A/N: I've found forced marriage stories somewhat annoying, because they almost always require one or both Elizabeth and Darcy to act wildly out of character, whether that be losing all manner of self control and kissing people they declare to hate, running about in the middle of the night into random rooms, or other such contrived situations where two people with this much self-control and good sense would never actually find themselves in. It's just too much OOC-ness for me.

With that in mind, I wondered, how *could* these two end up unwillingly tied to each other? Well, read and find out ;)

Chapter 1: Netherfield

"This seems like a lovely place," Bingley said with a smile.

"Hmmm, yes, it seems so," Darcy responded distractedly. He rubbed his temple and leaned back into armchair, relieved to find that the brandy was more than passable.

"Darcy, are you sure you are alright with me leasing Netherfield?"

"It's somewhat too late for you to worry about that," Darcy said wryly. When he saw Bingley's worried expression, Darcy realised that his wit had missed its mark. "Bingley, do not upset yourself; that was my poor attempt at a joke. My aim was to simply arrive at Hertfordshire and observe the family for some time. It never mattered as to whether I leased a property myself, or whether I was a guest of a good friend."

"How long are you planning on observing?"

"I have not actually put much thought into it yet. Truth be told Bingley, I had not planned on making this trip for some time, but…"

"The trouble at Ramsgate has brought forward your plans?"

Darcy hadn't given Bingley any details of what had happened at Ramsgate the previous summer when his innocent, impressionable sister of 15 years had almost been seduced and convinced to elope with the son of his late father's former steward, George Wickham. However, Bingley knew that there had been some difficulties with regard to Wickham, which was unsurprising in itself. Darcy had known Bingley since their days at university, and Wickham had been giving Darcy trouble ever since. Truthfully, Darcy would have been completely honest with Bingley about the Ramsgate debacle, if he wasn't holding out hope that one day in the future, Bingley and his sister may make a match. Accordingly, Darcy was of the opinion that there was no need to share his sister's darkest hour with Bingley just yet.

"Yes Charles, I fear that I have neglected my duty for long enough. I gave my word to my father, to my grandmother, and I must see to it. Perhaps if I had done so earlier, I would have been able to avoid Wickham's endless demands upon me and mine."

"That sounds to me mostly like wishful thinking."

Darcy disagreed, but to do so out loud would mean sharing the details of Ramsgate with Bingley. Accordingly, he simply made a noncommittal sound.

"It's a pity you had not yet arrived when Mr. Bennet waited on me; I would have pushed back returning his visit until your arrival, but it seemed rude to wait that long."

"On the contrary Bingley, I am glad to have missed it. Mr. Bennet has known where to find my family all my life; I do not recall his ever having done so. His estate his entailed to a male heir, he should have reached out to the Darcy's well before now. I cannot make out his motives."

"Perhaps he has none?"

"With five daughters and an estate entailed? I find that incredulous. All he had to do was write a few lines to my father. Or to me, after my father's passing."

Bingley nodded. "Yes, put that way, Mr. Bennet's lack of correspondence seems rather odd."

"Bingley, I am heartily glad that you convinced me out of leasing Netherfield myself, and I am glad to have missed Mr. Bennet's visit. Let me meet him at some social event instead, and gauge his reaction. If he says nothing, I will also maintain silence."

"He may assume simply that you are writing to your family for confirmation before a discussion."

"All the better to observe his family for some time."

"He may also take a more direct approach."

"He may," Darcy conceded. "I will then tell him the simple truth, that I wish to observe his family for some time."

"Are you not going to change your mind about the assembly tonight? You would have an opportunity to observe a-plenty."

"I must write to Georgiana and let her know I arrived safely. I also have little patience in dancing with an entire neighbourhood when my interest is with one family only."

Bingley scoffed. "You were never going to dance with the entire neighbourhood. You would have danced with my sisters, and claimed your duty complete."

"Nevertheless, I am determined not to attend. Perhaps Mr. Bennet will acknowledge our connection, and if so, I would prefer it to be somewhere other than a public assembly."