Disclaimer: Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Pride and Prejudice. Miss Elizabeth, feeling desperate and reckless, cannot handle the indiscretion of the continuing proposals of Mr. Collins and scandalously compromises herself by kissing Mr. Darcy in Mr. Bingley's drawing room. OOC, AU, HEA.
A/N: If you have subscribed to me because of Twilight, please do not feel obliged to read this story. If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice, please forgive me for taking silly liberties with the plot. Thanks a bunch!
A Wicked, White Cravat
by Anton M.
Chapter 1: A Kiss at Netherfield
"You honor me, Miss Elizabeth, with your continuous act of indifference. Be advised that I am most humbled that my proposal has resulted in such consistent denial so characteristic of gentlewomen of your breeding. I have utmost respect for you and your family and I am flattered by the insistency of your denial, feigned as it may be. Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself has—"
Unlike his cousin, Elizabeth kept her voice low so as not to draw attention of the people around them. First, his insistence on her apparent indifference had annoyed and mildly amused Elizabeth, but today, a week after his original proposal, she felt exasperated by his delusion as they sat mere feet away from her sisters as well as Mr. Bingley's, Mr. Darcy, and four militia officers. Mr. Bingley had invited them to dinner, and they were sitting in his drawing room. Miss Caroline Bingley had begun to play the piano, and the militia officers were engaged in a game of lanterloo.
Mr. Darcy was having a discussion with Mrs. Hurst on Elizabeth's right, yet she could feel his eyes on her. He had followed her with his eyes whenever they had met for the past week, and the intensity in them daunted Elizabeth just as much as it exhilarated her. She felt his presence in every fiber of her being, his words, his gaze, his attention. And perhaps it was because of that that she could not help but be offended by the fault he found in her. Even more, she could not understand how a simple gaze could make her feel so unbridled. Sometimes, when she was feeling imaginative, she felt warmth in his gaze. It could not be true. The man found her barely tolerable, after all, but she still could not figure out his attention. Did he mean to frighten her with his judgement?
And yet, Jane had explained the matter of Mr. Wickham to Elizabeth, having heard it from Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth was filled with gratitude that their sisters and acquaintances could be warned against the man. She might not have known Mr. Darcy, but she was grateful that he had agreed to disclose Mr. Wickham's debt and troubles to some degree. Mr. Darcy, quiet and yet filling the room with his presence, was a confusing man, a man she had found herself growing increasingly attracted to.
"I have had time to contemplate your refusal, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself has encouraged my persistence in this—"
Her chair rumbled against oak wood as Elizabeth stood up.
His name was but a whisper, but the alarm in it had caught the attention of Mr. Darcy, whose frown deepened. Elizabeth's eyes met with his. She felt trapped. If only her mother hadn't convinced her father that such an arrangement would be best for the family, Elizabeth would not be in this position. She had promised to try and understand the perspective and wishes of Mr. Collins, but as the week passed and she continued to be on the receiving end of his admiration for—Lady Catherine de Bourgh—she found that she would rather die a spinster than marry Mr. Collins. She did not love him, and she never would.
"Miss Elizabeth, I think I speak for all when I say that this might be the only marriage proposal you will receive in your life, and as such, Lady Catherine de Bourgh suggested that—"
Elizabeth stood, wide-eyed, blinking at the man who had the indiscretion to insult her in front of a roomful of acquaintances, however inconsequential most of them were to Elizabeth.
"I do not wish to marry you, Mr. Collins. I cannot."
Mr. Collins, unaware of the attention their conversation was starting to receive, stood up. "Why not, Miss Elizabeth? You are not particularly handsome, neither do you have any charm to win a man. It is in your best interest to agree to become my wife."
Miss Caroline Bingley stopped playing the piano.
Elizabeth paled, aghast. From the corner of her eye, she saw that Mr. Darcy had stepped closer, probably to agree with Mr. Collins' assessment of Elizabeth. More upset by this than the words of Mr. Collins, her emotions ran high, and she felt offended, truthful as the words may have been. Confused by Mr. Darcy's behavior and hurt by Mr. Collins, Elizabeth looked her cousin in the eye.
"I cannot love you when my heart belongs to another," she whispered. Mr. Darcy halted to a stop, his jaw clenching, gaze impenetrable. He did not move.
"Do you suppose me to believe that, in spite of your lack of handsome features, another man has—"
Elizabeth was sick of insults, sick of her own desperation and hurt, sick of the man. She was angered by the thought that Mr. Darcy might've agreed with Mr. Collins. It mortified her. It nauseated her. In a scandalous snap decision, she stepped in front of Mr. Darcy. Her fingers clutched his cravat before she pulled him down to a kiss.
Miss Caroline Bingley gasped. The militia officers had stopped playing cards to observe the scandal with amusement.
Elizabeth had never kissed a man before, and she was unprepared for how much she liked it. Mr. Darcy's jaw was clean-shaven, his lips warm and inviting as they parted. In a surge of clarity, Elizabeth understood that this was to be the last kiss in her life, and she closed her eyes, memorizing the feeling. She did not remember when she had grown attracted to the man, or when his judgmental gaze, rather than amusing her, had started to hurt her. To whichever degree Mr. Darcy thought of herself as below him, Elizabeth was not vindictive, and it was unfair of her to compromise him.
She knew the redness in his cheeks matched her own when she pulled away. His eyes were slow to open, but once they did, the emotion in them was incomprehensible. Just like the man himself often was to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Bennett recognized that it was her and not Mr. Collins whose actions were truly abominable. If Mr. Darcy found her impertinent before, he must've hated her after her kiss, and it was nobody's fault but her own. She had let her hurt guide her to compromise herself in front of a roomful of people. Mr. Collins had been right—she would see no proposals of marriage from this day on, and she would never have children of her own. The thought, although not unexpected, paralyzed her.
"I beg your forgiveness, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth whispered, letting go of his cravat, stepping back. He raised his hand, but she retreated further, her eyes filling with tears. "Please forgive me."
She curtsied to a roomful of wide-eyed people, and ran out of the drawing room. Mr. Darcy, touching his lips, stood in a daze, unaware of the eyes watching him.
"That wench," Miss Caroline gasped in a half-whisper. "That money-grabbing, compromising—"
The rest of her sentence was lost to Mr. Darcy as he ran downstairs, taking two steps at a time, and checked for Elizabeth's coat. It wasn't there, and he could see her outside, running. Ignoring the voices coming from the stairs, he threw open the door and ran after her. It was cloudy but dry, and it would be getting dark any moment.
It wasn't until he was 20 yards away from her that she turned her head. Her breath came out in gasps, and she wiped her face, but she slowed down.
"Miss Elizabeth," he repeated, slightly out of breath.
She pressed her lips together, avoiding his gaze. She stopped, and it took her a moment to swallow her tears.
"I must beg your forgiveness, sir." Her voice shook. "It has never been clearer to me why you disapprove of me so openly, but I have come to understand now. Do not trouble yourself thinking that I would ever force you to marry me after what I did. Anyone in the room saw that it is me and me alone who must be punished. Now if you'll excuse me, sir."
She continued walking, and even though she'd regained some confidence over her voice, tears ran down her cheeks. She wiped them away. Mr. Darcy kept walking beside her.
"Elizabeth," he said, informal in his language as well as his tone. His voice was pleading, barely a whisper. It pained her to hear it.
"You must return to Mr. Bingley and his companions. I do not wish to compromise you further."
He stepped closer, feeling now, more than ever, how much he desired to be close to her, closer than any other man would ever be allowed. His lips tingled from the feel of her lips, and yet he hesitated to touch her.
"I am not worried," he replied. "You are a well-read woman. You and I both know that such circumstances reflect badly upon women and little on men. Please, you must hear me out."
Elizabeth stopped walking, facing the man. Her tears flowed in earnest. Mr. Darcy hesitated, desperate to take her in his arms yet knowing how improper it would be. He handed her his handkerchief. She accepted it. His countenance changed, just slightly, and he started walking back and forth in front of her before he halted to a stop. His eyes held the same impenetrable intensity in them.
"You must marry me, Miss Elizabeth."
She pressed her lips tightly together, taking a breath. "I refuse to marry for your sense of obligation."
"You must realize how advantageous such a marriage would be for you."
"I do not wish to marry for money."
Perhaps it was the shock of hearing the words come out his mouth, a proposal of marriage, or perhaps it was the realization that what she had seen once as arrogance had simply been a taciturn manner and his shyness around new acquaintances. He was an honorable man. Her refusal to be married seemed to bring him relief, and although Elizabeth understood it, his lightheartedness pained her. She had brought this situation upon herself, but she couldn't help but wonder what it would've been like if he had actually wanted to marry her. Not for pity or sense of obligation but for her, Elizabeth Bennet.
Encouraged by the words in her refusal, Mr. Darcy took her cold hands in his, waiting until she locked eyes with him.
"Did you mean what you said, Miss Elizabeth? That your heart belongs to another?"
Fearful of making herself vulnerable, she hesitated, focusing on the warmth of his palms around her hands. He had a deep, rich voice, and his proximity unnerved her in the most unexpected, wonderful way.
"I am in grave danger of it happening," she whispered, dropping her head and closing her eyes. "It could not be helped. Please forgive me."
Light-headed with joy over her words, Mr. Darcy leaned close to her face, breathing on her forehead. "Are you apologizing for falling in love with me?"
"Is it not foolish to fall in love with a man who finds you barely tolerable?"
Taken aback, he blinked. It took him a moment to recognize his words from October.
"It was an exhausting day of a tiring month, and I had no wish to be where I was. Please know that those words were not for you. It's been a while now since I consider you the most handsome woman of my acquaintance."
She pulled back to see his eyes, daring to hope. "Are you teasing me, Mr. Darcy?"
"Perhaps," he replied, and the most boyish, apologetic grin covered his face, and she nearly melted at the sight of it. He leaned closer, opening his coat in the most scandalous manner, and pulled her in his arms. If anyone were there to see, a marriage between them would be unquestionable. But nobody was, and they had already kissed in front of a roomful of people.
"Elizabeth," Mr. Darcy whispered, lowering his head to speak in her ear. She reveled in the warmth of his palms on her back, in the proximity of his lips, in his toned chest against her cheek. She felt light-headed with hope. "Have you truly been blind to my feelings? I cannot look away when you are in the room. I cannot hold a conversation when you tease me with your eyes. I cannot spend a night hearing your laughter in my head, wishing to hold you in my arms. I love you. I will wait however long it takes for you to feel the same. May I ask your father's permission to court you?"
Elizabeth was fingering the cravat she had so scandalously held only moments ago. She was breathless with happiness. Mr. Collins' insults felt like a lifetime ago.
"Yes." Withdrawing just enough to see Mr. Darcy's eyes, she smiled. "With all my heart."
The most light-hearted of smiles covered Mr. Darcy's face, and the transformation made her heart skip a beat. He traced her cheek with his fingertips. His touch was filled with affection and tenderness, and she closed her eyes.
"May I kiss you, Elizabeth?"
She let out a laugh, putting his handkerchief in her pocket before she took hold of that wicked, white cravat. "On one condition."
"Please, will you tell me your given name?"
"Fitzwilliam," he replied, holding her jaw in his hand. "For you, William."
"William," she repeated, testing the name, and the gentle affection and love in his eyes overwhelmed her. She shut her eyes only to feel his lips moving against hers, exhilarating and wonderful beyond what words could express. He pulled away from her lips after a few seconds, but not from her body.
"Are we to be burdened with chaperones until our marriage?" he asked, his lips lingering against her forehead. "Because I am not sure if I can wait until marriage to kiss you again."
"Fortunately, you chose to marry a woman who scandalously compromised herself and her future fiancé in front of a roomful of people."
"What they do not know is that said man had been secretly seeing Miss Elizabeth Bennet, giving her reason to be upset by Mr. Collins' proposal."
"Is that so?"
He hummed in agreement, pressing small kisses on her forehead, her temple, her eyes. "Thank you for kissing me tonight."
She hid her face in the crook of his neck, breathing him in, happy beyond comprehension.
A throat was cleared nearby, forcing the couple to part from each other's embrace. Mr. Bingley stood a couple of yards from them, failing to stifle his smile.
"I was sent to check if anything—" he cleared his throat, "untoward was happening. But I can say I saw nothing of the kind."
His eyes were on the ground, but a blush covered his cheeks.
"Indeed you did not," Mr. Darcy replied, and the smile in his voice brought Mr. Bingley's attention to his face. Relieved and happy by this turn of events, he pretended not to see Mr. Darcy intertwine his fingers with Miss Elizabeth Bennet's. He might, after all, find himself in need of the same courtesy.