a self-important arse.

“Fuck,” he breathed, and stood up, his eyes fixed on the bottle of gin that sat on his kitchen counter.

Chapter Text

“I hate to use such profane language,” Charles started, “But, Will… you really have fucked it up this time.”
Fitzwilliam sighed, rubbing at his tired eyes and leaning on the countertop. “I know… I just didn't know what to do.” He refilled his cup of tea and stared meditatively at the dark liquid in the mug. “She was standing right there, and I knew that I could do it - kiss her, I mean - but I couldn't do it with a clear conscience. I could tell that she was drunk, and I couldn't do it knowing that she wouldn't remember it or even be able to stop me, if she wanted to.”
Charles nodded thoughtfully. “I understand,” he said. “Just know that as horrible as you feel now, you’d feel much worse if you had’ve done it, regardless of what your conscience told you.”
Fitzwilliam set down the mug and took a quick glance at his watch. “It’s nearly 8:30,” he stated. “You’d better get going, I’ve got to be at work for nine.”
“I suppose I should,” he said, smiling. “I’m meeting Jane this morning.”
“Be careful with that one, Charlie,” he warned. “Don’t get yourself in too deep, too fast.”
Charles scoffed, “Don’t worry about me, mate.” He stood up and grinned at his friend, “I’d be more concerned about the other Miss Bennet, if I were you.” With a wink and a wave, he left the apartment. Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes and began gathering his things for work, trying to ignore the pounding in his head.
Elizabeth sat in her car for twenty minutes after arriving at de Bourgh Publishing. She had left early, to be sure that she would be there on time, and had arrived forty minutes before she was supposed to be there. The longer she stared at it, the more intimidating the building became. It was an old building, its entire front lined with windows, a red panelled door was tucked between the pillars of a stilted arch, and complete with a small black sign hung just above the door beneath the curve of the arch. Elizabeth read it over again, still unsettled by its words. Her eyes floated over the words de Bourgh Publishing painted in white capital letters, graceful but chilling.
Elizabeth checked her watch, resolving that quarter to nine was the right time to enter. She took off her glasses and tossed them into her bag. Elizabeth avoided wearing her glasses and only did so today out of need, having forgotten to put in her contact lenses before leaving. Obsessed with being on time, she had come to the conclusion that she couldn’t spare the time to go back and had taken the eyeglasses out of the glove compartment of her car, where a spare pair were always kept. She grabbed her satchel and her keys and left the safety of her car. A cold gust of wind snatched at the back of her neck as she walked across the street and she turned up the collar of her coat against it. Despite this protection, she still felt a chill run down her back. Just nerves, she told herself, but she knew that it was something more. Maybe it was anger, she couldn’t tell. Although she was by far the most rational of her sisters, she still found it difficult to decipher the things that she felt and act logically during emotionally-charged situations. If she found her pride wounded, she was incapable of sensibility and could not stop herself from saying things that she shouldn’t.
As she pushed open the door, she held her breath. She stepped into the foyer and took a quick glance around the room. Directly in front of her was a large white desk with a dark-haired woman sat behind it, she was on the phone but when she saw Elizabeth, she smiled. Elizabeth smiled back and let her eyes wander around the room. The foyer was small, but with a ceiling that went all the way to the top of the building. Each floor had an open space that looked out onto the foyer, and Elizabeth could see men and women in suits striding back and forth, their briefcases swinging with each step. There were a few people leaning against the glass railing, chatting and laughing. Elizabeth looked farther up, squinting in the daylight that streamed through the skylight above her.
She heard the receptionist hang up the phone and her eyes fell back to the desk. She approached the desk, calmed slightly by the presence of a friendly and smiling face.
“My name is Elizabeth Bennet,” she began. “I’m starting as the publishing editor’s assistant today.”
A spark of recognition crossed the girl’s face and she nodded. “Yes, I was told you’d be coming today. My name is Charlotte. Charlotte Lucas. You can call me Lottie, though, everyone does.”
Elizabeth held her hand out and Lottie shook it gently. “So, where am I supposed to go and who am I to answer to?”
“Well, until this morning it was my understanding that you would be Ms. de Bourgh’s assistant, but there’s been a slight change of plans.”
Elizabeth tensed, as Lottie continued, “Ms. de Bourgh has had to take a leave of absence, and her nephew has temporarily taken her place as publishing editor, so you’ll be assisting him instead.”
Lizzie relaxed again, thankful she hadn’t been fired. I can’t believe I’ve been sacked before even starting the job, she had thought to herself. She pushed the thought out of her mind, straightened herself, and restored her smile. “Alright, where shall I go, then?”
“Room fifty-two, floor five. The elevators are just to your left.” As Elizabeth turned away, Lottie caught her attention again. “Oh, Elizabeth! I’m not entirely certain he knows you’re coming. Ms. de Bourgh’s decision to leave has been rather spur of the moment. Everyone here is at Ms. de Bourgh’s beck and call, I suppose, but I’m sure you’ll like her nephew.”
Elizabeth knocked swiftly on the door to room fifty-two, and a man’s voice called out for her to come in. She pushed open the heavy, white wooden door and stopped. Fitzwilliam Darcy stood behind the desk, shuffling through a few papers. Elizabeth watched him, feeling her heart fill with a renewed sense of contempt. He didn’t look up, but instead gathered up the papers and slipped them into a folder that he then picked up and carried over to a filing cabinet in the corner.
As he was flipping through the other folders in the cabinet, he spoke. “How can I help you?” His tone was frank, but not altogether unkind. Elizabeth gathered her senses and answered him.
“It’s my first day here,” she started. He lifted his head at her words. “I’m to be your new assistant.”
He dropped the file onto the open drawer and turned to her, a look of poorly concealed shock across his face. “Miss Bennet,” he said, deliberately draining all emotion from the address. He examined her for a moment, and then turned back to the cabinet. “I see,” he paused. “Well, then… help me with this mess, if you can find it within yourself to be of use.”
She was taken aback by his sudden change in tone. While his tone had begun indifferent, it had quickly become rather cruel and condescending. Elizabeth dropped her satchel and coat on one of the armchairs in the corner and began tidying, trying to hide her face and the sullen look that had taken over her features.
Fitzwilliam Darcy never responded well to being caught off guard. He had thought that he would be spending the day sorting through his aunt’s notes and trying to return the publishing house to some form of order. But instead, found himself doing both of those things while also trying to avoid worsening the situation with Miss Bennet, the latter of which he had already failed to do. He didn’t mean to take such a tone with her, but the shock of her appearance and the definitiveness of her statement had unseated his assuredness in himself. I’m to be your new assistant, she had said in a tone so matter of fact it dared him to challenge it. The desperate need to elevate his pride had come at the cost of hers. But what should have made him feel superior, instead made him feel like a boorish and callous fool. He dwelled upon the cruelty of his actions for just a moment, before resolving to instead worry about and criticize the behaviour of others.
His aunt’s actions were an inconvenience, but in no way surprising. As usual, his aunt had acted without any regard for the consequences of her actions and had left London to visit her daughter, Anne, at Rosings Park, a boarding school in Kent, where the young woman was a teacher and where Georgiana Darcy, Fitzwilliam’s young sister, was a student. His aunt often left the city to visit her daughter, almost always giving only a day’s notice. Several months ago, Catherine de Bourgh had left the city only two days before one of the biggest launches that the publishing company had seen since she had taken over control following her late husband’s death.
Darcy shut the drawer of the filing cabinet, turning to face Elizabeth. She was leaned over his desk, one hand placed firmly on the desktop while the other shuffled papers around, reading them briefly and then sorting them into piles. Her hair fell in front of her face and he watched as she lifted her hand to tuck it behind her ear, still skimming over the contents of the handwritten papers that her eyes were fixed on. Her face was determined, and her brow furrowed slightly in her concentration. Her warm brown eyes were veiled by her thick lashes, and he watched as she picked up a pair of glasses from the desk and put them on. She lifted a paper off the desk and examined it carefully, standing up and pursing her lips. She stared at the paper while she thought, and finally decided that it should go in the pile of papers farthest to her left. She pushed the sleeves of her sweater up to her elbows and tied her hair back. She continued with her work, and Darcy found it quite amusing to watch how often the round horn-rimmed glasses slid down the bridge of her nose, and how absent-mindedly she would shove them back up only to have them fall back down minutes later.
She was so perfectly disheveled, and everything about her in that moment attracted him to her. But he was sure that she would never know it, for he had acted so rudely and he knew that she would never be able to look past his impoliteness or forgive him for how he had snubbed her.
Elizabeth sighed quietly, trying to focus her mind on the mass of handwritten and disorganized papers that were scattered around the room. But although she tried, there was one thought she could not put out of her mind. Fitzwilliam Darcy is staring at me, she thought, over and over again, sure that his gaze could only mean judgement and distaste.

Chapter Text

After a few days of awkwardness, Elizabeth and Darcy began to develop a routine. When she arrived in the morning, Elizabeth would stop in the kitchen and make two cups of tea, Fitzwilliam would mumble a ‘good morning’ and a ‘thank you, Elizabeth’ from behind a mountain of manuscripts, and Elizabeth would sit down in the chair across from his desk and begin working.
Every morning a stack of manuscripts was left on Mr. Darcy’s desk. He’d split them into two piles, one for him, and one for Elizabeth. Throughout the day they’d work through them, tossing the good ones to the edge of the desk and the bad ones into the trash. They usually finished around three in the afternoon, leaving them two hours to go back over the good manuscripts and talk with each other.
It was Friday afternoon, and Elizabeth was sitting comfortably in what had become her chair. She pulled her knees up to chest and rested the manuscript on them. This one was particularly good, and Elizabeth was enthralled. She turned page after page, gripped by the short story. Fitzwilliam watched, fascinated with her. The way her eyes scanned over the page, studying every word. He leaned back in his chair, and began to chew on the end of the pen in his hand. She lifted her hands away from the manuscript and tied back her hair, all without looking away from the page. Darcy felt his pulse quicken.
As she turned the final page, she let out a deep sigh and a small, contented smile crossed her features. She looked up at him, and in a burst of movement he took the pen out of his mouth and sat upright in his chair. He tried to compose himself and hide the fact that he had been staring at her, but she knew. She had felt his eyes on her, she had felt her heart pound in her chest at the thought of him watching her with those deep green eyes. She set the manuscript down on his desk, trying to conceal a smirk.
“This one’s quite good, you should give it a read.” He nodded and pulled it across the desk towards him, flipping it open to the first page. “Shall I make some more tea?”
He nodded, not looking away from the manuscript on his desk. He unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt and began rolling up the sleeve. Elizabeth watched, unable to pull her eyes away as he carefully rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. Her lips parted slightly, and he looked up, meeting her eyes. She turned quickly on her heels and rushed out of the door, her eyes on the floor the entire time.
After she had left the office, she shut the door behind her and leaned against the wall. He knows exactly what he’s doing, she thought and sighed angrily. She straightened up and turned towards the kitchen.
As she filled the kettle, she heard someone entering the room. She turned, seeing a young man standing in the doorway watching her. He smirked when they made eye contact and Elizabeth felt her cheeks flush.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“No, no… just having a look,” his face seemed to be in a perpetual smirk. He took a step forward, and extended a hand to shake. “I haven’t seen you around here before, have I? I’m George Wickham.”
Elizabeth shook his hand, smiling at him. “Nice to meet you, I’m Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Well, Elizabeth, how long have you been working at the esteemed institution of de Bourgh Publishing… and how has your radiant presence escaped my notice?”
Elizabeth noted a slight hint of sarcasm in his tone, but his charm was enough for her to ignore it. The flush on her cheeks grew hotter with every word he said to her. “I’ve not been here long,” she started, “just a few days.”
“You must be Mr. Darcy’s new assistant then?” She nodded and he shook his head, an exaggerated grimace crossing his face. “And how’s that been treating you?”
“He’s not too terrible… quiet, mostly.” She shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to it.”
Wickham turned towards the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. He smiled at her and twisted open the bottle. “Well if you ever feel like slipping away from Dickhead Darcy, come visit me… room 37, third floor.” He turned away from her with a smirk and left her there, standing alone, slightly smitten, with the kettle in her hand.
When she finally got back to her flat, she was still thinking about George Wickham. There was something so very captivating about the spattering of freckles across his nose, the warmness of his deep brown eyes, and his disheveled mop of dark hair. Elizabeth had been unable to wipe the smile from her face as she’d walked back into Darcy’s office and he’d noticed.
“Something funny?” he had asked, gruffly after glancing up from his desk to accept the cup of tea she held out for him.
“Absolutely nothing at all.” Her smile didn’t fade and Fitzwilliam knew that she was lying, but he didn’t have the energy to pursue it any further.
The rest of the day passed without much else excitement, as most days did and Elizabeth was left to replay her exchange with Wickham over again countless times in her head without interruption. She had never been especially interested in romance or anything regarding men, she was always too wrapped up in her own affairs to put any energy into that sort of thing. But there was something about Wickham’s boyish, flirtatious charm that sparked a fluttery feeling of girlish excitement in the pit of her stomach. Perhaps it was his casual half-smile, or his perfectly pressed oxford shirt. She couldn’t be sure, but it was certain that the thought of him had followed her out of the office kitchen, back to Mr. Darcy’s office, and then finally, home.