George Wickham has always pushed his luck so he is not ashamed to beg Darcy for one last visit home. He is leaving for America, much to the relief of all. He receives this one final dispensation.
He leaves Lydia, sulking, at Highmartin.
He approaches Pemberley for the last time, walking through the coppice, past John Darcy’s grave where he can’t help but feel a swell of guilt over Denny’s fate. He hates that this place holds such bitterness now alongside his older, perfect, memories.
He is granted an afternoon alone with his son, thanks to Elizabeth’s charity. They play together, the two Georges getting to know each other. Wickham hunts up old haunts near the steward’s rooms. He carries Georgie about the stables, then down to the lake. He fantasises about running off with him. In another world. He tells Georgie about his grandfather and his Aunt Eleanor. He tells him he loves him and that he knows how happy he will be here at Pemberley, like his father once was.
He’s grateful to be leaving a Wickham here at Pemberley. Delighted, really, to know a piece of him will remain here forever under Fitzwilliam’s wary eye. He won’t be entirely forgotten.
At last, Darcy and Elizabeth return. Georgie is peremptorily removed into Mrs Reynold’s arms and returned to his mother. Just like that, gone.
Just like that, they are alone; these three who, strangely, have never been so before. He wonders what Darcy’s last words to him will be.
He waits for one of them to say something. Darcy seems unable, Elizabeth unwilling. He searches for some blithe inanity to escape the significance of the moment.
“Well, Darcy,” he begins, but has no idea how to continue.
“You should stay for dinner,” Elizabeth offers.
Both men’s eyes snap to her. She looks surprised herself. Her face folds in apology to Darcy. The decision is his. Not Wickham’s; for of course he will stay, for anything that is offered. It is, after all, his home.
Slowly, Darcy nods.
“Stay tonight,” he says, as though it were merely a practical matter, “No one will leave for America without you.”
Wickham doesn’t know why they are offering but he delivers them his most gracious bow. “I’m obliged to you,” he says.
Darcy huffs, a tiny gust of mirth, “Indeed.”
They eat in the stuffy, awkward silence that the Darcys have always been too comfortable with and which Wickham always viewed as his duty to dispel. Elizabeth’s duty now, he supposes.
The candlelight flickers, he takes another sip of wine. He feels the thrill of the gamble, certain to pay off. He cocks his head and looks at Elizabeth.
“I’ve just now realised,” he goads, “you’re the new me.”
“George,” Darcy barks. His sternness means Wickham has hit the mark. He levels his gaze at his oldest friend.
“Fitzwilliam?” He enquires, “What was it about your wife that first attracted you, would you say?”
Darcy stares at him, exasperated. Elizabeth laughs.
“I’ve only a little idea what you mean by that comment, Wickham, but I do recall him looking at me just like that at first...”
Darcy transfers his frown to his wife, where it immediately softens a little.
“He certainly did not,” Darcy protests. Wickham and Elizabeth both laugh at that. Darcy looks bewildered.
“Explain yourself, George,” he commands.
“I’m simply intrigued,” Wickham insists. “Here we are at this grand old supper table, as we often were with your father sat in your place, all silently contemplating our most onerous duties and solemn responsibilities, but always it seems, the Darcys invite an interloper. A steward’s boy, playing the gentleman –just for example - to provoke conversation. Did I not tease out your father to tell stories of his childhood, or of your mother? What would you know of her without me asking about her? Did I not relate your educational successes and your sporting prowess to your father on your behalf? I was a useful addition to the table, was I not?”
“I remember you were always aggravating.”
“And so my point, if I have one, is proved. Was not Elizabeth, on your first acquaintance, equally aggravating?”
“Wickham, truly, I cannot allow this,” Elizabeth interjects, “Aggravating, I grant you, it was near enough my intention to be so. But equally on a level with you? I would never presume such advancement.”
“You have more wisdom with your wit than I, I’ll allow,” he chuckles.
Darcy’s eyes narrow as his glare flits between them. He makes no denial.
“You crave a lively spirit,” Wickham presses his argument, “You thought you could do without me.”
“By God, George.”
Wickham raises his hand to stall the outburst. He’s here, after so long, for the last time. He has things he wants to say.
“You thought you must leave me behind on your inheritance. You’d never once appeared to think me anything but a friend and then suddenly you must know me as an inferior, a grasping threat to Pemberley’s future. You lost your father, Fitzwilliam. I lost everything. It turned out the Darcys had only played at raising me up. When you dropped me I had no notion where I belonged if not by your side. You want a man to know his place? You left it too late to teach that lesson to me.”
“You were a gambler and a rake. You still are.”
“Over and over I sought your attentions. I tested your affections, so lately withdrawn. Your brother? Your closest friend? Who was I to you? You spared me slops when every day of our childhood I ate beside you, then you blamed me for not knowing my place?”
“You sound like a radical, George.”
“Those sentiments are not radical anymore. Not where I’m going. Besides, I learnt them at this hearth. I believe you did too. Elizabeth is my proof.”
“Hardly,” Darcy splutters.
Elizabeth’s look is pointed. “We cannot fix in one evening what has been broken for years,” she says.
“We should not try,” Darcy says, “Some things cannot be forgotten.”
They all know what he speaks of.
Wickham nods. He has said too much, felt too much. He is almost angry with himself for exposing himself so greatly to Darcy. He had wanted, for the first time in so long, to provoke something friendlier than disgust from Darcy, some measure of understanding and fraternity. In the wake of his near execution, he had hoped to find something long lost to him.
Looking out from the gallows, despite the crowd, Darcy had been his one witness, at the end as at the beginning. He had thought, perhaps, that the gaping rift between them had closed a little in that moment. That a small, rickety footbridge might just have formed across the divide. He believes it to be so. But in the absence of the hangman, Darcy seems intent on denying it. And soon Wickham will leave and it will be all too late for any such realisation.
In the past, Darcy has sat in this very room, and marvelled at George. Always so audacious, speaking up to dispel the gloom of the table – his father’s mourning too austere for his children to detract from. George had piped up with a cheeky query or a funny anecdote and slowly, slowly, like settling down a riled up, sweat-shivering horse, his father would give in to George and launch peacefully into tales previously unspoken. Dinners without George left Darcy tongue-tied and his father abrupt. Darcy remembers watching him so carefully, trying to learn, but he could rarely emulate George without George being present.
Now, again, he watches Wickham in this room. He is still, in truth, much shaken by the recent trial. George is thin to the point of gaunt, his eyes dart about a little too brightly. His look of defeat still haunts Darcy. He had never imagined he would see such a look on Wickham’s face. They are both changed by it, he thinks, although he is cautious to believe it of George.
Yet, Darcy owns, every word of Wickham’s latest rant holds truth. George had been a beloved son, unquestioningly provided for. Until Darcy himself questioned it.
Of course, he can recognise now, how far adrift he was in his grief for his father and his feelings of inadequacy compared to the scale of the job left to him. His suspicion that George could ruin him became all too strong. He remembers how badly he wanted to rely on George and how much he feared becoming too dependent. It was the hardest choice he ever made, cutting George loose.
Everything Wickham did afterwards proved Darcy right, of course. But just lately, thinking of Wickham at the cell window overlooking the scaffold, he had been able to understand his own role in Wickham’s debasement. Every time Hardcastle had repeated, pointedly, ‘This is what comes when men do not know their place,’ Darcy had felt more poignantly how such sentiments had wormed their way between him and Wickham.
Darcy knows too that he distrusted his feelings for Elizabeth because of how closely they resembled feelings once inspired by George. He remembers the unsettling effect of seeing them together that one afternoon in Meryton. His mind had been in uproar, unable to quiet until dawn the following day. He had struggled so desperately to protect himself from those feelings again. He smiles to himself now at the thought. How stridently Elizabeth defeated his entrenchments.
How like George Wickham is Elizabeth Bennet? In the light of Wickham’s comments he cannot help but put the question to himself. Miles apart, of course, in deeds, in good character, in honesty. But in spirit and wit? In frankness? In their ability to understand and temper him? Perhaps, just perhaps, he can appreciate Wickham’s argument and acknowledge they could be two sides of the same coin. He can own it to himself, if no other.
Elizabeth stifles a snort of merriment. Fitzwilliam and Wickham are engaged in a long and involved conversation conducted by glare alone.
“Brandy!” She suggests, interrupting their posturing.
She leads them easily to one of the cosier sitting rooms. There is a fire lit, several large settees clustered around it. Lots of books, no piano. It’s one of her favourite rooms. It holds many good memories for her and Darcy.
They settle close to the light of the fire. Darcy pours them all brandy, dismissing the footman for the night. Somehow, without a word, with barely a look, she and Darcy seem to have come to an agreement of what tonight holds.
A night out of time, she thinks. This once, to make up for the lifetime they had both, separately, imagined. Nothing that could be possible if Wickham hadn’t nearly died, if he wasn’t leaving.
Wickham is watching them cautiously. He does not know yet what they intend for him. He is starting to look pleased with himself though. They must be careful. Nothing they do tonight must convince him he has reason to stay. He doesn’t. Tonight is for dreams only.
She takes a sip of the brandy. Both the men are watching her. She is the one who must take command. She is the bridge between them and they cannot reach across to each other without her. Slowly, she walks to Wickham. She turns her back to him and reaches back to untuck the knotted ribbon that fastens her dress. She leaves the ribbon out and waits, holding her hair out of the way. Eventually, as she knew he would, he realises his job and begins to untie it. She looks at Darcy the entire time - his eyes are wide, his mouth a little open. Like he meant to object, but thought better of it.
Wickham is thorough with his unfastening. She can pull her arms from the sleeves now and when she has done so she slips the dress down her body and steps out of it. She walks to Darcy.
“Now you, Fitzwilliam,” she says.
He is staring into her eyes, her favourite sardonic look on his face. She is baiting him and he knows it. She leans forward for a kiss, light and playful. His fingers easily pull at the ties on her chemise and it slips swiftly to the floor. He gathers her in, kissing her with intent. He lifts her slightly from the floor and walks her backwards to the settee where Wickham awaits. Darcy turns to him.
“Don’t forget,” he says, “she married me.”
Wickham looks up at Darcy slyly. “I know my place,” he says. Almost as one in their outrage Elizabeth and Darcy push him backwards onto the settee. He is truly a terrible man, Elizabeth acknowledges, and yet she is laughing as Darcy is once again left speechless.
“You have one night,” she says, “to make it up to us.”
Darcy looks at her and then at Wickham, and then, so quiet it is almost inaudible, he says, “And I to you.”
They kiss then. Wickham moving first, of course, pulling Darcy down to him with a near-devastating familiarity. Elizabeth feels overwhelmed watching them. Her brittle, passionate husband, his brazen, forsaken friend. She can sympathise with Wickham, cast out so brutally from Darcy’s regard. She can hardly bear to think of how it would hurt.
They wrestle out of their clothing and she helps with buttons and knots where she can. They reach for each other and for her and everything is a bit out of control until Darcy pulls back a little, placing a hand on each of their chests. He pulls them both down to the rug on the floor, he lays them out side by side.
“How like Elizabeth Bennet is George Wickham?” He wonders aloud. She smiles and is gratified for the precedence she is awarded.
“I wonder,” says George, “How does she touch you?”
“Please,” Elizabeth says, “let me demonstrate.”
The dual touch running over his torso, down his sides and thighs both soothes and riles him. He admires his two lovers, moving over him as one. As though his past and present have joined forces to piece his heart back together. George’s expression is the same as he remembers it, full of the intense thrill of doing something so forbidden. Darcy lays another piece of blame at his own feet. Perhaps it was this, them, that fuelled Wickham’s desire for unsanctioned pleasures. They started on this road together and the divergence caused more damage to one than the other.
To distract himself he spurs himself to action, putting a hand on each of them, cupping the heavy curve of Elizabeth’s breast, the flat strength of Wickham’s. He can feel both their heartbeats. They lean in to kiss each other while he fondles them, exploring and comparing their bodies, not searching for any precedence of one over the other, just for the pleasure of enjoying their differences. He slides a hand down each of their backs, the dip of Elizabeth’s spine so pleasantly familiar, is compounded by the excitement of finding the dimples at the bottom of George’s back just as he left them. He marvels at the luxury of slipping his hand lower over the smooth cheeks of two gorgeous backsides. He hauls them both into him, disrupting their kiss, but they happily sidle up either side of him, kissing his neck and jaw and lips. Both their hands reach for his cock at once. They laugh and George, ever the one to play-act the gentleman, cedes his ground to Elizabeth. She moves her hand slowly, as though demonstrating her technique. George watches with an appraising eye.
“May I?” he asks. She moves her hand away and George looks up at Darcy as he moves slowly down and positions his lips over the head of Darcy’s cock. “I must,” he says. Not asking. Darcy nods anyway and Wickham descends. The feeling is transcendent. Elizabeth plays almost the role of comforter as Darcy’s pleasure crescendos, smoothing his hair from his brow, kissing the flush of his cheek. Just as he reaches the peak though, Wickham comes to a stop.
“Wickham!” Darcy remonstrates.
“Darcy!” comes the teasing reply, “It’s my turn.”
Darcy’s face is Wickham’s favourite mix of confusion and outrage. He knows from experience that he can live for a long time on the memory of that expression.
“You know what I want,” Wickham says.
Darcy’s eyes narrow but Wickham sees the spark of excitement there.
He raises himself up and while Darcy and Elizabeth watch he reaches his fingers back to his hole and prepares himself for Darcy. Eventually Darcy croaks out, “the left drawer” indicating a small writing desk. To Wickham’s delight it contains a small naughty tin of grease which he happily applies. He returns and lies face down beside Darcy. He turns to look at him, once more the supplicant. He knows how much Darcy loves it.
“Come on, Fitzwilliam,” he whispers, “take me.” To his surprise Darcy leans in for a kiss, gentle and permissive. Then he moves himself over Wickham and begins testing for himself George’s readiness.
Elizabeth moves so her back rests against the foot of the settee, her head resting on the cushions. George arranges her legs either side of his head, giving him full access. He shifts forward a little, while he still can. Darcy follows.
His tongue hovers over Elizabeth’s entrance as Darcy breaches him. His body is shaking, in anticipation, emotion, sensation, he doesn’t know but he lets his lips rest on Elizabeth so she feels the effect of her husband’s actions. Slowly Darcy pushes himself into George and George tries to brace against him. It’s an outrageous intrusion, one he can rarely countenance and yet he welcomes it. He lets out a groan, mouth widening over Elizabeth, gasping his pleasure into her. His tongue slides over her folds, and then he’s licking at her desperately, begging her for the sensations her husband can give, asking her for everything. Darcy drives into him rhythmically, with a half-remembered tempo that ratchets up with every downbeat. He is at Darcy’s mercy and he takes it out on Elizabeth, tonguing her furiously until she is crying out above him. He cries out with her. Darcy is making him see stars with the way he is rubbing himself inside him. George reaches down, arching his bottom up to make room for his hand, they lose their rhythm briefly and then Darcy is moving harder and faster and George’s hand is flying up and down his own cock and they’re both over the edge together, gasping for breath and cursing.
He collapses into Elizabeth’s lap, Darcy still half on top of him. He can’t hear or think for the tremors still racing round his body but already he’s dreading what’s next.
Elizabeth pets his head gently. If he could open his eyes to check he’s sure she is doing the same to Darcy. God, he thinks, if only.
Eventually she says, “Come on, to bed.” She shifts herself from under them and leads them both, still somewhat dazed, their clothes draped around them in a token effort, up Pemberley’s grandest staircase to bed.
She pushes them both in, Darcy in the middle, already falling asleep. They smile at each other over him. She must read the ‘if only’ on his lips because she whispers, “No, George, it can’t really be fixed.” But she looks regretful and her hand grazes his cheekbone as she says it.
“This was enough,” he promises her, although of course, it is a lie.
He waits for her to sleep before he pushes himself up from the bed and finds his clothes, unable to resist helping himself to Darcy’s coat instead of his own. He walks quietly from the house, forcing himself to look only at the moon reflected on the lake, and not to look back.